Political Forward Look 2018
Futurology is fraught with danger at the best of times for those in the political advisory industry, but must be attempted to navigate the bumps in the road over the next 12 months. However, in a world of increasing uncertainty, there are several political key moments in 2018 that are nailed on.
New Sinn Fein President
Before the end of February, Sinn Fein will hold a special Ard Fheis to elect the party’s next President and successor to Gerry Adams. It would be a huge surprise if anyone other than Mary Lou McDonald becomes the new leader due to her already prominent position in Irish politics. A challenge for her will be to increase her recognition levels in the north.
Recently there was a distinct possibility of a snap general election prior the resignation of now former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Inevitably, there will be a general election in the Republic of Ireland. A watching brief will be kept on the rise of Sinn Fein. With a new president in place and renewed vigour, they could become a minority coalition partner in the south, and with their status in the north, become the strongest party across the island of Ireland. The next Irish presidential election will take place in November 2018 at the latest, so there could be change on many fronts.
Also in May, we will see UK local elections. It will be interesting to see if any further damage can be done to the Conservative party at the regional level and what sort of de-stabilising factor that could have at Westminster for the government.
In the November budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond promised that the issue of VAT on hospitality services and Air Passenger Duty in Northern Ireland would be reviewed and presented back to him before the next expected budget later in 2018. Frankly, these reviews are well overdue and need to be accelerated as they are two economic levers that we should have had at our disposal years ago.
All roads still lead to 29 March 2019, the UK’s last day of being in the European Union. Saying no more.
City Deal for Belfast
Also in the Budget, Hammond outlined that a consultation will be brought forward to develop a city deal for Belfast. This city deal status gives local areas specific powers to help support economic growth and job creation. Further shape has yet to be put on how and when this consultation happens.
Leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood, has also stated that he has assurances from the Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire that the British government will commit to a city deal for Derry.
The Renewable Heath Incentive (RHI) inquiry will continue with the extensive list of witnesses appearing in front of Sir Patrick Coughlin to outline their role in the development and delivery of the scheme. Leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, is expected to give evidence as legal teams wade through 880,000 pages of documents.
Good Friday Agreement – Twenty Years on
April will see the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The British Council will mark this milestone with the key international ‘Peace and Beyond’ conference, a three-day high-profile event which will bring together practitioners, academics, policy makers and young leaders from the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Lebanon, the Western Balkans and Colombia in Belfast.
NI Affairs Select Committee
The NI Affairs Select Committee has just closed its call for evidence for its new inquiry on ‘Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland – dealing with the deficit’.
The inquiry will look at solutions for restoring devolved bodies and accountability as well as investigate the need for further intervention from the UK Government. It will also examine the impact of the lack of an Executive on communities, public services and businesses and what can be done in the absence of an Executive to ensure Northern Ireland’s voice is heard.
Witnesses are likely to be called to give evidence in the coming weeks, once the clerks have had some time to sift through the submissions.
As we sit now, it is highly unlikely that the Assembly and Executive will return any time soon. Relationships between the parties and the key players seem to be very fractured regardless of what issues are on, or off, the table. The two main parties will continue to drive their own channels and increase support from their own bases.
In the absence of this level of government, the opportunity exists for local councils to play a greater role as the delivery agents of economic development, democratic services and civic responsibility.