“this will be the case for as long as the new dispensation lasts”

In an article in the Irish News today [no subs req], Patrick Murphy makes some important points about the Northern Ireland Assembly’s compulsory power-sharing system. From the Irish News article.

In the old Stormont, the opposition was ignored. In the new Stormont, the opposition has been abolished. How democratic is a parliament without an opposition? Advocates of the new system argue that it brings political benefits. But does it? It gives constitutional authority to sectarianism and promotes political schizophrenia. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin claim the other is the enemy, within a supposedly partnership government. Do nationalists benefit by having nationalist ministers? For example, would our roads policy be different if Arlene Foster replaced Conor Murphy as regional development minister?

If Murphy’s ministry has benefitted nationalists, then the minister must be acting unfairly – and there is not the slightest evidence that he is. So if his position has not benefitted nationalists and Arlene Foster would do the job with the same degree of competence and fairness, what is the case for compulsory power-shairing? The argument that it offers fairer government is undermined by our mountain of equality legislation. If that legislation is as effective as we are led to believe, there cannot be an abuse of democracy within the law, no matter who holds power.

He goes on to ask a key question

So would an end to compulsory power-sharing be democratic? As usual in this country, it comes down to whether you believe in Protestant democracy or Catholic democracy. Irish history tends to be a rerun of the same events.

Sometimes those events are repeated in reverse. In 1965 some Labour MPs formed the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, a forerunner of the civil rights campaign. Jim Allister might give his campaign that same name.

Demands for democracy here have traditionally come from nationalists. But for the first time in the history of the state, most nationalists will presumably oppose a campaign for a more democratic Stormont. Their reasoning will make interesting reading.

Meanwhile, the International Representative for west Belfast, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, MP, MLA, has set out his reasoning, such as it is, for why he believes that those who “toy with the idea that the system of governance can be changed” are “living in Fantasy Land.”

Because this is a sectarian state and because unionism could not be trusted to govern fairly the outcomes of the Good Friday Agreement and the Saint Andrews Agreement are all-Ireland in nature particularly in their institutions.

There are also many equality and other legal safe guards built into the new political dispensation. These include compulsory power sharing and partnership political arrangements.

Thinking unionism knows that this will be the case for as long as the new dispensation lasts and fair minded unionist MLAs have slowly but surely come to terms with this reality. They fulfil their political duties in a positive way. They also appreciate that these safeguards are to their advantage as the constitutional position changes in the future.

And how are you going to get there, again?

But Adams fails to address the core issue of whether compulsory or voluntary power-sharing is more preferrable and/or more democratic.

To quote again from Patrick Murphy

compulsory power-sharing emerged from secret political negotiations to secure the state’s existence rather than as part of a campaign for democracy. So how democratic is the new system? The short answer is – not very.

And, from what I recall, there wasn’t much reasoning in evidence in the responses to a previous suggestion that we should aspire to remove the “ugly scaffolding”..

Regardless of the actual system of governance in use what is required is a processs of civilisation. [Happy Birthday Michael! – Ed]

But if you don’t trust your compulsory partners in government, and you view the very state itself, which you are helping to govern, as being “sectarian at its core”…

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