Editor's Viewpoint: Public must speak out about Stormont
As we approach Christmas, many people will find it hard to believe that we will have been without an Executive at Stormont for two years.
The Christmas lights are shining at the big house on the hill, but the politicians who are well-paid to do their jobs there are not at home.
There are obvious reminders of their infuriating absence, if only we take the trouble to identify them.
These were well-expressed by the Dean of Belfast, Stephen Forde, in a plain-speaking interview. He issued a stark warning about the risks of politicians being "on the margins".
He talked vividly about the benefits scheme not working, about finding homeless people sleeping on the steps of St Anne's Cathedral, and about the risks of other people turning to criminality.
He said: "There's always a danger, if people aren't given leadership by their politicians, that they will sometimes turn to those who come up with easy answers, people who have their own agenda. If nobody can make decisions about how the police are funded, or how policing is to be done, there will always be somebody else to step into that gap."
We all know the risks of more sinister forces filling that gap. The chair of the Northern Ireland Institute of Directors, Gordon Milligan, has revealed that some £2bn worth of infrastructure has stalled since the collapse of Stormont. This is shocking, and recently this newspaper added to the long list, by mentioning the 164 decisions still in limbo.
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The negative impact of all of this can scarcely be understated. This affects the NHS, schools, heritage projects and many other important subjects which need urgent attention.
Already the MLAs have been given one pay cut, and rightly so, but the bad-tempered impasse continues, and people are wondering how we can get out of this mess.
It is important that public figures speak out strongly, as the Dean has done, but there is an onus on the public also to make their voices heard.
They need to show their deep discontent with the pathetic performances, or non-performances, of our politicians. People deserve better, and it is time they began to demand it.
It is remarkable that there have not been more voluble protests on the ground, but these may come the longer that Stormont remains in mothballs. The current situation is a disgrace and it cannot be allowed to fester indefinitely.