Editor's Viewpoint: 1,000 days without a government and the impact on all is clear
This weekend will mark 1,000 days without devolved government in Northern Ireland. At one time, the peace process was hailed throughout the world as a shining example of how a province had moved out of conflict and into agreed power-sharing. Today, the image is much different.
We have long-since broken the record in western democracies in the time we have been without a functioning administration. Now we have reached a landmark that is a shaming blot in our history which has always been pock-marked by last-ditch political compromises, which then have been slowly but inexorably unpicked.
Today, this newspaper reveals in stark detail how the absence of political leadership is affecting Northern Ireland and leading to a decline in its most vital services and how we have spent £100m running a moribund body.
Any snapshot of the province at this time will show the NHS, in the words of the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, is in crisis, facing a perfect storm of increased demand for services at a time of constrained budgets.
As our meet the principals series of features show, the situation in education is equally critical, with many schools crying out for capital funding and upgrading of resources. Some parents of primary school pupils have even had to provide toilet rolls.
Economic growth has slowed by half in the last 12 months and may even slip into negative values before the end of the year, according to forecasts.
Some major investors have complained of a skills shortage among the local workforce, forcing them to seek employees from outside the province. NI Water chairman, Dr Len O'Hagan, has warned that the sewage and water treatment infrastructure requires £2.5bn investment or else development work, including the vital Belfast and Londonderry city deals, will be unable to reach full potential.
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Abortion and same-sex marriage legislation is to be foisted on the province from Westminster. Whatever anyone's view on those issues, they should be decided by a local administration.
The two main parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, remain at loggerheads over their own agendas. They hold the key to the restoration of devolution, but there is little outward sign of them nearing any agreement to go back to Stormont.
Brexit has poisoned local politics, with accusations and counter-accusations being bellowed in all directions. Perhaps the more positive comments following yesterday's meeting between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar will lower the temperature.
While it is easy to blame the politicians for our current perilous state, it has to be remembered that we, the voters, give them their mandate. If they choose to absent themselves from government for 1,000 days without effective censure, we are complicit in their actions.
Sadly, the politics of fear have primacy in Northern Ireland. Any perceived threat to the union on one hand, or concern that the Good Friday Agreement granting parity of esteem is being ignored on the other, ensure there is a constant tension and fractious exchanges. Orange and Green agendas usually trump the vital day-to-day issues.
So how will the political void be filled? Civic forums are seldom effective here and giving senior civil servants additional powers can only be a very temporary measure.
Ultimately, we may have to resign ourselves to the fact that we seem incapable of ruling ourselves.