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If political crisis isn't resolved, vulnerable will suffer the most

Editor's Viewpoint

One of the great ironies of the current crisis at Stormont is that the cumulative financial effect of this breakdown in devolution could make the RHI fiasco seem like the least of our worries.

While many of the predictions of the economic cost of the collapse at this stage are, by their very nature, back-of-an-envelope calculations, there is no disguising the fact that we are facing very serious difficulties.

In the front line are some of the most vulnerable in society. The so-called bedroom tax - the reduction in housing benefit for under-occupancy - could be introduced in some 34,000 social housing homes. The Executive had agreed to mitigate this piece of welfare reform, but the required legislation has not yet been passed and now those households could face a loss in benefits of £20 a week.

Reforms of the creaking NHS in the province are also likely to be put on the long finger, meaning an under-pressure system will not see the radical changes required to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

Without the required improvements, we will see more cases like that of Geoffrey Bainbridge, the 92-year-old Portrush man whose operation to remove cancerous polps was cancelled at the last moment, but only after he had stopped taking medication required to prevent heart attacks in preparation for the surgery. That is another human face to the collapse of power-sharing.

Will the long-mooted corporation tax rate reduction ever come about, and if it does will it be too late to make the desired impact? After all, will American firms - our biggest outside investors - be willing to set up shop in a province where the politicians find it impossible to reach agreement on how to govern? And we will need outside investors when Brexit is triggered soon and the UK begins its divorce from Europe. Yet what will be our unique selling point, a dysfunctional government?

Northern Ireland will have no voice at UK-wide meetings to press for special status after Brexit and can hardly rely on the Westminster Government to look sympathetically on our special needs since it is trying to woo back disaffected English voters.

The voluntary sector, frequently the easy target for budget cuts, will be even more vulnerable in the coming weeks if we move into election mode and the Sinn Fein-DUP stand-off continues or worsens as the blame game reaches its crescendo.

The legacy of the Troubles will continue to fester away in the background as Westminster shows no interest in becoming involved in that particular can of worms, and the bereaved will have to continue with their largely silent lives of pain and resentment.

Even the victims of institutional abuse, who are expected to hear the findings of a report into these vile historical crimes, will have to wait to see what restitution the State will make to them, but fear that a decision will be a considerable time in coming.

What we cannot forget is that two diametrically opposed political parties - traditionally bitter enemies - did manage to share power at Stormont for 10 years. While a far from perfect partnership, they nevertheless gave a glimpse of how devolved government could work and could also be influenced by local opinion.

Do they really want to consign those efforts to history, to put aside the gains that have been made and send out the message that Northern Ireland can never again govern itself? Surely not.

Belfast Telegraph

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