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Editor's Viewpoint

Our sniping Stormont politicians should follow the public's lead during coronavirus crisis

Editor's Viewpoint


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First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during their daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Friday. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during their daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Friday. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during their daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Friday. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

This weekend people in homes right across Northern Ireland find themselves living in extraordinary circumstances: in lockdown, frightened and anxious about what the future will hold.

As the death toll from the coronavirus health crisis continues to rise ominously, they fear for the health of loved ones, especially older and vulnerable relatives. They fear, too, that should they fall ill and need hospital treatment, adequate resources might not be there.

In those same hospitals, health staff are setting aside the risk to their own wellbeing and standing ready to treat the ill, in some cases without - scandalously - the right personal protection equipment.

How disheartening that, as the virus is beginning to make its presence felt in so many homes, some in the Stormont administration we waited three years to see restored appear to find it so easy fall back into the same old in-fighting and squabbling.

That instead of offering reassurance, the rows are only adding to the general sense of disarray among those who have never been called upon more to protect the public.

Watching Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill's attack on her colleague, the Health Minister Robin Swann on BBC NI's The View was a desultory affair. Mr Swann finds himself in an unenviable position, in a department no one else wanted, facing the biggest health crisis of a generation.

No one should doubt his commitment to the job in front of him as his swift and successful resolution of the nurses' pay dispute illustrated.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Conor Murphy is proving less sure-footed, and is now facing calls to resign after confusion surrounds his earlier assertion that a joint consignment of PPE equipment was agreed between Northern Ireland and the Irish government.

Yesterday he said the plan faltered when "major economic powers entered the global race for PPE".

Amid all this comes news of an emergency drop of over five million items of PPE equipment from London, including goggles, aprons and masks.

Let's be blunt: after its three year hiatus, public confidence is not high in the Stormont Executive.

What is prevalent, though, out there in the real world, across cities, towns and villages across NI, is a palpable sense of fear. You see the anxiety in the faces of those queueing patiently to get essentials in supermarkets. You hear it in the voices of elderly parents down a phone line.

What we must see and hear now - more than ever - is collective government working for everyone.

We need Stormont to function. Politicians must be able to rely on the advice of health experts. If a minister has an issue with another minister, they ought to leave their office, walk down the corridor and discuss it with him or her, then present a united front, rather than simply sniping across the airwaves.

Another 12 deaths were announced in NI yesterday. We are warned there will be more and in greater numbers. Grief will fall upon homes irrespective of political allegiance. The surge, we are told, is imminent.

In a united effort reminiscent of Blitz spirit, featured elsewhere on these pages today, women and men across Northern Ireland, from all backgrounds, work late into the night, sewing scrubs and masks to help the fightback against this dreadful pandemic.

They know they are in this together, working as one to defeat a common enemy.

This is one of those occasions when our politicians would be wise to follow where the people are leading. It's about catching the mood of the moment. And that mood is united effort, working together against this invisible threat.

Whoever can step forward at this time will be showing what we have missed for three years. Leadership.

Belfast Telegraph