Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, would not, perhaps, win prizes for her in depth knowledge of sectarian politics in her patch – in an interview for the House magazine she said she had never realised that nationalists don’t vote for unionists, and vice versa (though that, actually, may change, given how Sinn Fein’s pro abortion, pro gay marriage gives Catholic voters the creeps) – but she’s on the ball in one respect.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has been out of action since last year on the basis of a standoff between the DUP and Sinn Fein based on one comprehensible issue (SF took a dim view over Arlene Foster’s hair-raising handling of green subsidies) and a frankly incomprehensible one – Sinn Fein taking a very hard line on the Irish language, despite the fact that the only place in Ulster where it is anyone’s first language is Donegal, which is actually across the border in the Irish Republic. Those are bogus, spurious grounds for the party’s frankly scary national leader (though not in Northern Ireland – do keep up), Mary Lou McDonald, to promote her overall agenda, north and south of the border.
So now, Bradley has finally, belatedly, declared that the Northern Ireland Assembly members who do not take their seats will take a pay cut, from £49,500 to £35,888, starting in November. It will happen in two stages. The first cut of £7,425 will be followed by a further reduction of £6,187 in three months’ time if there isn’t progress. That should concentrate minds.
Good work, Karen. This is, frankly, the only language the parties understand. But it shouldn’t have taken this long and it should be much more swingeing: a cut of 50 per cent, I’d say, by now, falling to 75 per cent just in time for Christmas. If the deputies are too principled to turn up to work, then they can damn well be too principled to take the pay for it.
The danger is that Westminster will actually take over issues that should properly be devolved ones. MPs like Stella Creasy, for whom the concept of devolution seems not actually to have sunk in yet, are terrifically anxious to take the opportunity of the Assembly no-show to impose English abortion laws on Northern Ireland. The sooner the Assembly gets back in business to vote on these things for themselves, the better.