C.hris Heaton-Harris MP, NI Secretary
While so much energy is spent on questions of identity in the absence of the Assembly (for example, “The British don’t love us anymore. Please!), very little attention seems to be paid to the actual politics, which play out in largely without regard to local politicians. .
The UK government in the person of Chris Heaton-Harris is free to play games or play for real, whichever it chooses.
The US-leaning Malone House Group has just signaled that the Legacy Bill providing for a virtual amnesty is expected to become law later this month, despite opposition from local parties, the Irish government and the human rights groups. The group’s main concern was to eliminate what they considered an intrinsic bias against the security forces in a process that withheld more evidence against them than against the paramilitaries.
in another example
Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of the North, updated the curriculum as per Westminster regulation, in Stormont’s absence. Pupils aged 11 to 16 must now be taught about access to contraception and abortion, although whether schools deign to do so is another question.
Not everyone is in the mood for a debate. Bishop Donal McKeown, president of the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools, said anyone who needs information on abortion can Google it.
But the DUP has gotten into the spirit of the occasion, accusing Heaton-Harris of seeking to “promote abortion among children and young people based on its interpretation of ‘scientifically accurate’ education.”
This follows the precedent of Westminster enforcing abortion regulations obstructed by the Stormont session.
No one has any idea if CHH has a billion-pound sweetener in mind to return to Stormont, a situation that everyone seems to consider normal these days.
Behind that, of course, are the games that are played on the terms of the DUP. The rational approach is presented by former civil servant Andrew McCormick, who has already written a scathing account of the government’s handling of Brexit with particular reference to Northern Ireland. “The government should come clean.” What, Andrew? You must be kidding!
NI is stuck in limbo with “the DUP asking for something the government can’t deliver, and the government seems to promise to meet their concerns, despite knowing they can’t.”
The Northern Ireland Office has allowed this stalemate to continue, despite the real world consequences: lack of an executive, deteriorating public services and worsening public finances, all of which undermine confidence in government institutions..
Such a rational approach would only plunge into a worse crisis and raise the specter of direct rule, whatever name CHH has declared itself opposed to, according to Dublin.
So the squeezing, or rather the wringing of the limp hand, continues.
However, let it not be said that Westminster is washing its hands of it.
This is slow and direct government stealthily letting the politicians feel the pain. The honorable thing would be to approve a better budget by the Order of Westminster. But that would be going too far.
Former BBC Journalist and Manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; BBC NI Political Editor; Editor of the BBC Radio 4 Current Affairs Commission; Political and Parliamentary Programs Editor, BBC Westminster; former publisher of London Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London