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Hitting MLAs in pocket worked before... maybe it could again

By John Downing

So, Gerry Adams and Arlene Foster have been given still more time to make a deal - with official hopes expressed it might even happen later this week.

But eight days from the July 12th apogee of Northern Ireland's marching season, that is just not going to happen.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire now appears set to expand the budgetary powers of Belfast civil servants to allow something as near to normal government as possible to continue.

Increasingly, there is a creeping assumption that this one, in time-honoured Northern Ireland fashion, is being pushed into early September.

Mr Brokenshire's frustration is entirely understandable.

"This hiatus cannot continue for much longer," he said.

"There is no doubt that the best outcome is for a new Executive to take those strategic decisions in the interest of all."

He could astonish everyone and order a fresh Assembly election.

But that would only drag voters to the polls for the fourth time inside two years, and certainly change absolutely nothing.

Similarly, the other option is the nuclear one of establishing direct rule from London.

That would be even worse, and be a big backward step from all the painfully won progress over the past 25 years, with fears that such a move might prove an irreversible, retrograde one.

But we are yet again at a juncture when the level of political progress over the past quarter of a century is being called into question.

Sinn Fein insists nothing can happen without an Irish Language Act.

And it accuses the DUP of lacking urgency.

The DUP counters that it is up to Sinn Fein to show initiative in the talks.

Mr Brokenshire's three options appear equally unpromising.

It may be time to fall back on more direct action.

The Members of the Legislative Assembly are paid some £49,000 per year.

Going back two months, there were serious suggestions that this should be frozen pending an agreement.

There is also a coterie of back-up party staff who receive pay from the taxpayers' purse to keep the political show on the road. Their salaries may be equally up for grabs.

That certainly would be rough justice as politics is a precarious enough career path, especially for those unelected people who labour behind the scenes.

But sometimes drastic measures are required.

Back in 2006, amid mounting frustration shared by both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, such action was taken.

The Assembly Members' pay was cut by some £10,000 per year while power-sharing was suspended.

Then London and Dublin issued an ultimatum that salaries would be stopped unless power-sharing was back by November 2006.

It proved to be tough but effective medicine.

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