Ulster is poorly served by the government. The Beeb are not too warm to the DUP’s urging
of direct rule. The norms of language
are unfavourable; to ‘impose direct rule’.
Perhaps if the phrase were ‘to re-assume direct responsibility’ it would
be better received. The language may be batted about, but the new government
must face the immediate reality of Ulster’s position, and their predecessors’
failures to address it.
From 1921 to 1972, Ulster was an autonomous region, with a Governor and a Parliament of Northern Ireland, as if it had been a self-governing colony, and Westminster could practically ignore the place. Its institutions and laws were largely sundered from those of Great Britain and forced to fend for themselves. In 1972, the system collapsed in civil disorder, but instead of abolishing the Parliament and bringing Ulster back into normality, London enacted the suspension of the home-rule state with all powers passed to the Secretary of State, subject to Parliamentary assent to actual law-making, and the temporary became the permanent, until Tony Blair replaced it all with a new Assembly, which has been suspended for some years now.
Since 1921 then, Northern Ireland has been starved of all the
advantages that the size of the United Kingdom brings. The old Parliament tried
to keep up, but there were natural and financial limits to aspiration – that is
the ‘Ulster Bypass’.
Today with the Assembly suspended, civil servants are left to run
the show with no political oversight, and thus no motivation for innovation or
even getting basic things right. There
is no authority to do anything new.
We moan at idiocies in government in Great Britain, but its vast size
provides for every sort of expertise, not always wisely deployed, but there,
and technocrats have produced what is effectively a luxury service, and we have
come to expect that. Northern Ireland, though it is large in area, has a
population which is barely half that of Manchester, and that is a small tax
base and human resource. You would not
expect Manchester to run what would be virtually a national government, with
all the luxuries and efficiencies that Westminster can command, let along half
Look at a few things we take for granted in our new, modern
state, little things but which hint at what lies beneath.
Three sibling quangos in Great Britain, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland and Cadw co-operate in best practice. Each has a website backed by a powerful database – the “National Heritage List for England“, “Canmore” and “Coflein“, each with a fast and efficient search function linked to extensive research material with academic references and an interactive Ordnance Survey mapping function. Every listed building or scheduled monument in Great Britain is at your fingertips. The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland has a cumbersome listed building search which has not been updated since 2015 the local government reform; for scheduled monuments and state care monuments – there is a PDF typed list if you can find it.
The Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland can provide no linked
mapping because it is unresourced: it
sells to a far smaller market and so cannot do all that its counterpart in
Great Britain does. I have spoken to
OSNI, and the equivalent in Dublin too, and they say the same: they are small, have few customers and cannot
provide the services. This too then is
an effect of the Ulster Bypass.
It would take very little indeed for the Ordnance Survey to take
on six more counties, or for the NHLE or Canmore to take care of Ulster’s historic
data, or for the Department of Communities to farm the historic estate out to the
great resources wielded by English Heritage (‘Ulster Heritage’ perhaps) but
without political direction and a willingness to dig up the Bypass, Ulstermen
will be left behind, unable to dream of the conveniences those in the rest of
the country take for granted.
Lobbing a wad of cash will not help if the structure is not
there: the structure does exist though in
Great Britain, and can be deployed to serve the rest of the nation, namely
I can give petty examples as symptomatic of the Ulster Bypass in operation and there could be many more. Boris Johnson has given himself the title Minister for the Union, as in that role he should take these in matters in hand, and close the Ulster Bypass – otherwise Ulstermen will remain the poor relation in one of the richest countries in earth.