Category Archives: Politics

Ulster Unionists do right thing – for wrong reason

I had long advocated that, if the Ulster Unionists were unhappy with the governance arrangements in Northern Ireland or with their Executive colleagues, they should have the courage to leave and go into opposition.

Unfortunately, however, that is not what they did yesterday.

There are two types of politics – the politics of government, and the politics of elections. It is quite possible to take an interest in and be good at one, while being entirely uninterested in and hopeless at the other. Departure from the Executive should have been about the politics of government; but the Ulster Unionists made it about the politics of elections.

As I noted on Twitter immediately after the recent murder of Kevin McGuigan, we found out nothing in the aftermath that we did not know beforehand. Gangland murders by organised groups the same as those who were active in the Troubles – in the Shankill, in Belvoir and in the Markets – had been a regular (though, it has be said, comparatively rare) occurrence. Of course, these organisations all have certain links with certain politicians. However, each one of these murders including the most recent was condemned by all Executive parties (indeed, Mr McGuigan’s family were visited in the direct aftermath by the local Sinn Fein representative). So it is simply not credible for the Ulster Unionists to pretend they found out something this week that they did not know a month or a year ago.

Departure from the Executive should have been about the politics of government. The Ulster Unionists could, perfectly legitimately, have said that they had taken the summer to decide what to do – and, given the nonsensical position on welfare and the budget demonstrated that the structures (and perhaps even the parties operating them) were no longer fit for purpose, they had decided to force the issue of Opposition by forming one to give the voters a real choice. However, that is not what they said.

Instead, they made it clearly about the politics of elections. Their statement (and subsequent positions taken in interviews) give absolutely no demonstration whatsoever of how this move helps deliver results on the issues they claim to care about; nor is there even the remotest clarity about exactly what the NIO or other parties could or should do in order for the Ulster Unionists to return to the Executive (a long-term problem for them). The implicit notion that the they will return to the Executive once they are the largest party demonstrates this is a purely electoral manoeuvre. (It is a risky one, too – allowing “Republican” gangsters to dictate when a Unionist party leaves government can hardly work out well for Unionism.)

There is nothing wrong, by the way, with electoral manoeuvres, and while I accept much of the criticism of the Ulster Unionists, I think it is inaccurate to say they have endangered the institutions (and, even if they have, it will hardly be a vote loser given the way the public feel about them currently). What they have done, however, is missed a real opportunity to deliver on improving the way devolution works; in fact, they have done precisely the contrary, making themselves a total irrelevance to any (much needed) discussion about how the structures can be improved and inter-party relationships around the Executive table improved.

This does not mean the other parties have not been presented with a strategic problem, as was the intention. It is uncertain how they will respond, and how this will play electorally. However, it is hard to see how this move actually helps deliver anything other than uncertainty in practical terms – with welfare still gridlocked, education and health reforms going nowhere, and the global economy taking another buffering.

The Ulster Unionists, therefore, have made the right move – but for entirely the wrong reason. The results will not be pretty.

Direct Rule offers better government – but must be avoided

There is no question that Direct Rule tomorrow would offer better government for Northern Ireland. Decisions on Health would be made with a greater overview and less immediate sense of crisis; decisions over transport infrastructure would be made with the whole of Northern Ireland in mind and not to suit a particular world view; decisions, well, would actually be made! As an added bonus, the cost of government would fall, adding a few million to other coffers.

It is understandable, therefore, why so many people are reaching the conclusion that it is time to end the whole charade and return to Direct Rule – “We are incapable of governing ourselves”, after all…

Understandable – but wrong.

Devolution is absolutely necessary.

It is absolutely necessary because it is the basis of our social contract which keeps Northern Ireland relatively stable – it keeps us within the UK (reflecting our British identity), it is tied to cross-border bodies (reflecting our Irish identity), and it is dependent on power-sharing (ensuring a sense of democratic legitimacy across the traditional community divide).

