A sad day for Northern Ireland as Stormont falls

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It was a day of drama at Stormont yesterday, as the Executive fell after a decade of devolved government.

This administration is now at an end and there will be elections on March 2.

Stormont has not yet been suspended, which would mean the return of power via direct rule, but that prospect has moved closer.

In theory the only development is the fact that an election has been called early.

But in reality this has exposed deep fissures between the DUP and Sinn Fein that have always been there.

As our timeline of events after 2007, published on page 5 of today’s paper, shows, there has been almost a crisis a year since power-sharing was restored in 2007 in the aftermath of the St Andrew’s Agreement. In some years there was more than one crisis.

For a while recently it seemed that Sinn Fein was engaging in brinkmanship in a bid to get concessions. But in recent days it became clear that the party did indeed want an election and that is what was called yesterday.

This was irresponsible of them, in terms of the ramifications for the country, but also an electoral risk for republicans.

The election will be held on March 2. The opportunity for a full inquiry into RHI, which this paper advocated, has been blown – at least for now.

It might be that an election will clear the air and a return to co-operation.

It might, however, be that an election will lead to direct rule.

The News Letter has supported devolution, but a return of powers to Westminster might be no bad thing for a while. Shambolic scenes in the Assembly merely confirmed that sense.

Difficult but necessary decisions would be taken in London.

Even so, yesterday was a step back after such a prolonged period of self-government, despite bitter divisions, and a sad day for Northern Ireland.