Editor's Viewpoint: Stormont talks must be backed with action
The Stormont talks have resumed after a long summer break, but the mood music is not encouraging.
It is hard to believe that the optimism of late last year has disappeared completely and that the bungled RHI scandal has led to a complete breakdown in government.
There is an air of fatigue among the general public at the prospect of the same politicians saying the same old things while Northern Ireland is crying out for leadership.
It seems as if the politicians don't really care about their constituents, despite paying lip-service to the need for devolved government.
There are huge problems in health, education and other crucial areas but they lag far behind the politicians' self-interest in making sure that 'the other side' does not win.
Despite all of this, and the near-contempt in which most politicians are held by the public, there is still an overriding need to reach an agreement which places devolved government back within Stormont again.
The politicians who have been earning high salaries for doing nothing during the summer have an obligation to get back to business and to provide leadership for all sections of the community. Their inability to do so is an absolute disgrace. The local politicians need to work together because they know much better than London-based ministers what needs to be done. The NHS queues are getting longer, and there is no prospect of them shortening while the impasse continues.
There are continuing needs in education where schools in both main communities are struggling, and where the belt-tightening has become unbearable.
There are also great challenges concerning infrastructure and the environment, and the recent flood devastation in the north-west is a reminder that we need leadership at Stormont in dealing with such natural disasters.
The Stormont crisis is bad enough, but in the background there is the acute uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on both parts of this island.
If the talks continue to stall, the Northern Ireland Secretary will have to pull the plug on Stormont, and we will have shown the world that we are unfit to govern ourselves.
The price of failure is profound - economically, socially and politically - and only in the absence of Stormont will we really appreciate the precious jewel of local democracy which we are now in grave danger of throwing away.