Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Odds not good on our leaders seeing sense

Editor's Viewpoint

Another day and another reason why we need political leadership in Northern Ireland. The province is in political limbo because of the stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein, yet the problems requiring urgent action keep piling up.

And the court ruling this week, effectively saying that civil servants should not make decisions which normally would be taken by ministers in the devolved government, has thrown the governance of the province into chaos.

Previously, senior civil servants had taken some major decisions, mostly of the type required to keep public services functioning. But now, even though the court ruling is to be appealed, they are reluctant to act in place of ministers.

The latest challenge to law makers in the province - the absentee MLAs or direct rule ministers, if they are ever appointed - is to change our outmoded betting laws.

In England and Wales, new regulations have drastically reduced the amount that can be bet per spin on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2. That is a common sense move against what has been described as the crack cocaine of gambling. The previous high stakes betting on the spin of a wheel produced in some gamblers an addictive buzz akin to that obtained from drugs. But unlike addiction to drugs or drink, which has a natural limit - the addict eventually falls down drunk or drugged - out of control gambling has no limits.

Northern Ireland is reckoned to have the highest proportion of problem gamblers in the UK and reformed addicts will testify that they used to go to any lengths to get the money to feed their habit.

And then, when their world came crashing down around them, their families realised the extent of the problem.

Problem gambling costs homes, wives, children and friends and any move which could curtail the numbers falling into that bracket deserves widespread support.

But who is going to introduce the necessary changes in Northern Ireland? Even the most addicted gambler would not bet on devolution returning any time soon.

Yet the situation is untenable. If local politicians continue to steadfastly turn their faces against compromise and Westminster equally resolutely refuses to introduce direct rule, how will legislation addressing everyday problems ever get on the statute book here? Little wonder more and more people are losing faith in the political process.

Belfast Telegraph

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