Dump d’Hondt: The UUP’s suggestion for improved Executive

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.

He concludes:

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.

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  • Cynic2

    The analysis is OK but the proposed solution is both fanciful and lazy

    Fanciful because it suits the DUP and SF to have each other to drive the sheep into the electoral pens. They wont give this up nor will they roll over and cede power. Listen to what Attwood says about how the Executive runs and you wills see why.

    Lazy because the real solution is for the UUP to find a way to beat the DUP politically but they don’t have the energy or talent or will or leadership to do that. Perhaps another hammering in the polls this time will convince the UUP to find a way forward out of the intellectual bogs of Fermanagh, but I doubt it.

    Like its ancestors, In a million years time archeologists will find its political bones buried in a peat bog by the lakes, one more dinosaur that time has forgotten.

  • granni trixie

    ‘No energy,talent,will’ is about as damning an assessment as you can get. Returns us agaian to those questions: whats the UUP for? Why do they bother? Disband?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    This kind of talk by the UUP is simply a mechanism to allow for continous negative talk about the Stormo executive – because of course they are now only the minor Unionist partner.

    If by some act of God they became the largest Unionist party then we all know we would not be hearing any more of this jibber-jabber(from them at least).

  • Politico68

    Talk of dumping D’Hont is nonsense at the moment. The assmbley is still too young to trust senior politicians to prioritize the needs of the broader electorate over their own polarised communities. Better to wait a few years when the new faces in Politics take over the various leaderships.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sammy,

    True enough as far as it goes; but he’s not wrong about the impasse.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Mick,

    They have the appearance of a party in decline and making up fanciful wish lists only reinforces that view.

    If the UUP are serious about the ‘impasse’ perhaps they should seek to find common ground with the SDLP on the issue and help debunk the – trying to return to Unionist domination – SF taunt and also show they are prepared to compromise with Nationalists.

  • joeCanuck

    I actually think it is a good suggestion. Presently we do not have a functioning cabinet as understood in other coaltion governments. Ministers can thumb their noses at their executive colleagues. That’s not good.

  • aquifer

    The allocation of ministerial posts gets too random under D’Hondt. The MLAs should be allowed to vote across party lines for the best person for the job.

  • New Blue

    Agreeing a PFG before appointing ministers should allow for ‘joined-up’ policy. For example, a suicide strategy that requires DSD, Health, Education and Justice to work together to reach agreed targets.

    Such a PFG could make real impact on key social issues over the next 4 years – even with the cuts we face.

    Without setting these inter-departmental targets we will see 4 more years of ‘knee-jerk’ policy that helps no one.

    This is not about party politics, it’s about making Stormont work better for the people of Northern Ireland.

  • Eglise en bois

    For all the intelligence that is to be found on slugger how can we be so lazy and myopic?

    There is no suggestion in the original piece of dumping D’Hontd, all that is being suggested is that rather than using D’Hontd as a weapon it should be used as a strength.

    Currently there are virtual audible gasps of horror when various parties pick their ministerial seats; look at the last time when Sinn Fein picked Education Ian Paisley virtually need smelling salts.

    Is it too much to ask that this next time, that an executive be formed not on mutual guesswork but on an agreed agenda?

    What is most fanciful and lazy, is the responses on this site. As opinion formers and commentators, this site should be analysising and commenting on the current state of politics, not harping pathetic semi party lines.

    Is the idea any good? Should the NI Executive be formed on more than party political interests? Should the DUP and Sinn Fein agree a joint platform for Government? Would they be more honest blocking out the two smaller parties from day one? Would the smaller parties be more honest by refusing to play second fiddle to the others? What will bring better government to Northern Ireland?

    So far, the consensus here can be broadly interpreted as – what is currently available is pretty good really.

    If that is the considered opinion of of commentators on this site, then we are well and truly screwed!

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Eglise en bois,

    All fine and dandy but agreement on the replacement for D’Hondt will only come when their are improved relations between the 2 political communities as represented by their largest parties – currently SF and the DUP.

    These relations have improved remarkably since the days of Smash SF etc. But this is a slow process and parties half in and half out of the executive like the UUP and to a lesser extent the SDLP should be trying to get the exisitng arrangments to work before they look for changes.

    In the current climate where policemen are still being killed and there is no agreement on parades, or even the next Justce minister the potential for the whole Stormo project to be derailed remains substantial.

