To save the Assembly, we’ve got to reform it – starting now

At the heart of the hurricane, people may be too excited to pay much attention to the wider political crisis lurking just round the corner. But people would be wrong. Collapse could be upon us as soon as next week, as Gerry Moriarity reminds us in the Irish Times:

What all the political protagonists must also consider are the implications if Robinson walks away or is forced to leave office, and they are serious. If Robinson stands down, then there will be seven days to appoint a new First Minister. However, the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister is a joint office: a DUP First Minister cannot take office without the agreement of Sinn Féin, and vice versa.
Were the current DUP deputy Nigel Dodds or some other potential candidate to become DUP leader and seek the First Minister post, does anyone seriously believe Sinn Féin would acquiesce to such an appointment without the DUP categorically first committing to the transfer of policing and justice powers?
Equally, if Robinson remains and still procrastinates on policing and justice, then Stormont might be a busted flush regardless – but in such a scenario both the DUP and Sinn Féin would have to shoulder blame.

Whatever their narrow political calculations, in their hearts all parties must feel horrified at the prospect of tossing away what has been achieved with such effort over 10, no 15 years. Because of the sectarian divide, the tragedy is that the wider public interest is denied full expression. The time has come to think seriously about structural reforms. A confusing political crisis four months before a general election is not be the best time for dispassionate thought, but it’s the only one we’ve got. In Northern Ireland politics, it was ever thus. No magic bullet exists but some reform could increase flexibility and reduce the muscle-bound momentum to deadlock that plagues the system. Urgent consideration of reform would concentrate the minds of politicians on the future, on what they’ve got to lose and throw up options for what they might have to gain. The clearest vision of an amended future remains the thesis of The Route to Stability?” by QUB’s Rick Wilford and Robin Wilson. This particular version of their thinking is a bit whiskery now but its analysis holds up pretty well.
The proposed reforms have the merit of addressing the analysis.

1. Recognition of Northern Ireland’s unique constitutional character
2. Reform of the electoral system to encourage parties to moderate their identities
3. Removal of the requirement for Northern Ireland Assembly members to register their communal affiliation
4. Formation of the Executive by inter-party agreement rather than automatic appointment

For my own part, I’m sceptical about joint sovereignty as a Solomon’s judgement and about what electoral reform would really deliver. A clinching argument against radical reform is the great risk of losing the undoubted gains of the past decade. Better to go for something incremental like items 3 and 4. The end of the rigid designations already enjoy some support in all parties except Sinn Fein. But what have Sinn Fein to fear when they’re odds on to remain the largest nationalist party – if not to become the largest party overall?

  • union mack

    reform is one thing. but if the electorate continues to vote for parties that cannot work with each other, then they cannot cry that the politicians are not working for them, as they put them there.

    how about a voluntary coalition, and if a voluntary coalition cannot be put together, d’hondt is then triggered as a plan B? im deliberately not putting numbers/percentages in place here. just a suggestion to get things going…

  • courageunderfire
  • joeCanuck

    I fear that, like young Kirk, we’re screwed, if we don’t have changes.

    Someone please put up Dave Bowie; I’m off with the missus to see the ma-in-law.

  • Ulick

    Brian, republicans would never accept items 3 and 4 without item 1 as a minimum. I suspect that’s why it’s in there.

  • LabourNIman

    All good ideas and I would gladly welcome them and support them.

  • Coll Ciotach

    I cannot see the attractiveness of this Stormont regime, let it fall. This failed entity, based on bigotry, cannt be sustained, project Ulster has failed everyone and will continue to do so.

  • Coll Ciotach

    I cannot see the attractiveness of this Stormont regime, let it fall. This failed entity, based on bigotry, cannot be sustained, project Ulster has failed everyone and will continue to do so.

  • Mayoman

    Brian, honest question, how would not being forced to declare the communal affiliation stop future MLAs voting in their usual cliques?

  • Comrade Stalin

    how would not being forced to declare the communal affiliation stop future MLAs voting in their usual cliques?

