Belfast Telegraph

Stormont crisis: Three things that need to happen if we are to move on

By Nelson McCausland

The current political impasse is complex and many people find it difficult to separate out the issues and assess them. I was struck by that over the past week as I talked to a lot of people - in my constituency office, in homes, in shops, in the city centre and at church.

I have also been struck by the paucity of good analysis by political commentators, albeit with some notable exceptions.

They should be able to help us understand the issues, but a lot of commentators prefer to fall back on loose language and simply repeat that it is all the fault of "our politicians" and that "our politicians need to sort out their differences".

Thankfully, not all of them do that, but many do, and that sort of superficial commentary simply contributes to public frustration and confusion.

One of the main issues is undoubtedly paramilitarism, which continues to trouble our society. The days of paramilitary organisations and their criminality must come to an end.

Their financial empires and their control of communities must also come to an end.

The murders of Gerard 'Jock' Davison, Kevin McGuigan and Bobby Moffett were all wrong because murder, whoever commits it, is always wrong.

Elsewhere, "housekeeping" conjures up images of cleanliness and homeliness, but in Ulster "internal housekeeping" has become a paramilitary euphemism for brutality and murder.

That would be a major issue in itself, even if there was no connection between a paramilitary organisation and a main political party.

However, it has a particular impact on our political and public life when one of the five main political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly has a relationship with a paramilitary organisation - and that party is Sinn Fein.

The IRA was supposed to wither away, but it seems that the withering has some way to go. Bobby Storey's attempt to liken any change in the IRA to a "caterpillar and butterfly" was simply unbelievable, and I doubt very much if he believed it. He doesn't seem like the sort of person who sits in the Felons Club contemplating the life-cycle of the butterfly.

The second issue is money and, in particular, the fact that unless welfare reform is addressed and resolved within the next few months the financial position of the Northern Ireland Executive is unsustainable.

Yet Sinn Fein, in order to maintain its anti-austerity credentials in the Republic, refuses to implement any measure of welfare reform in Northern Ireland.

It must know that its position is untenable, but it is probably hoping that Westminster will implement welfare reform over its head so that it can wash its hands of the whole matter, blame "the Brits" and go into a southern election on an anti-austerity platform.

Meanwhile, the SDLP tries to outflank it - in spite of the fact that the first welfare reforms changes were not merely supported by the SDLP in the Assembly, but actually introduced into the Assembly by an SDLP minister.

Other political parties behave responsibly, but Sinn Fein and the SDLP have brought us to the brink.

A third issue is the system under which the political parties in Northern Ireland have to operate. Peter Robinson has stated that the current system is no longer fit for purpose and that there is a need for change.

It is also worth recalling that, in September 2008, the then SDLP leader Mark Durkan referred to the "ugly scaffolding" of the Belfast Agreement and said that it should be "biodegradable".

However, that requires Westminster to play its part, because the Northern Ireland Assembly is a devolved assembly.

Westminster remains the sovereign parliament of the United Kingdom, and it is from Westminster that power is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The resources to deal with IRA and other paramilitary criminality, a resolution of the welfare reform stalemate and a better system at Stormont would go a long way towards moving Northern Ireland forward.

  • Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee

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