Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Leadership needed to tackle looming financial crisis

First Minister Peter Robinson
First Minister Peter Robinson

In a major interview in today's Belfast Telegraph, the First Minister Peter Robinson sets out the key issues now facing the Stormont Executive.

They include parading and the whole question of flags and emblems, about which he will meet Secretary of State Theresa Villiers next week. There is also the vexed issue about dealing with the past, and despite the deep complexities of this painful subject, some kind of solution must be found if Northern Ireland is to move forward.

These crucial issues need to be addressed as soon as possible, but one major problem which requires immediate attention is welfare reform.

Mr Robinson claims that Sinn Fein will neither agree to a solution on welfare reform, nor the spending cuts which will flow from a lack of agreement.

The First Minister has warned that this deadlock simply can't continue, and he indicated that he will meet Martin McGuinness next week to try to get an agreement.

If this is not possible he will propose an early meeting of the Executive and also a recall of the Assembly so that the public can be told about the grave financial implications of the impasse.

That may be easier said than done, but the stark reality remains that if no agreement is reached, the civil service accounting officers will step in quickly to close certain projects.

This may include, for instance, the Historical Abuse Inquiry, but if the money is not there, the civil service cannot write cheques to continue the programmes.

All of this is extremely serious, but it is also so complex that members of the public may not fully understand the financial implications involved. The role of the Executive is to govern, and this particular issue has gone on for long enough.

The comparatively peaceful Twelfth period has given the space which the politicians must use constructively.

This is the time for clear heads and for political statesmanship to tackle the issue on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland, and not to block progress because of narrow party political interests.

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