Two weeks ago, amid the referendum frenzy, the Assembly held a debate on proposals to close Northern Ireland’s regional electoral offices. Since these are a reserved matter, the decision falls to the UK Government, but this did not stop the NI Assembly passing a motion condemning the closures, backed not only by the Executive parties but also by both Official Opposition parties.
Yet the fundamental objective of government is to deliver services efficiently. To be inefficient is to take money away from vital services and spend it instead on offices no one needs. That is inexcusable.
The truth is, we do not need regional electoral offices in a place as small as Northern Ireland. It would make far more sense to merge their limited functions (which are limited to electoral registration for the next three years) with local councils. Indeed there is no reason the same local council offices could not deal with driving licences, vehicle registration and electoral registration all at once, with almost no additional bureaucratic burden (as all the services would now be delivered from the same location). The SDLP even hinted at this, and yet still supported a motion condemning the closures.
This has happened before, of course. The same parties made a fuss of moving vehicle registration to a UK-wide system based in Wales (somewhat odd, particularly, for Unionist parties). Still, ludicrously, Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK which requires paper driving licences (as well as the only place which does not allow online electoral registration).
Most worrying of all is that, if parties cannot even recognise the obvious need to merge electoral registration services and thus save on the cost of excess bureaucracy and unnecessary office buildings, what chance is there of them engaging properly in real Health Reform or such like?
There is also the question of what on earth an Opposition is for. If, fundamentally, the role of government is to deliver services efficiently, and the DUP/SF proposed a motion not doing this, what exactly is the point of an “Opposition” if it just meekly goes along with it?
First test failed.