THE next Assembly election is May 2022. Since the last time we gave MLAs their electoral mandate the Assembly remained collapsed for nearly three years and then within weeks of its restoration there was a pandemic.
By now we might have expected every political decision to be framed by electorally diverted eyes. The last 18 months of mandates can imply that no decisions are made in case they imply electoral disadvantage. Big politics are often sidelined, as making strategic decisions can risk constituency displeasure. Hence the failure to implement the Bengoa Report in healthcare – political cowardice pure and simple. Perhaps we will see Robin Swann, a man whose political gravitas has grown exponentially, grasp the nettle once Covid passes. It can certainly do his ailing party no harm and courage may well be rewarded.
Indeed, strategic politics may well build a head of steam for parties more widely.
In particular for Sinn Féin. They are in power in the north and are within a hair’s breadth of power in the south, on the basis of promise of radical transformation. Their political opponents in the south regularly point north and ask questions about delivery and the party’s capacity to make change. Of course, those comments are infuriating as they never acknowledge the limitations to make change due to Westminster legislative and monetary constraints, and the obvious issue of sharing power with the DUP. Nonetheless the attacks sting.
For the current incumbents in the Department of Communities, however, strategic thinking is the standard. There was no napping with Covid. The immediate and hands-on response won praise from all quarters as application for benefits became remote and streamlined.
 There were also initiatives to complement the Hurculean community efforts to support the vulnerable. But this week’s announcement on housing leaves that looking like small potatoes.
The statement by Minister Carál Ní Chuilín was billed as radical by her party and it is no hyperbolic claim. If by the elections in May 2022 even a third of those reforms are passed and there are JCBs and cranes on building sites with social contract and affordable homes being built, and tenants in the private sector are protected to the extent she envisions, she will have demonstrated commitment and delivery on those radical policies in an unprecedented way. And it will chime with the southern political platform of delivery on housing perfectly. It is as politically savvy as it is badly needed.
If implemented, the Ní Chuilín housing reforms will deliver in meaningful ways to the most in need in our communities. Housing allocated on the basis of need. Security of tenancy for all of those renting. Decent standards of housing for all renters.
And most of all, significantly more homes in areas where they are desperately needed. Like the very best policies they will be understood by everyone, recognised for their significance, embraced by all and will be impossible to reverse out of by anyone who occupies the chair after her. After nine months in the department it is possibly the most important policy piece since devolution 2007 and a marked statement of intent in the No Return to the Status Quo Assembly.
If these reforms and Bengoa are under way by May next year, it would mark this short term of sitting devolution as the most successful to date.