“As we stated at the election, however, any changes will require the agreement of parties in the Assembly.”

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As UTV reports, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, has launched a public consultation on measures which “could improve the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”  Including how the institutions could “evolve over time into a more normal system that incorporates a government and opposition”.  From the introduction to the consultation document [pdf file]

This consultation therefore highlights four key areas about which there has been debate in recent years in Northern Ireland.  The current Parliamentary Boundary Review is taking place on the basis of the number of Parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland being reduced from 18 to 16.  This would automatically result in the in the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly at the next election going down from 108 members to 96.  In addition, I have always made clear that I would seek to bring forward legislation to provide for a reduction by a different number if there is broad agreement for this.  There have been calls for the length of term of the Assembly to be extended to 5 years, including the current term; the consultation paper seeks views on this.  I have always made clear my opposition to elected members holding office at both Westminster and Stormont.  Although good progress has been made, the consultation paper seeks views on how best to phase out this practice in line with commitments I made at the general election.  Finally, the paper seeks views on whether the Assembly would be more effective if it had both an inclusive government and effective opposition and if so how this can best be achieved. [added emphasis]

The closing date for submissions is 23 October 2012.

Adds  That may, or may not, answer Mick’s question…

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  • sherdy

    Would a reduction in the number of assembly members result any financial savings for the Westminster exchequer?

  • JH

    Any chance of a consultation on whether we need a ‘secretary of state’?

  • iluvni

    …or an Assembly

  • Lionel Hutz

    Surely there’s something repugnant about Politicians deciding to increase the length of time that they stay in office. I’m pretty sure we voted for a four year term. How can they legitimately govern for an additional one. If that change happens, it should happen after the next election.

    Also I like the way that the number of candidates work in the south. Vary it depending on the size of the constituency. Constituencies should be based on areas having an identity regardless of size – within reason

  • RyanAdams

    Lionel

    I agree its a total abuse but its nothing new. There should have been a local government election in 2009 but it was delayed until 2011 – Now I wonder which major party would have had a rough election in 2009? Hmmmm…..

  • Lionel Hutz

    The minor parties should refuse and make life difficult for the big two. It’s an absolute joke. How can people vote for these people

  • Comrade Stalin

    The minor parties can’t make life difficult for the big two.

    The justification for increasing the length of the assembly term is to bring it into line with the practice in other devolved bodies, it does not seem too unreasonable on those grounds, and we have a problem in 2015 in that the Westminster and Assembly elections will be in the same year which is a bit harder for the parties to manage.

    The way constituencies in the south are organized strikes me as something that appears to be waaay to open to political manipulation.

  • DC

    CS

    The Alliance party could refuse to carry on in the justice post and deliver its own ultimatum – that cross community voting for the FM and dFM be reinstated prior to St Andrews 2006, or else it walks away from office.

    Status quo ante. (Another example of radical conservatism at play, progressive regression, the reintroduction of cross community voting on FM dFM.)

  • Pete Baker

    JH

    “Any chance of a consultation on whether we need a ‘secretary of state’?”

    Maybe.

    If we move towards a “more normal system that incorporates a government and opposition”.

  • GavBelfast

    Like the Alliance Party would walk away from the trough any more than the other four ….

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Alliance party could refuse to carry on in the justice post and deliver its own ultimatum – that cross community voting for the FM and dFM be reinstated prior to St Andrews 2006, or else it walks away from office.

    I’m scratching my head wondering exactly what sort of confused mind would come up with an apparently random and pointless proposal like this. What relevance does the way OFMDFM are selected have to anything ? And why is it worth collapsing the institutions over ? Who in the general public cares ?

    Status quo ante. (Another example of radical conservatism at play, progressive regression, the reintroduction of cross community voting on FM dFM.)

    It’s like you’ve taken a political science textbook, cut a few random words out of it and stuck them back in a different order.

    Back to the real world, perhaps someone can come along and explain in some sort of detail exactly what they think creating an opposition is going to accomplish. The political parties – all of them, with the exception of a few MLAs from each – are lethargic and lazy. Not a single piece of legislation has been proposed by any of them outside the the Executive’s lacklustre programme. I’m sure the plan is that by giving a few of them some extra cash they’ll magically start coming up with brilliant ideas, but I find that plan unconvincing. If there’s an opposition, the parties there will do pretty much the same as they do in government, namely nothing.

