Villiers: What Stormont needs is the revitalising influence of an opposition…

Another day in Northern Ireland, another Groundhog.. Theresa Villiers is make a speech today saying it is time to make progress on the past and on a future that could bring NI political life back to the cryogenically sealed democracy unit currently operating at Stormont..

“Political institutions the world over adapt and change. As the founding father of modern Conservatism… the Irishman Edmund Burke… once put it: ‘A State without the means of change is without means of preservation’.

And there are inherent weaknesses in a system in which it is very difficult to remove one’s rulers by voting and to choose a viable alternative,” she stated.

However, Ms Villiers insists that parties must agree a way forward. The coalition Government in London would not take the decision for them.

“This Government is clear that we would welcome moves that facilitate a more normal system at Stormont that allows for formal opposition, so long as a way can be found to do this which is consistent with power-sharing and inclusivity.

“But we also believe that if or how this happens really has to be primarily for parties in the Assembly to take forward, not least because it is so firmly within the Assembly’s competence to deal with those matters that might characterise an opposition.”

Both worthy sentiments, and true. But also impossible without large amounts of political energy, imagination and driving ambition. Liam Clarke also reports:

She pointed out that Executive spends £30 million a year on “legacy issues”. This, she said, placed a heavy burden on the police, and absorbed the energy of politicians, such as Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

“As we approach another marching season there is no doubt that an agreement on the way forward on flags, parading and the past even in outline would send a powerful global message about the ability of Northern Ireland’s politicians to find solutions even to the most divisive of issues,” she said.

She added that it would also “free up the space for politicians to focus more on other issues that are critical to our future such as rebalancing the economy, reforming the public sector and building a genuinely shared future.”

There’s no doubt that Irish democracy was re-vitalised by the eventual and almost complete defenestration of the Fianna Fail old guard in the last general election in the Republic. However northern nationalist memories of being in opposition were not happy ones.

If anything comforts nationalists about the new arrangements it may be that the loudest voices on the tiny opposition benches are unionist rather than nationalist. Although it ought to be instructive that they are, pound for pound also to be numbered amongst the more effective MLAs in the Assembly.

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