Belfast Telegraph

Little sign risks required to break Stormont deadlock will be taken

By John Downing

It just cannot be allowed to drag on interminably.

It is now almost a year since the Northern Ireland power-sharing Executive collapsed and desultory negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein have continued in an on-off fashion since January.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has recommended a 25% political pay reduction, in two phases, bringing salaries for the 90 Assembly Members from £49,500 to almost £36,000.

It seems a reasonable move and could concentrate minds.

A similar threat in 2006 did ultimately help lead on to the restoration of power-sharing in 2007. The reality is Northern Ireland's politicians, on both sides of the divide, have failed in their jobs.

They have left Northern Ireland without an effective voice in Brexit talks - bearing in mind that a majority in the north voted to stay in the European Union.

Both Tanaiste Simon Coveney, and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, have raised the prospect of Dublin and London taking a hand in making decisions for Northern Ireland.

The realpolitik of this situation is that Irish Government is obliged to act on behalf of nationalists in Northern Ireland, while it rightly says it has obligations to both communities.

But, one way or another, both governments must seize the initiative early in 2018.

Neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein can claim they have not been given enough time.

And the issue must top the agenda for talks expected early in the new year between Prime Minister Theresa May and Mr Varadkar.

But there is no sign that either of them is ready to take the political risks.

Risk-taking for the greater good is the real test of leadership.

In 2018 we will be coming up to the 20th anniversary of the ground-breaking Good Friday Agreement.

We could not have thought then that two decades later things would be at such an impasse.

For better or worse, by this time next year we will know the outcome of Brexit and how it will impact on everyone on this island.

The implications are enormous for farming and trade, and tens of thousands of jobs ride upon the result.

Brexit also brings a whole new set of issues around national identity for both unionists and nationalists.

From the stance adopted by Arlene Foster, it is clear that her priority is maintaining the link with Britain and ensuring Northern Ireland leaves the EU on identical terms to Scotland, England and Wales.

Many nationalists, on the other hand, see in Brexit a chance to move towards their long-term goal of a united Ireland.

An awareness of these differing attitudes compounds Brexit problems and puts a workable solution at risk.

Belfast Telegraph

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