Belfast Telegraph

Major parties can't dodge responsibility

Editor's Viewpoint

And so it came to pass - the failure of the parties to reach any agreement at Stormont which would allow devolution to be restored. This was the widely anticipated outcome of talks which were shambolic, seemingly without direction or agenda, and more an exercise in determining what the politicians could not agree on rather than what, if anything, they had in common.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. Since the beginning of the peace process - even before the extremes of politics here became the largest parties - barely a deadline has been met and barely an agreement reached without input from other heads of state.

The obduracy of Northern Ireland's politicians knows no limit, but even they must know that they are playing a very dicey game this time around.

While Secretary of State James Brokenshire sees some semblance of hope which is invisible to everyone else and has extended the talks deadline, the clock is ticking fast on the two potential outcomes if agreement is still not reached.

The options are an election - which no one wants, which would solve nothing and which would further polarise the community - or direct rule. London doesn't want that option, as the government has its hands full with Brexit and doesn't need the distraction of sending anyone - it won't be a team of heavy hitters - to run Northern Ireland.

Direct rule is likely to be painful, with Westminster keen to share the pain of austerity that we have largely managed to avoid. Of course it might suit local politicians to have unpopular hospital closures, the introduction of water charges and undiluted welfare reforms taken by unaccountable London politicians. Our politicians prefer populist policies even if they sometimes don't make any economic sense.

Our hope must be that Mr Brokenshire's optimism is realised. Perhaps the breathing space he has accorded the politicians will let them reflect maturely on their duties and the will of the public for agreement to be reached and devolution restored.

But any fresh talks will have to be approached with greater rigour, be properly chaired - even this is a stumbling block - and have a clear goal and potential pathway to it.

Everyone accepts that the DUP and Sinn Fein approach politics from opposite ends of the spectrum, but they have been given the responsibility to govern the province and they cannot dodge their duty.

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