ANOTHER STORMONT NIGHTMARE – the politics of pandemic – By Brian Rowan

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This was the week when the Stormont Executive lost the dressing room – or at the very least some of the key players within it, including in business.

We had Executive by leak, by twitter and through the airwaves – a Stormont ‘shitshow’ to use one description.

To manage the pandemic, you need the public, you need the confidence of those in business and those on the hospital frontlines.

All of that has been damaged. In some cases irreparably.

A decision was finally made on Thursday – a type of ‘pick n mix’ compromise agreed by some to prevent a complete collapse into disarray in relation to the Covid restrictions.

Before then, the DUP twice blocked four-party support for two papers brought forward by the Health Minister Robin Swann, using a veto to do so.

Health advice was then reduced to a negotiation and, at a time, when the pressure on hospitals is obvious.

In the political commentary, you hear the line: “We have to learn to live with the virus.” Try telling that to the families of the dead.

The public health message was undermined in the summer when, at a time of guidelines and restrictions, the Sinn Fein Stormont leadership attended the funeral of the senior IRA figure Bobby Storey.

Arlene Foster was right then to withdraw from joint news conferences with the deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. The credibility issue was obvious.

Now, four and a bit months later, it has been undermined again; this time, by the DUP and the use of that blocking mechanism inside the Executive.

Immediately afterwards, Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill, Naomi Long, Nichola Mallon and Robin Swann all felt the need to get out their side of the story; the equivalent of Solskjaer, Rashford, Fernandes, Pogba and Maguire telling five different stories about a Manchester United performance.

This week should not be reduced to some analysis of an orange versus green tug-of-war. The Health papers twice won four-party support. The DUP twice blocked that proposed way forward.

Just a few weeks ago, I noted this comment from a senior unionist: “The Executive is on sticky ground. If we didn’t have Covid, it wouldn’t last.”

There are reasons why it will last. Unionists need Stormont for the Northern Ireland Centenary in 2021, and who would collapse the government in the course of a pandemic?

That said, the events of this week will prompt yet more questions about shambolic government and the worth of that place on the political hill.

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at

1 Comment

  1. We have to live with each other and look out for each other. We should have representatives who can make decisions for all – we don’t. We need clarity, courage and genuine politics – in our divided society we don’t have this. The devolved apparatus is dysfunctional, defunct and without worth. The legacy of partition has exposed the inadequacy of government here and Covid is merely shining the light on it.

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