Good to see Newton following up the implications of Alliance’s electoral successes
Sinn Féin and the DUP both want to preserve the veto for their own purposes. How sustainable would that be if Alliance doubled its Assembly representation, given it has just doubled its council and European votes?
In theory, none of this would break the rules. In practice, it would make designation – a foundation of devolution – look redundant and perverse.
Alliance’s breakthrough could yet be a passing phenomenon but it has the feel of a natural shift… Alliance’s growth has pushed it over the psychological threshold of eclipsing the SDLP and especially the UUP.
Current Stormont talks risk building in failure if they presume the restoration of a four-party, two-tribes system, plus extraneous other.
Logic and events now point to a very different future.
Logically, unless mandatory power-sharing is scrapped, the best way to restore Stormont is to give ministers – or more correctly individual parties – as much solo-run freedom as possible.
There was a hint of this from the business community last week. Retail NI proposed that Stormont talks consider devising the programme for government first, then letting parties choose their ministries, so that at least everyone would have a remit over areas for which they had policy ambitions.
But that was one little straw in a wind still blowing in the opposite direction. Even Sinn Féin wants restoration based on ‘respect’, as if it and the DUP must be nice to each other forever. That really is trite. The test of government must be letting Sinn Féin govern, whether the DUP agrees with it or not.
So Newton joins us in cautiously raising the flag for Stormont reform. But he’s right, putting structural reform at the top of the agenda would bog everything down. A step by step approach concentrating on policy may be more fruitful. The problem however of only giving individual ministers their head risks running back very quickly into the basic problem of dysfunctional party rivalry. Government by its nature is joined up. It requires coordination and basic collective responsibility. This cannot just be ignored. Revenue even in NI has to be raised and then shared out. With a huge public sector, this need not be a bone of fundamental contention like the constitutional question for two parties with working class bases.(Granted though that the DUP’s drift to the right from old Paisleyite populism and putting on a Jim Molyneaux mantle was very odd). Concentrating on a creative programme for government and bringing in civil society to help devise it, would be a welcome development in the Stormont talks. There are win:wins there for them all.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London