Belfast Telegraph

Broken Stormont must now be reformed or it'll die a death: McQuillan

Alan McQuillan
Alan McQuillan
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A former member of the panel that used to set MLA pay said Monday's "farce" at Stormont shows why the institution will never get up and running again in its current format.

Alan McQuillan said it is only the desperation of Wesminster to have a devolved government in Northern Ireland that is keeping the Assembly "on life support".

While Monday's aborted sitting of Stormont did not cost the taxpayer financially, as MLAs are still receiving a salary and expenses, Mr McQuillan, a former member of the Independent Financial Review Panel, said it was "a farce from start to finish".

And he said it is only a matter of time before another of the contentious issues blocking a return of Stormont is dealt with in the same way as abortion and same-sex marriage.

"The Irish language will be next," he said. "I can see the Government stepping in to sort that out in the same way.

"You have to ask, in the past 20 years, what exactly has Stormont achieved?

"It's only functioned for half that time.

"It's obviously not working in its current format and the mood of the people is that our politicians simply aren't worth it."

Monday's attempt by the DUP to bring forward last-minute legislation to prevent the relaxing of abortion and same-sex marriage laws prompted renewed calls for a reduction in MLA salaries, which have fallen from £49,500 to £35,888 in two stages since last September.

And while Secretary of State Julian Smith will keep the matter "under review", Mr McQuillan doesn't think a further reduction will help.

"The desperation is there on behalf of the British Government to keep some vehicle running in whatever form they can," he said.

"There would also be a fear that many of the best politicians will simply walk away and we will be left with the dross.

"We've already seen some of the most intelligent MLAs move out of politics."

Mr McQuillan said the current impasse has its roots in Stormont's structures.

"With hindsight, everything possible was done to get the parties to sign up to reforming Stormont, but that has paved the way for the tribal politics we see now," he said.

"The structure is all wrong.

"Now we have Sinn Fein saying if the British Government agree to give the DUP a veto in Stormont over Brexit there will be no return, while he DUP has said that it might not go back if it doesn't get a veto. We also have the fallout from the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry on the horizon."

Meanwhile, the political parties have said they remain committed to getting the Assembly up and running.

"Sinn Fein want to see an effective Executive and political institutions up and running, delivering good government on the basis of equality and respect," Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We now need to see a process of genuine negotiations beginning immediately."

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said public confidence has all but disappeared.

"Naomi Long MEP has written to the Secretary of State and Tanaiste demanding negotiations are put in place immediately," he said.

"This drift cannot continue. Each day which passes is a lost opportunity and another blow to public confidence."

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said there has to be an end to political self-interest. The foundation stone of devolution was supposed to be relationship building," he said.

"If you cannot gather in that debating chamber without making matters worse, it is impossible to see a way forward for Stormont.

"Without positive relations, all that is left is political self-interest and that is not enough to get Stormont back up and running.

"The only way to do that is to change the mindsets of those holding us back. We must see an end to Sinn Fein's red lines and the DUP's confidence and supply arrangements with the Government."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said Monday only served to "degrade" politics further.

"The DUP's stunt manipulated people with genuine concerns in an attempt to undermine our institutions," she said.

"The parties who have prevented the return of power-sharing government for three years, the DUP and Sinn Fein, need to set aside their differences, compromise and restore the Executive.

"The SDLP has provided them with the path - reform of the petition of concern or, failing agreement, time-limited suspension of the mechanism.

"This way, neither side is seen to have to climbed down and we can put all the difficult issues to a democratic vote in a reformed Assembly."

TUV leader Jim Allister, however, said Sinn Fein's stance over the DUP Brexit veto "again starkly illustrates how pointless Stormont is so long as Sinn Fein can hold it to ransom".

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