Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: The national embarrassment, everyone agrees we deserve better but no one has the guts to change things

Locked gates at Stormont in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)
Locked gates at Stormont in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Turn it into a hotel - that was the brutal judgment of the taxi driver taking me to Parliament Buildings, Stormont, as we near 1,000 days without government.

The tourists from across the world whom she ferries there are bowled over by the grandiose building and grounds.

She's too embarrassed to explain the squabbling that has stopped the institutions functioning for almost three years, she says.

Inside the opulent edifice, it's surreal. In the shop along the first corridor off the majestic Great Hall, towels and alcohol branded with the Assembly logo are on sale.

Visitors can choose between a decent red and a sauvignon blanc.

The merchandise is infinitely more successful than the institutions which inspired it.

But it's a display a bit up the corridor which is most bizarre.

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Sixteen pieces of artwork - completed before the institutions collapsed - depict Parliament Buildings in all its glory.

The artists have written little notes which hang below their work. They bubble with an infectious optimism that is now so out of place. One picture celebrates Arlene Foster becoming First Minister. "Our new history begins," it proclaims.

The artist says she "made this work to show a positive new future that places women at the heart of Parliament" and leading the way in reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Crocodiles, and the constant sniping back and forth between Arlene and Michelle, blow apart the illusion that women always do politics differently.

A narrow, winding staircase takes you to the basement of the building which on big days heaved with journalists covering proceedings.

The press room is like a ghost town, empty and spookily silent. Just one old newspaper shows that human beings were once there.

Two dozen computers and four TVs sit in the darkness. The notice board announces "Stormont new faces". It's so out-of-date that many MLAs like Phil Flanagan, Brenda Hale, Sammy Douglas, Joe Byrne and Judith Cochrane have long left politics.

The talks to restore devolution are going nowhere fast. Relations between the parties have nosedived with Brexit bitterness.

It's impossible to see any change until that issue is resolved one way or the other.

The publication of the RHI report and a likely imminent Westminster election mean restoring power-sharing will remain elusive in the foreseeable future.

Decisions urgently need made in so many areas in Northern Ireland.

The Government cannot continue to stand idly by while the crisis in our health and education systems deepen. London's lethargy is literally costing lives.

The day is surely fast approaching when the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State either have to produce their own plan to restore the institutions - and present it to the parties on a take-it-or-leave it basis - or direct rule must be introduced.

We have lingered too long in limbo. Using that as pressure to get the parties to reach a deal has clearly failed.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have not paid any political price for not restoring devolution.

The only people suffering from the Government's refusal to intervene are the plain people of Northern Ireland. Everybody agrees we deserve better but nobody has the guts to take action to change things.

Civil servants alone will not be able to bring us through a no-deal Brexit.

It is not as if a restored executive would be a panacea to all our problems anyway. There were precious few examples of real leadership and partnership over the years.

It was power-splitting, not power-sharing as both parties prioritised their own political needs and not the collective good.

The canteen at Stormont closes early these days as there isn't the trade to justify staying open until tea-time.

A mobile bookcase caters for all tastes. Edna O'Brien and John Grisham novels sit beside a Good News Bible and Trinny and Susannah's 'What You Wear Can Change Your Life'.

It's definitely not the case at Stormont - a parliament all dressed up with nowhere to go.

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