Goodbye Owen Paterson, Hello Theresa Villiers

05/09/2012 10:32 BST | Updated 04/11/2012 10:12 GMT

In a cabinet reshuffle billed as the answer to Britain's economic ills, Prime Minister David Cameron went with the economic status quo: holding tight to the fiscally prudent and the ever-derided George Osborne.

More austerity and retrenchment it is then!

But what does the shuffle mean over here in Northern Ireland, beyond the national economic policy outlook?

Well, since the now former Secretary of State, Owen Patterson, was more or less appointed to the role of toothless steward overseeing a heavily divided Potemkin economy, my guess is: not a lot.

And that's how White Hall sees Northern Ireland: a troublesome supplicant and economically sterile outpost.

But despite this low regard and lack of power the incoming Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, has already promised great things: assuring to help bring stability, peace and prosperity to Northern Ireland.

However, her predecessor's tenure certainly wasn't remarkable.

Paterson can be noted for bringing tepid forward movement on the issue of corporation tax after 15 years of agitation by business leaders.

Yet, nothing of great note came from this. Nor was much else achieved, bar Troubles-related enquiries and the riling of our regional political parties.

Commentators and the corporate tax caucus in Northern Ireland had maintained that the tax proposal was soluble with Paterson holding the brief.

But with the changing of the steward, will Villiers liquidise the rhetoric and make fiscal self-determination a reality?

Post-reshuffle the new Secretary has already pressed on the acute need to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy away from a bloated public sector.

However, with Mr. Salmond's aspirations for Scottish independence still salient, the UK and European economy still lagging and political parochialism still characterising Northern Ireland politics it's my guess again that Theresa Villiers won't be bringing fiscal self-determination to Stormont this term or the next.

In spite of this, a simple truth remains: so long as Stormont ministers lack the real tools of economic policy making it's unlikely that much economic rebalancing will be done.

Devolving tax powers to NI remains the only real material solution to bringing economic balance to Northern Ireland. By handing Stormont ministers a fiscal edge, policy makers would be able to build a business friendly region, attract inward investment and jobs.

But not only would fiscal sovereignty bring economic balance, jobs and prosperity to NI but it would also bring a tangible degree of stability and peace to this region.

A central cause of the ongoing cultural and civil disorder is chronic intergenerational joblessness.

To put it simply: Northern Ireland can't offer young working class men jobs or a role in society. However paramilitaries and gangs can.

No amount of inter-communal dialogue and storytelling can remedy Northern Ireland's social ills.

Men and women need a role and a position in society and a job and a dynamic economy can give that.

That is the true path to stability, peace and prosperity.

So if I had anything to say to the Northern Ireland voice in Cameron's Cabinet it would be: take note of the sink estates; take note of the chronic joblessness, deprivation, poverty and underachievement; take note of the lack of opportunities in Northern Ireland and see that true policy powers are needed.

Only then can we in Northern Ireland go further down the road towards real stability, peace and prosperity.