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Political deadlock could put lights out

Editor's Viewpoint

While the politicians like to describe the impasse at Stormont as a crisis, the fact is that they are actually causing crises at almost every turn due to their inaction.

The latest problem to emerge - the scale of which is almost impossible to exaggerate - is that Northern Ireland could run short of energy within a mere four years. You could almost say our politicians are fiddling while Northern Ireland burns out.

This is an issue as serious, if not more serious, than the sticking points between the parties that have resulted in the de facto suspension of devolution.

And the Westminster committee's report on the looming energy shortfall comes amidst the continuing pressures on the health service and the reduction in the budget in education, which has led to a revolt by some head teachers.

The glimmer of light in this latest crisis is that a solution is readily available, but there needs to be a renewed sense of urgency about achieving it.

Developing the cross-border electricity inter-connector would alleviate many of the concerns, and work to increase capacity on the Moyle inter-connector between the province and Scotland - which currently operates at only half capacity - would also guarantee future supplies and drive down prices.

At the moment Northern Ireland has the highest energy prices in the UK, which has a double impact - it reduces the competitiveness of local businesses and drives up the number of consumers suffering fuel poverty to an unacceptable level.

Talks to restore devolution have been put on hold until after the General Election and there is no obvious reason why we should be more optimistic about the parties agreeing to a new round of power-sharing shortly after that poll closes.

But what is inescapable is that the problems are building up in every department.

We need ministers in place to take the necessary decisions such as those on the electricity inter-connectors.

Instead, in the opinion of many people, we are over-indulging the politicians in constantly extending the deadlines for them to reach agreement.

Northern Ireland will be 100 years old in four years time. If the lights are going out as we reach that date, it will be a damning indictment of the ability of local people to govern themselves, and a very damp centenary celebration.

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