Belfast Telegraph

Stormont has come a long way

Editor's Viewpoint

Ian Paisley jnr articulated the frustration felt by many MLAs over the negative image of the Stormont Executive often portrayed in the media or expressed in public opinion polls when he spoke during the third reading of the Bill to devolve corporation tax-varying powers to Northern Ireland.

This newspaper has been robust in its criticism of how the devolved administration sometimes works - or doesn't. Even the First Minister Peter Robinson has said that Stormont, as presently formatted, is not fit for purpose.

Given the lack of a formal opposition at Stormont, the media plays an important role in holding the Executive and Assembly to account where it is in the public interest. Yet we should not forget where our politicians have come from and what they have come through.

For parties like the DUP and Sinn Fein to now share power is quite an achievement. Yes there is occasional rancour and, perhaps, a mutual underlying suspicion, but they continue to strive to make devolved government work.

The Stormont House Agreement, which involved considerable diplomacy on issues like welfare reform and potential ways of dealing with the legacy of the past and controversies such as flags and emblems and parades, showed that when the chips are down the politicians do sincerely seek a solution to the problems. That Agreement paved the way for the bill to devolve corporation tax-varying powers, a measure which could have a dramatic effect in rebalancing the economy and creating a more prosperous Northern Ireland. It may sometimes seem that very little happens at Stormont but ministers deal with a myriad of problems in areas like health, education, employment, justice and the environment.

In a way, the very fact that we expect our politicians - given their very different journeys to the debating chamber - to behave like those at Westminster or in Scotland and Wales is a compliment to the sense of normality they have helped create in Northern Ireland.

Many of our MLAs cut their teeth during the worst days of the Troubles and they, like the rest of society here, have taken their time to adapt to the new Northern Ireland. No doubt they will attract criticism in the future but we are also glad to acknowledge their positive contributions such as the corporation tax deal.

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