Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Incinerator ruling highlights our political stalemate

Editor's Viewpoint

The High Court judgment overturning approval for the building of a £240m incinerator in Newtownabbey will be hailed by the scheme's opponents as ending their nightmare, but its implications open up an even more appalling vista for the whole of Northern Ireland.

Effectively the judge said that Permanent Secretaries in government departments at Stormont cannot act as ministers and make policy decisions which are the rightful purview of politicians.

It is known that senior civil servants don't want to take decisions on how the province should be run in the absence of any political administration and only took on the role reluctantly and in the interests of keeping public services from grinding to a halt.

So where does this judgment leave us now? Firstly, it may encourage some people to seek judicial opinion on other decisions taken by civil services in the last 16 months since the administration collapsed.

But, more directly, it will pose a question to local politicians and to the Secretary of State Karen Bradley. The question is quite simple - who do you want to see running the province?

The two parties at the centre of the current impasse, the DUP and Sinn Fein, both protest that important decisions should be taken by locally elected politicians. In that respect they echo the opinion of the public who elected them.

But the parties continue to bicker at each other, score petty political points and blame each other for the continuing impasse. Each says they are ready to return to power almost immediately but the other party is making that impossible.

Since coming to Northern Ireland, Ms Bradley appears to be hoping for some sort of political miracle to occur. She says she remains hopeful that the parties will reach an accommodation, but sadly few others share her optimism.

Most worryingly she appears adamant that she will not introduce direct rule in the absence of devolved government. But will she now have any alternative? If civil servants cannot make crucial decisions on issues like health, education and infrastructure, who will? Can Ms Bradley take on that role or will the current drift continue.

In any other region of the UK there would be outrage at the lack of political input into the daily affairs of the province. Yet most people here accept the political stasis with a shrug of indifference. That is a really worrying attitude.

Belfast Telegraph

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