Belfast Telegraph

Now the deal's done, it's time for leaders to get back to work

Editor's Viewpoint

Arlene Foster and the DUP have pulled off a rare feat in Northern Ireland politics - struck a deal which all parties here agree is a good one for the province. Of course there are a few side-swipes from Sinn Fein along the lines of the DUP selling out to the Tory government at Westminster, but even Gerry Adams had to concede that it was a deal which will benefit Northern Ireland.

Indeed he could do little else - nor could any of the other parties. It is a £1bn windfall with no strings attached and spending it can begin immediately there is a government in place at Stormont, either the restored Executive or direct rule ministers.

Infrastructure is the big winner - getting almost half the pot - but health and education will also benefit with money already earmarked to ease existing pressures and, in the case of health, allow breathing space to begin the radical overhaul of the NHS that is so desperately needed here.

This is a deal which will benefit everyone, as Mrs Foster said. The means testing of winter fuel payments has been axed and the triple lock on pensions restored. These were keynote policies that Theresa May wanted to implement, so it is obvious that the DUP adopted a tough negotiating stance to get them overturned.

Given the amount of vitriol directed at the party for entering into a deal to save the Prime Minister, the DUP has behaved in a statesmanlike manner and that is something which should continue in its negotiations with the other local parties over the restoration of power-sharing.

It will be tempting to be a little smug, but the deal speaks for itself and needs no gilding from the party. After all, the pressure is on the other parties to reach agreement on the way forward. None can afford to turn down the money on offer, or be seen to allow direct rule ministers to decide how and where it should be spent.

The patience of the public is wearing very thin over the lack of a locally accountable administration at Stormont. Members of the Assembly have been elected since March and have been getting paid. Now is the time to get down to work.

And there is plenty of work piling up for any incoming ministers. Practically every department has crucial pressure points which need to be eased and now there is extra money to allow that to happen.

For along with the £1bn agreed with the Tories, there is another £500m which had been agreed in another package two years ago. It had come with conditions, but those have now been lifted to all intents and purposes, giving another dividend from the deal.

What this deal proved is that representation at Westminster is vital. Sinn Fein argued that it could influence decision-makers in Dublin and Brussels over Brexit, but the arithmetic at Westminster merely made them look isolated and peripheral because of their abstentionist stance.

Given the absence of any nationalist input to the Tory-DUP deal, Arlene Foster and her colleagues resisted any temptation to seek sectional advantage. Implementation of the military covenant in the province - which Sinn Fein says it will oppose - merely rights an existing wrong.

This deal cements a remarkable upturn in the political fortunes of Arlene Foster, whose career seemed in jeopardy as a result of the RHI debacle, a disappointing Assembly election and some unfortunate comments about political opponents. Unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances at Westminster gave her the opportunity to restore her standing and she has seized the moment.

Belfast Telegraph


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