DUP/SF don’t want to govern – so should be forced to

It is entirely predictable that the next few days will consist of the DUP and Sinn Féin blaming each other for a second election and ongoing political instability – when in fact a second election is what they both want.

What they do not want is to take responsibility for the calamitous state of Northern Ireland’s public finances; for the disastrous state of Northern Ireland’s Health Service; or for the failure to build schools, invest in roads and sort our water infrastructure. And as for Brexit…

I cautioned on these pages before the first election this year that the NIO should intervene to stop an election taking place.

Such an election would not just waste another £5 million. It would leave hundreds if not thousands of people unsure if they will have a job on 6 April; it would leave tens of thousands unsure when they will get vital treatment, vital medication or a vital diagnosis (while increasing numbers with the means simply go private); it would leave teacher pay disputes unresolved while pupils are taught in sheds rather than proper classrooms. Another six weeks for an election is six weeks (as well as £5 million) Northern Ireland simply cannot afford.

The UK Government somewhat churlishly commented earlier in the week that political stability in Northern Ireland is its responsibility. Well, frankly, it had better take some responsibility. Endless elections consisting of pushing sectarian buttons move us away from resolution at great and direct cost to tens of thousands of people, as well as leaving the entire process perched unnecessarily precariously.

Instead it should get on and do what it said it would do in past agreements (including introducing an Irish Language Act and setting up legacy bodies) and put it to the DUP and Sinn Féin simply: we had the election; you won a mandate to govern; you get on with it. Refuse to do it, and the people will know who to blame when jobs are being lost, free health services are being closed, and schools are going unbuilt.

By the way, the law requires the Secretary of State to call an election, but then the law requires the current UK parliamentary term to last five years. You know what Theresa May is about to do? Change the law so she can have an earlier election! If changing the law is good enough for the narrow interests of the Conservative Right, why is it not good enough for political stability in Northern Ireland?

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