Monday, 20 September 2010

Just how many quangos does NI need?

SUCH was the question posed by the man charged with overseeing the Assembly and ruling on maladministration, Mr Tom Frawley.

Mr Frawley has been the Assembly Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Ombudsman for several years now, and undoubtedly presided well on our over-administered system.

At the same time he has seen a proliferation of commissioners and commissions, a number set up under direct rule, some created by the Good Friday Agreement, and some set-up by the Assembly.

While Mr Frawley’s question is a pertinent one at a time when cuts are being cited by all and sundry, perhaps it requires a few more interrogatory questions.

For example, has employment in Northern Ireland seen the ending of discriminatory practice? Have human rights improved? Are children’s services been getting ever better? Are victims voices being heard? So long as the questions are still being posed there may be a role for the ‘quagocrats’.

The answers to these questions are also very complex and one suspects than any changes will not be solved by headlines in a daily paper. Indeed, the cost savings to be made by abolishing or joining the organisations mooted in the newspaper pages will be negligible in the grand scheme of cuts needed.

One might even argue that at a time when services will inevitably be slashed we need these commissions and commissioners to keep a watchful eye over the machinations of the political classes.

Sadly there is a real question mark over the services. On 20 October, the full story will be told. Until then the arguments may well continue - although one suspects that symbolism will be more important than the reasoned arguments of Mr Frawley or any other Ombudsman.

So its plus ça change etc in Northern Ireland!

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