Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Crisis is no excuse for point-scoring

There is no doubt that there are many competing demands on the shrinking Northern Ireland budget, from health to education to roads to water to the arts and so on through all the various departments. It should be equally evident that in the current circumstances the power-sharing Executive should draw up a list of priorities and decide where the funding axe will fall most heavily and where cuts will be slighter.

Instead, the funding crisis has revealed the sharp political divisions that lie just beneath the surface of what is supposed to be a coalition administration.

The Health and Finance Ministers clashed openly at Stormont over funding as did the DUP and Sinn Fein over the education budget. At a time when all the parties should be taking a mature and reasoned look at the overall budget and deciding where cuts can be safely made, the issue has become an excuse for a rancorous free-for-all.

On health, officials - not the minister who could be accused of political manoeuvring - say that the extra £200m which was lopped off the department's budget could severely damage services and lead to possibly 4,000 job losses over four years. In the overall scheme of things it may seem a relatively small amount of money, but it makes a crucial difference from being able to get by in a measured manner to simply existing.

This newspaper was yesterday shown around wards in one of the province's main hospitals, the Ulster at Dundonald, and, quite frankly, they were a disgrace to the Health Service and may even be a health risk. There are plans to replace those wards but will the money be available? That is the sort of debate our politicians should be having, instead of trying to score cheap political points in an early run-up to the forthcoming elections. Like it or not, all the parties share responsibility for running the province and it is time they shouldered that responsibility like mature political representatives.

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