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It comes as no surprise that political parties in Northern Ireland yet again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at the recent talks to restore an Executive. Since their failure politics and the media have been bogged down in the usual blame game about who said what to whom and who leaked what version of a paper/Draft Agreement to journalists.

The atmosphere and inter Party relationships were further darkened this week by the evidence session from former DUP Minister Simon Hamilton MLA to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee during which he suggested that no one should expect the return of any Executive for several months perhaps not even before the end of 2018.

The absence of an Executive for almost 14 months now means that our Secretary of State Karen Bradley MP set a new budget for Northern Ireland this week to ensure that public services can continue to be delivered. The highlight of the Budget was the allocation of £410m from the £1bn DUP/Conservative 'Confidence and Supply Arrangement'.

The Department of Health was the closest there was to a winner with an extra £80m, shared with the Department of Education, for immediate pressures such as waiting lists, along with £30m extra for mental health and £100m for transformation. Overall Health received a 2.6% increase in real terms. This will still leave the Department with a shortfall of £160m with the prospect of cuts to services to meet the budget allocation.

The Secretary of State deferred any comments regarding the future of MLA salaries until early next week. Many sections of the public and politicians agree that salaries need to be cut to reflect the fact that there is no functioning Assembly.

This week MPs approved the Transparency of Donations & Loans (NI Political Parties) Order 2018. This will allow the Electoral Commission to publish details of donations and loans to Parties from July last year. Opposition Parties argued that the new register should be backdated to 2014 including covering the period of donations to Parties during the EU referendum.

Northern Ireland's prominence in Brexit politics was on show again this week with separate delegations from both Sinn Fein and the DUP travelling to Brussels to meet with Michel Barnier to put their views to him on solutions to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Border issues look set to dominate the future Brexit negotiations as Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, at a meeting with Taoiseach (Irish PM) Leo Varadkar TD stated that an 'Ireland First' policy would govern the EU approach to Brexit.

The only relief on the horizon is the coming of St Patricks Day when the Guinness and hospitality will be in full flow - so Cheers, Sláinte (Good Health - Irish) and Guid Forder (Good Luck - Ulster Scots)! Maybe some of the good spirits will rub off on our politics. Only time will tell.