    It is quite clear that the UUP are in crisis and their opportuinty to contribute to improving the situation is being spurned e.g. the hospital in Derry and their attempts to scuper the transfer of Police – they have as much chance of being taken seriously in relation to reforming Stormo (well perhaps slightly more) as the former board members of Anglo Irish bank have in suggesting changes to the Irish banking system.

    Those, like the UUP (and the SDLP) who are in the tent need to start doing their pissing outside.

    In the circumstances D’hondt is serving us well.

  • Eglise en bois

    Sammy, please let NI grow up. No one has said D’Hontd should be replaced, but the way in which the system operates needs to be changed.

    NI will only fully mature when our politics fully matures, this will never happen when ministerial offices are chosen in an adversarial, cloak and dagger way.

    The only way our current system can work positively is when an agreed agenda for government is binding on all ministers as they take office.

    Take Radiology in Altnagelvin, Martin McGuiness can only deliver on his pledge by either taking the health portfolio or agreeing with the party that does take health, that a new department will be delivered. DUP can only deliver on their education pledge by either taking education or agreeing with those that do take education to deliver on their plan. i.e the suggestion is that they should talk, negotiate and agree! Hardly radical.

    Otherwise we are back to the chaos that we currently have!

    Amazingly the proposal to negotiate before selecting ministries delivers nothing of substance for the UUP other than it’s their idea. Accepting this idea, actually delivers for all the electorate, unless you believe that the parties should continue playing their party political games in government as they have done over the last four years!

    Hiding behind the tragic and despicable murder of a police officer will deliver nothing, NI needs to keep moving on, now is the time to help reshape the basis of our government, in a positive way, letting terrorists either stall or slow down progress is no response.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Eglise en bois,

    If and it is a reasonable sized if the UUP had been behaving responsibly then their ideas of reform might be worthy of consideration – but it would more than likley be used as an opportunity to provoke a crisis if they didnt get their own way and instead of 2 parties being able to agree (eventually) we may well have 4 not able to agree at all.

    It is but a year since the UUP tried to feck up the transfer of police and had a transatlantic kick up the arse delivered to Davey Cameron the leader of their sister party in UCUNF for thier anit-agreement antics.

    These are desperate people (UUP)looking to somehow get back at the DUP for usurping them as the largest Unionist party they need to buckle down and get on with the jobs they were elected to do – and within the exiisting structures.

    …and trying to pretend that Ulster is a ‘normal’ society aint going to make it so.

  • Eglise en bois

    Being determined that Northern Ireland will never be normal, nor never can be normal shows a real lack of vision and a pessimism that ignores how far we have come.

    There is nothing in this suggestion that actually benefits the UUP per se, in fact, with some serious negotiations the DUP and Sinn Fein could create the circumstances whereby the UUP and SDLP would have no option but to leave the executive and form an opposition.( not a bad thing as far as I’m concerned)

    The questions that need answered remain, would such an arrangement benefit NI? Would a government/opposition model work to our advantage? Even in the short-term, would an executive signed up to the same aims be a good thing?

    Refusing to accept change condemns us to the past, regardless of political affiliation, the reality is after 13 years of devolution we have nothing to show, in fact we are virtually confirming Charlie Haughey’s description of NI being a “failed political entity”.

    To me, opposition to positive change may well be based on a desire to prove Haughey right, rather than building the new, stable Northern Ireland we need, and by the way, any attempt to create or suggest that NI is a failed political entity only feeds the violence of the weekend, it does not reduce it.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Eglise en bois,

    “Being determined that Northern Ireland will never be normal, nor never can be normal shows a real lack of vision and a pessimism that ignores how far we have come.”

    Woull you like to point me to where I said such a thing?

    You presumably appreciate there is an important disticntion between suggesting the patient is recovering and doing well and suggesting their condition can not be cured.

    Anyone arguing for change who trots out lines like “reality is after 13 years of devolution we have nothing to show” illustrates clealry that their agenda is not about improvement but with political point scoring.

    Most outside observers – without an axe to grind but with some knowledge of the situation – would I suggest be extremely impressed by the progress to date.

    The problem for the UUP is that since Trimble did the heavy lifting they have set their face agianst progress as we saw with their appalling attempts to wreck the transfer of Police.

  • Eglise en bois

    Sammy, are you for real?

    “Most outside observers – without an axe to grind but with some knowledge of the situation – would I suggest be extremely impressed by the progress to date”

    If the track record of the last 13 years or even the last 4 years is impressive, I’d hate to see what unimpressive looks like, can we please live in the real world?

