Belfast Telegraph

Public want parties to begin governing

Editor's Viewpoint

In the impasse at Stormont, the political parties, so intent on their own blinkered high-stakes poker game and trying to see who blinks first, seem to be forgetting why they were ever elected in the first place.

Essentially, their job is to form a devolved administration and work out how best to share out the £10bn block grant so that essential services are kept operating at an acceptable level.

But as the talks continue with little optimism of reaching agreement, the impact of the impasse is already beginning to be seen.

Those less able to afford it will be asked to bear a heavy burden if there is no devolved administration formed to mitigate welfare reforms. In the past the parties were able to agree a package of measures which, as Professor Eileen Evason writes in this newspaper today, were far in advance of anything introduced by other devolved administrations. But those measures could soon fall by the wayside or be overtaken by other welfare reforms.

Education is another sector facing harsh times, with reduced budgets meaning heads having to shed staff and/or courses and asking parents to fund after-school clubs.

And, of course, the problems in the Health Service have already been extensively signposted, with lengthening waiting times, continued pressures in emergency departments and bed blocking because of lack of resources for community care.

And the radical and essential reforms recommended in the latest report are no nearer implementation because of the lack of a local administration.

These are the issues which need the hands-on approach of experienced local politicians and civil servants to devise policies to mitigate their worst effects.

There is an element of politicians trying to save face during the talks, having set out red line demands before they even got round a table and now finding it almost impossible to move away from those positions.

But what we really need is for them to save jobs, use what is admittedly limited funding wisely, and work out a cohesive programme of government. They have no plan B.

The alternatives are another election or direct rule.

What will another election prove, other than the size of Sinn Fein's and the DUP's vote? The public do not want it. Nor do they want direct rule, although it may be the only option and a signal that devolution has failed, 19 years on exactly since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

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