“For much of the time, the Stormont Assembly looks more like a talking-shop.”

With the announcement on Girdwood [and any other business? – Ed] as a stark example of the semi-detached polit-bureau back in action, Ed Curran looks ahead

The mark of the Stormont Executive has been its ability to take longer than could be imagined to arrive at decisions on many important issues.

No agreed legislation means little, or nothing, to debate in the Assembly chamber. MLAs have been hard-pressed to stretch out debates in plenary sessions in recent months. For much of the time, the Stormont Assembly looks more like a talking- shop.

We are told that legislation is coming down the pipeline. On the evidence to date, it is a slow drip and far from satisfactory.

Stormont’s greatest achievement has been in the preservation of peace in Northern Ireland, but the point has come where more is required.

That means we are likely to see a welter of legislation in the next year or two, in contrast to the failure of the Executive to govern effectively and decisively to date.

The Executive and Assembly has got until the next election, in 2015, to prove that devolution really delivers and is not simply a costly, bureaucratic, over-manned replacement for direct rule.

The two main parties are incentivised to barter behind closed doors in an effort to unblock the pipeline of future legislation.

Maybe that is the only way forward for Northern Ireland – the politics of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you agree to scratch mine’. Where it leaves the other three parties in the Executive is anybody’s guess.

At best, the deals between the DUP and Sinn Fein amount to political pragmatism in a divided society. At worst, they ensure our divisions will never go away.

As Lord Justice Girvan said yesterday in January

A working democracy must have in place effective mechanisms for holding the Executive to account if its conduct, actions and practices fall below appropriate standards of good and fair administration.


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  • Granni Trixie

    Agree with the assertion above that the work of the Assembly is seen to be slower and slower. however this judgment appears to be based on its record in lawmaking. I think that there are other significant markers …like policy.
    Girtwood OR EVEN the Maze project are prime examples (or even solutions to education system problems) :if instead of being approached by sectarian interests were directed by shared future considerations is likely to be productive long term.

    The present ‘two communities’ perspective produces even more problematic outcomes.
    and stifles creativity. will they never learn?

    at things

  • quality

    I don’t understand what they’re waiting for. Legislation was shoehorned in to the last 6 months during the previous mandate, largely via accelerated passage.

    It’s all well and good sitting on legislation currently, but it also takes time to implement – they are particularly slow at bringing forward secondary legislation.

    It doesn’t resemble a talking shop, it is a talking shop. Day to day, absolutely nothing is decided upon, merely woolly private members debates and Ministerial statements.

  • Queneau

    In 2011, the Assembly brought through 442 Statutory Rules:


    If we’re going to use the number of pieces of legislation as a barometer of effectiveness, then I’d say the Assembly has done pretty well. Which is why I wouldn’t use this metric.

    Neither would I use the metric of the number of debates on legislation. The vast majority of subordinate legislation is subject to negative resolution, meaning that no debate on the floor is required unless a Committee or member decides to ‘pray’ against the proposed legislation.

    If you’re looking for Assembly scrutiny of legislation, and subsequent agreement on it, then you’re best looking at the work of the Committees.

    My point? Nothing really, other than to prick the notion that the Assembly hasn’t brought through any legislation and that nothing is decided on. That’s demonstrably not true.

    It’s just that if you’re looking exclusively at the floor of the Assembly for action, you’re going to miss all the other fun things that are done at Committee level.

    Now, the ‘validity’ of what has been done – that’s a whole other kettle of bananas.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The assembly is a “working” assembly in that sense. Much more similar in operation to the US HoR than the commons or the Dail.

  • Pete Baker


    “Much more similar in operation to the US HoR than the commons or the Dail.”

    Except that the US HoR is simply one part of a triptych of democratic mechanisms. The Commons and Dail have [weak] second chambers – some much weaker than others.

    Beyond Royal Assent, the Assembly is all we’ve got…

  • williewombat

    Democracy is a figment of peoples imagination and has been now for a long time real democracy would not have a Father and Son as the two best people in America to be president (Bushes) out of 400m people. In NI we are just a poorer version of the party systems that don`t work anywhere, party affiliations and self preservation prevent real representation of the people however unless there is a revolution those in power are unlikely to bring about change to systems which serve them well. We need to get the balance of power on all issues shifted from the parties and their politicians back to the people then we might see a little more effort on behalf of the communities needs and less on behalf of a self perpetuating cabal of self interest promoters. Instead of reducing the councils and increasing stomonts influence we should be increasing local government and reducing centralised power at least with councillors you feel you can have some influence on them at a local level

  • cynic2

    “looks more like a talking-shop”

    ….would that it were …would that it were

  • “At best, the deals between the DUP and Sinn Fein amount to political pragmatism in a divided society.”

    Political pragmatism is a big advance on the absence of decisions, even when those decisions amount to a ‘carve-up’ – or sharing out, as it’s more politely called. Of course, there’s a lot to be said for civility in political discourse and ‘sharing’ has a better ring to it.

    “At worst, they ensure our divisions will never go away.”

    Our divisions are based on the opposing constitutional aspirations so there’s little the DUP and SF can do on that front. The decision by London to change the arrangements for the selection of First Minister has made a difficult situation worse.

    “Where it leaves the other three parties in the Executive is anybody’s guess.”

    Some though very little say in the overall scheme of things – but this has been very evident for quite a long time. It’s not so very different from the position of the UUP and SDLP prior to the 1998 Agreement when London and Dublin were driven by the need to placate the Provisional Republican Movement so that the Troubles would be confined, so far as was possible, to Northern ireland.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Law of Inverse Relevance

    ‘The less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it.’
    Jim Hacker,

  • “A working democracy must have in place effective mechanisms for holding the Executive to account”

    Well, we have committees and an audit office to look after the public interest. Is he implying that these bodies are ineffective? Has he not got the message that ‘to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war’ – as Winnie might have put it back in ’54?

  • quality. It’s an embarassment up there. You hear of unionist politicians complaining, apparently without irony about the empty benches at Westminster for NI questions but have nothing to say about the same state of affairs at stormont, but then as I’ve said before, they’re there to be kept out of miscief not to govern in the first place.