    You may have missed this, but I’m not actually supporting the UUP’s record in Government, nor their policies, nor their activities in their departments, in fact I’d rather see them out of Government building a proper opposition, ideally with the SDLP, so that the electorate could have an alternative.

    But today, as I suspect this may be a step too far for some, I think the idea of a collectively negotiated and agreed programme for Government before the Ministerial fiefdoms are set up, would be a good idea.

    And with all due respect, I haven’t heard an alternative from you other than, what can be broadly paraphrased as “It’ll never work” coupled with “the cr*p system we have, works ok, delivers nothing, but works ok so lets continue with the cr*p”

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Eglise en bois,

    You seem intent in making things up and placing them in my mouth – I never suggested the current arrangments are crap.

    I do suggest that those parties who dont want to help make the current arrangments work are facilitated entering voluntary opposition i.e. they pledge not to take office and offer their alternative to the people of Ulster.

  • Eglise en bois

    No Sammy you said the current system is working well – I totally disagree, you also say that the Assembly has been extremely impressive – again I totally disagree.

    As for your last comment about voluntary opposition, what is being suggested by the UUP is voluntary coalition built around agreed priorities, then, should that not be possible the logic is opposition.

    Under your model, all opposition is within the Executive, like we have seen both from the DUP in the first Assembly and the UUP in the second. Bizarrely you appear happy for this to continue with the likelihood of Government parties one day being in an oppositional role on a single issue whilst remaining in Government at the same time – crazy.

    No government can exist without an agreed agenda for Government; the current system allows only for internal opposition and negates the need for collective responsibility. Any Government that is based around a flawed structural system that allows only for internal opposition cannot work. Even if the UUP were to suggest that they will go into opposition the structural flaws still remain.

    That is why the current system is crap, why it hasn’t delivered and why it needs to change.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    You are at it again I said d’Hondt has served us well I also said “relations have improved remarkably since the days of Smash SF etc. But this is a slow process”

    The one time SF and the DUP stepped outside d’Hondt over the Justice ministry then of course that was wrong as well.

    Answer this question directly instead of putting words in my mouth. Why do think that insisting on getting agreement from 4 parties before they take up office will magic away all the difficulties and will be better than getting agreement from 2 after they take office.

    It would be a recipe for naysayers like the UUP to cause sirpactrickmayhem.

  • Eglise en bois

    I do believe that any and all governments in a democracy should be formed on the basis of an agreed agenda Yes totally, some recent examples, the UK and Ireland. This is how democracies work!

    Will it be a magic bullet – probably not but it would be a way to start building normality and some form of collective responsibility into government here would be good.

    Will it be easy – don’t think so, but that’s no reason not to do it.

    Is it a recipe for naysayers, I doubt it, if they opt out then they form opposition – so be it.

    Just because it might be difficult doesn’t mean it should be avoided, 13 years on from the Agreement we should be maturing not refusing to grow!

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Eglise en bois,

    “Will it be easy – don’t think so, but that’s no reason not to do it. ”

    So you would agree there is an element of risk and one of the parties (the party behind this) we know has recently tried to wreck Stormo complelty over Police and Justice – do you accept that?

    Please anser this question direclty.

    Frankly it would be crazy to allow the UUP a veto on progress – and we can all just see them going off quietly into oppostion if they didnt get their way.

  • New Blue

    Sammy, I know you are getting Eglise en bois point, but are enjoying the mixing.

    UUP did not attempt to werck Stormont over P&J (indeed the only parties with the power to do that were DUP and SF) They stood up and said it was being done wrong. Take a look at the Justice Bill and you will see why there were concerns.

    The UUP proposal, as I clearly set out above, is to allow the coalition partners to agree strategy and targets which will be required to be met by whatever minister takes whatever department (you know like Conservative Lib Dem in London and Fine Gael Labour in Dublin). This will allow for BETTER delivery to you and me and every other bod living in Northern Ireland.

    There is no talk of veto, no talk of wrecking – just an idea that could make our government do its job that bit better.

    Now why would you be against that?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    New Blue,

    “UUP did not attempt to werck Stormont over P&J (indeed the only parties with the power to do that were DUP and SF) They stood up and said it was being done wrong. Take a look at the Justice Bill and you will see why there were concerns.”

    The UUP alone stood aginst all other parties, British and Irish, except the TUV on the Police issue in an attmept to damage the DUP – with the yankees having to intervene with the Tories.

    Everybody can find ‘issues’ and ‘problems’ and that is what the UUP would do agian if they were allowed.

    So you are telling us all the other parties were wrong on Police ?

    Please spare us the party political nonsense.

