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Real issues demand political agreement

Editor's Viewpoint

In the absence of any breakthrough in the Stormont talks, we have received another sharp reminder of bread and butter issues - in this case education.

The teachers' union NASUWT has stated that a new Education Minister must deal with it directly to resolve the ongoing dispute on pay, pensions and other matters.

This, in turn, will depend on whether a new Education Minister is appointed, and given the uncertain stage of the talks, a quick return to Stormont is not guaranteed.

Meanwhile, the education challenges have not gone away, and this long-standing confrontation with the NASUWT needs to be resolved.

The union has staged two strikes recently, following a breakdown with management over pay and conditions.

In the first stoppage, last November, a number of schools in the Belfast and Newtownabbey area were forced to close. Then in January there were further stoppages in Fermanagh, Strabane and Londonderry.

Unless an agreement is reached, it is likely that there will be stoppages in other parts of Northern Ireland. As usual it is the pupils who will suffer when the teachers take the drastic step of closing down schools.

That is not the way to impress the general public, even though the teachers are victims of the general economic malaise in Northern Ireland where money for public services is in short supply.

Many other people, as well as teachers, are facing a shortage of funding which affects their pay and conditions, and they, too, have a case to put forward.

However, all of this has the appearance of taking place in a vacuum while Stormont is not operating properly.

There are serious issues to be addressed in the education system, but little can be done unless there are people in position in a devolved administration to deal with them.

The teachers are reminding everyone of the dangerous vacuum in which major problems cannot be tackled while the focus is on saving Stormont.

The situation is so bad that there is not even a budget in place to help tackle the huge problems in health provision, education and other important issues.

In a period of continued political upheaval, it is easy to forget that people need answers to their pressing problems at ground level.

Given such a background, the urgency of the parties reaching an agreement increases with each passing day.

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