Personally Speaking: Belfast Reader Dr NICHOLAS WEBB Foresees the Day When an Irish Tourist Authority Will Have Responsibility for the Whole of Ireland, in Conflict with the Spirit of the Agreement
Byline: Dr NICHOLAS WEBB
THE announcement by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly that they will no longer be tied to the allocations that they receive from the Chancellor through the Barnett Formula, signals a further stage in the semi-detachment of Northern Ireland from the sometime United Kingdom, even if the Province has not quite arrived at the Scottish stage of tax-raising powers.
Much of the precise meaning of the words of the Agreement was established between the referendum vote on the published text in May and the detailed Act that finally gained Parliamentary assent in November 1998.
Direct local taxation, as opposed to rate variation, is not ruled out by the wording of the financial provisions of the Northern Ireland Act.
If the Ulster Unionist Party currently has the lead in the Assembly (leaving aside those responsibilities which have not been devolved), its interpretation of the Belfast Agreement does not always appear synonymous with the continuing cohesion of the United Kingdom, however co-operative, inclusive and liberal it has endeavoured to be.
The allusion to a federated Union with England in the recent speech of the First and Deputy First Ministers would be an instance of this centrifugal tendency.
The United Kingdom as a loose federation rather than a unitary state remains a formative component of the British-Irish Council. On the other hand, it is not altogether certain that the UUP's interpretation of the Agreement is indeed dominant.
Tourism Ireland is a case in point. This is now the main agency for representing Northern Ireland and the Republic to foreign tourist markets, which include the rest of the United Kingdom. The brochure literature, while commendably putting culture before politics, follows a Bord Failte model and the logo is a three-leafed shamrock, with one sepal diplomatically coloured a lighter shade of green and the dimples smoothed out. …