Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Sleepwalking in a political limbo

The good weather, tomorrow's Royal wedding, the holidays - these are all everyday topics of conversation.

One matter that is seldom discussed is the Assembly election which is being held one week from today. While the returning devolved administration will have the power to impact greatly on our lives, no one seems remotely interested in what the politicians have to say in the run up to the poll.

Perhaps it is a case of all of us not having yet got used to devolution. For decades we depended on direct rule ministers, acting on orders from Westminster, to administer political life here and introduce policies. Our politicians' role, by and large, was simply to rail against whatever was proposed and to blame the direct rule ministers for any unpopular measures. Both the politicians and the public seem to be living in that same limbo still, even though things have changed immeasurably.

It is not as if there is not plenty of work for the new Stormont Assembly to do. Education is in chaos; the health service is in danger of meltdown; the economy is shrinking before our eyes; the public sector is being starved of money; capital programmes are being cancelled or put on the long finger; the reform of local government is urgently required. For any government or administration that is quite a programme of work and in any other region of the UK, the politicians would be under severe pressure to come up with positive answers.

Yet neither they nor the electorate seem unduly exercised by the current situation. The politicians are playing simple 'them and us' games just to get elected. There is little hard debate of the real issues and no one expects any radical change in the make-up of the new Assembly.

Perhaps the politicians are just obeying the first rule of politics - do whatever it takes to get elected - and we, the voters, are letting them get away with it.

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