If calls to return Stormont are heeded, then SF gets its way

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The chief inspector of criminal justice has urged politicians to restore devolution as soon as possible.

Brendan McGuigan is the latest in a long line of people to push for the resumption of power-sharing at Stormont.

None of the points that Mr McGuigan made in his annual report are unreasonable: that a local minister supported by a justice committee would produce better scrutiny and accountability.

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Devolution, which has lasted on and off now for the best part of 20 years, has brought government much closer to the population. Few observers would lament that development, even though there has always been an integrationist strain of unionism that preferred direct rule.

Other prominent people to have called for the return of Stormont include business leaders, who were photographed outside Stormont, and church leaders.

There is an ever present public call to cut MLA salaries in the absence of devolution – not an unreasonable proposal. The problem with these calls, however, is simple.

Sinn Fein has issued demands for Stormont’s return (from legacy to an Irish language act to gay marriage to Arlene Foster stepping aside). The DUP has not issued any demands.

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Northern Ireland has a system of mandatory coalition. If one of the key parties to such a compulsory system issues unwavering demands, and the other does not, then the only way out of the deadlock is to concede the demands of the intransigent party. Not only is this grievously unjust, it also gives that party an incentive to make similar such demands in the future – knowing that the system will be unworkable until those demands are also met.

And knowing also that when that next crisis comes, and devolution is in abeyance, there will soon be a public clamour for a return to Stormont – which can only come about when the new demands are conceded.