16 Jan

A Wry Eye – Headless chickens still flap on

BY the time you are reading this, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could have pulled the trigger and called a new Assembly election.

From scandal to crisis in a few short days, the Northern Ireland political elite have proved themselves capable of behaving like headless chickens, still flapping but with no guiding mind.

Martin McGuiness resigns, Arlene Foster indignant, Bedroom tax (seemingly) avoided – it’s as if Jack Kerouac has come back from the grave to produce a stream of consciousness poem based on Northern Ireland politics.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who will get the best soundbite? Who will post the ‘killer’ tweet? All we know for sure is that the reaction from the populace has ranged from outraged through to ambivalence.

About 45% decided not to make the journey to the polling station in the May 2016 Assembly election. Maybe a few more will be motivated to vote this time. After all, a wee walk will help burn off some post-Christmas calories!

But, at least there won’t be so many MLAs to elect, with the number of seats per constituency reduced from six to five. The number of candidates on any putative ballot paper remains to be seen, but you can be assured that many familiar names will once again put themselves forward.

In the meantime the clock ticks down towards 17:00 today (Monday), to see whether a deal can be struck, negotiations succeed or if it was all just a big joke to see if anyone was paying attention.

Over the weekend the massive weight of intellectual might turned out to be lighter than expected in securing agreement. To gee things along the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, even decided not to return home, but endure Saturday and Sunday in Northern Ireland.

What began with a sniff of brinkmanship (we hope that isn’t perceived as a misogynist-like word) now has the whiff of electoral battle odour.

However, the reality seems to be that the Renewable Heat Incentive investigation/inquiry/study/homework project may be delayed in much the same way that the budget has been delayed. The Permanent Secretary at the Department of Finance has dug out and dusted off his abacus in the event that he has to allocate some cash to keep hospitals open. Given the ongoing crises in A&E departments, local doctors will hope he’s in a generous mood.

But, should an election take place, and if there is a new Executive, and if they can all agree to get along as MLAs and not headless chickens, there may be a budget in place before long.

To foresee such a thing Mr Brokenshire has been reading the runes, and examining the entrails of goats because the Executive will have to be formed around the Ides of March…a date Julius Ceasar chose to ignore as significant instead of doing what every self-respecting civil servant would do and pull a sickie.

In the meantime we await the peace and quiet of an election campaign, when certain purdah rules will have to be observed rather than the hysteria we are currently ‘enjoying’.