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Parties may pay price for alienating voters

Editor's Viewpoint

Given the acrimonious build-up to the Stormont political crisis following the revelation of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, it is no surprise that the voters in Northern Ireland are facing an election which nobody wants.

This newspaper has advised consistently against an election, but it is a sad reflection on Northern Ireland politics that the outworkings at Stormont have had a foreboding inevitability about them.

The evident bitterness in the exchanges at Stormont yesterday showed the deep lack of trust and the intransigence that permeates politics here.

This exists nearly 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement and 10 years of fractious power-sharing.

Nevertheless, it is almost astonishing that the situation has deteriorated so quickly since the Fresh Start initiative.

It is also surprising, and sobering, to realise that the leadership of the two main architects of that initiative is now in question.

The RHI scandal is of such magnitude that an inquiry of some kind is inevitable.

However, if wiser counsel had prevailed at the top of the DUP, the total meltdown of Stormont could have been avoided.

The upcoming election is now about much more than the RHI debacle, and the sectarian tension is not only rising but it is being ramped up by those who should know better.

This is not the time to walk away in despair from the democratic process.

Not surprisingly, however, there are already predictions of a low turnout on March 2 because many people are too uninterested, or too disgusted, to vote.

The results of the election will see 18 fewer MLAs returned to Stormont, and while this is unlikely to change the positions of the two main parties, there are higher stakes for the smaller parties which could lose members, with lesser diversity of representation overall.

Nevertheless, it is important for the public to have a say, and even if the position post-election may be much the same, we will find out if the Opposition parties will have more political traction, and also what the public is telling the main parties.

It would be especially interesting to find out the result, if people were also asked to choose between continued power-sharing and direct rule.

Our politicians have done precious little so far to impress the people whose vote they will need to stay in power.

Belfast Telegraph

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