It is absolutely necessary because it is the norm in the British Isles of the 21st century – with devolution flowing more and more towards Edinburgh and Cardiff; ever more direct linkages with Dublin (not requiring any UK intervention); and even a degree of devolution to London. We are tied to the greater whole, but we can also to an extent pick and choose who it is useful to deal with and learn from.

It is absolutely necessary because, frankly, we need to learn to govern ourselves and have some self-respect. For example, Direct Rule would mean, bizarrely, prospective investors having Northern Ireland sold to them at a political level by politicians from England’s West Country or Midlands (whose own motivations would be suspect) – making us, bluntly, look like some desperate and corrupt colony.

Devolution is not working, at all. It is perhaps because of our underlying insecurities that that just makes us want to give up – and it is understandable that we would, to be clear. However, the answer to devolution not working is not to abandon it; the answer is to make it work.

The current difficulty is that devolution is being deliberately left in the hands of people who are abusing it. There have to be means of passing difficult democratic decisions – so the Petition of Concern needs to be reformed to avoid its abuse. There have to be means of penalising and even dismissing those in high office who abuse that office – so the Ministerial Code needs to be independently and judicially enforceable. There has to be motivation for legislators to think of the whole of Northern Ireland, not just a particular “community”, when making decisions – so parties opting not to “designate” should if anything be rewarded, and certainly not penalised. There have to be means of holding the government to account, including with the threat of its replacement at an election by an alternative – so there must be funding and speaking rights for parties opting not to take Executive places.

Not only must we make devolution work, but there are clear and obvious structural reforms which would help dramatically. We need not expect those abusing the current system to change it, so a very brief period of “mothballing” while the UK Government in consultation with the Irish Government makes the necessary changes may well be needed.

However, to be clear, the purpose of any reform talks will not be to end devolution, but to enforce changes which will make it work (and give the electorate a real democratic choice). We are perfectly capable of governing ourselves, in fact – but only if we are motivated actually to govern.

A1 fatalties reason for sorrow – and anger

There was a severe accident on the new A8 road between Belfast and Larne on Sunday, in which there was one casualty but no one was killed. The road is built to the highest possible safety standards below a motorway, including a median barrier throughout meaning that all traffic is proceeding the same way, and there can therefore be no head-on collisions where, in effect, impact speed is doubled or impact is directly with the side door of the car.

Such standards were not originally envisaged for the road and, indeed, there are other, older sections of it where a head-on or sideways collision would be possible due to a break in the median barrier. It is no accident that standards have been raised – people like Wesley Johnston, the roads blogger, and Ben Lowry, in the Belfast Telegraph and now the News Letter, have long campaigned for “no gaps” (i.e. no breaks in the central reservation of a dual carriageway). It was indeed while querying the baffling decision to put median breaks and roundabouts on the new A6 Toome Bypass in 2004 that I got to know both, and upon becoming an elected representative in 2005 I was prominent in highlighting the outrage of allowing blatantly dangerous turnings to remain on prominent, dualled, inter-urban routes.

Our pressure did deliver a change of policy, first apparent arguably on the new A1 Newry Bypass and then more obviously on the new A4 Dungannon-Ballygawley route. A regular dual carriageway would have seen fatalities in the double figures on those routes since 2010 – there have in fact been two. That is the difference in action.

This brings us to the three young gentlemen who had set out on a journey on Sunday afternoon but were not lucky enough to be travelling on a road the standard of the new A8. They were travelling on the A1 between Dromore and Banbridge, a stretch which retains “gaps” (breaks in the central barrier), and where I was interviewed by Niall Donnelly for UTV fully ten years ago appealing for them to be closed (I cannot find the footage but I am certain of the timing). At one of the gaps, the one for Mount Ida Road, all three were killed.

The horrific outcome of Sunday's fatal A1 collision - courtesy BBC

The horrific outcome of Sunday’s fatal A1 collision – courtesy BBC

There is a particular horror to road fatalities. They are so sudden; utterly innocent (and, disproportionately, young) people are involved; there but for the grace of God go the rest of us (I was driving the same route almost exactly 24 hours earlier myself).

