Editorial: New approach needed over DUP boycott

The secretary of state’s decision to cut MLAs’ pay will be generally well received in the court of popular opinion.

At a time of rising costs and failing public services, there is little public support for a devolved government which has gone missing on full pay.

However, despite its popularity, the announcement by Mr Heaton-Harris raises the question of what exactly his decision is intended to achieve. His only explanation is that it was justified.

Whether he is justified in punishing those MLAs who are willing to work is worthy of consideration. The other political parties might wonder why they are being punished for the DUP’s absence.

However, apart from his justification argument, the secretary of state has offered no proposed connection between cutting salaries and the likelihood of the DUP returning to Stormont.

Even his suggestion that he will consider further cuts to MLAs’ pay will not speed up the return of a fully functioning assembly. The DUP will remain unwilling to return, leaving the other parties unable to act.

So the secretary of state’s decision appears to be more an exercise in public relations rather than an achievement of political progress. It is time for him to consider a new approach.

If the obstacle to Stormont’s return is the Northern Ireland Protocol, then Mr Heaton-Harris must press his government to find an early resolution to the current impasse.

He says that he is hopeful of an imminent breakthrough in EU-UK negotiations, but with a prime minister who is a prisoner of his own backbenchers, it is not clear how realistic his hopes are.

Despite that, his only remaining strategy is to seek sufficient modification of the protocol to shame the DUP into returning to Stormont. To date the DUP’s continued disregard for society’s worsening social and economic problems suggests that it has no shame.

However, it is unlikely that it could permanently face down growing public discontent during a prolonged period of economic hardship, particularly in the context of a modified protocol.

It is important to put the DUP under pressure over their continued absence from the power-sharing executive. The party's reasoning is flimsy, to say the least.

But there is little sign Mr Heaton-Harris's strategy, including salary cuts, blaming the party over the delayed energy payments and threatening to call an election, is having the desired effect.