There are still some folk in the SDLP who see their role (as Mark Durkan undoubtedly did) as the guardians of the institutions set up by the Belfast Agreement. But as we’ve seen with the shift in the rules for the election of First and deputy First Minister’s roles, that’s not a position held anywhere else.
The UUP’s Mark Neale looks at the impasse over education and reprises Tom Eliott’s idea that the winning parties ought to be forced to agree a programme of government before taking office (see Alan’s write up here) it might just concentrate minds sufficiently on the tasks ahead to actually get some work done. And he’s no fan of d’Hondt either:
Essentially, the running of D’Hondt, immediately after the election, before any agreement on the key priorities for government, creates the circumstances whereby ministers can, and do, act without reference to the centre or their ministerial colleagues.
Ultimately, using a pure D’Hondt system for ministerial appointments ensures that individual political parties create and run the Executive in a non-coherent, and ultimately non co-operative, manner.
Northern Ireland has come a long way; the Belfast Agreement has changed Northern Ireland and its politics and, most would agree, for the better. Now is the time for the next step. Our next Executive cannot be formed on the basis of mutual veto and distrust. The UUP suggestion is both bold and courageous, but it has been distorted and buried.
The Executive must operate as one, not as a group of individual ministerial fiefdoms ruled by ideologues pursuing personal crusades. Northern Ireland needs good government but without the adoption of such radical changes as the Ulster Unionists have proposed, nothing will change.
All fine. But it would require the DUP and Sinn Fein giving up their vice like grip on power as it stands. And in fairness to them, it would require getting agreement between four/five parties rather than two.