Belfast Telegraph

Cuts would devastate the voluntary sector

Editor's viewpoint

As calls grow for politicians' pay to be halted if there is no Stormont agreement, there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of ordinary working people who face losing their salaries through no fault of their own.

The failure to get the Assembly and Executive up and running again has left the hugely important voluntary sector in crisis.

More than 150 organisations have been told that they will have their funding cut or fear that the axe is about to fall because no Budget has been set at Stormont.

There are around 40,000 people in paid positions in this sector, working in vital areas such as youth and mental health services, end-of-life care and helping people lead independent lives.

They receive around £500m in statutory funding annually, but now uncertainty is their own certainty.

This is politics with a small 'p' and it may not command the same attention as bigger issues like Brexit, an Irish Language Act or border polls.

Yet its effect will be devastating not only for those who work in the sector, but also for those they assist.

Northern Ireland politics is becoming more and more like Alice Through the Looking Glass with every passing day. The latest ironic twist is that MLAs are due a pay rise on April 1 - April Fools' Day - which many people, especially those depending on the public purse, regard as rubbing salt in their wounds.

The 90 MLAs were elected to govern the province, but have failed to even get negotiations off the ground.

The statement issued by Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, stating that there cannot be a return to direct rule and that another election may be necessary, is not helpful in moving things forward constructively.

There seems to be a disconnect between those elected to govern and those to be governed. While the parties posture and finger-point, the crisis in the health service deepens, infrastructure projects are put on hold, education suffers and people will be put out of jobs.

All of this makes Northern Ireland a laughing stock in the eyes of a world that thought devolved government was here to stay.

The Westminster Government is keeping its options open, but the Prime Minister, even allowing for the demands of Brexit and rumblings of Scottish discontent, may need to step into the fray to refocus minds. This current drift cannot be allowed to continue.

Belfast Telegraph


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