Time to fix this broken shire

The RHI scandal showed the extent of the incompetence at the heart of the Northern Ireland Executive. The cock-up, moreover, was not just the DUP’s. Not one local MLA had the gumption to inspect and raise alarms about a botched and ridiculous scheme that, in the words of John Humphries on Radio 4’s Today programme, was just plain ‘daft’. The entire rag-bag collection of incompetents gave Northern Ireland this scheme with Arlene at its helm.

To go to the polls to give our failed local political parties a renewed mandate would be an insult to the people of Northern Ireland. If the Secretary of State attempts to do this, he’ll be facing a dismal turnout and a real crisis of confidence in our democracy. Because it’s not really a democracy – it’s a sectarian sham-fight designed to restore to shared power people who do not have the capabilities to hold it – based on all the evidence.

The spotlight now falls on James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State. There’s clearly work to be done. First, he needs to bang civil service heads together to attempt to resolve the unmitigated mess that RHI has become. But then he needs to get agreement to change local legislation to bring Northern Ireland into line on same-sex marriage and abortion. He could achieve this through a super-referendum, California-style. And he needs to be seen to be the UK government’s lead negotiator to resolve bilateral matters that will arise in terms of maintaining good trading relationships with the Republic of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU.

What will be required at this critical time, prior to Article 50 being initiated, is a period of caretaker government. Elections may also need to be put on the back burner until the basis and structure of our government can be resolved. But an Executive that is so incapable of governing – and so incompetent in managing taxpayers’ money – is clearly not fit for purpose even if re-elected by a diminishing percentage of the electorate.

,