    That is not why communal designations are a problem.

    They are a problem because people are forced to identify themselves as nationalist or unionist. If you vote for an “other”, then your candidate’s votes won’t count in the assembly.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Coll Ciotach,

    The reason why the assembly is not working is not because of the assembly itself, but because of the people we choose to elect to it.

    By arguing for the removal of the assembly, what you are in fact arguing for is that people in Northern Ireland be insulated from having to hold their government accountable. People here seem to want to continue voting for bad politicians, but not have the bad government that they inevitably provide. It’s like installing a lightbulb by holding the bulb still and turning the house.

  • Is it me or what!

    The first thing needed to do is to see if the abuse of planning and political power is is an isolated case or has it, like many of us believe been going on for many many years. is there a Developer out there who is prepared to step forward and let it be known who and where did they give a drop to.
    Many have no doubt that if the activities of Councillors etc who have been “serving” the people (a much used phrase) over the past few decades were looked at independently, then it mightnt just be Peter and some of his buddies in the frontline.

  • Quagmire

    I have a radical solution. Why not get rid of the stupid border and create a new 32 county republic? Simple really. The reason why we have so much deadlock at stormont, is because the northern statelet wasn’t created with powersharing in mind. It was established via a sectarian headcount, and no wishy washy waffle revisionism can detract from this fact. The founding fathers of the northern statelt envisaged a protestant parliament for a protestant people, but the catholic rhythem method put the breaks on that idea. If stormont falls this time, it will be for the last time and will only go to prove that the 6 county project is over. It is ungovernable, unworkable and was simply a bad idea in the first instance. The Brits are to blame for all of this mess! It’s time to get serious and discuss the only real alternative that is staring everyone in the face, and that everyone is frightened to speak of. It’s time unionists, nationalists, business, trade unions etc, all get together to discuss, agree and map out a new 32 county model to take us forward. Its going to happen anyway, whether it be 10 years, 30 years or 50 years, so why not just bite the bullet and start now. You cannot reform the unreformable and there will be no going back to unionist majority rule, under whatever guise it may take.

  • Mayoman

    So Comrade, the answer would seem to be to introduce ‘other’ as a category, rather than to abolish one of elements that make up the safeguards against a return to the disaster of unonist majority rule.

  • Coll Ciotach

    No Comrade – by arguing for a collapse of the Assembly I am arguing for the collapse of the continuing attempts to maintain the partition of Ireland. This failed entity must continue to fail to show that partition is not an option. It ill behoves any nationalist to try to sustain any form of government or assembly here which is not subject to Dublin.

  • Driftwood

    Comrade
    The assembly is NOT the government. The government is at the National Parliament at Westminster run by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron.

    Do not get them confused.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mayoman,

    So Comrade, the answer would seem to be to introduce ‘other’ as a category, rather than to abolish one of elements that make up the safeguards against a return to the disaster of unonist majority rule.

    “other” is already a category. The trouble is that the vote requires a majority, and the votes of at least 40% of both nationalists and unionists, to pass. I cannot see how you could change the rules so that “other” would count without making designation irrelevant, which would make it redundant in the first place.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Driftwood, if you’re going to be pedantic, please try to get yourself straight. David Cameron is not the Prime Minister. Northern Ireland, like the UK, has several “levels” of government at regional and local levels as well as at national levels. These are all “government”.

    Keep sniffing the diesel and stay away from your keyboard.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Coll,

    No Comrade – by arguing for a collapse of the Assembly I am arguing for the collapse of the continuing attempts to maintain the partition of Ireland. This failed entity must continue to fail to show that partition is not an option. It ill behoves any nationalist to try to sustain any form of government or assembly here which is not subject to Dublin.

    It must be so disappointing for you that your views are reflected by only a tiny minority throughout the island of Ireland. Almost everyone, apart from you and your mad bigot fellow travellers in the TUV, wants devolution to work, irrespective of their views on partition.

  • RG Cuan

    “To save the Assembly, we’ve got to reform it.”

