By Edward Ferrin – Business and Economics Editor
As the DUP’s Paul Givan walked away from his post as First Minister last week, some huge decisions to protect some of the most vulnerable in society have been put on hold yet again. For the second time, the people of Northern Ireland have been left in limbo as to how they will survive another financial crisis as there is yet again no devolved power-sharing. Some might argue why, if at all, is Stormont seemingly blind and deaf to the real issues facing the people of Northern Ireland.
Just weeks ago, Gordon Lyons, in his position as Minister for the Economy, presented proposals for increases in tuition fees for local students attending Queen’s University or Ulster University to just over £7,000. Other plans include cutting the number of places for students to attend universities or partake in apprenticeship programs, as well as an end to EMA payments for further education students. At a time when Northern Ireland still has no strong sense of purpose in terms of industry and skills, Gordon Lyons has taken a very different path.
It is amusing to some political figures to watch Mr. Lyons make these announcements when his predecessor, Diane Dodds, consulted with her department to help make it easier for postgraduate students claim student loans through government schemes. Some very rightly have already questioned Mrs. Dodd’s over-optimism or Mr. Lyons’ “Thatcherite” attitudes to dealing with the Brexit cuts to the amount of money allocated to his department.
What is clear is that Stormont can’t continue in the rudderless policies of economic and financial mismanagement and the increasingly problematic dependence on bailouts from Westminster and the Exchequer. As the NHS in Northern Ireland faces crisis with waiting lists too long for a short-term promise or fix and infrastructure still in a perilous state – Northern Ireland’s elected representatives have yet to demonstrate a willingness or acknowledgement that the economic and financial state Stormont finds itself in is both unsustainable and unsuccessful.
As for those patients on the NHS waiting lists, students anxious about their futures, industries lost without skilled workers and those citizens who experience mental health problems and feel they have no purpose in today’s Northern Ireland, the pain and uncertainty will continue for another stretch of time. For some people it will be too late before the cowardly, arrogant and out of touch politicians finally accept their responsibility in building a new, much stronger and successful economy. That means the day when Northern Ireland no longer has a vast majority of its people in the “vulnerable” category.