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Secretary of state's announcement has far-reaching implications

It has not gone unnoticed that secretary of state Karen Bradley announced a package of measure with far-reaching ramifications for Northern Ireland on the day that Jonathan Bell was due to make his much anticipated appearance before the RHI inquiry.

The former minister's sensational evidence of DUP infighting, toxic relationships and the powerful influence of unelected special advisers is certainly headline grabbing and a salutary tale of how government can go so badly wrong, particularly when the right questions are not being asked.

Rather out of the blue, Mrs Bradley chose yesterday to declare that MLA salaries would be reduced by more than £13,000 from November, a two-stage cut that had been recommended by former assembly chief executive Treavor Reaney almost a year ago.

Given that there was widespread political support for such a move and increasing clamour from an exasperated public, this could not be described as a controversial decision.

Arguably, of greater significant were the two further measures she announced yesterday and which deserve to be the subject of rigorous scrutiny.

The first is the proposal to bring forward legislation setting aside the legal requirement to call an election 'for a limited period'.

There is speculation this is linked to a planned court action next week involving the survivors of historical institutional abuse who have failed to receive compensation.

Whatever the reason, it is a step that raises a number of questions and needs to be properly explained.

The secretary of state also intends to introduce legislation to allow civil servants to take decisions in the absence of a minister.

The current paralysis which is holding up a number of key projects cannot be allowed to continue but we need to be clear about what measures she is proposing and where ultimate accountability will lie.

Mrs Bradley was vague on details yesterday but we must have absolute transparency about matters that will have major implications for Northern Ireland.

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