Belfast Telegraph

Praise First Minister Peter Robinson's pragmatism

Editor's Viewpoint

This newspaper has been consistent in its criticism of the republican/ nationalist parties' refusal to agree to welfare reforms which will mean harsh financial penalties for the province. First Minister Peter Robinson, in his exclusive article for us published today, spells out the consequences, the loss of £1bn or one tenth of our total budget and the loss of thousands of nurses, doctors and police officers.

Standing on principle does not make sense when the consequences of that action are much worse than the effect of the reforms being opposed.

Mr Robinson, to his credit, rather than indulge in mere criticism, offers a pragmatic solution to the impasse. Sinn Fein and the SDLP could continue their opposition but allow the DUP and other unionists to steer the reforms through.

That may be a strange compromise, but it is a practical way forward. What this points up, and what Mr Robinson startlingly accepts, is that the current political arrangements for the process of devolution are flawed. They may have been necessary to allow devolution to bed down, but they cannot be sustained as a way forward for a streamlined, effective administration.

This is quite an admission by the man leading the administration, but he is courageous in suggesting a new all-party conference, a St Andrews Agreement Mark 2, to draw up new processes which would allow for a proper opposition at Stormont.

This would retain the necessary checks and balances to avoid one tradition seizing and holding onto power, whilst, importantly, creating a form of administration which can be more effective in building the desired new Northern Ireland.

That includes holding the governing parties properly to account while still freeing those in power to get on with the job they were elected to do.

We have already glimpsed the benefits of creating peace and devolving power to local hands – Mr Robinson decries what he believes is the lack of recognition of what has been achieved already – but much more is achievable.

It will take all Mr Robinson's political skills to put into action what he has put into words. He recognises what we have long argued that change is required. If he can steer these proposals through he may have created his greatest legacy to the province.

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