In this case, however, there is also a particular anger. There have been proposals to close these lethal “gaps” since 2007, but still we await action – as the answer late last year to this question (not surprisingly asked at my behest) demonstrates.

It is to the credit of TransportNI (the agency formerly known as Roads Service) that they changed policy on dual carriageway construction some time ago, but the Department has been far too slow in implementing the “gap closing” proposals which are frankly straightforward (in that the case for them is clear on safety grounds and they do not require significant new land, etc) and relatively inexpensive (versus other prominent projects which, while improving traffic flow, will not make such a difference to safety).

There has been a rather unfortunate attitude among some senior bureaucrats that they were somehow being cunning by not upgrading the Belfast-Dublin route on the Northern side of the border to full motorway standard, as merely dualling it was cheaper. Let us be clear: merely dualling it and allowing cars to compete with bicycles and tractors across central reservations may have been cheap – but it was lethal.

The whole A1 in Northern Ireland must be upgraded without delay to the standard, at the very least, of the new stretch of the A8. If not, we are guaranteed to see more horror, just as we saw so completely unnecessarily on Sunday.

My sincerest condolences to the families and friends. Let us now ensure this does not happen again.

Does the Left actually want to win?

There is an old maxim, served as a warning to foreigners intending to drive in Germany, that it is always worth remembering that a German “would rather be in the right and dead, than in the wrong and alive”.

Watching the crazed dash of people on the “Left” to the populist extremes, I am left to wonder something similar. Would they rather just feel morally justified at the expense of having no real power or influence, over actually having even limited power to do something?

After all, the Left in Britain has a new darling now who used to heap praise on Hugo Chávez, whose left-wing government was so successful that his country ran out of toilet roll and chocolate, that airlines refused to fly to it so that even its own nationals were effectively locked out, and it became a diplomatic joke. He got some things right, mind – the great socialist was sure to leave such an inheritance to his own daughter that she is now estimated to be the richest woman in the country. But, sure, at least he had morals, eh?

We do not need to go so far to demonstrate such folly. Greece’s Syriza thought it moral just to spend wildly while not caring about its creditors, until it found itself simply unable to borrow to spend wildly because no one was willing to lend it money knowing there was no chance of repayment. France’s Socialists thought it moral to hammer the rich with a 75% tax, until they found no one willing to pay it (and comfortably able, in a global economy, to out therpir wealth where they would not have to pay it) and had to abandon it. Italy’s Democrats thought it moral to borrow without reforming crazy public sector salaries and perks, until it found economic growth had stalled at the sixth worst in the world (the five worse included the likes of Zimbabwe and Somalia) while whole areas of public services had been taken over by the Mafia.

It is not as if right-leaning governments are all sweetness and light, but left-leaders do tend to base their theories not on supporting what is good, but on opposing what is bad. Syriza thought austerity was bad – but financial responsibility is good. French Socialists thought excessive wealth was bad – but being globally competitive in rewarding risk takers and hard workers is good. Italian Democrats thought threats to public servants’ standards of living were bad – but delivering efficient public services is good.

Given that government in a financial crisis is tough, it does seem to me that those inclined to oppose rather than support enjoy simply identifying terrible things and siding with anyone who agrees they are terrible. That they are unable to come up with practical, workable solutions to these terrible problems is neither here nor there – they are right morally in theory, so who cares if they are wrong electorally or governmentally in practice?

Not that such moral guardians any more moral than the rest of us. In taking sides against one tyrant, they will support another (often worse) one. In defending one minority, they will offend another. Attacks on colleagues are deemed “personal” even when they are political, but they are themselves allowed to resort to personal attacks and petty labels (so that anyone at all who does not sign up to their exclusive brand of Leftist rebellion is deemed “Tory”). The Labour Leadership election is but one obvious example. The outcome is that the energy and resources of the Left are devoted to crazed factional infighting rather than making a proper, reasoned appeal to an increasingly bewildered public.

