Northern Ireland's politicians must forget about their differences and work for the people, says murdered policeman's widow Kate Carroll
The widow of a PSNI officer murdered by dissident republicans has made an impassioned plea to politicians to set aside their differences and work for the good of Northern Ireland.
Kate Carroll, whose husband Stephen was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon in March 2009, said that unionist and nationalist MLAs should be dealing with the real issues facing society rather than "reverting to tribal trenches" and preparing for another Assembly election.
She was speaking as the clock continued to tick on the dissolution of the Stormont institutions, with an Assembly election almost inevitably due to be called on Monday.
Secretary of State James Brokenshire is expected to remain in Northern Ireland over the weekend in case any last minute agreement can be reached to save devolution.
But political sources put the odds of such a development as exceedingly low.
The current Assembly will meet on Monday, for what is anticipated to be its final session, to debate DUP proposals on capping Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments and on mitigating the impact of the 'bedroom tax'.
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton is producing amending legislation that would reduce tariffs paid to around 1,800 RHI claimants who entered the scheme before November 2015.
Officials from Mairtin O Muilleoir's Department of Finance are currently assessing the DUP plan.
In her letter printed in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Carroll said that 2017 was a hugely important year for Northern Ireland, which would be hard hit by the repercussions of Brexit.
She said that lengthy hospital waiting lists meant the crisis in the NHS must be urgently addressed, while major investment in our schools and roads was required.
Politicians should also be focused on building "unwavering support for a police force facing up to increased dissident activity", she said.
Mr Carroll (48) was the first officer to be killed since the PSNI's formation.
He was shot dead after he was lured to Lismore Manor in Craigavon by an emergency call.
Republicans Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton are serving life imprisonment for his murder.
While Mrs Carroll's open letter was addressed to Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, she said it was intended for all politicians, whom she urged to tackle the issues which concerned the public.
"Let's sit on our ordinary, non-magical sofas watching a packed House of Commons debate the issues that really matter, while that big white building in east Belfast - like so many cavernous barns around the country - remains heated and unpopulated. Empty rooms, empty rhetoric, empty promises," she said.
Mrs Carroll said that an election would occur very near the eighth anniversary of her husband's murder.
The PSNI continued to do its job protecting the community "from those who want to drag this country back into the mire", she added.
"It would be nice, however, if they knew they had a fully functioning Assembly backing them every step of the way. Instead, they have a Justice Minister who doesn't even know if she'll have a seat in a new, streamlined Stormont. As a survivor of the Troubles, I have serious concerns around how my needs, and those of others like me, are now going to be dealt with. We were promised a fresh start, but instead we have been given a false start," she said.
Meanwhile, inspectors regulating the RHI scheme have suspended payments at over half the boilers they have audited.
The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) said that subsidy payments had been suspended at 33 of the 63 installations it had examined.
It is understood that payment was recovered in four cases, while another five had their payments resumed after investigation. Ofgem is continuing its investigations in the remainder of the cases. No one has been permanently removed from the scheme.
Disappointment was expressed yesterday that the Department of the Economy has declined to disclose information about participants in the RHI scheme, despite having previously told boiler owners it would be "freely available" to the public.
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said it was "overwhelmingly in the public interest" that claimants' names be released as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said that an enraged electorate could deliver another Brexit moment that radically reshapes the local political landscape.
Mr Nesbitt predicted that the election would be seen as a referendum on the DUP-Sinn Fein administration's handling of the RHI scandal.
Sinn Fein Health Minister Michelle O'Neill yesterday confirmed that the Executive's collapse meant that no action could be taken in response to an expert panel report examining potential changes to Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws.
She was speaking as local GPs threatened to resign if a rescue plan to address problems in general practice also falls victim to the Stormont meltdown.