Belfast Telegraph

Stormont: Face facts agreement has failed

By Samuel Morrison

At a time when Westminster is considering transferring a raft of new powers to the Scottish Parliament and looking at the case for increased devolution to Cardiff, Stormont once again teeters on the brink of collapse. It's an all too familiar story.

Under David Trimble, the Assembly was suspended four times. Some might have thought that post-2007 devolution was on a stable footing as the DUP had stolen Trimble's clothes and there was no major party political force outside the pro-agreement tent.

However, this assumption proved to be incorrect as 2010 saw yet another set of crisis talks. Following those, the Assembly limped along until the Haass talks last year and finally we have had yet another set of make-or-break negotiations.

Many unionists will have cringed when First Minister Peter Robinson was broadcast on the national news saying that if the Prime Minister wanted to "bribe us, to bribe us with our own money comes a bit short". What sort of message did that send out to taxpayers in England, Scotland and Wales? There must have been some who remember rather infamous remarks about people in Northern Ireland who "spend their lives sponging off Westminster" and concluded that Harold Wilson perhaps wasn't that far off the mark after all.

And while the mismanagement of the budget by the Executive is a major issue, money isn't the core of the problem. After almost two decades of trying to work the Belfast Agreement, we need to realise that there is a reason why no other part of the world (never mind the UK) includes every major party in its government.

Politics is about offering the electorate choice and radically different views. The problem here is that all of those different views are given places round the Executive table without any requirement that they agree about anything.

If Northern Ireland is ever going to get beyond an endless cycle of talks, both local people and Westminster need to realise that the Belfast Agreement has failed. We need to move towards a system which will allow a genuine sharing of power between parties with a common vision for Northern Ireland and an ability to get things done.

Samuel Morrison is a member of Traditional Unionist Voice

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