Nobody Knew How Welfare Reform Was Resolved, Now Nobody Knows How It's Unravelling in Northern Ireland

Nobody Knew How Welfare Reform Was Resolved, Now Nobody Knows How It's Unravelling in Northern Ireland

The Stormont House Agreement materialised on December 23 2015.

It was Haass 2.0 striding deep in extra time. The crowd, the press, the bookies saw no deal. The ever bullish Newton Emerson, albeit of the cynically bullish kind, was tweeting to the downbeat.

Then it happened. Sinn Fein acceded, we got welfare reform, we got the Agreement. A package of accords on flags, parades and the past etc. etc. And Northern Ireland got corporation tax on the statute books.

The stultified, schlerotic sectarian quango lived on. Northern Ireland retained a degree of respectability in the global market of sceptical opinions. Maybe its leaders could deliver. Maybe this is a place on the turn. Maybe Northern Ireland is a place to do business and compete in the world.

Then what didn't happen was the explanation, the elucidation of the detail. As Eamonn Mallie repeatedly asked:

"Why has no Stormont based journalist how the welfare reform dilemma was overcome?"

But it doesn't matter anymore, because welfare reform won't be happening. McGuinness did as pusillanimous Pete did on the Maze - he pulled out. Righteous recriminations rang out. Sinn Fein called treachery. The DUP counter-called counter-treachery. Sinn Fein published a shiny whitepaper. The DUP mirrored.

And just as nobody knew how on earth the welfare reform was resolved, nobody now knows how it's now unravelled. That's Northern Ireland politics - constructive ambiguity. Peace process fictions. Oh, and a pandering press. You wouldn't want to investigate too closely that you want to succeed.

This BBC journalists is clueless on the cause of the Sinn Fein about-swerve. This bald, quick-witted Trotskyite is surmising the Sinn Fein about-turn is Syriza-inspired. Melanie McDonagh looked at this further, saying that Sinn Féin has begun to think of itself as the 'Irish Syriza'.

But of course as Newton Emerson so rightfully and irascibly notes, "Ireland won't turn into Greece. Sinn Fein will just turn into Fianna Fail."

For a little less hubris and hyperbole, Brian Feeney could be onto something, with an actual examination of what has happened. But then again, I think it rather credulous to say Sinn Fein were in the dark and the DUP were the enlightened ones.

Any way, before the DUP-Sinn Fein split, Gareth Gordon called the welfare rapprochement a "non-aggression pact". But there was always something sinister and conceited to the arrangement. For the diametrically opposite to agree so swiftly was a conundrum that needed explaining, a la Eamonn Mallie.

As Alex Kane, with insight and perspicacity, said, the December 2014 Agreement was a DUP-Sinn "private process". It was all smoke. This was a public facade fronting private dealings.

But let's look at the bigger picture, for the welfare of people in Ireland, north and south, at all levels. Gerry Adams wants to lead Ireland, yet he can't implement fiscal reforms. Something European leaders have been doing for years now. We talk about credit ratings, currency fluctuations, fiscal health, market confidence, the stock ticker. This is the real world of sovereignty and self-determination. If Northern Ireland was on the bourse now, it would be junk status.

The kind of erratic behaviour we've seen since Monday does not pass. Collapsing the Agreement and thereby the Assembly is not a good look for Northern Ireland for an aspiring government party. It appears Sinn Fein have thrown out the chance for all-Ireland business tax setting powers.

Furthermore and more pressing, blocking austerity in fact ratchets up austerity. Not passing Welfare Reform means the amplification and magnification of harm. Non-implementation means "fines". This means deeper, more swinging "austerity". Thereby meaning the worse off will suffer most. As Mick Fealty and Lee Reynolds argued, you cannot protect people on benefits by increasing the harm of the original offence.

Further again, Northern Ireland has been the beneficiary of Treasury largesse and munificence for years. Warmed by the Treasury wallet against the austere winds that buffeted all other areas of Europe.

I don't want to hurt the most vulnerable, if we must use that most cloying cultural tick, but I want Northern Ireland to reform and evolve and move away from being a Potemkin economy, client statelet spending a budget, accountable to no-one.

Let's think more about the Euruzone example. Just as Stormont is subordinate to London, so the Dail is subordinate to Brussels and Frankfurt. Just as Dublin had to undertake the ECB-EU-IMF's will, so Belfast has little choice against the Treasury. Had Dublin refused or reneged, market forces would have rallied against Ireland, confidence and corporates would have evacuated, looking back on Ireland's credibility in financial and soft power terms crumble.

By taking the medicine you can gain credit, take later concessions and win your freedoms.

Sinn Fein talk of breaking the bankers and better deals, but Syriza shows us that trash talk doesn't translate into reality. Sinn Fein would just as likely do a Labour, talk in opposition, but do a walk back in government.

In any case, the Irish don't want that. It's not Irish, Orange or Green, doing a Syriza. As Fintan O'Toole said, the Irish want to be seen as cooly Anglo-Saxon not Mediterranean hot-heads. For all the leftist insurgency populist antics of Sinn Fein, that isn't Irish mainstream. As Theresa Reidy said, somewhere between 50-60% of Irish voters vote for rightist policies.

So where are we? Most of the "community" is baffled and befuddled. Innumerate in the ways of high finance, nobody really knows how it was erected in the first place, and nobody certainly knows how it all came down. Feeney says DUP-double-cross, but any one in the know knows Sinn Fein are scrupulous as they are ruthless. And that's why it happened, for my money. Ruthless self-interest. To deflect from the rape allegations, to take the heat off the conspicuous Dublin-Belfast doubletalk and to throw a bomb into the media cattery.

We are John Bull's backward island, unfortunately sectarian grandstanding and division reaps an electoral dividend.


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