Step up and sort Stormont out
We've all known for some time that the power-sharing administration is in trouble, but, as our exclusive reports today reveal, it has reached crisis point with real fears it could collapse.
The triggers for the downfall could be a failure to move over welfare reform or an impending black hole in the Stormont budget, which could see senior civil servants step in and snap the public purse shut.
The latter option would bring the edifice crumbling down and would mean elections to a new Assembly.
However, that would probably result in the same parties being returned in the same proportions and, therefore, no possibility of finding a solution to the impasse.
We could even see the province return to direct rule.
In typically contrary Nor
thern Ireland fashion, we have arrived at such a gloomy position at a time when the rest of the UK is abuzz with the prospect of devolution of more powers to the regions. Oddly – but not unusually – there is a glimmer of hope when things look darkest.
High-level talks involving the parties here, as well as representatives of the British, Irish and US Governments, are being planned by the Northern Ireland Office.
That is the way we do business best – high-powered talks in some stately location with late-night crises and even later-night agreements. Our politicians do love their political drama.
These talks – which have yet to be agreed – must include welfare reform, legacy issues, flags, parades and ways of reforming the Stormont administration, which First Minister Peter Robinson described in this newspaper two weeks ago as not fit for purpose.
The big issue is to resolve the deadlock over welfare reform.
Sinn Fein and the DUP cannot remain at loggerheads.
Failing to implement reform will cost us far more than any hardship imposed by the new welfare arrangements.
Maybe, if all parties get around the table, they will recognise the logic of this argument.
This might seem wildly optimistic, but politicians always recognise when the alternatives are unthinkable.