Belfast Telegraph

Leadership a threat to institutions

By Lord Empey

As a member of a party which worked hard to see the restoration of devolution to Stormont, I have become increasingly concerned about trends that have been developing recently.

I have always held the view that local representatives, operating through the Executive and Assembly, would be able to tailor social and economic policies for Northern Ireland that would best suit our situation.

This principle has worked well in both Scotland and Wales, where support for the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly is growing, though sadly not in Northern Ireland.

Even allowing for a difficult bedding-in period, this does not explain away what is happening today nearly 17 years after devolution.

Last year was the first time since 1921 that a Stormont administration failed to balance its books.

As a result of the Stormont House Agreement and the previous "Wonga loan" of £100m offered to the Executive, extra borrowing powers and the conversion of capital spending to revenue spending were agreed to allow devolution to stagger on.

The decision of the Government to devolve corporation tax-varying powers to Stormont and extra cash to fund the reviews into the past were also part of the deal.

Now all of this is up in the air, due to the antics of Sinn Fein in a brazen attempt to stave off criticism of their actions on welfare by Dublin politicians.

Added to this is the shambles over local government reform, the mess over the transition from primary to post-primary education and the decision of Sinn Fein to create an Irish medium school for 14 pupils at a cost of £1m when all around describe it as totally unnecessary.

Then consider that community relations are at an all-time low in many places; that a crash-landing policy of massive public sector job losses is under way at the same time as departments are being reorganised.

Surely one has to come to the conclusion that not only is DUP/Sinn Fein leadership of the Assembly and Executive not working, it is actually threatening the continuing existence of the institutions. Northern Ireland deserves better.

Lord Empey is chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party

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