Editorial: Stormont's old cross-party financial strategy of agreeing on one thing - demanding yet more money from London - will not work any more

Morning View (Photo: gina)
Morning View (Photo: gina)

​​Stormont debt should be written of by the UK government, trade unions say.

London has given Northern Ireland two years to repay last year's overspend. Departmental budget allocations are under pressure.

It is true, as the unions say, that NI's finances are a mess. But who is to blame for this? Overwhelmingly it is MLAs who are culpable.

The political system here is dysfunctional in many respects, such as mandatory coalition between political irreconcilables, but also because it is unreal fiscally.

All parties essentially agree on a financial strategy, to demand ever more money from the Treasury and complain about the amounts that are forthcoming.

Unionists should be particularly wary of this approach, because it potentially alienates the rest of the UK, which does not get things we do such as free prescriptions, free transport at 60 and a higher number of hospitals per head of population and an absence of water charging. There are no consequences for nationalists by perpetually demanding more and depicting British governments as mean, in contrast to Irish generosity. It supports their idea of a failed NI in a failed UK. But unionists should have a culture of asking what can be done for the country, not just what it can do for us.

Last night a Northern Ireland Office junior minister said that a budget set for NI’s public services "will require difficult decisions". Lord Caine did emphasise that the total sum being made available of £14.2 billion for revenue spending and £2.2bn for capital would have been the same if the executive was up and running. And he said that it "is the government’s clear wish that these matters were being dealt with” by the assembly.

A functioning Stormont is the ideal. But the view, often made in public discourse, that it will be a solution to problems it never tackled, if not actually made worse, is risible.