Government is tough. It requires compromise, including with vested interests; it requires patience, including with political opponents; it requires practical solutions, working with the prevailing culture rather than blank-page theory. So the real question to the Left in Britain and elsewhere is: is this all just a spiritually uplifting but practically pointless moral crusade, or do you really want to govern?

Destruction of Labour bad news for UK democracy

As recently as May 2010, it seemed just about conceivable, even post-election, that Labour would stay in power. Having presided over the biggest economic crash since 1929, Gordon Brown remained in office, and it was in fact the Conservatives who were having the inquest as to how they could not secure an overall majority in such favourable circumstances.

It seems astonishing, just over five years on, that the Labour Party may now be on the verge, literally, of falling apart. With a bloodied Liberal Democrat faction and no evidence despite the hype of any Green surge, this will leave the left in smithereens.

What Labour needs to do over the coming weeks is select a Leader to unify the left-and-centre. What it seems intent on doing – partly because of the crazy decision to let keyboard warriors who registered vague support last month have the same say as committed canvassers of 30 years’ standing – is dividing itself even more.

With Scotland gone for at least a decade and boundaries due to change in 2018, Labour’s task to regain power and influence is to outpoll the Conservatives in England. Even this would not guarantee an absolute majority, but it would offer likely largest party status. It is, however, something which has only been achieved twice in the last nine elections since 1974.

The real battleground is southern England. Here, depressed coastal towns such as Hastings, run-down areas of Southampton, funky social liberal parts of Brighton, struggling dormitory towns like Folkestone, the whole of suburban far-from-posh Essex, poor peripheral towns like Harlow, flooded parts of the West Country and the whole of England’s least affluent county of Cornwall are represented in their entirety by Conservative MPs. In other words, in the entire south of England outside London, the party of the working class is blue. How could Labour let this happen?

Working people know the welfare system does not work, they expect work to be rewarded, and they see the value of financial responsibility. After all, they exercise all these things themselves. Therefore, they vote for parties which see this too. These are not my words, they are the basic summary of a report by John Cruddas into why Labour lost, commissioned by the party itself.

That the party is turning in on itself, degenerating into factions and on the verge of an outright split is the result of ignoring even the right questions, never mind the right answers. And that is before we even reach the farce of its Leadership election, which will inevitably result in a weakened opposition, less effective challenge to the government, and a decline in the standard of British democratic debate.

Regardless of our own political stances, the populist dash to the extremes should cause all democrats to worry. It is not good for any of us.

 

UK not “sixth richest country in world”. Yet…

One of the lines frequently used by those who believe “the Government” should simply find money from somewhere for everything they want is that “We can afford it”, usually followed by “The UK is the sixth richest country in the world”.

The “sixth richest country in the world” figure is deliberately misleading. People using it should be held to account for this.

The figure originates from the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of every sovereign state in the world; specifically, it is the total GDP unadjusted for what is known as “Purchasing Power Parity” (PPP), which effectively takes account of the cost of living, and thus the value of a certain amount of money in a certain country.

In other words, the figure originates from the total GDP for each country taking account neither for the population nor for the cost of living. It is almost meaningless. Although the funny thing is, the latest figures from 2014 (confirmed by the IMF, World Bank and CIA) in fact show the UK is in fact ranked fifth (behind only the United States, China, Japan and Germany) on this measure, not sixth.

So the UK by pure GDP (known as “nominal”) is the “fifth richest country in the world”, but that figure is meaningless as it gives no indication as to how rich individuals within its boundaries are (and thus, relevantly to the original point, how much they may be able to contribute in tax and charges to pay for services).

In fact, if you merely take account of PPP, the UK drops to tenth, passed also by India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and France. In reality, taking into account the cost of living (and thus the cost of public services), the UK is no better than the “tenth richest country in the world”. Admittedly, all the nine above it have higher populations, but that only brings us to the more relevant figure, namely GDP per head.

