Rebooting Stormont … however Alliance walking away from Justice would trigger a faster restart?

Reacting to the most recent political shenanigans and particularly the DUP and UUP walkout from all-party talks [Ed – seemingly with a two page press release agreed and up their sleeves] David Ford says “Stormont needs a reboot”.

For too long now public services and the entire community have been held back as a result of the almost complete failure of leadership over crucial issues and the breakdown of functioning relationships between the two main political parties. It is clear to me that things must be done differently at Stormont. The public deserve better – we should no longer accept the status quo. A lack of commitment and ability to work professionally is stifling social cohesion, damaging communities and the prospects of our young people and impacting on economic success. Politics must work for the entire community.

The decision of the DUP and UUP to walk out on the all-party talks last week has created a crisis over parading. And this is not the only crisis that Stormont is facing. There is a failure to agree a way forward on welfare reform which if not addressed will have dire financial consequences across all public services. The parties have failed to address the key problems facing our schools. We have handed money back to Europe over the Maze peace and reconciliation centre and the Narrow Water Bridge. The policy to build a united community remains incomplete and half-hearted. Their dysfunction is costing Northern Ireland dearly and will seriously impact on the future of all of us.

David Ford suggests a number of ways to secure a better functioning and more stable political system for Northern Ireland. This significantly augments the party’s 2012 response to the Secretary of State’s consultation on Measures to improve the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

However, it still omits the largest lever that Alliance has in terms of banging heads together at Stormont to stop the kind of petulant power plays we’re witnessing this summer.

David Ford could calmly phone the First and deputy First Ministers, explain that he is stepping down as Justice Minister, and then sit back to give DUP and Sinn Féin the space to figure out once and for all how to share power as a tangible example of the shared future they insist Northern Ireland deserves.

Common sense would surely prevail, even if an awful compromise involved rotating ministers every 3–6 months. No party wants to abandon devolution. Very few people want a return to direct rule. No MLA wants their pay cut while the Assembly is suspended. And since proposing a shared future is so core to Alliance’s message, it should be possible for them to sell to their voters that this is the most sacrificial gift they can offer Northern Ireland at this time. Cultivating political maturity would strengthen democracy … for everyone.

In the meantime, short of their nuclear option, Alliance propose:

  • A coalition which is decided through voluntary negotiation between parties and subject to a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Collective responsibility must apply.
  • Replacing the Petition of Concern system, which has been abused, with a qualified majority system.
  • An opposition, free from the voluntary government, with the opportunity to properly hold the government to account.
  • Greater co-operation between Ministers requiring them to work together under law.
  • All Executive policies should be required to be “shared-future proofed” to ensure that all public investment supports and underpins an open, peaceful and united society rather than continuing division.
  • An end to sectarian designations in the Assembly.
  • Letting the public know who donates money to political parties.

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