The ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal has been making waves not only because it has exposed the seemingly backhanded nature of politics in Northern Ireland and the unhealthy influence of unelected SpAds, but also because of the sense of injustice it has invoked on the ground.
Speaking of injustice, the Executive’s Poverty Strategy runs out this month, yet no document exists ready to replace it in 2017. This comes at a time when 1 in 5 people live in poverty in Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, the publication of any new poverty strategy would be little more than a formality, likely thrown onto the back of a ‘social change’ strategy, due to the squabbling between the DUP and Sinn Féin to decide on yet another definition – that of ‘objective need.’
In his book The Locus Effect, Gary A Haugen looks at how violence sustains poverty in the developing world. Haugen observes, “The simple fact is that as hard you should work on the plowing, and the planting and the fertilizing, if you don’t deal with the locusts of violence you are still in big trouble.”
The problem with Northern Ireland is that until we have a government much less fractured than we do now, we shouldn’t be surprised that the division between two leading government parties ultimately enabled one party to spend (a projected) £425,000,000 on a flawed energy scheme unbeknownst to the other.
Whilst the previous mandate took place against the backdrop of protracted negotiations ahead of the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements, flag protests, election pacts, welfare stand-offs, the naming of children’s parks and constant accommodation of ‘the other side’, £425,000,000 slipped through the cracks. As long as the violence of the past not only hunts our society but continues to haunt our government, poverty in Northern Ireland will not receive the attention and priority it deserves.
Next time you hear about the cost of a divided society, don’t think policing or parading, rather think of a lack of accountability, a lack of partnership and a lack of leadership. We have reluctant partners in government, where the DUP and their SpAds freely run the show (but as long as they fly the flag, who cares), and where Sinn Féin often arrive too late to the game. By the time they divvy out resources ‘one for you, one for us’, no outcomes based model of governance will ever come close to tackling systemic social issues.
We’re used to having a political crisis before Christmas in Northern Ireland. Sadly, poverty remains far too prevalent all year round.