With the airwaves full of the news of Peter Robinson’s transAtlantic U-turn regarding development of the Long Kesh/Maze site, it’s tempting to write about the appalling quality of unionist leadership. But there are things that are more important than the various gyrations of the DUP, some things more important than parades, some things more important than flags, some things more important even than the past. I’m talking about jobs.
There was a time when we judged the state of the economy by how many people were working and how many not. Nowadays there’s a tendency to get more excited about how much more or less your house is worth. For some people that matters. For most others, house prices are sums in your head and don’t mean anything in the real world, not until you decide you’re going to sell. Or buy.
But to get back to jobs. First the good news: there’s less unemployment here than there was. Hooray! All of 0.7% more people are working now than were last quarter, and all of 0.2% more than a year ago. Not a stunning rise exactly, but for the very few who benefit by it it is indeed good news.
Now the bad news. Over half of those unemployed here have been unemployed for a year or more. That’s a 10% increase on last year. No fiddling 0.s there. Over half of the unemployed have been without work for more than a year. Can you imagine what havoc that wreaks in the life of a working man or woman? And in the lives of those dependent on them?
You’ll get people who’ll tell you that we always come at the back of the queue when it comes to important matters in the UK. Not so. This month marks the 40th month that the north of Ireland has been either first or second in percentage terms in the UK, claiming unemployment benefits. We may be on the window-ledge of the Union but we’re top of the list when it comes to depending on benefits. Cheering or what?
But then you weren’t really expecting a Tory government to treat people over here any differently? For God’s sake missus - there are no votes for Tories or Labour here. Nothing concentrates the mind of a politician than the fact that some issues hold no votes for him/her.
Let me leave you with one statistic. One in 29 people in London are dollar millionaires - what do you expect when you’ve a Cabinet stuff with multi- millionaires? - while one-third of people living here in our little state live in relative or absolute poverty. So while the people in Britain at the top of the money tree are rubbing their hands as they get a 5% tax cut, families here are reeling under ruthless Tory cuts in welfare.
There is a solution to this. If instead of London, our Executive had control of matters fiscal, they could plan things with the interests of the people in the north in mind. It’s like the man next door is in charge of your family finances. Only when you stop him deciding how much you and your family get will it be possible to make tailor-made decisions for the people who live here, and let somebody else attend to London’s millionaires.
The worst that can happen is that local politicians will make a hames of it. If that were to happen - if politicians here were to prove themselves even greedier and even less competent than the politicians of Westminster - we’d at least have the satisfaction of giving them the thumbs-down at the next election. Right now we’re like a stud stallion that has had his important bits removed. Or if that’s too brutal an image, try this: he who holds the purse-strings calls the tune.