Demands and priorities
Britain is providing the executive an extra £3.3 billion to start patching holes in services and pay long-delayed wage hikes that just triggered the biggest public sector strike in Northern Ireland’s history. The trouble is, the head of Northern Ireland’s civil service, Jayne Brady, has already told the new leaders that these eye-watering sums are still too small to pay the required bills. The U.K. expects Stormont to raise regional taxes, something local leaders have been loath to do.
If anything can unite unionist and republican politicians, it’s their shared demand for the U.K. Treasury to keep sending more moolah — even though the British government already has committed to pay Northern Ireland over the odds into perpetuity at a new rate of £1.24 versus an equivalent £1 spent in England.
Money demands and spending priorities should underpin short-term stability at Stormont. But a U.K. general election looms within months and DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson wants to reverse his party’s losses to Sinn Féin. That could be complicated by the fact that he’s just compromised on Brexit trade rules in a fashion that distresses and confuses many within his own divided party, leaving him vulnerable.
To strengthen his leadership, Donaldson boosted pragmatic allies and sought to neuter less reasonable opponents in Saturday’s DUP moves at Stormont.
The assembly’s new non-partisan speaker will be DUP lawmaker Edwin Poots, who defeated Donaldson for the party leadership in 2021 only to be tossed out almost immediately.
That move puts Poots — who used his previous role as Stormont’s agriculture minister to block essential resources for the required post-Brexit checks at ports — into a new strait-jacket of neutrality.
Little-Pengelly, by contrast, is one of Donaldson’s most trusted lieutenants and a Stormont insider. He put her into his own assembly seat when, shortly after the 2022 election, Donaldson dumped it in favor of staying an MP in London.
While Stormont is never more than one crisis away from another collapse, for Saturday, peace reigned — and an Irish republican, committed to Northern Ireland’s eventual dissolution, is in charge of making the place work.