Leading article

Shared vision needed at Stormont

There are two different issues surrounding the latest development to strain relationships within Stormont at a time when all parties should be pulling in the same direction during the battle against coronavirus.

The first is whether the request by health minister Robin Swann for the assistance of the British Army can be justified and the second is how his decision was conveyed to his executive colleagues.

If it is clear that British military involvement will save lives, then Mr Swann would obviously be fully entitled to proceed with his initiative.

There will still be surprise that the minister's weekend announcement specifically highlighted an urgent need for help in in the distribution of vital medical equipment.

As the Freight Transport Association quickly pointed out, hundreds of HGV lorries are currently sitting idle with their drivers out of work.

Logic suggests that the first call for logistical support should go to the experienced civilian staff who are available in large numbers and anxious to play a role.

Mr Swann also raised the possibility of British soldiers coordinating work on a proposed new Nightingale hospital which could accommodate up to 4,000 patients at what is officially known as the Maze Long Kesh site near Lisburn in Co Antrim.

Such a facility will be of crucial importance, so again there is an overwhelming case for utilising civilian expertise, with major sections of the construction industry in an immediate position to contribute, to ensure that it can be opened without delay.

Should additional resources have to be deployed, it may well be that the British Army could also form part of the process

Whatever happens next, it is surely not too much to ask that proper lines of communication are maintained in the corridors of power.

All the main parties have displayed a reluctance to engage in interdepartmental consultation, and Mr Swann is only the most recent figure to make a high profile announcement which took some of his counterparts entirely by surprise.

The pandemic crosses all political and geographical boundaries, and bringing it under control will necessitate detailed cooperation on a range of fronts.

As we move into a defining period for the crisis, there will be a firm expectation that a shared sense of purpose will dominate the Stormont agenda.

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