Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: This relationship is just not healthy

It does not take a political anorak to work out relationships between coalition parties in the Executive are toxic.

The two major players in the local administration, the DUP and Sinn Fein, are being resented more and more by their junior partners in the Ulster Unionists and SDLP. One manifestation of the poisonous atmosphere are the attacks on UUP Health Minister Michael McGimpsey by both the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Most people accept Mr McGimpsey's argument that his department needs more money to function effectively. Unlike in England and Wales, the health budget here was not ring-fenced and senior health officials have expressed grave concern if current budget proposals become final this month. Health is such a vital service the public is willing to see other departments suffer more cuts to preserve services in hospitals and in the community.

Yet the major parties have castigated Mr McGimpsey for going public on his demands for more money leading the SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie to describe the attacks on the minister as disgraceful. There certainly seems to be a personal political tinge to the attacks and it is little wonder that both the UUP and SDLP are raising the question of forming an opposition at Stormont.

Under current rules that would bar them from committee posts as well as lose them funding.

While it is unlikely either junior party would pass up the chance of ministerial posts at this time, it is surely another indication of the problems within the coalition that talk of forming an opposition is even taking place.

It is obvious this is a coalition without consensus and the long-winded exercise in deciding the budget for next year illustrates the dysfunctional nature of the administration. Following the forthcoming Assembly elections there is a pressing need for finding some way to bring greater coherence to the work of government here. The current system is falling into disrepute.