At 2pm today, the Northern Ireland Assembly should meet and appoint an Executive. Objectively, there is no good reason why it shouldn’t; provided there is sensible use (and no abuse) of the Petition of Concern, the numbers exist to deliver comprehensive Irish language legislation, same-sex marriage, guarantees of rights, an ad hoc Brexit committee and delivery of the Military Covenant. The Executive would then be in place to manage the Budget, deliver Health Transformation, manage the crisis around educational places, and deliver on upgrading infrastructure.
We should be in no doubt that it creates serious problems to our public services if no Ministers are in place by the end of today. Literally thousands of decisions need to be made at Executive level; strategies need to be signed off on; Budgets need to be securely allocated; working groups needs to be set in motion; and so on.
Frankly, it is in the balance whether this can be achieved today given what the two main parties need to deliver to those who gave them the mandate they have. Make no mistake, it should be possible and it would be justifiable to punish them electorally if they fail. For all that politics, like humankind, is not always rational.
The crux of the issue is the breach of trust between the two main parties (which continue to have been given the largest mandates before and after), emphasised by the spiteful withdrawal of Líofa bursary funding on 23 December. Given their mandates, it is essential for that trust to be restored for the institutions to function. In that sense, it is true that there can be “no return to the status quo”.
The frustrating but straightforward truth, therefore, is that if they feel they need more time to get this right then they should and will be given it. To be clear, it should not in any kind of rational world be necessary; but, conversely, the right deal is important – more important than when precisely it occurs.
Frustration is legitimate. But patience is a virtue.