Monday, 14 March 2011

Oh fudge it, it’s the budget

WELL hurrah! Gosh darn it we have a budget for l’il ole Norn Iron!

After all the hullabaloo, backbiting and overall nastiness we have a NI Executive budget for the next four years.

Rest easy people because we now know just where the money will be spent…okay that’s a wee bit of a fib. We sort of know where it will be spent, and officials have been beavering away allocating the pounds, shillings and pence to various programmes.

But programmes are part of the picture. You see after all the fighting there is still a Programme for Government to be agreed post- May 5th. Take a deep sigh folks, because we have an election fight – already underway – and the rows over the Programme for Government.

We were watching the shenanigans over the budget row and a debate occasionally broke out.

It is hard not to feel a little depressed at the sheer predictability of the fights and shouting matches. Did anyone really expect mature, thoughtful consideration? Did anyone really expect our elected members to discuss in a calm, deliberate deployment of facts and figures?

So, what did we, the electorate learn from the debate that preceded the 67-31 vote budget approval?

Well, the biggest suspense was whether the UUP ministers would pack up their ministerial bags. Well, they didn’t. But by not voting they were in breach of the Stormont Assembly Ministerial code. Would Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness call on the Speaker to investigate? Would they be kicked out of office?

Of course not! If Michael McGimpsey or Danny Kennedy really expected the First Minister and deputy First Minister to give them more publicity through the process of investigation then it was a tactical error.

And, had they resigned it would have been seen as a futile gesture with barely three weeks until the dissolution of the Assembly.

On the other side of the row was it a tactical mistake to have such a public spat over health? Was the millions added to the health budget enough to stave off the very real picture of cuts to the frontline?

Ultimately the budget was a bun fight over cuts. As the Finance Minister Sammy Wilson was at pains to point out, cuts have to be made – end of story, no more debate.

Well apart from a couple of asides that are worth noting. Firstly, Social Development Minister Alex Attwood of the SDLP was not at the final vote – draw from that what you will but we cannot be bothered as boredom with the whole thing is now a wholesale malaise.

And, Sinn Féin are implementing cuts in Northern Ireland and fighting cuts in the Republic of Ireland – surely this is not an all-island approach.

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