Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

When England play their last World Cup match, Northern Ireland's First Ministers will be watching at home

A dejected Wayne Rooney during the World Cup in Brazil
A dejected Wayne Rooney during the World Cup in Brazil

When the England football team plays their last World Cup match, Northern Ireland's First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be sitting down with their hot chocolate, relaxing at home.

Why is this remarkable then​? For a start, both men should be packing their bags, checking their passports and getting ready to head to Brazil for an investment trip.

However, First Minister Peter Robinson said he had postponed the visit as he was worried about a difficult marching season.

With an ongoing lobby for the use of cancer drugs to extend life, Health Minister, Edwin Poots has resurrected the debate on prescription charges. But with Sinn Féin publicly opposing the introduction of a charge this may prove futile.

In the wake of controversy over racist attacks the draft Racial Equality Strategy consultation has finally been launched. Will this consultation be over-shadowed by a long hot summer? Maybe, but it does signal that the Executive is addressing the issue, even if the final strategy is unlikely to be in place for another 12 months.

With just two weeks left until the end of the current session of the Assembly, this week saw a heated debate over integrated education. Alliance MLA proposers of the debate found themselves under assault from all sides.

Given the Education Minister John O'Dowd's stated preference for shared education, while at the same time pledging to uphold his requirement to support integrated education, it is an increasingly complicated educational landscape.

With the Education and Skills Authority dead in the water, and a merger of the education boards requiring legislation, the summer break can't come soon enough for some.

But that also means that any progress on the education front will drop to a snail's pace as officials try to balance their own holidays and ministerial directions. And, come September all the political parties will be gearing up for the 2015 Westminster election.

Whether it is health or education, these issues all too often play second fiddle to the main preoccupation of the parties that dominate the Executive; dealing with the past, flags and parades.

But, fear not. There is a way forward, we hope. Like it or not, the Executive parties have managed to agree on bigger and trickier issues; decommissioning and policing. It should therefore be possible for them to sort out their political differences and focus on what really matters to most of us; making sure our children get the best education, ensuring we all have access to decent healthcare and growing our economy for the benefit of all.

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