Time to make Stormont work for all

At the heart of the New Decade New Approach proposals put forward by the British and Irish governments was the assertion that the return of the Stormont institutions will be based on good faith, mutual respect and trust.

Given that these are precisely the elements which had disappeared without trace by the time the last administration collapsed three years ago, there will inevitably be a degree of public scepticism surrounding yesterday's developments.

However, despite all the uncertainties and contradictions surrounding the latest deal, the case for MLAs resuming their full power-sharing responsibilities had become overwhelming.

Strikingly similar opportunities to get devolution back in place were spurned in both 2018 and 2019, largely because until now the DUP could not come to terms with the right of Irish speakers to benefit from the official recognition for minority languages which has been uncontentiously in place in both Wales and Scotland for decades.

The DUP figures who previously displayed the most intolerant approach to Irish culture remained silent yesterday, but the party leadership was so swift to endorse the plan outlined by the two governments on Thursday night that more than a hint of choreography was in the air.

While Sinn Féin decided to delay its approval until its Ard Chomhairle met yesterday afternoon, the final outcome was never in serious doubt.

Vital issues, involving health, education, the economy and many other sectors, need to be resolved, with the full ramifications of the Brexit crisis requiring specific ministerial attention, and crucially the indications are that the required level of funding for the key priorities will be available.

There will be a clear expectation that the blueprint which was agreed yesterday will prevent further abuses of the petition of concern mechanism and ensure that unelected special advisers are no longer able to exercise an undue influence on the decision making process

The forthcoming report of the public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive debacle will also have to be closely studied, with firm evidence provided that all the necessary lessons have been taken on board.

There will be relief but few celebrations over yesterday's announcements and it is now up to all our politicians to demonstrate that they have not only the ability but also the vision required to deliver progress on behalf of the entire community.

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