Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Legislative logjam is shocking indictment of Stormont politics

Editor's Viewpoint

Ever wonder what the lack of government in Northern Ireland looks like? Then read our pages today on the 160-plus pieces of legislation which have piled up in eight of the Stormont departments since the Executive came crashing down. One department - Finance - refused to disclose what's in its in-tray.

If anyone is in any doubt about the impact the absence of a functioning administration is having on day-to-day life, then just scan the list, which includes something as all-encompassing as a Programme for Government to public appointments, from an investment strategy to plans to tackle the scourge of terrorism and organised crime.

We know that reform of the health service is being delayed, half of our schools are running in the red, and huge infrastructure programmes are being put on the long finger.

Quite simply, Northern Ireland not having a functioning administration for 677 days is embarrassing. Much has been said in recent days about how the province must not be allowed to be treated separately from the rest of the UK during Brexit. However, the absence of politicians from their elected duty since February 2017 would not be tolerated by either the Westminster Government or the populations of any of the other devolved regions were it to occur there.

The DUP and Sinn Fein, as the dominant parties in the Executive, keep blaming each other for its continued stasis, but what politicians have to learn is that standing firm against any compromise is not leadership.

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible, yet here it has become an exercise in mutual denial of each other's point of view.

The supine attitude of the Westminster Government has allowed the situation to drift to the stage where governance here barely exists. Giving civil servants extra powers to carry out the jobs of elected ministers is an outrageous redefinition of their roles.

And yet some will say: where are the protests on the street demanding the politicians get back to work?

Why does the public simply shrug their shoulders and mutter under their breath?

The RHI and Social Investment Fund scandals have certainly left many ordinary people open-mouthed in astonishment at what passed for government when the Executive was functioning.

The Civil Service did not cover itself in glory on RHI but at least has the excuse of trying to keep an unlikely show on the road.

Brexit has introduced a toxic element into political relationships, which has made a return to Stormont more unlikely.

Again, instead of jointly trying to gain the best possible deal for Northern Ireland, it has been more accusatory finger-pointing and hot heads. Sinn Fein having absented itself from Stormont and never gone to Westminster has actually left its Northern Ireland constituency voiceless, while the DUP champions a policy that was rejected by the majority of people here.

So what does the future hold? More and more decisions will pile up at Stormont, queues will lengthen for healthcare as the winter crisis sets in and our schools will have less resources.

Do we have to face the fact that our fledgling democracy is not robust enough to survive and that avenues like direct rule have to be considered?

What is clear is that we cannot continue sleepwalking into crisis after crisis.

A Christmas tree is being erected at Stormont and will soon be lit up... but it will be a case of the lights are on but no one is home.

Belfast Telegraph

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