Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Stormont's reputation suffers self-inflicted blow

It was a week of political drama in Northern Ireland in the wake of the Downey case collapse and the revelation about letters granting republican on-the-runs a get out of jail free card.

But then it would not be Stormont unless there was some sense of impending doom. We keep inching towards the brink, only to back away again. And in this case, in a week's time the public will be left wondering what all the furore was about.

Yes, there were uncomfortable facts which emerged. The on-the- runs deal, no matter who knew about it, was duplicitous. As we have said before, there should have been greater transparency and it was shameful that the public was kept in the dark about an issue which was bound to cause pain to very many people who lost loved ones during the decades of violence. While much of the political bickering is simply hot air, the outrage felt by some bereaved people should not be under-estimated or ignored.

And before all the blame is dumped on the Blair government which hatched the plan, it must be remembered that 38 letters granting virtual immunity – even if that definition is denied – were sent out to republicans since the current Westminster coalition came to power. That was a real slap in the face to the devolved administration at Stormont and the newly created Justice Department which was not informed of the missives.

While it can be argued that Stormont is a slowly maturing democracy, it must be entrusted to make its own decisions on devolved matters. It may not have risen to the challenge on occasions in the past. However, the performance of its Justice Department is encouraging. It is now incumbent on Westminster to restore a proper working relationship where Justice Minister David Ford, never mind his Executive colleagues, can feel valued and in control of their own destiny.

Once again Northern Ireland's political stability has been rocked and the reputation of politicians has suffered yet another blow. This past week has not been a good one for Northern Ireland or our faith in the political process.

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