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Do the public even care if Stormont collapses?

By Will Chambre

Published 28/07/2015

First Minister Peter Robinson (centre) with Finance Minister Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds before a meeting of political leaders at Stormont in a bid to prevent the collapse of the institutions
First Minister Peter Robinson (centre) with Finance Minister Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds before a meeting of political leaders at Stormont in a bid to prevent the collapse of the institutions

So the long months of summer roll along and the muddle amidst our ministers and MLAs grows with each passing day, as dark talk of Assembly collapse and calumny clutter up columns in newspapers and countless hours on radio.

There is a sense of the blind leading the blind towards the cliff-edge in the hope that some benign being will appear to avert catastrophe.

While this is going on and the political parties are blaming one another for the current impasse, one gets the feeling that the secretary of state is impatiently drumming her fingers on her desk in Stormont House.

The Stormont House ‘Agreement’ is now over seven months old and since March has been effectively dead in the water; floundering amidst the arid sands of party bickering.

Since the start of the summer holidays (sorry, Assembly recess), both Sinn Féin and the DUP having beaten paths to Downing Street’s door. However, with the Commons backing plans for a further £12 billion in welfare cuts, the reality must surely now have dawned on them that Cameron’s government will be in no mood to make further concessions.

And Teresa Villiers told a Westminster Committee, Northern Ireland may run out of money in the autumn and while choosing her words carefully, effectively said, “sort it out or we will”.

From thence onwards a variety of commentators and MLAs, such as Sammy Wilson, have been forecasting the demise of devolution.

But one wonders if the public cares? During heated radio conversations this week on the health service waiting list crisis, caller after caller cried out for Stormont to collapse, or at best expressed ambivalence.

The waiting list crisis, especially in orthopaedics, came after hundreds of elective surgeries were cancelled to deal with a mounting crisis in Belfast A&E departments. Robbing Peter to pay Paul springs to mind...

The palpable frustration of the public and the distress of pensioners in pain will, no doubt, lead to some panic re-shuffling of the coffers – all of which suggests that strategic visions are now blinkered to such an extent that health is now hobbled in moving forward.

But, it’s not just the health service that is stumbling along; it is also the lack of progress on the ‘real’ issues. The ‘Twelfth’ saw violence, albeit on a lesser scale than previous years, flare up once again with the police once more caught in middle.

Sure, if the political parties can come up with more ways to argue about flags, parades and protests no-one will notice that we’re running out of time and money.

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