(On the latter measure, for the record, the UK will overtake France this year – so “ninth richest country”…)

The much more relevant figure is the country’s GDP per head (often known as “GDP per capita”), because that gives an indication of the real resources available to a population as a whole. For example, Denmark’s population is just over a twelfth of the United Kingdom’s, but its economy (at least, as measured by total GDP/PPP) is approaching a tenth of its size. Clearly, therefore, the Danish have more resources to pay for their public services than the British – they are, in any meaningful sense, “richer”.

Going by GDP per capita, the United Kingdom comes out in the mid-20s globally – about level with France, and 10% behind the likes of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. Far from being the “fifth” or even “ninth richest country in the world”, its economic output would suggest it is more like “twenty-fifth” – hardly startling, and in fact positively middling by Western standards.

This is to leave quite aside, of course, that “GDP” is a fundamentally unsound measurement. Within Europe, it is notably skewed in Ireland, where significant foreign investment is added to “GDP” in Ireland but in practice adds to the “GNI” (and therefore the practical resource for public spending) elsewhere, most obviously in the United States. “PPP” is also seriously flawed – watch how the UK shoots up the Eurostat GDP/capita tables in the next couple of years and then deny it is to do with the exchange rate between the euro and sterling settling at a quite different figure from that which prevailed from 2008-14.

As it happens, the UK is in a rather good position over the next quarter century or so, because its companies just happen to have significant amounts of wealth they can release in the coming years and decades – much more so than any comparable economy. This leads to a number of projections, of which this is just one, suggesting the UK’s ranking for GDP/PPP will rise to the top ten in the world by 2030, and to the highest in the European Union (aside from microstates) by 2040. Whether that is particularly meaningful or not (see previous paragraph) is another matter.

By 2050, who knows, the UK may be the “sixth richest country in the world” per head, rather than in total. But to be clear, it isn’t now. And even the most optimistic projections suggest “ninth richest country in the world” may be more like it even then. Let us be clear, therefore, about the resources we really have – as what is currently a middling Western economy.

Loyalism needs to be less isolationist

What a difference three weeks makes. Three weeks ago, we experienced an aggressive, unpleasant bonfire and parading weekend where parades supporters injured public servants and forced people out of their homes, while parades opponents attacked community centres and openly threatened violence if they did not get their way. Yet this weekend, a thoroughly fun and inclusive feast of social liberalism known as “Pride” came to an end – and, far from coming under attack, public servants were even able to decorate one of their vehicles in the colours of the festival. From Belfast at its worst to Belfast at its best within a month.

That is not to say that everything about Loyalist parades is wrong (many, indeed most, are a musical and artistic delight, particularly in rural areas); and it is not to say that everything about Pride is right (it has become alarmingly party-political, for a start). However, a visitor to Belfast would not have missed to aggression in the air three weeks ago; yet they would have felt utterly welcome this past weekend.

All is far from lost for Loyalism, however, because on the day of the Pride Parade I caught just one tweet which offers real hope for the future – the author is apparently a member of the PUP:

Important that we dispel the myth that a non-Loyalist event is by default an anti-Loyalist one. We should end any remaining self-isolation“.

Yes, yes, and thrice yes! Give that man a leadership role in Loyalism, and Northern Ireland will become a far better place – not least for Loyalists.

“A change of mind is evidence you have one”

It has always struck me as peculiar that we tend to regard politicians who change their mind as somehow weak and unprincipled.

Yet changing your mind in the light of new evidence or experience is something all successful people do. As circumstances change, so should you. It makes basic evolutionary sense!

It was Bertrand Russell who said words to the effect that any intelligent person always leaves room for doubt – for a later change of mind, in other words, if evidence, experience or circumstance should change. Naomi Long perhaps simplified this point to “a change of mind is evidence you have one”.