  • New Blue

    Sammy

    I think you answered your own question.

    How about answering mine?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    NewBlue,

    “So you are telling us all the other parties were wrong on Police ?

    I asked you not to give a party political answer – but an honest answer – any chance of that?

    “There is no talk of veto, no talk of wrecking – just an idea that could make our government do its job that bit better.”

    What happens if there is no agreement ? Those parties who have the least to lose are the smallest ones e.g. the UUP and the SDLP.

  • New Blue

    I see you haven’t changed Sammy – and I’m glad for that!

    I see you are syill ‘dancing’ aroung the question – allow me to refresh your memory;

    There is no talk of veto, no talk of wrecking – just an idea that could make our government do its job that bit better.

    Now why would you be against that?

  • New Blue

    Well my fingers decided to make a mess of that – but I’m sure you get the drift.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    New Blue,

    re. dancing

    I at least made an effort to answer your question, I cant say the same about your goodself.

    The answer is that as Mick indicated above agreement would be required from 4 parties rather than 2 and at least one of those extra parties I dont think would operate on the basis of trying genuinely to find agreement but rather on saving what is left of their political skin.

    And no – not even the UUP are stupid enough to tell us in advance that they see an opportunity for ‘wrecking’ Stormo.

  • New Blue

    Sammy

    You seem absolutely bent on missing the point of why agreeing PFG before d’Hondt would be a good thing for the people of Northern Ireland.

    Our departments are rife with examples of shared responsibility for issues with no plan on how the ‘joined up’ approach will happen.

    Agreeing PFG before parties get the chance to decide what portfolio they want should (in theory) ensure better functioning government.

    While I really appreciate the huge power over the existence of the Assembly that you seem to grant the UUP, I think we both know that you are flying a kite. If a party (or parties) cannot accept the PFG then it can choose not to sit in the coalition – I don’t see how that will do anything other than create a voice for opposition.

    And you wouldn’t be against that, would you?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    New Blue,

    I at least try to answer your question and you dont bother answering mine – so Ill try again.

    So you are telling us all the other parties were wrong on Police ?

  • New Blue

    Sammy

    Let’s try this again – policing and justice was forced through without real thought or plan. The funding, the ‘selection’ of minister, the remit, what happens after 2012……… I could go on and on.

    And I normally do. So when I say that the UUP wanted the devolution of P&J I actually mean the the UUP WANTED the devolution of P&J, just not in the rushed, unplanned way it was being delivered.

    So I guess you could say that I believe that every party who accepted the mess that was the devolution of P&J made the wrong decision.

    Hope that helps.

  • joeCanuck

    Sammy and New Blue, perhaps you should both agree a program for questions (off-line preferably) before any more repeats.

  • New Blue

    Nice one Joe, sorry I mistook this for a political discussion site.

  • joeCanuck

    New Blue,

    That goes with the concept of Canadian parlimentary QuestionTime; the unofficial rule book requires Government Ministers to never answer a quesion. It is, however, acceptabe to make up the question you would rather have been asked and to answer it instead.

  • New Blue

    I’ve seen a lot of that over the last 4 years – who’d a thunk we had so many Canadians in Stormont?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    New Blue,

    “So I guess you could say that I believe that every party who accepted the mess that was the devolution of P&J made the wrong decision.”

    Presumably you saw the following coming?

    That is one of the reasons that injecting the UUP into the decision making process would not be a good idea – they would dress up their obstructionism as a necessary practical requirment – they of course just like on Police would be the only ones with insight – everybody else would of course be wrong and we would slide back into complete deadlock.

    Which would just suit the UUP find and dandy as they would then say – it was all the DUPs fault .

    Its rather like, as I mentioned above the Chief executie of Anglo Irish telling us that we needed bank reform and they needed to be centrally involved.

    Thanks but no thanks.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Joe,

    Haven’t you Mounties not got some Canadian crims to be catching rather than policng transatlantic websites?

  • New Blue

    Sammy

    Once again you miss the point, as much as you try and spin it, the position of the UUP is actually intended to make the process better – and that seems to agitate certain supporters of certain parties. Could it be that the name calling and the constant attempt to belittle the smaller parties is the dawning of recognition that those parties have no game plan at all?

    Status Quo just won’t do anymore, forward movement requires a move from the playgroup to primary school.

    And that starts at the very first day of the next Assembly.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    New Blue,

    “the position of the UUP is actually intended to make the process better ”

    Jeezus H Christ those fecking loyalty pills you swallowed must have been some fecking size?

