This is what I’m doing tomorrow – speaking at the Tax haven Ulster: Faith, justice and corporation tax in Northern Ireland event in Belfast, organised by Christians on the Left. The main speaker is Richard Murphy, Quaker, Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London, author of the brilliant Tax Research UK blog and economic adviser to Jeremy Corbyn. I will be talking about corporation tax and about why both I personally and the Green Party, are opposed to its reduction in Northern Ireland. Richard has mentioned the event, and his own views, in his own blog post today.
The other speakers at the event, which begins at 7pm in the HUB, Elmwood Avenue, are Dave Thomas of Christian Aid, with whom I have worked on many campaigns and events over the years, Claire Hanna of the SDLP and the Jesuit theologian Brendan MacPartlin.
I’m also planning to go to another event featuring Richard Murphy tomorrow. This is a workshop at Queen’s University, arranged by Professor (and Green Party Councillor) John Barry entitled Lowering Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland: A Smart Move or Dangerous Risk? I’m very much looking forward to both, to contributing and to learning more about this vital and much misrepresented topic.
Meanwhile we are awaiting the next stage in the news from Stormont. As the BBC reports, the DUP’s announcement yesterday seems to leave three options.
a. The business committee of Stormont, meeting this afternoon, would vote to adjourn the Assembly. This would mean that the Executive Ministers (other than the UUP, which has already withdrawn) would remain in place and in power but the Assembly would not sit.
b. The government would suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, returning us to direct rule from Westminster.
c. If neither of the above events occur, Peter Robinson has said that he and the other DUP ministers would resign. His resignation would trigger an early election, probably in November (the next Stormont elections are otherwise scheduled for next May).
As Steven Agnew has said, the people of Northern Ireland deserve better than to be thrust into this situation. The prospect of the Executive governing for more than a short period with no legislative assembly is, I would suggest personally, contrary to the basic principles of constitutional law and of the separation of powers. The people’s right to representation, as exercised by their choice of MLAs in democratic elections, is not a plaything of the First Minister, to be cast aside at his whim. Similarly, the devolution of regional government is a real and vital part of our current constitutional settlement, not an ephemeral experiment or a new toy to be taken back by Westminster when the children begin to squabble. Try to imagine either of these scenarios occurring in Scotland – the Scottish government ruling without its Parliament, or Scottish devolution being suspended altogether … not easy, is it?
And here, of course, there are also darker reasons to keep the Stormont settlement going. As the Rev. Harold Good, former President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and a respected figure in the peace process, has said:
“Many of us are fearful that all we have put into this and all that other people have worked for could get lost just too speedily, too swiftly. How difficult it would be to get it back. Let’s remember that and let’s think also about the vacuum that would be left, we could be back to square one. There are people out there waiting in the shadows, across our community, who would take advantage and exploit this opportunity for another agenda.”
None of this, of course, is to diminish the huge responsiblity which now falls upon Sinn Fein to answer very serious and deep-rooted questions about its nature and relationships. These questions are made even more vital and more urgent by recent events. But Northern Ireland has faced worse times, worse dilemmas before, and has overcome them. I hope and pray that those making decisions in the next few hours and days will find it in their hearts to do so with a little patience, a little humility and a little courage. The people of Northern Ireland, who will bear the burden of failure, deserve at least this.
p.s. Since I drafted this, Steven Agnew has issued a further statement. He says
“Whilst no evidence has been provided that should necessitate the Assembly to collapse, it appears we are faced with two options – either suspend or collapse the Assembly. Neither of these options is ideal however the least worst option would be for the Business Committee to agree to a temporary suspension. However this must be on the condition that there is a deadline set for the Assembly to resume. This would allow time for calm and a period of negotiations. The alternative is a political vacuum which will undoubtedly increase tensions. We need to learn the lessons of the failures of past talks. Once the best compromised has been reached, no one party should have veto over the future of the political institutions in Northern Ireland. Any proposals should be put to the people of Northern Ireland. It is their future that hangs in the balance and they should have the final say.”
I entirely agree.