Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Another day at Stormont, another £34,000 goes down the drain

Stormont

Before today is out, another £34,000 of taxpayers’ money will have gone towards paying Assembly members at Stormont.

In excess of £3.5m has been divided between them since the last time the Executive met to lead the Northern Ireland administration.

And during the same period, consumers have seen growing demands on their income — spiralling grocery bills, increased home energy costs and higher prices at the fuel pump.

Stormont hasn't exactly fiddled while our wallets burn, but the Executive's failure to meet for more than 100 days is beginning to have a serious impact on the way Northern Ireland works.

Decisions that require the collective approval of the Executive are piling up. That means the stalemate between the DUP and Sinn Fein is beginning to ripple out into ordinary lives.

The future of P6 children is still unresolved and their teachers are pleading for guidance. Proposals for alleviating poverty remain unaddressed. A strategy for addressing the growing suicide problem, a situation that all our politicians are ready to give lip service to, is ready for consideration by Ministers.

The widely-hailed announcement scrapping prescription charges still needs final approval.

All these issues, and more, are awaiting the attention of the Executive.

As is the reallocation of cash that could have a real and immediate affect on easing hardship.

The quiet crisis on the hill is in danger of becoming a loud irritant.

The roots of the crisis are in the disagreement over the transfer of policing and justice powers.

The issue was not resolved when Sinn Fein and the DUP agreed to share power. It has festered for months and infected relations at the very top level of administration.

The effects of it are showing, in spite of an insistence from both sides that they are determined to work their way through it.

In this newspaper today, Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin says equal treatment is at the heart of the problem.

He blames “unreconstructed supremacists” in the DUP who want to govern Sinn Fein rather than govern together.

The DUP's Lord Morrow suggests that his party wants proof that Sinn Fein can govern responsibly – and this impasse is evidence they can't.

Paralysis around the Maze stadium project is evidence of how the Executive isn't functioning.

Earlier this week First Minister Peter Robinson said he and Martin McGuinness agree that there should be a major development at the site of the former prison, but there is little apparent progress on the detail of what that development should be.

The Executive is meant to be the means for ironing out such differences. It should be the heart of power-sharing, and that's why its absence is a worry.

Sinn Fein need assurances that the DUP will fulfil the spirit of power-sharing; the DUP need assurances that Sinn Fein will live up to the mechanics of it.

What makes the stand-off so serious is that there is no obvious way out of it, and the continued absence of cooperation at the top level could infect lower political levels, and then the streets.

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