In the first of a series of pieces from the main unionist parties, UUP MLA for South Antrim Danny Kinahan, outlines the Party’s legislative objectives for this coming Assembly…
This session is my first as a member of the Assembly. I am extremely proud to represent the constituency which I have called home all my life, but that pride runs concurrent with an increasing sense that the Assembly and it’s Executive are somewhat rudderless at this time.
When I look at the issues facing our administration, I find it depressing that there is an inability on the part of the lead parties to actually engage with the public policy priorities of the people of Northern Ireland, and as such, the Ulster Unionist Party’s priorities for the year are those issues facing the Executive that will directly effect those we seek to govern.
My colleague David McNarry has already this session published two policy papers on the public finances. In them he outlines that our party estimates the looming black hole to be £2 billion. That figure is contributed to by the Budget’s reliance on the sale of capital assets, the value of which has collapsed during the course of New Labour’s recession. Further, the cost of provision of water which we estimate to be £758 million over the next two years. The DUP have stubbornly refused to accept that there is a black hole in their budget for more than a year now despite repeated warnings from both my party and the SDLP. It is gratifying that they are following Gordon Brown into a humiliating u-turn on fiscal matters, however we will have to see if this u-turn has come soon enough. I hope that it has, and we will seek to continue to engage constructively with this debate together with out partners in the Conservative Party. It worth repeating that the recession and public finances are a national matter as well as regional, and we are well placed to fight for Northern Ireland.
Secondly, we are increasingly concerned at the prospect of the devolution of policing and justice. We have made clear that we do not believe that the time is right to proceed with the devolution for so long as the Executive and Assembly do not show the requisite maturity and ability to govern effectively. How can the public have confidence in their policing and justice system being governed by an Executive that can’t agree an agenda until its meetings have finished? We are also concerned, as we know others are, at what happens if the DUP/Sinn Fein/Alliance Party axis fails to agree a process for selecting a Minister beyond 2012 as they are required to do.
Thirdly the UUP remains dismayed at the foot dragging and political immaturity by the DUP and Sinn Fein over the Shared Future Strategy. It is unforgivable that the strategy has been held up in OFMdFM for such a long period of time. We are two and a half years into this Executive, and nothing constructive has emerged from that department on this matter. I use the word constructive because documents have emerged, but the last thing that debacle has been, is constructive. We need agreement on a single document, that is then published and progressed, not petty bickering back and forth. I know that our Deputy Leader who is also Chairman of the OFMdFM committee places high priority on this matter
Finally, and most concerning for most people in Northern Ireland, we intend to place a high priority on sorting out the mess that the Education Minister has created. As my colleague Basil McCrea has commented, all politicians have failed with regard to this matter. That we have reached September 2009 without agreement on how children will transfer in 2010 is little less than a scandal. However we will continue to seek a middle path that will resolve the uncertainty for parents and children. We have already called for the non statutory tests to be given a statutory framework until a statutory test can be devised, and we will continue to work towards reinstating a single, publically funded and devised, system for transfer to post primary education.