This afternoon TUV launched a policy initiative entitled A Path to Making Stormont Work which can be found in full here.
This is an intervention set against the backdrop of ongoing crisis – deadlock over Welfare Reform; ever increasing NHS waiting lists; rolling resignations of DUP ministers mockingly labelled as the hokey cokey; and most importantly for any democrat – murder on the streets.
TUV has set out our vision – Plan A is already well known to most:
“TUV has a clear vision of what will work and provide good and durable government. It is voluntary coalition with an Opposition. Such does not deny cross-community government. Indeed, the strategic use of weighted majority voting would guarantee same.
“With no party big enough to govern on its own, coalition is inevitable. As elsewhere, for it to work, it must be a coalition of the willing. Those, after an election, who can agree a programme for government on the key economic and social issues and who together can command the requisite majority in the Assembly, they govern – whoever they are. Those who can’t agree – whoever they are – they form the Opposition, challenging and presenting an alternative at the next election.
“To assure cross-community involvement TUV would accept a weighted majority of 60% in an Assembly vote to approve the new government and its programme. As politics further normalise it should be possible to reduce the threshold to 50 % over succeeding elections. The much abused Petition of Concern procedure should be banished, along with designations which entrench the sectarian basis of the present system.”
– Jim Allister MLA, TUV Party Leader
Plan B is of interest to those who foresee constant crisis, and wish to have an accountable alternative to what they are being told is the only show in town:
“Today we are also putting forward a second – or Plan B – proposal, as a stop gap till parties realise voluntary coalition is the way to go.
“The key to preventing the collapse of the present failed Stormont meaning the end of devolution is to salvage that which has worked and jettison that which has failed.
“By its nature devolution embraces two distinct aspects: legislative devolution (exercised by the Assembly) and executive devolution (exercised by ministers). Analysis of the failure of the present Stormont throws up the obvious conclusion that it is the dimension of executive devolution which has failed.
“Legislative devolution has been reasonably successful, both in processing such Bills as have been presented, including Private Member’s Bills, and in performing the scrutiny function through its committees.
“Thus, in moving forward, there may be merit in building on what has succeeded, by preserving legislative devolution, while giving time for executive devolution to evolve into something workable.
“The practical outworking of such an approach would be that the elected Assembly would be preserved as the legislature for transferred Northern Ireland matters, along with its important scrutiny function, but without a local executive. Executive functions would be exercised by British ministers, but with the vital distinction from the past that they would be accountable to the Assembly and their legislative programme would pass, not through Westminster, but through the Stormont Assembly.
“Such a form of power sharing is not untried. Though the EU has little to recommend it, for decades the European Parliament has exercised a shared legislative function with the Council of Ministers (now, formal codecision on many matters). Indeed, there a further complicating dimension is that it is the European Commission which initiates legislation, but it processes through the Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
“In practice how such would work is that the British ministers would introduce their legislation to the Assembly, it would pass through the normal processes of second stage, committee state, consideration stage and final stage, before being signed off by the Secretary of State and given Royal Assent by Her Majesty.
“To cope with policy conflicts between the Assembly and Westminster and incompatible expenditure demands there would have to be a procedure of conciliation between the Assembly and the British ministers. Again such has existed for years in the EU between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Here the Chair of the relevant committee could act as rapporteur for the Assembly in any negotiations with the minister, with both sides statutorily bound to make determined efforts to reach consensus.
“Individual MLAs would continue to have unfettered opportunity to introduce Private Member’s Bills.
“As for the British ministers exercise of executive functions, these would be subject to all the scrutiny powers of the Assembly and its statutory committees, with their powers to command witnesses and papers.”
– Jim Allister MLA, TUV Party Leader
This policy paper is to engender debate and discussion, to demonstrate that there are alternatives that must be duly considered and even tested. The Belfast Agreement with the St Andrews Agreement tweaks have led to this point. How much longer must Northern Ireland be lumbered with the most unworkable form of government?
Richard is vice chairman of TUV; and an advisor to Jim Allister MLA.