An imperfect deal that has lifted spirits at Christmas

Morning View
Morning View

The journey to yesterday’s Stormont deal was a tortuous one, and almost all the key players are unhappy with aspects of the outcome.

But the understanding that has been reached on a range of disputes (to varying degrees, depending on the dispute) seems to have secured devolution, and has lifted spirits at Christmas time.

There is much to applaud in the ‘Stormont House Agreement’, most significantly the fiscal realism that has prevailed.

The most charitable thing to be said about the SDLP and Sinn Fein’s obduracy on welfare is that it was unsustainable, and so it proved (after considerable pressure from London).

Indebted governments across the West are having to trim their welfare budgets in the face of changing demographics that could place impossible demands on national finances.

Much of yesterday’s trumpeted financial package relates to access to loans, and loans ultimately have to be repaid, so the deal is no boost to Stormont’s spend-spend-spend mentality. It is good that this is so because spendthrift policies today only shift the burden of paying for it on to someone else (typically the young) tomorrow.

The most exciting part of the deal is that it paves the way for the devolution of corporation tax. A lower rate of that tax, if it comes, will be no panacea for our economic ills but it is one of the few possible ways the Province can emerge from public sector dependency.

As our reports this week on the Boston College tapes saga has shown, dealing with the past is fraught. But is to be hoped that the new structures to deal with Troubles legacies will result in a more balanced approach to the past than has been so recently, with the disproportionate focus on state failings.

The least progress yesterday was over flags and parading. But there is hope in those issues too.

The now uncontroversial loyal order parades in Londonderry and Rossnowlagh, Donegal, show that agreement can be reached even in overwhelmingly nationalist areas.