I have two little grandsons aged four and two.
Very occasionally, they come to overnight with us when their parents have to be away.
When that happens, the four-year-old will bounce into the house with his suitcase and say, “I’m here on a pretend holiday.”
It is quite funny from a four-year-old. There is nothing funny about a finance minister putting before Stormont a pretend budget and having it voted through with only TUV as the voice of opposition.
Patently, there is a major crisis in the finances and governmental institutional arrangements of Northern Ireland. Else we would not have reached the ridiculous level of proposals being brought for public spending, where those who bring them know that the money that they are voting to spend, they do not have and will not have.
It is clear that there is a crisis, but it is equally clear that this is a crisis made in Stormont. The crisis is the inevitable consequences of the form of government that we have. It is a crisis epitomising the failure of mandatory coalition. At the heart of government, there is a party that does not want to make Northern Ireland work; that is quite happy to bankrupt Northern Ireland.
Margaret Thatcher once famously said that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. Sinn Féin is very happy to spend other people’s money, and if it is the British government’s money, so much the happier. But now the generous block grant is set to run out.
This really brings to a crystallising point the failure of Stormont’s failed institutions. The game of pretence speaks of a dismal Executive deserving only of oblivion. In fact, it reminds me of some well-known words from Shakespeare that might be the epitaph of this Executive:
“Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion”.
Of this Executive it could be said, “sans Budget, sans credibility, sans legitimacy, sans everything”.
The only way Northern Ireland will escape the cycle of perpetual crises is if we get a government which is formed between parties which agree on what to do about issues.
For as long as all parties are in government for ever nothing will change.