Belfast Telegraph

SF and DUP at daggers drawn while SDLP hold balance of power

By Liam Clarke

The choices next week are pretty tough. The Executive has collectively painted itself into a corner and shows no signs of getting out of it again.

If there is a blame game, the blame for the immediate situation it finds itself in lies with Sinn Fein - there is no reputable economist backing them.

Even NICVA, who they misquoted at an earlier stage, are keeping a safe distance. Sinn Fein is the party which dug its heels in and refused to concede that we can only spend what we have.

Now that the Tories have a majority they haven't much of a hand to play except delay.

Their answer of getting more taxation powers here so that we can raise our own taxes and pay our own way is, at best, premature. Scotland wants that but it is far closer to self-financing than we are.

If all our tax and revenue raising powers were devolved we would still be up to £10bn a year in a hole. That is 1.811 million people and it can't just be wished away.

Resisting welfare reform is costing us about £2m a week. The figures are staggering and the ones arguing that black is white are Sinn Fein.

That being said, there is a background. Relations between Sinn Fein and the DUP have been poisonous; they haven't been maintained as they need to be in a coalition.

That leaves each party looking for a chance to get its own back on the other. It leads to waste, posturing and delay which we can't afford.

A seminal moment was the "letter from America" in which Peter Robinson pulled the plug on the Maze peace and reconciliation centre.

Sinn Fein had done anything to get this centre, even agreeing to strong DUP representation on the board, and considered it a done deal. Removing it destroyed trust though Mr Robinson felt that he could no longer deliver it in the face of opposition from his MPs and some ex-service groups.

Neither party has behaved particularly well since and as a result neither has any brownie points with each other. That makes differences hard to solve and the deadlock has put the SDLP in pole position.

If they do not back a Sinn Fein petition of concern then welfare reform will pass. However they are in no mood to be rushed and may well bust Tuesday's deadline. They want something to show for a change of heart.

Belfast Telegraph


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