    Not with you on that one. Why save the Assembly? Let it go.

    Hardline Unionists don’t like sharing power (sharing their bed is another matter of course) and will continue to try and undo any progress made.

    With traditional Unionism in a deeping crisis, which comes after their paranoid approach to the last election, it’s time we began really talking about the New Unionism: re-union with the rest of this island.

  • Driftwood

    Comrade
    Shouldn’t that be not *yet* for David.

    As for running Northern Ireland, to paraphrase Deke Thornton

    What we like and what we need are two different things.

    The NIO are de facto running Northern Ireland, the Assembly is a gravy train. Look at its record. The ESA, RPA etc are an expensive farce.
    Get Real.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Comrade

    I would not be too sure about how many nationalists want devolution to “work”, they may thole it as a means to an end but that is all.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Driftwood, are you still here ? I thought I told you to go back to sniffing the diesel.

    Coll:

    I would not be too sure about how many nationalists want devolution to “work”, they may thole it as a means to an end but that is all.

    Indeed. I didn’t go into what people’s various motivations for supporting devolution might be. My point is that people should accept that it is supported.

  • Mayoman

    Sorry, misread your reply Comrade (or misinterpreted actually). But doesn’t change much. The designations can’t go as they are part of the mechanism that ensures no return to the ‘bad ol’ days’ of unionist mis-management/rule etc. As Coll is pointing out, if this fails, it truly proves NI is a failed entity.

  • RG Cuan

    It truly proves NI is a failed entity

    I think that’s almost been proven already, but none of the parties are willing at this stage to put forward any other proposals.

    Almost 50% of the population of the current NI haven’t bought into it in almost 90 years, and they’re not going to. Many of the political leaders of the other 50% don’t want to change, so there’ll always be problems with NI… unless other possibilites are looked at.

  • Surely if Peter Robinson is required to step down/resign [on insructions from his Party, which he is damaging now quite severely, and some would even say irreparably] it is only natural and logical the the Deputy First Minister moves into First Minister’s Office and a newbie enters the Deputy First Minister Office.

    And quite why it should be expected to be a DUPer rather than anyone else, is probably just as a fig leaf sop to Unionism to stop them crying “Foul, we wuz robbed” [but that can probably be best left to another time in the future to address and resolve]

    The Concept of Office by Merit appears to be quite Alien amongst the bigotted Rank and File, which sadly then just guarantees Sub Prime Ministerial Office Performance*, and petty schoolyard type squabbling between less than fully competent and complementary parties and thus is it a default abiding recipe for wasted and wasting opportunities.

    * And much Public Scorn and Merriment.

  • [quote]It truly proves NI is a failed entity

    I think that’s almost been proven already, but none of the parties are willing at this stage to put forward any other proposals.[/quote] ….Posted by RG Cuan on Jan 09, 2010 @ 07:14 PM

    RG Cuan,

    There is a completely different, extremely sophisticated and well developed, immediate and transparent Open Sourced Remote Virtual Governance proposal, albeit from an Unconventional Third Party more into and Majoring in Post Modern Quantum Communications Fields rather than Tribal Political Posturing, already this past nine months on the table in the Offices of the First and Deputy First Ministers [and not unknown to Whitehall and Westminster either] and making Novel Cutting Edge Use of 21st Century Network Internetworking Techonologies to the Mutual Benefit of All with the Better and Beta Utilisation of IT and Media to Assist, too.

    The very Fact that its IT Programs with IT and Media can Render the Politician, Servant to the People’s Clearly Expressed and Articulated Wishes, rather than simply and Exclusively Supporting them as Deaf Leaders implementing their own Lesser Plans, is most probably causing them their present Difficulties with it and ITs Command and Control Shift into what is Popularly known of as Cloud, and the Virtual Sector.

    Their Fears and Concerns though are typically irrational and illogical as Fully Transparent 24/7/365 Mentoring and Monitoring Oversight is Part and Parcel of its Default Applications and Drive Systems …. thus rendering its IT ProgramMING Extraordinarily FailSafe, should ever IT Fail to Deliver Excellence of Service.

