Stormont needs a Fiscal Council but it does not need a Fiscal Commission

News Letter editorial of Monday March 8 2021:

Monday, 8th March 2021, 7:30 am
News Letter editorial

The deal to return Stormont last year included a long wish list of commitments that were unnecessary, some of them positively inappropriate.

For example, there are arguments in favour of implementing the Gillen recommendations on the handling of sexual criminal cases, but there are also strong arguments against the proposals (this newspaper has reported grave concerns in some legal circles at the reforms).

Whether or not to proceed with such plan ought to be wholly a matter for Stormont, yet an (admittedly vague) commitment to address the report was inserted as part of the deal to restore devolution, which was partly drawn up by Dublin.

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And last year’s New Decade New Approach deal included several other policy commitments, some of which will prove costly to implement. One welcome pledge, however, was the establishment of a Fiscal Council for Northern Ireland.

Indeed, such a body — to “assess and report on the sustainability” of Stormont finances and spending — was needed in the Province many years ago. It might have made much less likely the disgraceful waste of precious UK taxpayer funds in the lucrative RHI or windmill schemes.

Yet the Fiscal Council was not set up by last summer, as it was supposed to be. For whatever reason, Sinn Fein has seemed distinctly cool about such an oversight body.

Now the SF finance minister, Conor Murphy, has said that his department is in the process of establishing the council, but he has also announced a Fiscal Commission to look at revenue raising powers.

Why? Does Mr Murphy think that with London insisting on a Fiscal Council, he then has to get powers that SF want?

Major revenue raising powers would make Northern Ireland even more a place apart from Great Britain, which suits republicans.

In any event, Stormont has serious work to do to prove its credentials as a responsible forum in which to spend the lavish UK funds that it already oversees, before there is a serious discussion of handing MLAs the power to raise even more.

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Alistair Bushe