Stormont returns from holiday to a bulging in-tray

Morning View
Morning View

After a long summer break, Stormont is back.

There is a bulging in-tray facing Members of the Legislative Assembly after the recess.

The most urgent issue is Brexit, for which MLAs seemed wholly unprepared. The UK as a whole was unprepared, but this was because the Conservative government had thrown itself so emphatically behind Remain that it would have seemed to be defeatist to quietly prepare for a Leave vote.

Every government department is affected by Brexit, and in much the same way that Theresa May has asked all her cabinet to outline their responses to the challenges posed by the UK quitting the EU, so too should all the Stormont ministers.

It is easy to list the possible downsides and complications of Brexit but there are opportunities too.

One of the curiosities of a British departure is that the UK, including Northern Ireland, could soon be in a position to offer the sort of competitive tax rates that the Republic might one day be unable to offer. Dublin is concerned about discussions in Brussels on further cross-border harmonisation of taxes, that could impact on Ireland’s 12.5% rate.

Stormont also has the past to consider. The DUP is unlikely to be in any rush to approve a process. Developments in recent years have shown how easily the spotlight can fix on state failures, when the IRA was responsible for by far the most killings and when it was the state that prevented civil war.

But there has been progress on the hill since the stalemate over welfare almost collapsed the institutions last year. Sinn Fein did not make the strides that it hoped to make in May and Brexit has not led to an immediate public appetite for Irish unity. This ought to help further stabilise relations.

Meanwhile, Stormont has an Opposition. This too ought to lead to a further normalisation of politics, and greater scrutiny of governance. Jim Allister has shown how forensically a single individual can highlight dubious decisions. Two parties ought to be able to achieve much more than a single MLA.