  • Greenflag

    Brian Walker,

    ‘Whatever their narrow political calculations, in their hearts all parties must feel horrified at the prospect of tossing away what has been achieved with such effort over 10, no 15 years.’

    Yes and no . Some, particularly on the unionist side were non too enthused from the beginning of the ‘peace ‘process and many have still not bought into the ‘spirit ‘ of power sharing . TUV ?

    As for 10 or 15 years ? What NI has now is the end product of 40 years of intermittent sectarian conflict , 4,000 dead and tens of thousands traumatised and tens of thousands more ‘relocated’.

    ‘Because of the sectarian divide, the tragedy is that the wider public interest is denied full expression. ‘

    Actually the ‘sectarian divide’ while a tragedy is an inevitable outcome of having an NI State in it’s present format anyway . This is no secret .

    ‘The time has come to think seriously about structural reforms. ‘

    So for the past 40 years including Sunningdale the politicians in NI and Westminster and Dublin were not thinking ‘seriously’? In retro I think they did the best they could with the failed political entity /raw material that ended up in their respective laps .

    ‘A confusing political crisis four months before a general election is not be the best time for dispassionate thought,’

    This is true but was there ever a time in NI’s turbulent history when there was time for ‘dispassionate ‘ thought ? It does not make much sense to discuss the architectural plan for the upstairs bathroom when there there is no agreement or trust in the foundation location ?

    ‘No magic bullet exists but some reform could increase flexibility and reduce the muscle-bound momentum to deadlock that plagues the system. ‘

    The ‘deadlock’ you refer to is endemic -system bound and buttressed from all sides by the NI State’s very existence in it’s present format.

    ‘Urgent consideration of reform would concentrate the minds of politicians on the future, on what they’ve got to lose and throw up options for what they might have to gain.”

    Well perhaps on what they have to lose personnally or party wise but certainly not on the future . You would not have to scratch too many of them Republican , Nationalist or Unionist to discover that the ‘future’ of this current ‘fix’ is not one that is seen as having longevity by any of them .

    As for the proposed reforms that would address Wilford & Wilson’s analysis ? The Route to Stability?”

    1.”Recognition of Northern Ireland’s unique constitutional character ”

    What does this mean . Exactly what is not recognised that has already been recognised by both London and Dublin and their respective electorates and the electorate of NI ? The average ROI or UK voter has been a confirmed believer in NI’s unique character . They may have different thoughts on whether such ‘uniqueness’ deserves a ‘unique’ political expression .

    2. “Reform of the electoral system to encourage parties to moderate their identities ”

    The State itself NI and attitudes towards it determines each party’s identity and the identity of it’s politicians . Moderation ensures non election or weak representation . The AP for example .

    3. “Removal of the requirement for Northern Ireland Assembly members to register their communal affiliation”

    A cosmetic diversion . If Conor Murphy and /or Greg Campbell could stop registering their community affiliation tomorrow would either stand to gain more votes from the other side in an election ? Would anybody in NI be in any less doubt about where both politicians stand on the constitutional question ?

    4. “Formation of the Executive by inter-party agreement rather than automatic appointment”

    They are barely used to sitting at the same table . The trust simply is’nt there -otherwise this P& J business and Irish Language Act would long since have been settled.

    I’ve always been skeptical of this Assembly for reasons that go beyond it’s actual operational mechanics . If and when this Assembly collapses then the outcome will be a return to DR for another generation unless if and when a demographic shift in the electorate forces a reopening of the constitutional question .

    The Assembly has fulfilled it’s purpose in getting the rival factions to stop shooting each other . It was probably expecting too much to expect it to do much more than that . The ‘root’ dysfunction lies with the very existence of the State itself in it’s present format.

    And until the current NI State goes out of existence NI will be condemned to a permanent sectarian political future. On the brighter side it’s future is now much less likely to a return to
    it’s violent past. And for that the current Assembly founders can at least take some kudos -useless and ineffective and expensive as they may be otherwise .

