Belfast Telegraph

Little sign of political hope as 2018 dawns

Editor's Viewpoint

For the first time as we enter a new year this newspaper has not carried a review of the 12 months past in politics. That was for one very simple reason - it was the absence of local politics that made the headlines during 2017 as the two main parties, DUP and Sinn Fein, sat in their silos, refused to budge on any substantive issue dividing them and let power-sharing wither on the vine.

The big political stories were the DUP's bailing out of Prime Minister Theresa May for a £1bn dowry, which we have yet to spend in spite of the obvious and urgent need to do so, and the poisonous effect of Brexit.

The debate over the only land border between the EU and the UK raised in unionist minds the spectre of a dilution of the Union or pressure for a united Ireland, and some of the comments emanating from Dublin did little to ease that paranoia.

So now that we have entered 2018, what does the coming 12 months hold for us? Given the impasse of the past year, the bitterness between the two main parties and the reluctance of their two heads to show the sort of leadership that could give at least a glimmer of hope for the future, the prospects of a breakthrough seem slim.

Indeed, the parties seem content to let civil servants take decisions on spending and budgets, which by convention are beyond their remit. This arrangement may have to be put on a more formal footing with some sort of devolution-light arrangement, with decisions taken on issues like funding the health service or education or even implementing reform of the health service, but leaving aside the politically contentious issues like same-sex marriage, abortion reforms and an Irish Language Act.

It seems incredible that the public seems more resigned than angry at the political inactivity, which has left the economy and public services at a critical tipping point. There is little indication that supporters of either the DUP or Sinn Fein are pressing for even slight compromise to get the political institutions up and running again.

Perhaps the DUP and Sinn Fein believe there is more to be gained in London and Dublin respectively than in Belfast as far as their long-term aspirations are concerned.

The danger in that approach is that Northern Ireland becomes collateral damage and its reputation as a place to invest is severely damaged.

That would be a terrible legacy of failed devolution.

Belfast Telegraph


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