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For all our sakes, we need Stormont back


Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley

The effect of the Stormont deadlock is brought home by many factors, including the latest developments in the aftermath of the Belfast Trust recalling 3,200 patients of Dr Michael Watt - so far - for review.

Numbers may rise further to make this the largest patient recall of its kind here, and one of the largest in the UK.

Health officials are considering a “redress scheme”, which is a compensation fund to pay those affected, where necessary. This makes sense, given the long legal outworking of other health scandals. However, a senior Health Department civil servant has warned that any compensation would require ministerial approval.

Only last week a court found that senior civil servants were acting in excess of their statutory powers by giving the go ahead for a controversial incinerator in the Hightown area.

This underlines how the lack of an operating devolved  Assembly and Executive hangs over increasing public issues like an albatross.

These include, for example, the Casement Park redevelopment, the A5/A6 road development in the west, and, of course, the outcome of the review on medical patients.

This means that almost anything requiring ministerial approval is being held back by our politicians’ inability to work together.

This is reminiscent of Belgium’s inability to form a government for some 535 days in 2010-2011, or California's budgetary shutdowns. The travails threatened on us by Brexit could only be improved with the help of a functioning Stormont.

The incinerator court ruling creates a legal precedent, which will chill and inhibit  our civil service decision-makers. Given that the UK government is so reluctant to impose direct rule, our society here faces a creeping sclerosis, as successive governance functions progressively shut down.

Never has the need for our politicians to put aside their petty squabbling been more important. The Secretary of State has the power to cut MLA’s salaries, which might help push them back to the negotiating table.

This is regarded, understandably in some quarters, as a last resort, but politics here is the only “industry” that does not suffer the economic consequences of its own actions, or more properly, inaction.

Karen Bradley should use her power of salary-cutting wisely, but she certainly should use it if she has no other alternative.

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