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Stormont stalemate cannot be allowed to continue

There was a slightly `end of term' feel to the secretary of state's visit to Derry on Monday, ahead of August when many politicians go off on holiday.

It is fair to say that Karen Bradley has been a rather low key presence in Northern Ireland since her appointment in January this year.

Her trip to the Fountain interface finally took place weeks after a period of sustained street violence and sectarian attacks and came after the DUP criticised her non-appearance.

The party's Gregory Campbell and Gary Middleton pointed out that Simon Coveney, the tanaiste and Irish foreign affairs minister, had visited the Fountain estate while Mrs Bradley had not.

In fact, Mr Coveney has managed to travel to Derry twice recently, which made the secretary of state's absence all the more glaring - and perplexing, given the disturbing level of unrest in the city.

Nevertheless, it was good that Mrs Bradley got to listen to the concerns of local people while also hearing from civic, business and political representatives in relation to Derry's bid for a `City Deal'.

However, the overriding issue for many people is the current political vacuum and the lack of movement in terms of re-establishing the devolved structures.

Disappointingly, the secretary of state seems reluctant to put the parties under any significant pressure to come back to the table and make a deal.

Even her threat to reduce MLA salaries, which has wider political and public support, has not been implemented.

But it cannot be regarded as acceptable that the limbo that has existed for 18 months can be allowed to drag on.

This week the Department of Infrastructure confirmed it will not appeal the High Court's ruling on the Mallusk incinerator which means that civil servants cannot make decisions on major issues in the absence of a minister.

While officials have been keeping public services ticking over, we need to see key projects driven forward with a sense of energy and strategic direction.

A policy of drift can only be detrimental to our long term economic prospects.

The Stormont stalemate is also having an impact on appointments to a range of public bodies, including the Policing Board.

Mrs Bradley's solution is to do the `bare minimum' required to ensure public services continue, but the question is just how long that approach can be maintained?

Yesterday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the British and Irish governments intend to get the parties back into talks in the autumn.

In his view there was the opportunity to get the Assembly and executive up and running by the end of the year.

As matters stand, that looks extremely optimistic but there is no doubt we need to see a concerted effort to get power-sharing restored, sooner rather than later.

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