MPs urge the UK government to end “untenable” inaction over the absence of Stormont after the Bank holiday. But who believes anything will happen?

The call by the NI  select committee of MPs  to secretary of state Karen Bradley to redouble” her efforts to restart talks aimed at restoring devolution has a ritual flavour about it. There seems no appetite for action on this front while the two governments are in  stand-off over the UK’s long awaited proposals  for exit and  backstop which are due to be submitted by the EU next month and agreed in October. The MPs also said she must outline how “urgent” decisions will be made in the interim. The NIO said restoring the Executive is a top priority.

The NI Affairs Committee chair Andrew Murrison said it was “unacceptable” for political stalemate to become “the new normal”.

  • the committee wants legislation to enact the recommendations of the Hart Report on compensating victims of historical institutional abuse.

    It wants the implementation of the Bengoa report to transform Northern Ireland’s health service.

  • It calls for the Northern Ireland Policing Board to be reconstituted so it can resume appointing senior staff.

  • It wants the appointment of a specific Brexit minister to represent Northern Ireland’s interests.

  • It calls for the restoration of Stormont committees, as well as a consultation with all MLAs to explore their role in some form of assembly structure.

The committee noted the significance of a court ruling last week, when a judge said a senior civil servant at Stormont did not have the power to approve a planning application for the controversial incinerator at Mallusk  in the absence of a minister. However, this ruling is unlikely to trigger a rush to direct rule, according to government sources.

Conservative MP Andrew Murrison, who chairs the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said the judgment meant “masterly inactivity in ministerial decision making, which to date has been perfectly understandable, is fast becoming untenable”.

According to the report and survey on NI and Brexit – what do the people think?  carried out for the think tank the UK in a Changing Europe and discussed at a conference yesterday,  few people think the UK and Irish governments are doing a good job at representing their views in  the Brexit negotiations; and even fewer think that the Northern Ireland parties are doing a good job.

The Irish government was the most positively evaluated  at  19.3%,  –  that’s less than a fifth thinking it is doing a fairly or very good job. The  British government lags behind them with 14.5%  . Sinn Féin was the  party least positively evaluated, attracting positive evaluations from only 10% of respondents.

In the survey 10.1% of Protestants and Catholics together thought Sinn Fein was doing a good job and 13.6%, the DUP.  For Sinn Fein that broke down into 7% Prots and 15.1% Caths. For the DUP  24.4% Prots and  4.8% Caths.

There is an overwhelming sense of frustration at the lack of a Northern Executive, but many doubt that a functioning Assembly and Executive would make much difference to Northern Ireland’s position.

At the conference on the report. Lord Bew the historian and former Trimble adviser said  the return of a functioning Assembly would give “force to the protections in the Agreement.” To end the “cold war” now, the return of power sharing and uncontroversial north-south cooperation was very desirable as in  agriculture where harmonisation exists already. He joined the Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir and the guru of powersharing  Brendan O’Leary in calling for the two governments  to reactivate the Intergovernmental Conference to work jointly for a resumption,  however difficult that move seemed at the moment.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London