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Bad news with a few crumbs of comfort for both the main parties

Happy New Year at Stormont? What are the chances?

As some MLAs enjoy a further week of furlough — though a few Assembly committees and individual members plan to be at Stormont this week — today’s Belfast Telegraph/ Inform Communications poll should provide should post-festive food for thought.

And for some, if they aren’t already suffering, there could be indigestion.

When Finance Minister Sammy Wilson opens the first plenary session of the new Assembly term next Monday, with a report on the quarterly monitoring round on departmental spending, there will be an air of ‘back to business’. But the backdrop of lingering crisis remains.

Today’s survey includes both positive signs, and pain, for both the main parties. As he continues to try to assess whether unionists have sufficient confidence to allow the transfer to go ahead, DUP leader Peter Robinson can take some comfort that a majority of Protestants believe MLAs have the ability to take on new responsibilities for police, the courts and the prison service.

But it is still not a clear-cut call, with close on four in 10 Protestants (37%) saying they do not have confidence “currently” — suggesting, however, that more could still be won over.

Nonetheless the fact that more than eight out of ten Protestants do not want to see the collapse of the Assembly over the issue cannot be good news for Jim Allister’s hardline Traditional Unionist Voice.

The fact that a majority of Catholics are prepared for the loss of the Assembly over the issue of devolved policing and justice reveals that deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has been accurately reflecting the level of frustration in the nationalist community. While some of his language may have been apocalyptic, the message is not apocryphal.

It is very important that Peter Robinson realises that.

Equally, Mr McGuinness must take to heart the loud and clear message from more than 80% of Protestants that they are against Stormont falling over this issue.

One of the main signals from the results is that MLAs have much more work to do to win over a sceptical public. Around a third of both Protestants and Catholics lack confidence in their leaders.

Belfast Telegraph