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An unwillingness to compromise is at the heart of this mess

Editor's Viewpoint

Barring an Easter miracle, there seems no prospect of the parties at Stormont agreeing by Friday to go back into government. The comments from the two parties who would form the overwhelming majority of any new Executive are accusatory in nature and pessimistic in outlook.

Nineteen years since the original Good Friday Agreement was signed, signalling the primacy of politics over conflict and signposting a path towards a brighter, more inclusive future, it is clear that tribal politics still hold sway. To many people's minds this latest crisis can be viewed as a betrayal of all the efforts made to change the dynamics of politics here for good.

And, in fairness to both the DUP and Sinn Fein, for the past 10 years they have been engaged in those efforts. For them even to work together in government demanded that both cross their own Rubicons, and gestures made while in office - Martin McGuinness meeting the Queen, Peter Robinson going to a GAA match, McGuinness denouncing the dissidents who killed two young soldiers as traitors to Ireland - took courage and much behind-the-scenes choreography.

Some might dismiss these events as mere optics - being seen to do or say something - but symbolism plays a huge part in politics here and is important in creating fresh outlooks.

But, of course, a coalition of two parties with mutually exclusive political ideologies is always bound to be fraught. Yet it is not their outlook on constitutional issues which is most unsettling now, but rather their refusal to compromise on issues like an Irish language act, how to deal with the past, implementation of same sex marriage legislation and a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights.

All of these are important, but do they outweigh the everyday problems which are staring every person in Northern Ireland in the face? How can the health service continue to run at a £300m deficit? How soon will schools find they have no budgets for essential services, never mind after-school clubs? What hike in rates will the Secretary of State decide is required to fund the public purse? How will those on benefits fare when new austerity measures are introduced without any mitigation from Stormont? What are we going to do about Brexit?

The fact that business leaders delivered a letter to the politicians urging them to reach an accommodation shows the genuine concern that exists in the community over what might happen if power- sharing fails.

One of the major stumbling blocks seems to be the Irish language act. There are valid concerns over what it might cost if it heralds a bilingual free-for-all. How can Sinn Fein complain about the lack of a cap on RHI payments if it cannot agree to a language act which accords with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement rather than one with uncosted implications?

Legacy issues remain a thorny problem. The bereaved have valid demands in seeking truth and justice, but instead are handed more obfuscation and delay.

While every attempt is being made to give the parties the opportunity to reach agreement, direct rule still seems the most likely outcome.

What then will be the role of MLAs? They will have less work and less power than councillors and the public will look askance if they continue to be paid their handsome salaries. The politicians are playing with their own jobs as well as the prospects of everyone else.

Belfast Telegraph

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