Inability to intervene on NHS underscores London’s weakness in NI

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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Now four secretaries of state have been put into Northern Ireland, not one of whom arrived with much evident awareness of the place.

Prior to those four, Owen Paterson had at least taken an interest in the Province and had been part of the Ucunf Tory-Ulster Unionist pact.

Theresa Villiers, who followed, did try to understand unionism and on occasion to resist the NIO’s ever-neutral culture, which might just about be acceptable if Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs was similarly neutral, but it isn’t.

Then in came James Brokenshire, then Karen Bradley, then Julian Smith, not one of whom has shown understanding of a crisis of confidence within unionism, one that is only exacerbated by London’s determined neutrality.

Mr Smith has only been in post weeks but swiftly made clear that he was upset at the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. His latter utterances just confirm that even a Conservative and Unionist Party is only concerned about placating one of the most notably ‘green’ Irish governments of recent decades.

Last week Mr Smith said of the Stormont talks: “There is a deal ready to go. My colleague Simon Coveney has been meeting with Sinn Fein and others this week.”

Perhaps he is unaware of Mr Coveney’s history of pro nationalist remarks or his implication of joint stewardship if the Sinn Fein Stormont veto should ever lead to direct rule. Or perhaps he just approves of such stewardship. It is a damning reflection of Boris Johnson’s indifference to a Union he claims to cherish that he has imposed such leadership here.

We report today on how the UK refusal to step in and make clear that republican vandalism will never lead to political reward means that London apparently cannot intervene in the NHS crisis until after the election. With civil servants either having to take political decisions on various matters, or – if the decision is big enough – being unable to do so, the disastrous consequences of London weakness were already clear.

Now that failing is all the more stark.