  • New Blue

    Sammy

    Again, not grasping the nettle. Just because you can’t stand the UUP is not a valid reason for the vitriol. Just explain what you see wrong with the concept of agreeing a PfG before running d’Hondt. You seem to spend more time on this thread attacking the UUP than critically considering the concept.

    Blinkered much?

  • Comrade Stalin

    New Blue :

    You seem absolutely bent on missing the point of why agreeing PFG before d’Hondt would be a good thing for the people of Northern Ireland.

    I’m lost as to why the UUP think that doing this will change anything.

    The proposal seems to be predicated on the idea that the parties would happily have a nice chat over a cup of tea and get everything agreed up front. What makes you think that there would be agreement ? For example on education ? So there you end up with the usual stalemate.

    Let’s say we get past that and get some sort of document that people can sign up to. The next problem is that the agreements we tend to be able to come up with here tend to have lots of wriggle room. Would you have faith that we have a record of people sticking to the things that they have signed up to ? Given that ministers can’t be sacked why would they feel compelled to support the PfG especially (as in the case of the UUP health minister) if it was a PfG they felt was forced on them ? I find it highly ironic that the UUP are talking about people signing up to a PfG given that McGimpsey signed up to the Ministerial Code and then proceeded to tear it up.

    This proposal is badly thought out and full of holes. It’s not a serious attempt to address any actual problems at all, it reads like a proposal that exists for the sake of having a proposal. The only way to properly solve most of these issues is to get rid of d’Hondt. I’m glad the UUP has finally come around to this, although once again it shows how unpredictable and unprincipled the party are as it was more than happy to defend d’Hondt right to the hilt when it was the largest unionist party.

  • Eglise en bois

    Folks, maybe it is worth concentrating of what actually occurred over the last 13 years since the Agreement was signed.

    In terms of government, the charade at Stormont has been a farce, with the exception of survival all other aspects of government has been dysfunctional and Stormont has totally under performed.

    The people deserve better. One of the major obstacles to improved government is the continued use of D’Hondt as a weapon. Blindly picking ministries on the basis of pissing off the other parties, rather than to deliver on policies, is not the way to run a government. Basically that’s what we have.

    The proposals put forward by the UUP – possibly out of self interest etc but they are political party and that’s what political parties do – suggests making a change that if delivered could and I only say could make government less dysfunctional and possibly may deliver more.

    Clearly there is no guarantee, and without the ability to remove errant ministers etc it will be difficult, but those are issues yet to be addressed. Unfortunately the alternative is to continue as we are, dysfunctional, with no opposition, with no binding pfg and no sanctions for those who reject collective responsibilities. The current system also prevents genuine opposition to policies that parties fundamentally disagree on.

    Much space has been given to the UUP opposition to the devolution of p&j. On here the collective wisdom that the UUP were wrong, but when Labour opposes increases in tuition fees and the majority at Westminster votes it through, that doesn’t make Labour automatically wrong! The only difference is that as Labour is in opposition they can freely vote against and because there was a binding agreement before the Coalition was set up, the Liberal members were duty bound to vote in favour.

    NI needs to move towards this system potentially the UUP suggestion is the first step – alternatively we stay where we are!!

  • Comrade Stalin

    The proposals put forward by the UUP – possibly out of self interest etc but they are political party and that’s what political parties do – suggests making a change that if delivered could and I only say could make government less dysfunctional and possibly may deliver more.

    The UUP’s “proposals” are very hard to take seriously. This idea of changing the PfG decision around completely ignores the reasons why it is done the way it is done in the first place.

    Secondly, they are hard to take seriously because of the opportunism involved. Whenever Alliance redesignated in a futile attempt to save David Trimble’s bacon, it made a review of the d’Hondt system a precondition. The review was held and the UUP and SDLP both basically walked in, said it was working fine and they would not be agreeing to a change, and then walking out.

    The outworking of things – the absence of decision making, the bad government, the lack of agreement – is a consequence of d’Hondt which Alliance has consistently warned about and which it has consistently argued against, since before 1998.

    The only way that the system can change is if nationalists become confident that they won’t be systematically excluded. Unfortunately unionists continue to systematically exclude nationalists on our local councils so I really don’t see any chance, sadly, of d’Hondt disappearing until unionists start acting like mature adults.

    Quite aside from all that, the UUP as a party are a useless, incompetent, divided and farcical “organization”. The country will be better off without them. Let’s hope the ones with sense, ie not the McNarry faction, have a bit of sense and join some of the parties that are actually going places.