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Union 2021: ‘Slash government to improve people’s lives’

Marketing and communications consultant David Hoey has contributed to The News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. David is a blogger who has contributed guest posts here in the past – his blog can be found The Dissenter. This latest article appeared in the News Letter on September 10

Northern Ireland is massively over-governed and needs radical changes to make it economically competitive in coming years

IT is not about whether or not a Sinn Fein first minster is acceptable. The current political structures, into which both the DUP and UUP have bought, mean that this is a possibility though far from a certainty.

In his recent News Letter article Alex Kane rightly outlines the challenge for unionists should Sinn Fein be the largest party at the next election. While electoral pacts have been discussed widely, alternative strategies have been absent in public discussion.

There is a widespread acceptance that we have a great deal less than good government at Stormont. Following on from Hillsborough, we are still waiting for Ritchie and Empey to get back to the executive on improving process to make government work.

It is most likely that the failure is fundamentally within the structures. In which case, likely solutions are only possible with a complete rethink.

Stoic acceptance of the institutions as they are is down to a failure of unionism at the outset to have had a clear agenda for government – devolution seems to have been an end in itself.

If neither main unionist party leader is willing to serve as deputy first minister then are they prepared to bring the house down?

Being ‘prepared’ would mean having an alternative pathway, and working hard on preparing the ground for such a scenario.

Regardless of this scenario playing out in the event of Sinn Fein being the largest party, the growing logjam and catalogue of failure to deliver may mean a time-out is demanded from the public.

All very well, but what would that prepared pathway be? A plan for government by voluntary coalition that would provide accountability, stability and mature democratic checks and balances?

Fewer executive departments, and fewer than the 26 local councils – three councils, or none at all.

At a bigger level what would that government be about?

The recent Centre for Social Justice Report has shown the challenge in rebuilding society – all the billions of EU Peace funding show that money is not the solution. Are our areas of deprivation worse than the worst in Manchester, Liverpool or London? Are we that special?

Troubles aside, economic and social breakdown is a story familiar too elsewhere in the UK. The corollary of social breakdown is an even greater challenge in respect of education, where the selection debate has overshadowed the failings at primary level. If there is social reform, there must also be economic reform.

The time for the end of the Invest NI life-support machine is coming. Nationalists cannot complain.

If there is to be an all-island economy (one of the largest in the world of which we are already an integrated part) then the public sector has to be reduced to the UK level.

Perhaps we should aim to be close to the Irish Republic’s public sector of well under 40 per cent of GDP, otherwise a reduction in corporation tax is pointless. Far from NI Water returning to the Department of Regional Development it must be prepared for the private sector.

It is not necessary for unionist parties to unite structurally to agree common points on a future for good government. The unionist electorate is not a single monolithic body. It does not lack choice in party, rather in leadership.

No matter the number of parties, unionism is currently failed by a lack of strategic leadership, coherent vision and a policy driven agenda that sets out what is necessary for a small, open, free and intelligence-led economy making a positive social, cultural and political contribution within the UK.

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