Irish Republican News · November 19, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Counting the Cost of Direct Rule
Counting the Cost of Direct Rule
The following is the introduction to the discussion document ‘Counting the cost of Direct Rule and Putting it Right’, which was launched by Sinn Féin in Belfast this week.

In that time, British Direct Rule has undermined the Programme for Government and the priorities agreed by members of the last Executive and Assembly. Driven not by a commitment to serve the people of the north, but by a Whitehall imperative to slash public spending, British Direct Rule Ministers have refused to adequately finance badly needed services, programmes and reforms that were identified as essential to make social and economic progress. While Direct Rule persists, this will not change.

Direct rule is not just undemocratic. It’s not just bad for the Peace Process. Direct Rule has proven bad for our economy and bad for our society. It has made it impossible to manage the economy in the interests of all. It has impeded the delivery of essential services to all on an equal basis. It has stalled the process of reform in healthcare and education. It has inflicted damage on the agricultural sector. It has therefore imposed unacceptable economic costs and social costs.

It’s high time to count the costs of Direct Rule, and to set about putting it right.

DIRECT RULE: COUNTING THE COSTS

Direct Rule Ministers have not operated in the interests of the people of the north.

In some cases this is partly attributable to Ministerial disengagement or incompetence. For example, Direct Rule Ministers recently overlooked the fact that we were about to lose EU Peace funding. But such indifference and incompetence only compound the central problem, which is structurally inherent to Direct Rule -- that is unaccountability. We have no way of removing those from power who either cannot perform or who follow an agenda detrimental to the interests of our people.

The main problem with Direct Rule Ministers is that they are interim appointees with no mandate and accountable to nobody in the north. Their ability to deliver has no impact on their political futures. Further, their decisions are circumscribed by a broader agenda and policy imperatives that have nothing to do with the people of the north. They have flatly refused to listen to either the genuine concerns raised by democratically mandated politicians or the local expertise of community and voluntary organisations.

Direct Rule decisions have had broad negative consequences for us all.

Thirty years plus of British under-investment has meant that major economic and social infrastructural deficits impeding our development remain unaddressed. Spending cuts in the most recent Direct Rule Budget will further devastate services across a range of areas.

So there are specific costs of Direct Rule that can be counted, which impact on the economy, agriculture, healthcare and education, some of which are detailed in this document.

The fact that the British Government is now determined to force us down the road to privatisation of services and greater dependency on PFI and PPP makes ending Direct Rule a matter of urgency. If PPP/PFI contracts are signed under Direct Rule, this will bind any future Assembly and Executive into a policy straitjacket and severely restrict its freedom of action for decades to come.

Direct Rule is therefore a liability to all of our society -- nationalists and unionists alike.

...AND PUTTING IT RIGHT

Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed more than seven years ago the institutions have functioned properly for less than 18 months. This dysfunction and the more recent lengthy suspension have denied us all an adequate opportunity to work together to reverse three decades of British Direct Rule and unionist misrule.

We urgently need to get the institutions back up and running so we can start to undo the damage now. Any further delay will only compound our problems with continued under-investment, mis-investment and under-funding of services. This will mean further damage to our economy, our education and healthcare systems and our rural communities. It will mean that the fight against poverty, disadvantage and inequality will slide even further down the policy agenda.

The IRA decision to end its armed campaign and complete the process of putting arms beyond use has opened up a new opportunity to get the institutions back up and running. Failure to make the most of this opportunity benefits no one, as this will consign us all to more bad decisions under Direct Rule.

This is a challenge for us all. Unionists have walked away from every initiative aimed at restoring the institutions. Their refusal to engage and agree a way forward has penalised everyone, not just republicans. The question is -- how long will the DUP allow Direct Rule Ministers to take decisions to the detriment of people in the north?

The political institutions must be restored. The British Government must deliver a Peace Dividend that can be invested by locally accountable government for the common good. And we must all work together collectively to plan our new society.

Sinn Féin is up to the challenge.

© 2005 Irish Republican News