Editorial: As budget looms, the public's needs are being subjugated by DUP boycott

It is self-evident that MLAs should be able to meet and get on with the business of electing a speaker, forming an executive and appointing the committees that are supposed to scrutinise ministers and their departments.

That, after all, is how a normal democracy is supposed to work. And it's how the Good Friday Agreement, just two weeks away from its 25th anniversary, envisaged power-sharing at Stormont operating.

Today, as has happened far too often since 1998, Stormont remains mothballed, this time because of the DUP's NI Protocol boycott. If this was an entirely illogical course of action more than a year ago when Sir Jeffrey Donaldson withdrew Paul Givan as First Minister, it is doubly so today.

The NI Protocol that the DUP and its fellow travellers so detested – despite the inconvenient truth that it was the DUP who facilitated its author, Boris Johnson, to an outrageous extent – was never in the gift of Stormont to renegotiate. It was an international agreement between the UK government and the European Union.

They have revisited the protocol. The Windsor Framework heralds a new spirit of détente between London and Brussels after the calamitous bull-with-its-own-china-shop approach of Johnson and Liz Truss.

In a litmus test for the framework, MPs have already overwhelmingly backed the Stormont brake mechanism, with support for the DUP position fading to a will-o'-the-wisp. The UK and EU formally adopted the deal on Friday. They have moved on, while the DUP still seems intent on finding a way to reverse deeper into the past. The party's MPs rejected the framework and it is difficult to see how the panel with Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster among its number will have the gumption to do anything different.

However, a return to Stormont still remains the only destination for the DUP if it is serious about having a role in government. And if it isn’t serious, it needs to allow the rest of the Stormont parties to get on with it.

The obligation to form a government will only become starker in the days ahead – and not just because of the Agreement's landmark anniversary or the prospect of a presidential visit. In the continuing absence of an executive, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris will have to set a Stormont budget.

This will only heap further pressure on health and social care, education and other services, causing more angst and difficulty for a public whose needs have been subjugated by the selfish demands of a truculent DUP.