Yesterday Trevor Lunn announced he had changed his mind on the issue of same-sex marriage. It took great courage to do that; in many ways it would have been easier not to (after all, his previous stance evidently did not affect his vote in May). A politician changing his mind, and doing so because it is right and not because it is necessarily popular, should be applauded. It is all too rare.

It will, of course, take one convert at a time to reach an Assembly majority. It should also be noted that those who were always in favour and who stuck by the party in order to act as persuaders, particularly in Lagan Valley, have been rewarded. Just as there is no future in being so hard-headed you’ll never change your mind, there is also no future in being so vehemently in favour of something you will not even enter into debate with those who see it differently in order to change minds. It may not be sexy, but persuasion and compromise work – hectoring doesn’t.

It would of course be a good thing if a few more politicians changed their mind; and also if, when they did so, they were as direct and open about it as Trevor Lunn was yesterday. It would be a good thing if a few Unionist politicians were open about the folly of their absolutist position of symbols and parades – for I do not believe they do not see it privately. It would be an even better thing if “Republicans” saw the nonsense of commemorating and acting as apologists for campaigns of violence which secured the direct opposite of their stated objective – for it is obvious that it what happened, whether 10 years ago or 100.

Think about a Northern Ireland in which a few politicians across the board simply turned around and said “You know, I’ve thought about it, I’ve spoken to a wider range of people, and I’ve noted the changed circumstances – so frankly, I’ve changed my mind”. Some would mock; but most would applaud, and our children would inherit a far, far better place.

Academia needs better grasp of real world politics

The argument has once again been made in a new book that the so-called “Peace Walls” should come down.

However, I cannot help but think such arguments are, both literally and metaphorically, academic. No Northern Irish people seriously believes “Peace Walls” are a positive thing, any more than Americans believe multiple weekly gun massacres are a positive thing. Yet more of them have gone up than come down since the so-called “Peace Agreement” of 1998.

It is frustrating that so many articles and books come out about the theory of such things, and yet so little effort is made to look at the practice. If “Peace Walls” are so obviously a bad thing (and it does not take a genius to work that out), why are they still up? Indeed, why has there been so little progress in taking them down? And let us be clear, anyone with a real knowledge of Northern Ireland knows there is no chance of their removal by 2023.

The fundamental reason for Peace Walls is, of course, not difficult to assess and does not require a book – there is a genuine fear underlying them. They are seen as direct protection for communities who simply do not trust their neighbours enough to do without them. Whether this fear and distrust is theoretically justified is almost irrelevant – fear and distrust are emotional, not rational.

There is a second fundamental issue here, which I touched on in yesterday’s blog. It is that local politicians follow; they do not lead. Why would they make genuine efforts to build bridges, reduce tensions and remove fear, when they actually thrive on (and get elected on the basis of) the status quo? It is an incredibly obvious point, yet academics and other external observers never address it. (As for the 2023 deadline, neither Mr Robinson nor Mr McGuinness will likely be around the be judged on it; and even if they are, they will play the standard blame game – why do people not get this?!)

There is a constant failing in broad academia to deal with the actual motivations of politicians and other “community leaders”. Such people simply do not read academic articles and think “Hey, I hadn’t thought of that; let’s do that!”

The very basic issue here is that people with little to lose will inevitably cling to a “community”, which gives them at least a sense of belonging and some feeling, at least, of strength in numbers. This is why, for example, immigrant communities spring up in new locations – as social networks designed to maximise the information flow and give members of the community at least some foundation in their surroundings. The standard example is the “Puerto Rican Taxi Drivers’ Association” in New York – a means whereby new, Spanish-speaking arrivals in the metropolis could find both community and employment.

