Belfast Telegraph

Warring MLAs have left us on brink of ruin

Editor's Viewpoint

Today this newspaper spells out in the clearest terms yet the financial crisis facing Northern Ireland. The budget proposed by Secretary of State James Brokenshire in the absence of any agreement on a restoration of devolution makes chastening reading for the most part.

While health gets £155.2m extra, this will not go far towards meeting the demands put upon it. We reported earlier this month that health and social services were in danger of racking up a £300m overspend in the coming year if spending were kept at current levels. So it is clear that the extra money in the proposed budget will merely enable it to stand still, if even that, not make the radical improvements required.

Agriculture, education, justice, infrastructure and the economy will all face reduced budgets, meaning problems in the classrooms, further strains on the policing and courts services and less money for areas such as roads and agriculture.

These are the day-to-day problems which the people of Northern Ireland will face. It may please their supporters to see former Finance Ministers Sammy Wilson of the DUP and Sinn Fein's Mairtin O'Muilleoir blame each other or the Government at Westminster for the austerity facing the province, but the cold fact is their parties hold the key to restoring devolution.

They have been given every chance to reach agreement on the way ahead, although the upcoming General Election has put negotiations on hold until after polling day.

While the election has no bearing on devolution or the affairs of Stormont,and was called to strengthen the Prime Minister's hand in Brexit negotiations, the parties here can be reminded of their primary duty - running Northern Ireland - when they come calling for votes in the weeks ahead.

Mr Brokenshire's budget may concentrate a few minds among local politicians. And if they need any further encouragement to get down to serious negotiations on restoring devolution, they should heed the warning by three members of the former panel which set MLAs salaries and expenses that the public will not countenance them continuing to get paid if they don't deliver on what they were elected to do.

There are plenty of public representatives at council, Westminster and European levels without the 90 MLAs if Stormont is not restored. The MLAs can hardly expect the public to suffer economically and lose jobs while they continue to be paid handsomely.

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