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mayoman,

    Sorry, misread your reply Comrade (or misinterpreted actually). But doesn’t change much. The designations can’t go as they are part of the mechanism that ensures no return to the ‘bad ol’ days’ of unionist mis-management/rule etc.

    It’s nonsense on two levels.

    Firstly, it’s stupid because the devolved government that we’ve got isn’t working. It does not help that Sinn Fein are inept and incompetent, and their decisions on, for example, selection, are not popular.

    Secondly, there are better ways to do it. Like setting a weighted majority. Or rotating power around the parties on a regular basis in accordance with their size. These methods would all ensure the parties get a crack at the whip, without forcing people to have designations.

    As Coll is pointing out, if this fails, it truly proves NI is a failed entity.

    I am not sure that republican ideology about NI even fits in the 21st century. Reunification is not likely to happen for many decades yet. In the meantime we need to find a way to run the country that everyone can agree on and which breaks down the barriers of distrust which would only impede any future reunified Ireland.

    Irish reunification would, of course, mean the end of Sinn Fein as a political force. That would be a good thing.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Could the moderators please do something about this “amanfrommars” commentator. His contributions are impenetrable and look like spam.

  • In a nutshell, Greenflag, the wee province lacks leadership from a Unifying Leader whom All can Support ……. and if they try something completely different and unique, for they can rewrite the rules to suit themselves and don’t let anyone tell you they can’t, will it allow for there to be no pathetic historical baggage. The Past is Gone ….. Bury it and Move and Create a New Future in a Brave New World.

    And it cannot be made any easier for everyone with IT, for it is not as if you have to know yourself how to do it with IT, whenever there are experts able to share what they are doing, available to you to do it for you, with you and IT and Media ….. which must surely cover all the bases to render doubt in the process, not yours to resolve but only to probably raise, to have both any embedded irrational fears and/or legitimate concerns, addressed and laid to rest.

  • tacapall

    Posted by amanfromMars on Jan 10, 2010 @ 01:03 PM

    What is this man talking about, is he a salesman or what, trying to sell us technology or something.

  • Coll Ciotach

    If we cannot have reunification we can damn well make sure that unionists pay dearly for denying it to us, we can frustrate everything, we can name our p[rice for any devolved administration and if we do not like anything we can be a s petulant as we like. Unionists must learn that if we are to be denied unification they can and will be denied their “wee country”, the impasse is as simple as that and in the end the gains will be for nationalism. The English will pay Danegeld to ensure that their home counties do not suffer dissident anger.

    What a horrible position unionism is in.

  • Greenflag

    comrade stalin,

    “we need to find a way to run the country that everyone can agree on and which breaks down the barriers of distrust which would only impede any future reunified Ireland”

    The Catch 22 of NI politics

    ‘Irish reunification would, of course, mean the end of Sinn Fein as a political force.’

    As a major political force across the island probably .But they would most likely hold on to their core 10% which could be traded in as part of coalitions .

    ‘That would be a good thing.’

    Five years ago I probably would have agreed . as I look around and see what our mainstream parties have delivered and I include our so called alternative opposition I’m not so sure. That does not mean I believe SF have any more grasp of the politics and more importantly the economics of the future . But then I don’t believe any of the political parties even in the larger anglophone democracies have either .

  • Greenflag

    martian ,

    ‘Create a New Future in a Brave New World.’

    There is no brave new world . No matter what -it’s the same old world dressed up in perhaps less shoddy clothes for a brief period . But human nature eventually reasserts itself to make the new sometimes even crappier than the old .

  • Greenflag

    collciotach,

    ‘the English will pay Danegeld to ensure that their home counties do not suffer dissident anger.’

    The dissidents don’t need to fear the english . They do need to fear the Irish especially the 90% in the Republic and the 90% of Irish nationalists and republicans in NI who voted for the GFA.

