Accountability’s the thing…

So aside from the now highly ritualised game of political chicken between Republicans and Unionists over decommissioning, it appears that ministerial accountablity is the main stumbling block after several days of hermetically sealed talks in Kent.In fact, accountablity comes in at number two in the party’s seven tests, and above the one about only having ministers ‘committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means’.

The key problem, from a DUP point of view, comes in paragraph 24 of the Belfast Agreement:

“Ministers will have full executive authority in their respective areas of responsibility, within any broad programme agreed by the Executive Committee and endorsed by the Assembly as a whole”.

The party argues in its road map document Towards a New Agreement (PDF) that Ministerial decisions are uniquely unaccountable to their committees on either a straightforward or cross community vote.

Though, the party also argues that the rules around fiscal control are written so loosely that the Minister of Finance has little scope for reigning in high spending colleagues.

Critics say that the party missed the experience of cabinet government, and that once inside the tent it may find its hand strengthened in numbers and its ability to take more of the key positions.

Others, like Danny Morrison, believe that in fact the DUP objects:

“…to the safeguards, the checks and balances which were put in place because of unionism’s historic abuse of majoritarianism in the six counties. They object to parallel consent and weighted majorities which protect both communities. They object to the provisions of cross-community support for key decisions”.

All in all, it’s not exactly big picture stuff – which may explain why NI’s big set piece at Leeds Castle failed to ignite much interest outside the political classes last week. But there will have to some progress on this issue if Northern Ireland’s Assembly is to finally reawaken from its long hibernation.