Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Talks have failed so let's start slashing pay of our politicians

Editor's Viewpoint

Once again it would appear that Northern Ireland's politicians have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The optimism that a deal was not only possible but imminent was dashed totally yesterday when DUP leader Arlene Foster said the talks had failed, significant gaps remained between her party and Sinn Fein, and she called on the Secretary of State to effectively begin the process of reintroducing direct rule.

But the question many people are asking is why was there a sudden rush of optimism beginning late last week and running through until Tuesday evening when Mrs Foster said unionists would never accept a stand alone Irish Language Act - a key Sinn Fein red line. How could two parties have been in discussion at one level or another for 13 months since devolution fell and not know exactly what each other could stomach, never mind sell to their electorate?

Those of a cynical disposition might suppose that there was some sort of compromise near agreement until both parties realised that their own supporters wouldn't buy into it. But that can only be speculation because we, along with the other parties at Stormont, have no idea what a stand-alone Irish Language Act would include.

Certainly the Prime Minister and Taoiseach did nothing to dampen speculation that a deal could be struck when they came to Stormont on Monday, but both Sinn Fein and the DUP now say their appearance was more of a distraction than a help. That is not the sort of comment that will win many friends in London or Dublin.

While only Mrs Foster seems to be ruling out the value of any further talks and the Secretary of State continues to say that the government is prepared to legislate for a return of a devolved administration here, it now looks that some sort of direct rule is inevitable.

The Secretary of State will have to bring forward a budget before the province runs out of money and civil servants may well be asked to continue to act like ministers making the crucial decisions on how the budget is spent most effectively.

What all this will do is increase public frustration with the political class. It can be argued that we get the politicians we deserve and that they truly reflect the deep divisions which fracture this society. Yet we did not elect politicians simply to engage in a stand-off, one which they effectively manufactured through their toxic exchanges during last year's elections.

However, politics seems to be the only activity in Northern Ireland which does not have economic consequences for those engaged in it, whether they are performing their normal duties or not.

There will be several hundred people who have seen family members made redundant, particularly in east Antrim, in recent weeks who will wonder how politicians can continue to draw their generous salaries while they have lost, or are about to lose, their jobs and possibly even their homes.

They will also wonder if an Irish Language Act is of such importance that it trumps the economy, the health service and education among a myriad of other public services or does it simply allow the two big parties to flex their muscles and appeal to their constituencies' basest instincts.

The Secretary of State previously signalled that she would reduce salaries if devolution was not restored. No matter what she says publicly can she really believe devolution is on the cards? If not will she start to wield the long-promised stick of pay cuts?

Belfast Telegraph

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