Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Time to dig deep and end discord

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 29/08/2014

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Northern Ireland's politicians of all hues have got a stern dressing down from two very different sources. First there was Nancy Soderberg, a former senior aide to President Clinton, who accused them of being stuck in the past and an abysmal abdication of leadership. They should be building for the future rather than continuing to get hung up on legacy issues.

Perhaps the politicians will treat those very pointed remarks with their usual shrug of the shoulders, but they will find it more difficult to ignore the reality check from Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, as she returned from her summer holidays.

On the burning issue of welfare reform and the refusal of Sinn Fein and the SDLP to accept the British government's proposals which means a big cut in the block grant, she accepts that the politicians can continue to stonewall. It is a fact that the reforms are not of our making on this side of the Irish Sea, so whether we agree with them or not, it is an issue which is out of our hands.

And the more unpalatable fact is that the government at Westminster will not make up the shortfall if we continue to refuse to implement the changes.

It is financial suicide to continue to block reform and the Secretary of State is correct to spell out the facts bluntly and unequivocally. Westminster already spends more here per head of population and if her comments help introduce some common sense, then perhaps a way out of the morass can be found.

Ms Villiers has also laid down a challenge to the politicians on parading, particularly the contentious demonstration past Ardoyne. She is to continue to press for nationalist engagement in a special inquiry into this sole issue.

Unionists have already signalled their willingness to take part but they must also decouple their demand for the inquiry first before they address the Haass proposals on legacy issues.

That is another illogical approach and smacks of more stonewalling. It is now time for the parties to prove their critics wrong and to show the leadership that is required to build a confident, prosperous Northern Ireland.

Recent job announcements show what can be achieved in spite of the political bickering which could yet contain the seeds of self- destruction at Stormont. That is something no one – except the nihilists in our society – would welcome.

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