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London and Dublin have indulged us for too long, it's time for tough love

By Liam Clarke

Published 09/09/2015

Anyone who has worked with an alcoholic or someone in the grip of a compulsion like gambling or drugs will recognise one part of Theresa Villiers' problem.

Sometimes you can help people with such problems - but failure is also common and perseverance is essential.

They have to really want to help themselves, otherwise pouring in more money will result, sooner or later, in another binge. It won't be spent on food and rent, at least not for long, unless the person wants to change and is willing to accept support without resentment. Sometimes tough love and saying no is also necessary, but it sours relations.

The Executive constantly asks for money and makes plans to spend it which look reasonably good.

The Programme for Government would have been good if fully implemented, so would the shared future strategy, the equality strategy and the decision to prioritise integrated education. The plans to attract inward investment were also forward-looking and there were some successes, but not as many as in the Republic.

Instead of implementing many of these popular plans we tend to get bogged down in basically sectarian disputes over marching. Investors simply perceive this as instability. Perhaps we are not on the verge of civil war but this seems a riskier place to put your money than competing venues like the Republic or Scotland.

Like the drinker we return to our old self-defeating ways. There are always excuses, there is always someone else to blame. Yet the truth is we are not responsible for what other people do, we are responsible for how we react.

We can see elements of exaggeration in what the politicians say, as if they were trying to justify failure in advance and dole out the blame to others. Things may change, but so far the Chief Constable's assessment does not bear out the DUP claim that Sinn Fein was complicit in the murder of Kevin McGuigan. Sinn Fein is equally exaggerating the effect of welfare changes. There are other examples of people overstating their case and making accommodation seem more difficult.

It is up to Ms Villiers, and Charlie Flanagan, to try and steer us through this without our politicians hitting the bottle again. It won't be an easy task and the most difficult part will be keeping things focused. Both governments need to avoid making excuses for failure or showing too much understanding of our difficulties.

Ms Villiers summed it up in an answer to a question from Stephen Pound of Labour.

"The honourable gentleman asked at what point the Northern Ireland Executive would become unsustainable. I am afraid that it is already unsustainable. There are already ministers who feel that they cannot sign off projects because of the uncertainty surrounding the future availability of funds. I think that those matters are very urgent," she said.

The dangers of backsliding couldn't be clearer.

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