Our politicians must step up to the plate
After the toxic election and the quite personal attacks which preceded it, the negotiations aimed at restoring devolution have been remarkable for the calmness with which they have been conducted.
It may be this is a reflection of the fact that no attempts have yet been made to resolve the various parties' red line issues, or it may even be a signal of a growing maturity among the politicians who realise that what the electorate really wants is an end to squabbling and for a government to be formed to tackle their red line issues such as fixing the health service, financing necessary infrastructure projects or finding ways to improve our educational outputs across the whole spectrum.
Enda Kenny's assertion that there will be no return to direct rule has brought a predictable reaction from unionists, who have basically told him it is none of his business how the province is governed. But it is also a distraction at a time when the deadline for reaching agreement on the way forward is fast approaching.
The imperative for the politicians to get an Executive up and running is shown by the latest business report, which revealed a worrying drop in footfall last month, due in part to uncertainty over Brexit and its effects, and also to the absence of a functioning Executive. Uncertainty makes people nervous. Consumer confidence falls, retailers are reluctant to invest and a vicious circle is set in motion.
As well, any new administration will have to make hard decisions on health and infrastructure. The health service already consumes almost half of the block grant and it is evident that the Bengoa blueprint for reconfiguring the service needs to be implemented. The closure of treasured facilities will not be popular.
Only if that approach is taken will any further investment in the health service have the sort of radical impact that is required.
Similarly, it is no use bleating about traffic gridlock at pressure points like the Yorkgate interchange in Belfast if we are not prepared to contemplate new ways of raising the funding required. Do we want to pay more in some sort of taxation increase or in the introduction of tolls to bring our road network up to speed?
Our politicians have five days to reach agreement on forming a new Executive. Ministers' in-trays are filling up and they will have to show real leadership and courage in the days ahead.