  • [quote]Could the moderators please do something about this “amanfrommars” commentator. His contributions are impenetrable and look like spam.[/quote] … Posted by Comrade Stalin on Jan 10, 2010 @ 12:45 PM

    Please be advised that they are not spam, Comrade Stalin, and I shall try to make them much easier for all to understand now that I know there may be a difficulty with them.

    [quote]What is this man talking about, is he a salesman or what, trying to sell us technology or something.[/quote] …… Posted by tacapall on Jan 10, 2010 @ 01:06 PM

    Obviously not impenetrable at all then, tacapall, for that was very perceptive ….. although I would always prefer Semantic Web Developer to salesman, even if one does become the other on occasions.

    I would refer you to C42 Quantum Control Systems for more on what is being presently done in the Cloud and Virtualisation Fields, but it is hopefully just experiencing a temporary downtime for server maintenance or upgrade as it is not currently available. [It does happen occasionally but only for a matter of hours rather than days]

    And if Comrade Stalin thinks comments here are impenetrable, then there is little point in him/her visiting there, for it is much more specialised and targetted at Control Phreaks and Power Brokers into the Great Game and AIMMORPGs and Alternate Reality Games Theory in the Live Operational Virtual Environment of Global Operating Devices.

  • tacapall

    I would refer you to C42 Quantum Control Systems for more on what is being presently done in the Cloud and Virtualisation Fields, but it is hopefully just experiencing a temporary downtime for server maintenance or upgrade as it is not currently available. [It does happen occasionally but only for a matter of hours rather than days]

    Well maybe you could write it in layman terms, for it is total gobblydook to people, I cannot possibly fathom what relevence it has to the topic.

  • Greenflag

    To read between the lines folks the ‘martian’ is suggesting some private investment into the new saviour of world economics i.e cloud technology . The development of practical applications with this technology will lead to major share increases for some of the larger software companies .

    On the other hand the ‘martian’ may like to listen to the sound of one hand clapping while he is busy using his other hand for personal pleasure . The sheep on the hills provide no relief in these winter days 😉

  • Coll Ciotach

    Greenflag

    Please try and read the post. You will see that the present support for the GFA among nationalists is dependant upon certain conditions being met. Otherwise other means will be resorted to.

  • Re #13 Posted by Greenflag on Jan 10, 2010 @ 02:23 PM

    Wow, now there is a surprise. I am encouraged. Greenflag can be quite smart but would prefer ignorant common personal abuse instead, which is sad and unnecessary, although it does tell us so much about the poster whenever one analyses the MetaData in the text ….. [ye ole, every storm cloud has a silver lining dividend :-)]

    Methinks many would say that is Northern Ireland in a nutshell too. So much pent-up and frustrated potential wasted for ….. well, we’re right back to where we started, for the want of True and Honest Leadership which All can Support with a Good Beta Plan Shared for All to See, which is what is meant by Transparency in Political Terms.

    The War is over …… and it is quite crazy that you find Peace so difficult to Manage and Prosper in, but at least y’all know there’s a Program Immediately Available which will Mentor and Monitor and Edutain you through All Steps for Virtual Remote Control of the Powers Needed for Mutually Beneficial Good Governance……. and in a Medium you are already quite familiar enough with.

  • Greenflag

    coll ciotach ,

    ‘Otherwise other means will be resorted to.’

    And what means would they be ye little bollix ?

  • Greenflag

    martian ,

    ” the war may be over”

    True but there’ll be such a struggle for permanent peace that not a stone will be left upon a stone -as NI stagnates into political oblivion ,
    metaphorically speaking of course.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m a software engineer by trade and I still don’t understand what that lunatic up there is babbling about. There are too many capital letters.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Greenflag

    Whatever is the most effective and causes nationalists the least hassle you wee ballix

  • tacapall

    #

    I’m a software engineer by trade and I still don’t understand what that lunatic up there is babbling about. There are too many capital letters.
    Posted by Comrade Stalin on Jan 10, 2010 @ 05:40 PM

    Some sort of communacations virtual reality media incorperating IT cloud encompassing beta utalising software that Stormont could use to solve the 1000 year old Irish problem. Well I think thats what it is.