Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Stormont is needed now more than ever

Politicians were elected to the NI Assembly to run the devolved administration but they have failed to reach agreement on a new power-sharing arrangement for more than two-and-a-half years
Politicians were elected to the NI Assembly to run the devolved administration but they have failed to reach agreement on a new power-sharing arrangement for more than two-and-a-half years

Editor's Viewpoint

It would be churlish to do other than welcome the £400m made available by the Westminster Government for spending in Northern Ireland.

As part of the £14bn plans announced by the Chancellor Sajid Javid yesterday, inevitably it will be seen by some as a sweetener to help the Tories win the forthcoming general election, whenever it is held.

But it is money which is badly needed for the helm-less Northern Ireland government. The problem is, how will it be divided up, and by whom?

It is fine for Sammy Wilson to urge the Secretary of State to ensure the civil service gets on with the job of allocating this extra money but that glosses over a vital point - it is not the job of the civil service to do that.

Politicians were elected to the NI Assembly to run the devolved administration but they have failed to reach agreement on a new power-sharing arrangement for more than two-and-a-half years.

That has left senior civil servants in a quandary over the extent of their powers. Even if they can allocate funds, they are not responsible for policy, and there are numerous areas of public life in the province which would benefit from new political thought.

Now the return of politicians to Stormont is more vital than ever with the Westminster Government in turmoil over Brexit. With the situation changing virtually by the hour, it is not clear if a no-deal Brexit can be avoided no matter what legislation is passed in London.

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And the common consensus is that a no-deal would be disastrous, not just for the UK but especially for Northern Ireland and also the Republic.

If anyone thinks that the health service, for example, is in a parlous state at present, planners believe it will be even worse after a no-deal Brexit, with cancer treatments imperilled and supplies of insulin insufficient to meet demand.

Indeed, our biggest health trust, the Belfast Trust, when asked about plans in the event that the UK crashes out of Europe, declined to reveal them - saying that to do so could cause "alarm". This is hardly a reassuring comment.

However, the likelihood of our political parties returning to Stormont are as remote as a friendly exit from Europe and the public services here will continue to muddle through as best they can without any political direction.

Valuable projects which could benefit from this latest cash windfall may never see a penny of it.

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