The Irish Times view on the Stormont stand-off: a betrayal of the public will

The people of the North are ahead of their politicians in understanding the danger that the continuing stalemate poses

Wendy Crawley (left) with her niece Liesel Nihell at the #wedeservebetter rally in Bangor, Co Down, on Tuesday evening. Rallies have taken place across Northern Ireland over the fact that the North has now surpassed the record set by Belgium for functioning for 589 days without an administration. It is an indictment of both the DUP and Sinn Féin that the stalemate has been allowed to fester for so long. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

Wendy Crawley (left) with her niece Liesel Nihell at the #wedeservebetter rally in Bangor, Co Down, on Tuesday evening. Rallies have taken place across Northern Ireland over the fact that the North has now surpassed the record set by Belgium for functioning for 589 days without an administration. It is an indictment of both the DUP and Sinn Féin that the stalemate has been allowed to fester for so long. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

 

The rallies across Northern Ireland calling on the DUP and Sinn Féin to resolve their differences and restore powersharing at Stormont may have been small but it is possible that they represent the early stages of a groundswell that will force the two political parties to see sense.

The rallies were prompted by the fact that the North has now surpassed the record set by Belgium by going 589 days without an administration. It is an indictment of both the DUP and Sinn Féin that the stalemate has been allowed to fester for so long. In the absence of an administration at Stormont, public servants have continued to do their work but a range of decisions, including compensating victims of abuse at state-run homes, have been deferred.

More critically, Northern Ireland has been left voiceless as Brexit, one of the most important events in its history, reaches its climax. The long-term impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland is certain to be profound even if there is still no way of knowing the scale of its fallout.

The fact that the two biggest parties in the North have abdicated their responsibilities to the people who elected them in the full knowledge that such a serious issue is being decided without their input is an indictment of them both. It must raise questions about whether either party is capable of exercising power in a responsible way.

As if that is not bad enough, the continuing political vacuum has allowed escalating tension to develop as dissident republicans step up their campaign to try to drag the North back into a cycle of sectarian violence. The tensions in Derry over the summer provided an ominous reminder of what can happen when politics fail.

There are clear signs that the people of the North are ahead of their politicians in understanding the danger that the continuing stalemate poses to their future. The challenge for society is how that public frustration can be channelled into changing the political landscape. Civil society leaders now have an important role to play in attempting to provide leadership where politicians refuse to do so.

Northern Secretary Karen Bradley has said she is aware of the public frustration and firmly shares the view that the current situation cannot be allowed to continue.

How much longer can the payment of salaries and expenses to politicians who refuse to do their jobs be justified? It is a farcical situation that has brought the entire political system in the North into disrepute.

It must surely be coming close to the time when the British and Irish governments will have to agree on some radical measures to either shock the parties into co-operating or to go over their heads altogether to ensure that the North is provided with good government.

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