It’s the oldest of clichés, but a week is a long time in politics. Mind you, when you pour £1million down the drain every week, it’s an expensive time too.
Despite the cries of poverty from Ministers in the Assembly, on Friday it was revealed that the Executive is underspending its budget by up to £1 million per day.
That stands in stark contrast to the claims from Executive parties in the Chamber on Monday, that Northern Ireland cannot afford free personal care for the elderly.
So let me see? A brief calculation tells me that in actual fact the Executive could have afforded free personal care for older people an incredible 14 times over – with a couple of million left over to spend on the railways.
This may be simplifying a more complex situation, but the fact of the matter remains that at a time when the Executive should be trying to build confidence in the new political institutions – by dealing sensibly with ‘bread and butter’ politics – it instead appears incompetent.
Worse than that, it appears uncaring about the needs of older people. The Executive parties argued that we could not afford free personal care right now – but Alliance’s amendments wouldn’t have tied the Ministers down to any timetable!
While the DUP’s Nigel Dodds was happy to bring forward a joint motion in February 2002 calling for free personal care for older people, where was he last Monday? His DUP colleagues certainly didn’t hesitate to vote against Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy’s amendments in an act of gross hypocrisy. But then the other parties weren’t any better, and the red faces in the chamber were ample evidence of the biggest U-turn in the Assembly’s history.
Scotland introduces free personal care on July 1, in an excellent example of what devolution can achieve when the effort is made. Through all the twists and turns of the debate there, it remained a major story. However, there was barely a peep from our own media about what happened last Monday, in what would have been a national scandal in any normal democracy.
Alliance was the sole credible voice pleading for better care for our pensioners in the Assembly last Monday, and has shown that it is the only effective opposition in Stormont. Unlike the Executive parties, Alliance will not betray or abandon older people in the callous manner we saw last week.