Belfast Telegraph

Judgment means it's more essential than ever this Stormont stand-off is ended

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill
Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill

By Edmund Curran

That Northern Ireland's most senior judges have found our politicians at Stormont guilty of deserting their responsibilities to govern is no surprise.

Many sensible people in this community have thought that for a long time and are tearing their hair out at the abject failure of Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill and those around them to form an Executive.

Meanwhile, the governments in London and Dublin pay lip service to the Good Friday Agreement - 20-year-old tablets of stone which are turning to dust. Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wave the agreement at each other in the negotiations over Brexit, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it has been virtually torn up here where it matters most.

Mrs May, ever mindful of her dependence on the DUP, refuses to interfere, leaving a corner of the United Kingdom, ungoverned and seemingly ungovernable for the foreseeable future.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, behaves like some toothless Labrador curled up on the hearth beside the extinguishing embers of devolution, with no bite and no apparent will to do anything to change things.

Amongst many business and commercial figures, there is cross-community agreement that Northern Ireland cannot remain as rudderless as it has done for far too long.

Many ordinary citizens are aghast at the continued payment of millions of pounds in salaries to 90 members of the non-existent Legislative Assembly.

And now, from the High Court, comes confirmation that unelected civil servants, unanswerable to the people, cannot take decisions that Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill and their once-upon-a-time Executive, should have been making all along.

Welcome as it is for Arlene Foster to cheer Fermanagh GAA or Michelle O'Neill to shake hands with Prince Charles, these are the gestures of fiddling Neros, given the abrogation of authority at Stormont, so clearly defined in yesterday's High Court judgment.

If senior civil servants cannot take decisions, and our political leaders won't either, the consequences for this community are obvious. The infrastructure of our schools, roads, hospitals and other public services and needs, will fall into wilful neglect. Planning for the future will be beset with delay, indecisiveness and procrastination.

In the light of the High Court ruling, it would surely not be too much for Mrs Foster and Mrs O'Neill to be seen together in the same room, making a renewed effort to restore some semblance of order to Stormont.

Yesterday's judgment gives both of them and their parties a great excuse to climb off their political hobby-horses and to-reconsider the red lines which are keeping them apart.

Secretary of State Bradley might also awake from her slumbers and offer the people of Northern Ireland some hope that she has a plan of action rather than inaction.

Sinn Fein, too, has an excuse, if the party wants to take it from the High Court judgment, to review its refusal to share power with the DUP. The absence of decision-making at Stormont knows no sectarian or political boundaries when it comes to disrupting public services or failing to approve crucial health, education, and other infrastructure programmes. Nationalists and unionists alike will feel the pain.

The forthcoming British-Irish intergovernmental conference, which the DUP dismisses as an inconsequential talking-shop, must address the High Court judgment and Stormont's absence with a new sense of urgency and seriousness.

After yesterday's High Court requirement that only ministers elected by the people can take decisions, it is hardly an exaggeration to say the future of the Good Friday Agreement, of democracy and devolution are on the line.

Either some form of direct rule is now essential to enable Northern Ireland to be governed efficiently and effectively or it is time to end the stand-off which has lasted 16 months now and get back to work at Stormont post-haste.

Belfast Telegraph


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