Consider this. We have a coalition government that is incompetent and has fallen because it can’t govern. The leadership of both coalition parties (DUP and Sinn Fein) are calling for an Assembly election (that will cost around £5m) just a few months after the last election. The last election had a turnout of less than 55%. In that election, the DUP secured a ‘mandate’ from just 16% of the electorate; Sinn Fein from just 13%.
The alternative is a UUP/SDLP coalition. Or possibly a UUP/SDLP/Alliance coalition. Or even a UUP/SDLP/Alliance/Green/PBP coalition. For that to happen would require a significant swing to non-DUP/SF candidates. But, in any case, when we last had a UUP/SDLP coalition it fell apart too.
The reason for this, of course, is that we try to force together (through so-called power-sharing) political positions that have nothing in common – largely because our local political parties are built on sectarianism rather than ideology.
Direct rule, therefore, is a much preferable option because 1) it’s cheaper; 2) it is much more stable and 3) it can allow for much closer alignment of NI law with English law.
The reason Northern Ireland, for example, was the first part of the UK to have civil partnerships was because the Order establishing them was enacted under direct rule in 2004. It’s because we have had devolution (since 2007) that we don’t have same sex marriage legislation. Devolution is also the reason why we don’t have the 1967 Abortion Act – and countless other pieces of legislation since 1967 that would have modernised and normalised this political back-wood. Direct rule might even give the Shinners the Irish Language Act they so desperately want.
It’s interesting that in William Crawley’s little on-line Twitter poll (see https://twitter.com/williamcrawley/status/818894465997934592) the majority of 695 respondents felt that the direct rule option was the most likely outcome emerging from the current crisis. I’m not sure if this is because respondents were predicting the outcome or engaging in wishful thinking.
Direct rule could easily be democratised to ensure appropriate scrutiny of legislation and referendums to allow for truly participative government. Democratised direct rule would give Northern Ireland the stability it so desperately needs. There might even be room for the Irish government to throw in its tuppence worth.
Let’s face it. Devolution based on our aberrant party-political system just doesn’t work. Let’s get over it and just get on with making this place (with the population size of a small city authority area in England) work – with as little fuss as possible.
Free market libertarian. Businessman. Small government advocate. Former Vice-Chair, Conservative Party in NI. Fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs. Former Regional Chair, Business for Britain (the business voice of VoteLeave).