Belfast Telegraph

Our own problems must not be allowed to fester any longer

Editor's Viewpoint

This was a strange election campaign in Northern Ireland. Perhaps it was weariness among politicians or they sensed a level of apathy among the electorate, but the election never really caught fire.

It was called by the Prime Minister to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations but she got dragged into debates on policies on pensions, social care, education, the health service and, after the atrocities in Manchester and London, policing.

Ironically, it was in the province that Brexit and its implications played largest, with concerns over the potential impact of border controls on trade and movement of labour.

If television viewing figures can be taken as a barometer of public interest then it is clear that it is what happens with the power-sharing administration at Stormont that most exercises voters' minds.

Around 180,000 people in total viewed the local party leaders' debates on BBC and UTV in this election, compared to 172,000 on BBC alone in March in the run-up to the Assembly election.

Yesterday's vote was largely along sectarian lines with the DUP and Sinn Fein seeking to be the top party in ballots cast. Policies don't matter much in a simple headcount.

But now that the counting is finished the local parties face a pressing deadline - they have just 20 days to agree to restore power-sharing.

Given the obvious enmity between the two main parties, DUP and Sinn Fein, the prospect of a new Executive being formed before the deadline seems dubious.

Indeed, it is difficult to be confident that Sinn Fein seriously wants a return to Stormont no matter how much the party protests that it does.

Yet it will be difficult for any party to ignore the demands of the public, never mind business, to get back to work.

And there is plenty of work piling up for all ministers in any new Executive. The health service is seriously ill and in need of radical reform but that decision can only be taken by ministers, not the current caretaker civil servants who are struggling manfully to keep the province running.

It is little short of a scandal that patients in Fermanagh are having to be bussed to distant health practices simply to make an appointment to see a GP. Local politicians cannot continue to wash their hands of their responsibilities while something as vital as the health service continues to crumble.

Education, infrastructure, policing, the economy, the arts, the voluntary sector - all these sectors are in dire need of an elected hand at the tiller of their respective departments.

Then there are the problems of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles and how to deliver some sort of closure to the relatives of those who lost their lives in the conflict.

The piled-high in-trays awaiting new ministers cannot be allowed to grow in stature any longer. We are used to deadlines being extended, but this time June 29 should be the line in the sand.

We know that the political outlooks of the two main parties are diametrically opposed, but they either have to accept that and find enough accommodation to form a new Executive, or else admit defeat and allow Westminster to introduce direct rule, a measure that no one here really wants.

The current political vacuum cannot be allowed to drag on. The voters have spoken twice in the past year showing their desire for local rule.

The parties cannot keep turning a deaf ear to the voices of the people and retain credibility.

Belfast Telegraph

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