When the Belfast Agreement was set up there was supposed to be a review to see how it was working and to make adjustments accordingly. But with the stop start nature of the way the institutions went at the very beginning it slipped off the table.
What we got instead was s power play at St Andrews and a settlement in favour of the two biggest parties: think sectarian headcount (a “keep us all in jail” card for the DUP) and letters of comfort (for Sinn Féin and a select band their old terrorists) .
Since then, as the ground has resettled beneath, both of these players have been responsible for several major major interruptions/collapses. As Newton remarked on Saturday:
The collapse of a coalition government is normal in a healthy democracy – it could happen in the Republic tomorrow. We are about to go to the polls, which is how collapses are normally resolved.
There will be six months after the election to form an executive, thanks to new rules agreed in New Decade, New Approach. The DUP may well exploit this to drag out a crisis. However, taking months to form a coalition – and failing – is also normal in a healthy democracy. In the event of failure, the new rules require another prompt election.
Much of the hand-wringing over Stormont’s dysfunction boils down to the particular requirement for the largest parties of the two largest designations to be in office. That is not a difficult piece of ugly scaffolding to adjust, while still preserving power-sharing. For example, it could be mandatory for those two parties to be offered a role but not compulsory for them to take it. [Emphasis added]
Indeed. It should be said that the largest growth in politics in NI is amongst those who do not designate as Unionist of Nationalist and therefore cannot become either First or deputy First Minister. It’s the old chicken and egg puzzle again.
Whilst one or other or both of these major parties retain a stranglehold, it’s hard to see how Westminster can make the adjustments without some pressure from within the NI electorate itself. Who can or will do a deal through the middle?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty