Belfast Telegraph

Politicians refuse to see sense

Editor's Viewpoint

As each day passes the possibility of a meltdown at Stormont grows alarmingly more likely. Yesterday we revealed that last-ditch talks to save the devolved institutions are being arranged, but our story today makes for even more grim reading. It lays bare the scale of the crisis and how the Treasury and senior civil servants are poised to step in to keep Northern Ireland running if our politicians do not come to their senses.

The Treasury is warning that cuts of 6% are required in every department at Stormont bar health, starting tomorrow. If action is not taken by the end of the month then intervention from Westminster will be inevitable and swift.

We know that one cause of the problem is the refusal of Sinn Fein and the SDLP to countenance the introduction of welfare reform. But it is not the only problem. All ministers have declined to grasp the austerity nettle in the same way as their counterparts at Westminster. The result is we are being left with a black financial hole requiring draconian cuts in services and the probable loss of jobs in the public sector, our biggest employer.

Quite simply we don't have the money to keep services going at their current levels, especially if we ringfence health spending.

But it is our failure to implement welfare reform which could bring everything toppling down. Sinn Fein and the SDLP are engaging in Alice in Wonderland politics by opposing what they regard as Tory cuts. No party at Westminster is pledging to undo the reforms after the next election so we will get no leeway on that issue. Sinn Fein's call for new elections if the impasse cannot be broken is just electioneering at its worst.

There are also dark suspicions Sinn Fein's stance on this is due to its desire to portray in the Republic a certain image as a defender of the working or non-working class. Surely it could not be so cynical as to threaten stability of institutions here to further all-Ireland ambitions? What is undeniable is that these are very grim days for Northern Ireland.

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