NI elections: Economy comes to the fore

Voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls on Wednesday to elect the Assembly which will hopefully produce a power-sharing executive.

One positive sign for the outcome is that there has been a new focus on economic and social issues in the campaign:

Power-sharing is inevitable
and, for the first time, the parties are being forced to consider the
economic problems in the North. The peace process can only become a
political success story if the economic problems which beset the North,
and which have been ignored for decades, are addressed. (Sunday Business Post)

The most concrete sign of the new mood came from the DUP last week:

  The DUP today gave the clearest signal yet it is preparing to go into government – by indicating which department it most hopes to take charge.    

  As the likely largest party, the DUP will have first choice of the Departmental portfolios under the Assembly D’Hondt system.

  Leader Ian Paisley signalled he will select the Department of Finance and Personnel, previously the domain of the SDLP under ministers Mark Durkan and Sean Farren. (Belfast Telegraph)

British and Irish officials are currently in discussions over an economic package for the North:

Mr Brown announced a £50 billion package last November,
which incurred some derision in the North because some of it was
already budgeted for, but it was arguably quite generous in the
light of changing economic circumstances.

The National Development Plan, announced in Dublin on January
23rd, opened up the possibility for Northern Ireland to gain access
to or compete for funds of approximately €1 billion for
research, infrastructure, tourism, energy resources, regional
development and education. (Irish Times)

Irish Finance Minister Brian Cowen gave some details of the NDP plan for the North at a business breakfast in Derry last week, where he pointedly praised the SDLP’s economic policies:

parties endorsement of an All-Island 12½ per cent Corporation Tax rate
and your calls for a strong economic package for the North in the
context of an impending settlement of all remaining issues has helped
to bring centre-stage the need to focus strategically on what
structural and strategic economic reforms are necessary in a
post-conflict situation that will revive the role of a dynamic private
sector contributing increased revenues and publicly funded service
priorities you have identified. (Department of Finance)

The Corporation Tax issue was the subject of an interesting discussion over at Slugger O’Toole. UTV business correspondent Jamie Delargy came out very strongly in favour of taking local control, regardless of the problems it might cause for Gordon Brown in Scotland or elsewhere.

I’ve heard this from a senior politician. ‘You have to understand his particular problems. He would face a lot of aggro from fellow Scottish and Welsh MPs.’ So what? That’s his problem.  They’re saying we understand.  Let’s not understand. (Radio Slugger: 14 min into programme.)







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