  • DC

    Now now, you’re being tetchy if not arrogant. Typical Alliance type.

    I believe the points are valid, currently there are two first ministers speaking up on behalf of N Ireland, neither have been endorsed by the assembly and are in effect put there by the party machine, not the assembly as it used to be.

    I would have thought Alliance might have been concerned because the vote on FM and deputy FM was got rid of because you had a former terrorist and bigot looking to take up the posts and both knew the assembly and public at the time couldn’t stomach it, so they got rid of the voting system and that assembly endorsement in a bid to save face.

    Now that is what seems a bit off the wall to me and if you can’t see that then I see where the vision problem is within alliance.

    The reference to radical conservatism is to do with Blue Labour which is trending at the moment, perhaps you should read more yourself.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Now now, you’re being tetchy if not arrogant.

    Your contribution above was complete nonsense. You surpassed the usual debates about rearranging deckchairs; you proposed giving one deckchair a new coat of paint.

    Now that is what seems a bit off the wall to me and if you can’t see that then I see where the vision problem is within alliance.

    I can’t speak for Alliance, you’ll need to take your issues up with them.

    As for what’s off the wall, that’s an imaginative way to describe a proposal that isn’t even vaguely radical or novel. Jim Allister came up with it years ago.

  • DC

    Seriously, CS, you’ve got yourself worked up and missed the point.

    The post is about reform of the assembly and the way it operates, all i am saying seriously is that the assembly should be able to vote in the FM and dFM like it used to do, albeit on a cross-community basis, i know alliance is trying to do away with designations, but first things first.

    One small step at a time – a cross-community vote imo is still better than no vote and probably easier to achieve than doing away with designations (declaring as unionist and nationalist or other) which i can’t see happening just yet if honest?

  • Pete Baker

    Comrade

    But DC is right about why the voting protocol was changed for the Assembly election of OFMDFM.

    Neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP wanted to be seen to be voting in favour of the other.

  • Drumlins Rock

    would it be possible, and more sensible to draw the constituencies to match the new council areas? could work out at 70 seats, giving 5, 6 & 7 seaters, dividing Belfast into two.

  • Rory Carr

    “If we move towards a “more normal system that incorporates a government and opposition”.

    Tch,tch, Pete. Not like you to be so careless. You did mean to quote the Secretary of State’s words did you not ? What he actually said was:

    …the paper seeks views on whether the Assembly would be more effective if it had both an inclusive government and effective opposition.”

    A world (or at least a truncated province) of difference surely ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    DC, Pete, that argument is a waste of time. You are debating a principal. If the rules are changed, the outcome will be the same for the foreseeable future. So what you are talking about is asking Alliance to risk collapsing the assembly over a tweak which will result in no visible changes to the way we are governed.

    Rory, there is no difference, the outworking is the same.

    No matter what you do you end up with the same setup. Assuming that things are fixed so that it is not possible to exclude Sinn Féin (which is what this is really about for some people) you end up with a DUP/SF dominated executive and the scenario where people are expected to go to their voters and seek a mandate to be outside the government.

    It is already possible to be an opposition in the current arrangement. When people are asking for reform, what they are really asking for is money. They want to be paid not to be in the government. I would oppose the opposition plans on that basis.

  • Pete Baker

    Rory

    “Tch,tch, Pete. Not like you to be so careless.”

    I did quote the Secretary of State. From the linked NIO press release.

    Comrade

    I’m not debating anything. I’m pointing out that DC is right in stating that the voting protocol was changed for OFMDFM, and for the reasons stated.

  • Dec

    I would have thought that a key prerequisite for a ‘normal system that incorporates a government and opposition’ would be a ‘normal society’, but maybe I’m wrong and those that run around with their heads up their own arses are right on this one.

  • JoeBryce

    The offices of FM and DFM should rotate between the traditions, along the lines of the rotation of the Lord Mayoralty between the parties, except rotation should be quadrennial. In the short term this will boost confidence across the board and in the long term it would lay a foundation for any possible 9 county entity within an all Ireland settlement: Home Rule within Home Rule.