Belfast Telegraph

Cool heads required to pull us back from a political precipice

Editor's Viewpoint

The public have become used to difficult days at Stormont, but the tension and script of yesterday's developments could have come straight from a political drama like House Of Cards, or even a Shakespeare play.

We are facing another election - but the truth is nobody wants it.

They will ask how this came about when other crises, including bodies on the street not so long ago, did not.

One easy assumption is that this is about the ill-fated Renewable Heat Incentive, but there are deeper and wider grievances at stake.

An election will delay any inquiry into RHI, and the heaters will keep costing the taxpayer a fortune.

Unlike previous elections, this is not one about any clear issue. Sadly, there is a risk that it will lead to the most poisonous situation of all, namely greater sectarian tensions and one of the most bitter campaigns in decades.

A Sinn Fein emboldened by yesterday's events and a favourable poll outcome will produce a list of demands which any unionist First Minister would find difficult to accept.

On the unionist side, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt will seize his opportunity to take votes from people's disillusionment with the DUP.

However, there is another risk: that voters will walk away from the political process, and the DUP may still get strong backing from the polls.

The truth is that we are back to 1998 and the tensions leading up to the Good Friday Agreement. The situation is as serious as that, and people will do well to recognise it.

How will this affect ordinary voters?

The main parties will be returned again, but what unionist leader would Sinn Fein accept, and vice versa? It will be a hard sell for the republican leadership to convince members that power-sharing has been worthwhile.

The optimistic predictions of a united Ireland by 2016 are a long way away, and there is a strong perception that the First Minister has not done enough to reach out to all sections of the community equally.

Martin McGuinness has taken big risks for peace. Though he has been a contentious figure for unionists, he has worked well with three successive DUP First Ministers until now. He also condemned dissident republicans, and has met the Queen.

Mr McGuinness obviously has health issues, and we wish him well.

Our current deadlock is a squalid and dull little dispute compared to the crises in other parts of Europe, where people are dying through terrorism, and facing hardship as migrants.

The world has moved on since the height of our Troubles, and none of the major governments wants to become involved.

We are on our own, and we need to find solutions.

There is still time to prevent this crisis from deepening and to step back from the edge. This newspaper calls for cool heads and pragmatism.

This is also a time to reflect on what we have achieved here in the past 20 years, and to face up to our many shared challenges, including Brexit, jobs, infrastructure, health, education - and RHI.

No Government here can move forward without backing from both major traditions.

It is tempting to focus on current fall-outs, and RHI is a grievous mistake that must be investigated.

However, everyone with a living experience of the worst of times here will know that what we have now is still a vast improvement on the past.

We simply must not throw this progress away lightly.

Belfast Telegraph

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