Editor's Viewpoint: Now it's time for grown-up politics
There is no doubt that a long, cold winter lies ahead in economic terms.
Looming spending cuts of possibly £2bn from the Northern Ireland budget will have a devastating effect on the local economy, unless the power-sharing Executive can find imaginative ways of mitigating the pain. First Minister, Peter Robinson, quite rightly pointed out yesterday that tackling the impending economic crisis is a collective issue for all parties and all departments. Inevitably, ministers will wish to protect their own budgets and pet projects, but it is vital that a strategic approach, not a piecemeal one, is taken.
Whatever the scale of the cuts to be announced this autumn, it is not a simple matter of just lopping that figure off the block grant and dividing the remainder out in the same manner as before.
Priorities have to be set. Will sectors like health, education and job creation be given some protection at the expense of other worthy, but non-vital, areas?
The Executive must also decide if it can afford to continue with its populist policies of freezing the regional rate; postponing water charges or giving free transport to the over 60s. Surely there are further economies that can be made in the governance of Northern Ireland which has a plethora of quangos and semi-autonomous agencies, all costing huge sums to run?
Real savings could have been achieved by the reformation of local government, but that opportunity, sadly and inexcusably, was missed.
With the crunch economic decisions arriving soon - to be followed next year by Assembly elections - parties would be foolish to play for political advantage by protecting their own ministers or policies.
As Mr Robinson said, such a manoeuvre would be transparent and unforgiveable.
This is now the time for grown-up politics in Northern Ireland and we shall see if our politicians of all parties are up to the task of providing effective and efficient government.