Returning health power to London is least that should be done

Morning View
Morning View

In the House of Lords yesterday, the former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey urged the government to repatriate the running of the health service in Northern Ireland back to London.

Lord Empey is of course right to demand that this be done, given the scandal of a rudderless NHS in the Province.

But the return to control from Whitehall is the very least that should be done.

The crisis in the health service caused by Sinn Fein collapsing the assembly is only the most pressing problem that we face in public services. Schools and transport and other crucial sectors also need to have decision makers in place.

The government in London has huge other issues on its plate, the most notable of which is Brexit. The last thing it wants to deal with now is direct rule.

But even so, difficult though this additional crisis is in Northern Ireland, that difficult step must happen.

The alternative is a cobbled together deal that will only fall apart, causing fresh angst.

It will also be a reward for republican blackmail and ensure a repetition in a few years, whenever Sinn Fein next insists on some non negotiable demand, disguised as a refusal of ‘rights,’ and plays the victim in order to achieve it.

If the peers who responded to Lord Empey yesterday understood this problem, they showed little sign of it in their words. Lord Murphy talked about an interim chairman and Lord Younger said the restoration of devolution was achievable.

Perhaps it is, but long term, the core problem of having to have at all times in power a party that wants Northern Ireland to fail as an entity is a problem that must be addressed.

The day will surely come when ministers in London realise that being soft and nice and patient will not work with republicans. They will just interpret it as the weakness that it so clearly is.

That hospitals and schools now have no ministerial direction makes this weakness all the harder to forgive.