It has been the story of the day so far as radio pundits have been debating opposition and whether it is time that we dismantled the current system of government in Stormont.
Now, arguments in favour of this idea are
- We normalise our system of government.
- The government would be a coalition of the willing.
- There would be some coherence in policy amongst ministers.
- Protections can be built in to ensure that no one side can abuse power (Weighted majority voting).
Arguments against are
- We are just not there yet as a society.
- We saw the last time what happened when parties were excluded from government in the past.
- It is good to have a system that allows a variety of parties to come together.
But if we did move to a normalised system of coalitions built on numerical strength in the Assembly what would it look like? 108 MLAs, means you need 55 seats for a majority.
Unionist MLAs-55 (DUP/UUP/McCallister, Allister, Sugden and McNarry).
Nationalist MLAs-43 (Sinn Fein and SDLP)
Others-10 (Alliance, Agnew and McCrea)
DUP, UUP and Alliance- 59 seats. This would be broadly Unionist, but Alliance would pull it to the centre.
DUP/UUP minority government-51 seats. It is quite feasible for the DUP/UUP to form a minority coaltion government and seek from the floor a confidence and supply arrangement from one of the other parties. In 1997, Bertie Ahern did this effectively and Garrett Fitzgerald in 1981 did the same.
DUP/UUP/SDLP-65 seats. This would give an Executive a huge majority in the Assembly and should any weighted majority come into play it should just about clear a 60% threshold.
DUP/Sinn Fein-67 seats. This would be a very strong government and would pretty much be able to do whatever it wanted even in a weighted majority system as it would have so many MLAs.
Sinn Fein/SDLP/UUP-56 seats. This would command a majority on the floor of the Assembly and could get some legislation passed but if in a weighted majority would have some issues. However, it could easily solve these with deals with Alliance, Agnew or McCallister.
In any of these scenarios it would be hard for any one party to dominate or completely steer the agenda. Obviously it is hard to predict the future, but those 10 MLAs who sit in neither camp would definately end up playing a much greater role the formation of a government that they do that the moment.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs