Stormontage: The Band Plays on, but Who Can Throw Stormont a Lifeline?

Article excerpt

Byline: GARY KELLY

''IT'S like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic,'' said one Assembly member, comparing the fate of a seemingly stricken Stormont to that of the world's most famous shipwreck.

While the engine of government spluttered towards almost certain suspension, many fear the power-sharing administration could sink without trace, foundering on the iceberg of IRA disbandment.

Committees continued to meet, while departments distributed bulletins highlighting the latest efforts of their respective ministers.

The canteen was packed as usual with MLAs, staff and visitors. But the atmosphere was tinged with apprehension.

One Stormont worker, a veteran of three previous suspensions, said many members of staff were worried about their futures.

Tucking into his lamb and Guinness pie, Joe Hendron of the SDLP prepared for what could be the last meeting of the Health Committee. As chairman, he was concerned that a lot of important legislation would be mothballed.

''From a health and social services point of view, it is a tragedy. We are really in a state of limbo.

''There is an unreal atmosphere here. The car park is packed, so most people must still be here but the real business is taking place in London and Dublin,'' he said.

Ulster Unionist Alan McFarland, who had just left a meeting of the Regional Development Committee, dug his fork into his prawn salad and blamed Sinn Fein. …