Editorial: Rates loophole another costly example of Stormont's dysfunction and lack of stability

THIS week marks the first anniversary of Paul Givan's resignation as first minister, a move which collapsed the Stormont executive as the DUP escalated its opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Since then the DUP has steadfastly refused to support the nomination of a speaker to the Assembly which was elected last May.

That devolved government can be so comprehensively paralysed by a single party acting for its own narrow interest is profoundly disappointing. It is also especially dispiriting ahead of the Good Friday Agreement's 25th anniversary, particularly for those who hoped that power-sharing at Stormont would have by now matured into a stable and effective form of administration.

The current imbroglio is not, of course, the first time people in the north have been left with no functioning government. Little wonder many are tempted to view the dysfunction at Stormont and its stop-start nature as normal, and believe that there is little impact on their lives if the Assembly is not working.

There is no doubt that Stormont has proved itself extremely poor at taking tough decisions in a number of areas, most egregiously in health and education. For example, the present crisis in our health and social services can in large part be linked to the failure to fully implement the Bengoa report.

While it is tempting to focus on a lack of progress in these enormously important and emotive areas, a litany of smaller problems also remains unresolved because of the cycle of collapse and crisis.

One example is the failure to plug a loophole that means student halls of residence are exempt from rates.

This is especially relevant in Belfast, where the city centre has experienced a rapid expansion in private, purpose-built university accommodation; at a time when Belfast City Council wants to raise rates by 8 per cent, it is thought to be missing out on more than £4 million in revenue.

It must be acknowledged that the Covid pandemic interrupted legislative programmes all over the world, but it is difficult for Stormont to entirely rely on that for its failure to act; proposals to bring an end to the exemption date back as far as 2016.

Had Stormont achieved a measure of stability in its structures, it seems likely that the student accommodation rates loophole would have been closed long ago; if the Assembly returns, it is essential for its credibility that issues of this sort form part of a comprehensive legislative programme.

Read more:

Collapse of Stormont and the powersharing Executive: An explainerOpens in new window ]