Radio 4’s Beyond Westminster asking how democratic is NI’s power-sharing?

Radio 4’s weekly political podcast is often worth a listen. The normal Week in Westminster is currently in recess and it’s the turn of Beyond Westminster. For last week’s programme (and podcast), the Guardian’s Nick Watt came across to Northern Ireland to explore whether our unusual power-sharing arrangements allow for true democracy?

The episode is still available on iPlayer (and as a podcast) and Nick Watt also blogged about the visit for the Guardian too. With contributions from North Belfast community workers Liam Maskey and Jackie McDonald, Sammy Douglas, Dawn Purvis, ‘political geographer’ Pete Shirlow and others, it’s an interesting twenty eight and a half minutes of radio, seeing Northern Ireland through the ears and brain of a London-based journalist.

NI Assembly Speaker William Hay admitted that in cross-community motions, non-aligned votes (from anyone not signed up as Unionist or Nationalist) are ignored. And Mike Nesbitt spoke on behalf of the UUP:

The problem with the current system is that nobody is exercising the sort of challenge function that you would expect of an official opposition…We would be better with an official opposition who could unapologetically and consistently use the challenge function against the parties of government.

With a view of the arrangements due during this four (or five) year term of the Assembly, how late will the parties leave it before starting the negotiations?

Will they use the stability (ie, lack of planned elections) of the next few years to come to an agreement and trial it for a few years and allow voters to know what they’ll be electing parties to in 2015/6?

Or will they conclude their negotiations at the last minute and keep the electorate in the dark as to how the new arrangements will work in practice?