Belfast Telegraph

End this pointless stand-off and give us some governance

Editor's Viewpoint

Incredibly Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government for almost eight months since the collapse of the power-sharing Executive in January. In the meantime, Sinn Fein and the DUP have almost eradicated their respective opposition parties in Assembly and Westminster elections.

Both parties are in unprecedented positions of strength yet both, to varying degrees, are using that power to stymie any resolution of the obvious differences between them. As fresh negotiations are set to resume next month, the prospect of compromise and a restoration of power seems remote.

This sense of pessimism is not alleviated by the comments of former First Minister Arlene Foster as reported in this paper today, or of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Mrs Foster, while acknowledging her party's position of influence at Westminster through its confidence and supply deal propping up the Tory government, makes clear that she wants an immediate restoration of devolution and reiterates her party's belief that local issues are best handled by accountable local politicians.

That may well be her belief but she knows that such an outcome is unlikely, even conceding in her remarks that Sinn Fein has built barriers to any return to Stormont and she questions whether republicans even want devolution restored. She is not alone in wondering that.

Mr Adams has laid down a red line over the implementation of a stand-alone Irish Language Act, without which he says there can be no return to devolution.

In fairness to the DUP, it has suggested a compromise on this issue by way of legislation which would cover both the Irish language and Ulster-Scots culture. What would be wrong with a culture act embracing both as well as the wider arts and culture sectors? What is the necessity for a red line on this issue when none need be drawn?

But while all this posturing goes on, other unresolved issues include Mrs Foster returning as First Minister before the RHI inquiry is completed, legacy matters, and same-sex marriage and abortion legislation. The problems facing the province continue to mount.

Health trusts have been told to save £70m from their budgets this year; primary and nursery schools are to lose £56 a pupil from their budgets, infrastructure projects are halted, vital reform of education and health cannot go ahead, and the £1.5bn negotiated by the DUP for supporting the Tories will go unspent until local ministers assume control at Stormont or devolution finally fails.

Elsewhere in the UK, such desertion of responsibility by duly elected public representatives would lead to outrage.

However, the DUP and Sinn Fein can point to their electoral successes as proof that their supporters back their defiant stances.

Yet whatever the perceived sticking points, the crumbling of vital services in Northern Ireland put those demands in perspective. The most vital duty of an administration is to cater for the health demands of its citizens and to educate its young people, yet those services are under immense and growing pressure.

And overarching all of this is the uncertainty of what Brexit will mean for the province.

While the DUP may be content with the position adopted by its Tory friends at Westminster, nationalists who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU are virtually voiceless on the issue.

A restoration of devolved government makes sense in every respect. A stand-off trial of strength by the two big parties makes none.

Belfast Telegraph

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