Charities want NI to have a government asap
Civic society plays a key role in Northern Ireland’s wellbeing. It is worth listening to – and what it says about the Stormont impasse could scarcely be more unified.
The list of things that an Executive could do and which are not being done keeps growing.
This list of problems facing everyone in Northern Ireland also keeps growing.
Unfortunately, we are not going over a few bumps in the road that come, cause an issue, and then disappear into the rear-view mirror without any lingering problems.
Instead, the cost-of-living keeps rising at an astonishing rate. While that feels like a sudden problem – and the recent uptick in scale certainly is sudden – it also reflects a longer-term trend where the income of many people has struggled to keep up with inflation.
Meanwhile, many other long-established issues are also getting worse. The health service is buckling further. The justice system has significant delays, the economy is in some ways doing better than the rest of the UK but isn’t exactly doing well, and
When the DUP decided to draw a red line and say they would block the formation of an Executive at Stormont until the Protocol had been changed significantly or abandoned, they cannot have foreseen the runaway inflation that has since kicked in.
This is already placing enormous strain on people and families. Food is now far more expensive. Fuel too. The price of home heating and electricity has soared, and this upward line continues. The strain on households is only going to get worse.
The third sector has played a key role in the wellbeing of Northern Ireland’s society, economy and people for a very long time.
During the height of the pandemic, organisations went above and beyond to cater for those in need – including rapidly changing the way they operate, and even the services they offer, to best help local people.
The sector also has plenty to say. It is an important voice for NI, now and in the future. And it has plenty to say about the current non-starter government.
In May, NICVA surveyed its members about the current lack of a government here in NI.
Members were asked a short list of questions, calling for their views on when and under what circumstances Stormont should be restored, what issues are the most pressing for government to tackle, and how important the Protocol is in the context of everything else.
The results were emphatic, showing massive support for an immediate restoration of the institutions. The questions put by NICVA were:
When and under what conditions should the NI Assembly be restored?
- 93% of respondents said that a Speaker should be elected and Committees established immediately, with no preconditions
- 6% said it this should happen after the NI Protocol has been amended to allow unimpeded access of GB goods to Northern Ireland, with 1% saying this should only happen after the Protocol has been abandoned
- 92% said the Assembly should be fully restored immediately with no preconditions, with 7% saying this should only happen after amendments to the Protocol, and 1% saying the Protocol must first be ditched
What should happen next if an NI Executive is not formed within the legally required 24-week period?
- Views here were mixed - 31% said the Secretary of State (SoS) should allow caretaker Ministers to continue in post; 30% said the SoS should call a second election; while 28% said the SoS should implement Direct Rule
- A smaller proportion (11%) thought the SoS should allow an extended period of negotiation
What do you consider to be the most important issue facing the Government in Northern Ireland?
- The most common response (from 38.4% of respondents) named the need to transform the health service as the top issue facing Northern Ireland
- This was closely followed by the cost-of-living crisis, which 34.3% gave as their top priority
- 13.1% said reducing HSC waiting lists
- 8.1% identified employment/the economy as their top option
- Only 4% pointed to the Northern Ireland Protocol
The final question was this:
Does the UK EU Withdrawal Agreement/NI Protocol contradict the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement provision that the constitutional position of NI can only be changed by the people voting in a Referendum?
While the majority of respondents (53%) answered no, a significant number (18%) said yes, while the remaining 29% said they didn’t know.
A recent survey found that almost half of NI homes are in fuel poverty right now. Further research suggests almost three quarters will be in fuel poverty by January.
The £400 energy payment that will be applied in the rest of the UK will, as things stand, not be rolled out in Northern Ireland, although discussions are ongoing as to how they might happen.
Then there is the £400m – and rising – pot of cash in Stormont’s coffers that could be used by an Executive for emergency measures (or, indeed, anything) but which, for now, is gathering dust.
The word crisis can be overused but this qualifies by any measure. Although it is being framed as “the cost of living” it is also a question of poverty. And poverty is only one of several crises plaguing Northern Ireland right now.
So, on one side of the scales is need that can be addressed, to some degree at least, by government. On the other side of the scales is politics. The DUP suffered poor results at the May elections. They have chosen to stick to their guns and keep their foot on Stormont’s neck. Is this a good political move?
Back in March, Scope wrote: “If the elections happen, and no Executive is formed, what then? Every time there is a policy, crisis that will put political pressure on those choosing not to enter Stormont.
“Between the cost of living, the crumbling health service, and the poor economy and struggling schools’ budgets and everything else, these crises are likely to be frequent. Each time something stumbles or breaks, this will cause political harm to those choosing to remain absent from power sharing. And, if and when the pressure grows so great that they do re-enter the institutions, all the damage caused in the interim will hang from their necks like millstones.
“While a lot of voters care an awful lot about the Protocol and badly want it changed, it’s not the only thing they care about. The cost-of-living crisis, in particular, is only getting started.”
Is this coming true? LucidTalk polling suggests it might be. It found the DUP down by over a percentage point (pp) since the elections – and those voters have not been lost to the TUV, which finds itself down by almost 3pp.
In fact, those poll results from June were quite extraordinary. So extraordinary, in fact, that caution should be taken when reading too much into the findings.
However, another LucidTalk poll is due in the next few weeks. If its findings back up the results from June, it might turn a few heads among Stormont naysayers. And maybe, just maybe, all the pressure urging those naysayers to get into government and get back to work might start having an impact.
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