Belfast Telegraph

Our political leaders have let the country down once again

Editor's Viewpoint

Another day of crisis at Stormont brings more political machinations which underline the air of uncertainty and apprehension that hangs like a cloud over Northern Ireland.

It seems that the voters will be saddled with another election, which nobody wants and which will be unlikely to solve the deadlock in the short term.

Whatever they say publicly, many party members privately do not want an election which may cost between £5m and £9m.

That is a huge amount of money, and Sinn Fein in particular has been contesting elections in the Irish Republic.

Apart from money, and the fact that fewer MLAs will be returned, there are leadership issues as well.

Arlene Foster's political leadership remains on the line, and her future will be determined by the way in which this continuing crisis is played out.

On the Sinn Fein side, Martin McGuinness is clearly suffering from a serious illness, and people are asking if he can continue to operate in the cauldron of Stormont politics in the same way he did previously.

If not, Sinn Fein will need to provide someone to follow the lead given by Mr McGuinness, who has acted at Stormont with authority, as well as holding influence over republicans who continue to doubt the political process.

Though the current downward path began with the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme and the "cash for ash" scandal, this election is about much more than that.

The DUP will be worried as to how the RHI debacle will play with their voters, as well as the politically clumsy decision by the Communities Minister Paul Givan to axe the £50,000 funding for the Liofa Irish language bursary scheme, and then to re-instate it. Questions are also being asked by the DUP's political opponents about the impartiality of the community hall grants scheme, which has risen from an estimated £500,000 to £1.9m.

Already Mrs Foster has predicted that an election will be "brutal", and there is every reason to believe that it will be fought on sectarian lines, inflaming passions and fuelling divisions.

Church leaders have rightly emphasised the need to listen to others, and the Presbyterian Moderator, the Right Reverend Dr Frank Sellar, has set the tone.

He has firmly stated that: "At times like these, we must be clear about the values on which we want our society and institutions to be based."

Sadly, for many people, the realities of the Troubles remain, whether for the Teebane relatives who gathered at a cold roadside yesterday to remember those murdered in a massacre 20 years ago, or the couple who were shot in their home in west Belfast last Thursday evening.

To emphasise the continuing state of lawlessness, Professor Liam Kennedy has called for a Punishment Attack Commissioner.

How shocking is the fact that we should be even considering that option in 2017?

Thus far, the politicians are doing most of the talking, but the voters will have their say in the near future, if a solution does not appear almost by magic.

How many people really believe the political parrot-cry that an election is in the best interests of Northern Ireland?

Once again, we find ourselves looking to the political class for leadership, cool heads and shrewd judgment, and yet again we find them all sadly wanting.

The people of Northern Ireland on all sides deserve much better than this.

Belfast Telegraph

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