Leading article

Credibility of Stormont executive is on the line

The Stormont executive has frequently struggled to maintain its credibility since it returned from a three-year suspension last January, and the pressures it faces have intensified significantly in recent days.

It will be accepted that the DUP education minister Peter Weir was left with tough choices when this year's examinations were cancelled due to the pandemic, but only last week he strongly defended the way in which A level grades were calculated and insisted that the system would not be changed.

When the authorities in Britain reached entirely different conclusions, Mr Weir looked an isolated figure and, on Monday, a U turn of spectacular proportions duly followed.

The minister probably reached the right outcome in the end but huge numbers of students will wonder why they were put through a period of such turmoil when the risks associated with Mr Weir's initial strategy had been so firmly highlighted.

It is clear that the universities now have major funding issues after thousands of A level results were abruptly upgraded, and the onus will be on the executive to allocate additional resources as a matter of urgency.

However, the regular inability of the main parties to reach a consensus on key matters was again dramatically illustrated through an intervention by a High Court judge on the same day as Mr Weir found himself under an unforgiving spotlight.

Mr Justice McAlinden directly accused Sinn Féin's deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill of ignoring the rule of law during the prolonged dispute over pensions for victims of the Troubles.

The judge, speaking at the opening of a high profile case, also criticised DUP first minister Arlene Foster, and said Stormont's two most senior figures had shown a fundamental lack of awareness over their legal requirements.

It is still possible that the executive may yet be able to make some kind of progress over the pensions issue, which has caused anguish to people from all sections of society who either lost loved ones or were injured during violent attacks.

However, if our politicians repeatedly cannot come up with agreed policies to address the basic problems which exist on a range of fronts, the public will be entitled to wonder if our devolved structures are fit for purpose.

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