It feels like so little time has gone by since the Scottish Referendum took place, with 45 per cent of the country voting for independence and 55 per cent voting to remain within the United Kingdom. What could be asked now is what sort of powers will be devolved to not only Scotland, but Northern Ireland, given the vast array of opinion and division on a referendum here. At its current stage, Stormont is in crisis of having to make cuts around the range of £222 million, around 60 per cent of this is due to overspending in Departments but the other 40 per cent comes from the inability to implement Welfare Reform. Many within Northern Ireland have speculated that Stormont will collapse under the pressure of making these hard decisions, those who are against the Welfare Reform are Sinn Fein, SDLP and the Green Party under the reasoning that there are alternatives to fund the £80 million for welfare. The main parties in support of Welfare Reform within the Assembly include DUP, UUP, Alliance, TUV and UKIP and in essence, this proves to be more of a left-right wing divide than one of Nationalism / Unionism.

There are a lot of implications behind this however, for one, Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has come out and stated that until Stormont essentially cleans up its act and works together, Tax powers (such as Corporation Tax) cannot be devolved to Stormont. This is important because many within the Assembly believe that by cutting Corporation Tax, you essentially encourage businesses to invest within Northern Ireland, creating jobs and a more stabilized economy, but as some economists have said, Corporation Tax is not a ‘silver bullet’ as it were and results can be hard to predict. Critics may also note the apparent hypocrisy in cutting benefits but providing tax breaks to businesses and unless our MLAs can reach a suitable outcome, Stormont may indeed collapse and we will be governed by Direct Rule via Westminster once more.

Our country has been dominated by a question of identity since its very creation and like Scotland, we see that there are a good amount of 16-year-olds and upwards that wish to make a change to this country by shaping its government. While the pool of 18-25 year-olds’ voting has been somewhat of a let-down (circa 45 per cent), the NUS-USI survey indicates that 75 per cent of students could vote next election, leading to a resurgence in young voters who want to have their own say because they feel that they have been let-down due to a lack of education funding or the recent announcement by the Conservative Party to cut JSA (Job-seeker Allowance) and Housing Benefits for 18-21 year-olds.

Some are even encouraging students to take part in putting forward their say on the question of identity and nationalism within Northern Ireland. QUB Sinn Fein, have recently put forward a petition to the Students’ Union on voting whether or not they should take a stance on this question i.e., believing that Northern Ireland should unite with the Republic of Ireland to form a single country, or remain within the UK, quite similar to the Scottish Referendum. They needed around 2.5 per cent of the students to vote on this (600 students) and over 750 voted to have this motion debated within the Students’ Union as a means of voicing their opinion. You may remember that QUB Sinn Fein also put forward a motion last year to discuss whether or not poppies should be sold within the Students’ Union.

Everyone unanimously agrees however that something needs to change in Stormont, laws can’t get passed because of the abuse of the PoC (Petition of Concern) system, whereby 30 MLAs can effectively veto a piece of legislation and this is why most legislation / private members’ bills do not get passed within the Assembly due to a lack of cross-community support for certain pieces of legislation and division on ethical issues i.e., same-sex marriage or extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. In the heat of all this, cuts have been made to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and Chief Constable George Hamilton has stated that these cuts: ‘will render the PSNI unrecognisable.’ One of the worst parts of these cuts is that the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) will most likely close in the face of them. The HET is a department that deals with the issues and legacy of the Troubles and investigates killings within the period of the Troubles, meaning that many people may never see justice over the deaths of friends and family during that era.

As well as that, we risk depriving our economy of tourists, in a recent statement by DETI (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment), it would scrap funding to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in organizing events. This means that major events such as North West 200, Culture Night Belfast and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival will lose out significantly due to the lack of funds.

The future of Northern Ireland is bleak, but as a population, we need to encourage our politicians to make Stormont work, if they will not do that for us, who will? We need to find ways to cure the apathy and encourage the other half of the population to vote and I’m not one to argue that Direct Rule is any better, I feel that it would be a loss for the democratic process as a whole and indeed our sovereignty, but if things remain the way they have been with no change in sight, Direct Rule may be our only alternative to the current crisis.

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