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Joe Biden may be celebrating a dysfunctional deal in Northern Ireland

Joe Biden may be celebrating a dysfunctional deal in Northern Ireland

US President Joe Biden arrives in Northern Ireland on Tuesday to hail the US-brokered Good Friday agreement 25 years ago, the Belfast Agreement. However, the country’s economic condition and political decisions of the last quarter century are not enough to celebrate. The agreement is now outdated, and without reforms, Northern Ireland will face more and more problems, as one of the two extreme political powers refuses to renew the previous agreement, which also includes a power-sharing clause.

In his analysis a Politico Notes: The failure of power-sharing between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists, hence the central idea of ​​the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. They state: Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom

  • He hasn’t had an elected government in nearly a year.
  • no annual budget,

Thanks to Brexit, they were able to deposit tens of millions of euros in annual EU subsidies, which would have been used to support the poorest communities.

In Northern Ireland, the so-called Budget Council was set up two years ago to support the work of Stormont (the name of the Parliament of Northern Ireland). The council estimates that £808m is needed in 2023 to keep existing services running, but this £808m is at odds with the London-based government’s view that immediate spending cuts of more than £500m are needed. sterling.

The poorest people do not receive food aid

The 2023 budget was prepared by Stormont late, and did not deliver on promises of lost EU money, so local hospitals and schools were forced to make cuts, for example by reducing staff.

The lack of money also hits the poorest hard: the Ministry of Education has ended subsidies for holiday meals for students from poor families – a ruling that accounts for nearly a third of all students.

Secretaries make decisions in place of ministers

In London a law has recently been passed devolving decision-making to ten secretaries, that is, ten high-ranking civil servants, who are then employed to advise Stomont—that is, not to make political decisions affecting the economic and social condition of the country.

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In addition to the Ministry of Education, other ministries are preparing cuts of 6-10% on average. In this regard, one of the secretaries told Politico that, in his opinion, it is politically unsustainable and a violation of democracy that he is forced to play a “ministerial role”. Another civil servant, who requested anonymity, told the newspaper that “locally elected ministers should make these decisions, if the power-sharing element of the Good Friday Agreement still means anything.” He added that ‘as long as power-sharing means not working, London you have to take your responsibility seriously’, stating that the British government’s inaction is making matters worse and it should be ashamed of itself for harming so many people.

Without the right decisions, there is no future

Meanwhile, the UK government insists on austerity, arguing that the financial problems are caused by the failure of Stormont’s devolved governments to make necessary but difficult financial decisions for years.

According to Steve Baker, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Northern Ireland, the financial problems did not come overnight, but rather were the result of persistent mismanagement. Baker primarily blames the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland’s premier pro-British party, for refusing to form a new unity government with Sinn Féin, the country’s strongest Republican and Catholic party since 2005, after last year’s election.

The DUP declared at the time: in protest at Brexit, they would block Stormont for an indefinite period, including, for example, the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to which Northern Ireland – unlike the rest of the United Kingdom – would continue to Subject to the rules of trade in the European Union. Thanks to protocol, the free flow of trade across the border with the Republic of Ireland has been guaranteed since 2021, but unionists fear what nationalists hope: that only such provisions can lift Northern Ireland off the UK’s lap and straight into the UK. Embrace Ireland.

However, the protocol did not allow London to rest: in March, the British government and the European Commission agreed to the Windsor Framework Agreement, which significantly reduced the EU’s control over British goods arriving at the ports of Northern Ireland. London and Brussels have said they hope this agreement can be brought to Stormont, but that has yet to happen.

DUP is stubborn

The DUP became the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland in part because it consistently rejected the Good Friday Agreement and refused to compromise with the violent Sinn Féin, which once campaigned for Northern Ireland’s abolition. The tide has since turned: Sinn Féin finished ahead of the DUP for the first time in its history in the 2022 election, which legally meant that the party’s regional leader and deputy leader, Michel O’Neill by name, would be entitled to the top premiership in Stormont.

On the other hand, the defeat of the DUP increased the concern of unionists that relations between Northern Ireland and Great Britain could deteriorate permanently, which is almost unfavorable for them.

seen from the middle

More moderate politicians blame both extremes for making Northern Ireland ungovernable, saying power-sharing rules developed 25 years ago are outdated in today’s stricter political environment. They believe that the time has come for reforms, so there is no need to strive for the unionists and the Catholics to form a compulsory coalition, because as you can see: this would practically impede the formation of the government and – as has happened many times. times over the past 20 years – they can shut down Stormont.

Furthermore, the regulations render irrelevant the country’s most capable compromise party, the Coalition, which refuses to define itself as either a British unionist or an Irish nationalist. During the previous elections, the Alliance could have been classified as a political factor for the first time in its life: compared to being a marginal player in 1998, it came in third place in the last May elections with 17 seats, less than ten seats. Sinn Féin and eight fewer seats than the DUP.

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Politico notes that the coalition could have become a “coalition kingmaker” in a new system, but under current power-sharing rules this cannot happen. Some believe coalition leader Naomi Long could even sue the British government to force reform from them. “I don’t think it’s legal for our votes to matter less than the votes of others,” says Long, who says the current rules violate European human rights laws. Long says he should only go to court as a last resort, on Good Friday. – The rules for participating in the agreement allow for a periodic review of the system.

It’s time: it’s time for a new deal

Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern worked with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but he now believes the system is too late and, in concert with think tanks investigating possibilities for a Stormont revival, says it’s time to introduce the voluntary alliance, or “democracy” in Hungarian. In a new democracy, Sinn Féin and the DUP could each reserve the right to joint government, but they could not prevent the other from forming a government with another. With this system, the opportunity will also open up for the more moderate parties, which can therefore clearly represent their electorate. Politico reminds us:

25 years ago, journalist Stephen Grimason first wrote about the Good Friday Agreement. Grimason was the BBC’s Northern Ireland political editor at the time, and later a spokesperson for Stormont. He has worked alongside DUP and Sinn Féin ministers, and remembers that some often avoided taking tougher decisions that would lay the groundwork for building a stronger reformist government. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last week, he said the quarter-century anniversary has been bittersweet for him, with Stormont missing out on every opportunity he has had over the past 25 years.

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