Belfast Telegraph

Stormont welfare crisis has pushed us back again

By Brian Rowan

A couple of days can be a very long time in politics here. There was no hint of crisis in the pictures and words that told the story of the weekend Sinn Fein ard fheis.

Yet, by Monday, Stormont seemed to be sinking in another of those political swamps, being pulled down in yet another battle over welfare reform.

But this is not a one-issue crisis. It never is. Other things become part of the fight, including big matters such as the past.

At the weekend, Sinn Fein's national chairman, Declan Kearney, was talking about reconciliation as the next new phase of the peace process.

"An initiative of common acknowledgement from all sides for the pain caused by and to each other could powerfully contribute to forgiveness and healing," he said.

"Expressing remorse and regret for death and injury caused during the conflict could help deepen mutual respect and understanding and move us all closer to a healing process."

Those were weekend words, spoken before the Monday fallout at Stormont. And when you pull at one thread of the Stormont Agreement, then you tug at it all.

As the welfare battle continues, so everything else has to wait - including a process and structure for addressing the past.

And, in the absence of some organised process, police investigations continue.

You will read elsewhere in this newspaper of a growing mood of anger within the loyalist community over past investigations, including the "supergrass" case involving a one-time UVF leader and Special Branch agent Gary Haggarty.

It is another can of worms and more poison will seep into the present. There will be more questions and not many answers.

But when politics gets stuck, so, too, does the past.

At the weekend, Mr Kearney said: "The Stormont House Agreement has given us another chance. It should not be squandered." But, by Monday, it was a disagreement. And who knows what will fall and what will stand.

This process has been through far too many negotiations. It now needs something to happen.

Brian Rowan is a writer on security issues

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