The problem is, however, that there comes a time when you have to move beyond that “community”; when in fact that community is limiting you. We are absolutely at that stage on either side of the “Peace Walls” and in other inner-city areas, as noted yesterday. It is understandable – up to a point at least – why people would come together to demand public services, community space and even cultural expression. None of that, however, especially when cast in a single-identity manner, actually moves the community forward. At best, it retains a status quo which suits politicians and other “community leaders” who are elected (or, well, appointed) on the back of it, but does not actually suit the community when looked at even vaguely rationally; at worst, it marginalises the community completely, making its members unable to take any of the opportunities available in the wider (diverse) society beyond the walls. This is exactly the same as the obvious point that there comes a time when a resident of New York aspires to more than speaking only Spanish socially to people dreaming of a distant island while driving taxis to get by; there comes a time when you realise you need to socialise in the main language of the city and to engage in knowledge and cultural exchange with a much wider group of people in order to get a better paid career – and thus, despite its initial value, the “Puerto Rican Taxi Drivers’ Association” becomes not a key to pulling you up, but a chain holding you down.

However, even all that is theory. After all, I or anyone else can write all we like about why the Peace Walls are a bad idea. Maybe it even serves to alleviate our Middle Class Guilt. However, actually doing the bridge-building at the interfaces is extraordinarily gruelling and largely thankless work, swimming in most cases against the local political and representative tide. It is not something I could do. I doubt it is something the authors of these wonderful books and academic papers could do either. The one thing we do need to do is to recognise that our external work will make not a jot of difference.

If they are to have any value at all, we need academics and civic actors to do much more than talk about how good an idea something would be; we need them to show us how it can be made to happen. Sadly, I see decreasing evidence of people even being prepared to take on that challenge, far less deliver on it.

“The community” isn’t always right

One of the things politicians often say to justify a position is that “the community wants [or does not want] it”. This is perhaps particularly so in Northern Ireland.

However, there is a problem with this. “The community” isn’t always right.

I could come up with no end of historical examples of where “communities” were wrong – often brutally and appallingly. However, let us just give three areas where “communities” are often fearful of change, even where that change is clearly for the long-term good, and are therefore “wrong”.

Firstly, in Health. Try to reform the system by re-allocating resources and facilities, and you will immediately find a “grass-roots” campaign backed by the “local community” to keep things as they are. It will be backed by politicians and presented as “saving” whatever the local resource or facility is. However, such campaigns are almost invariably flawed – causing vast amounts of money to be allocated to buildings which cannot possibly all host all the necessary health expertise. Rationalisation is necessary and wise – yet “the community” does not want to be necessary or wise… the community is wrong.

Second, in Education. Try introducing a new educational facility into an inner-city area, and you will find often find it rejected – even to the extent that children in existing facilities are taken out of their education to protest about a facility which would not be built anyway by the time they had left school. Again, this will be presented as “protecting” local schools – when in fact those schools suffer declining rolls, are increasingly dilapidated, and sometimes cannot even produce adequate numbers for sports lessons or such like. New, merged schools with the most up-to-date facilities (not least in IT) – particularly those which integrated people from different backgrounds to get them prepared in early life for the diverse society in which they will have to live – are hugely sensible. Even more than this, tackling educational underachievement through such facilities is vital to ending the intergenerational poverty trap – yet “the community” (backed by politicians who claim to care about it) apparently does not want to tackle the intergenerational poverty trap (far less prepared for the reality of a diverse society)… the community is wrong.

Thirdly, in Regeneration. Try introducing a new social development which brings people together, provides an economic hub, and promised to revitalise the local area by providing a place in which people would consider investing, and watch the sectarian fear take over. It is, after all, much easier for an inward-looking “community” to pretend that there is some bogey man out there trying to deprive it of opportunities, than to reform and regeneration into an outward-looking “community” in which opportunities would arise. The “community” thus looks inward and rejects progress, backed by local politicians – ensuring its own decline as the rest of the world moves on… the community is wrong.

For all the discussion about welfare and such like, this is the real reason the NI Assembly has been doomed to collapse from the outset. It is populated by politicians who believe only in protecting their (short-term) “community” interests, not by those who think and feel for society as a whole. That is what has to change.

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