Leading article

Restore Stormont to fight Brexit crisis

As we enter a new year today, there can be no doubt that our two main political priorities are addressing the Brexit crisis and ending the suspension of our devolved institutions.

Avoiding disaster over Brexit is an absolute imperative, and we would be in a much stronger position to achieve this objective if our power-sharing administration was back in place.

While the recent history of Stormont may have attracted little enthusiasm among ordinary citizens, the idea that its absence could allow a discredited Westminster pact between the Conservatives and the DUP to take unchallenged and extremely damaging decisions is not sustainable.

The Tory/DUP deal is a major obstacle in the path of a full return to duty by our MLAs as it is difficult to see how secretary of state James Brokenshire can maintain that he is an independent chair of the negotiations while being inextricably linked to one of the conflicting parties.

However, if Mr Brokenshire manages to take a back seat, the other issues on the table, particularly the campaign for an Irish language act, are all fully capable of being resolved.

What is even more important is for all of our politicians to accept that no one has an overall majority in the Assembly and that progress can only be made in a climate of mutual respect.

In the first instance, the DUP needs to realise that a 28 per cent share of the overall vote entitles it to be an equal partner in government and not in any sense the dominant force.

If the executive can be restored, one initiative which could surely be supported by ministers on all sides would be extending an invitation to the UK Brexit minister David Davis to make a long overdue visit to the Irish border region.

Nationalists and unionists tend to have different perspectives on the EU debate but there is general agreement that an outcome which undermines trade in any part of Ireland and restricts the free movement of people would be appalling.

It is shocking that Mr Davis knows that these questions are at the top of his department's agenda, but, during his 18 months in office, has managed a single brief trip to Belfast during which he conspicuously failed to go anywhere near the border and take on board the concerns of residents there from all sections of society.

Security considerations cannot be a factor, as Margaret Thatcher, a Tory icon as prime minister between 1979 and 1990, was able to regularly arrive at locations from Derry to south Armagh during the height of the Troubles.

Attempting to follow in the footsteps of Mrs Thatcher may not transform the reputation of the hapless Mr Davis, or transform the wider process, but it would at least represent a small and symbolic step in the right direction.

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