Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Stormont is needed to tackle cuts crisis

A Department of Finance scenario suggests that, in the best forecast, at least 25% of our street lights will gradually disappear, or in the worst case up to 100% of them, in the next two years.

Because of tight budgets there are cutbacks in other crucial areas, including road maintenance. There are untreated potholes on some of our main roads, including the Antrim and Shore Roads in Belfast, and if more money for gritting had not been provided late in the day, the situation would have been worse.

There are other huge problems, including funding the NHS, education and other sectors of public expenditure.

In the last few years the Westminster block grant to Northern Ireland has fallen by some £700m.

This is bad enough, but the problem is exacerbated by the lack of ministers at Stormont, where spending decisions are not being made, most crucially concerning the £1 billion promised by the Tories in return for the DUP's pledge to prop up their minority Government in London.

This is the practical bread and butter background to the announcement that last-ditch talks are being started next week to try to rescue Stormont from the shadows, and to make devolution work. New Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley and the Republic's Tanaiste Simon Coveney sounded confident when they announced the new talks, and we wish all the politicians well.

There indeed may be an opportunity for a fresh start, and Mrs Bradley sounds more forceful than her predecessor James Brokenshire. However, it is hard to see how anything substantial has changed since the talks broke down shortly before Christmas, and the people of Northern Ireland have become pessimistic about any political breakthrough.

It would be wrong to suggest that the current lack of help for our infrastructure is due to the mothballing of Stormont, because the shortage of money is part of the austerity cutbacks from Westminster.

However, it is obvious that a functioning Assembly would help to ease the pain, and while it would be wrong to give up hope, the realpolitik of the current situation lies in doing something to head off the threatened chaos on our roads and in our street lighting, as well as in hospitals, schools and elsewhere.

These are the kind of practical measures - as well as an agreed Stormont - which ordinary people everywhere are demanding.

Belfast Telegraph

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