Belfast Telegraph

Parties must think deeply about what's at stake if they fail us

Editor's Viewpoint

As the summer graduations begin, those leaving university with their degrees safely obtained will be looking around to see what career opportunities are available.

But it is not just the job prospects which will interest them. They will also be wondering if Northern Ireland's dysfunctional political system makes it worth their while to remain in their homeland, or whether they would be better off in some other country with a stable government and a vision for the future.

By this time next year it will be interesting to know just how many of this year's graduands will still be here. That should be a concern for all of us, as obviously our youth are our future.

Certainly, the mood music at Stormont - where talks were continuing into the early hours of this morning - is not encouraging.

NI Secretary James Brokenshire has warned of unspecified dire consequences if the parties do not agree to restore devolved government by today's deadline.

He may be signposting the imposition of direct rule, but it is doubtful if the parties are moved by his comments.

There are far more dire consequences if the parties fail to reach agreement. The health service will stumble from crisis to ever deepening crisis; the infrastructure of schools, roads and hospital buildings will continue to crumble; job prospects will wither as investors, already nervous about the impact of Brexit, will be put off by the political instability; and voters, having elected MLAs in March to go back to Stormont, will wonder what is the point in exercising their franchise.

And then there is the £1bn dowry won by the DUP for supporting the minority Tory government - along with another £500m that was given earlier. This could make a positive impact on the local economy with money earmarked for infrastructure, health and education, as well as community development.

Will this money come if Stormont is not back in business and, if it does, will direct rule ministers spend it in the same way as a local administration?

Another pressing matter in the in-trays is dealing with the past - an issue that shamefully has been kicked into the long grass time after time by all parties.

The one ray of hope is that the parties are talking, but Sinn Fein's call for London and Dublin to inject energy and leadership into the negotiations does not bode well for a resolution. Almost 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, it is time for politicians here to find their own consensus. No one is really interested in riding to their rescue and neither government has any magic wand to make the sticking points disappear.

Sinn Fein's problem is that its red line demands are difficult hooks to get off. There is no chance of Arlene Foster standing aside from the post of First Minister after the party's performance in the general election and striking its deal with the new Westminster government.

A stand-alone Irish Language Act may also be unachievable given that the DUP has hinted that legislation also embracing Ulster-Scots culture is its preferred option and, incidentally, is more inclusive, a repeated Sinn Fein mantra.

Sinn Fein has given itself little wriggle room, but can it abandon its position, as the pre-eminent nationalist voice in the province? The DUP, through its arrangements with the Tories, has the direct ear of the Prime Minister and, more importantly, influence with her.

Interesting times indeed.

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