Will the Stormont Executive make unenviable, unpopular and difficult decisions about squeezing public services? - The Irish News view

There is an urgency to attracting new jobs and investment, whether from the US or elsewhere

Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly stressed they were in the US to advocate for Northern Ireland and set out shared priorities
First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly have been on a charm offensive in Washington DC, appealing for investment and new jobs (Niall Carson/PA)

Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly are giving Northern Ireland the hard-sell in Washington DC, where they are basking in the glow of the novelty that customarily accompanies the Executive’s intermittent periods of activity.

In appealing for US investment, they are following a path well-trodden by previous first ministers. The message is almost identical, too.

First Minister Ms O’Neill says they are issuing “a clarion call to all US investors that we’re open for businesses, that government has been reinstated”; Deputy First Minister Ms Little-Pengelly talks of working “hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of that investment and building that amazing future we know that Northern Ireland has”.

Everyone will hope that these statements will prove more durable than those from Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster, and that this time the Executive is here to stay and that veto politics has gone for good.

Businesses will understandably demand more than the mere existence of a functioning Executive and cordial relations as a reason why they should direct investment to the north.

Northern Ireland is indeed a good place to invest, with particular advantages for US companies including dual-market access, and we hope that the charm offensive by politicians, business leaders and a range of other friends and representatives bears lasting fruit.

US businesses will understandably demand more than the mere existence of a functioning Executive and cordial relations between Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly as a reason to invest in Northern Ireland

There is an urgency to attracting new jobs and investment, whether from the US or elsewhere. That has been emphasised by reminders that the financial outlook at Stormont remains deeply unsettled.

The DUP ended its nonsensical boycott of power-sharing against the backdrop of a gathering storm of public sector strike action over pay. Though Stormont returned with the promise of a beefed-up £3.3 billion financial package, it is increasingly obvious that it isn’t sufficient to meet the challenges ahead.

Transport workers, for example, have already rejected the latest pay offer from Translink, which would have seen a 5% increase in wages and a £1,500 one-off payment. Chris Conway, the Translink CEO, says the organisation has no more funding to increase its offer; unless a compromise can be reached, further disruption to bus and train services may be inevitable. A number of other pay offers are being considered across the public sector.

File pic of Stormont Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald
Stormont finance minister Caoimhe Archibald says "unenviable decisions" lie ahead for ministers (Liam McBurney/PA)

As Caoimhe Archibald, the finance minister, told her scrutiny committee this week, ministers face “many unenviable decisions”. These could also be described as unpopular or difficult decisions, none of which previous Executives have ever shown much enthusiasm, much less aptitude, for making.

Department of Finance permanent secretary Neil Gibson was a little more direct, explaining that savings aren’t achievable through belt-tightening alone, and that departments would have to stop “doing certain things”.

The message is that our already hard-pressed public services are only going to be squeezed even harder.