One Year On; Can we now have a debate on getting a “Functioning” Executive.

One year ago today, Martin McGuinness brought the curtain down on his time as Deputy First Minister and the near 10 year run of devolution in Northern Ireland. The rest is now history……

We have had two historic election results with awesome consequences. In March, Nationalism finally broke a 6 year trend of seeing their combined vote go down. Sinn Fein surged riding a wave created by the approach of the DUP towards issues such as the Irish Language and a rallying cause for their base that had been lacking for a number of years.  Looking back the campaign was merely the 2003 in reverse, it was Sinn Fein now demanding a fair deal & a revisit of issues that had not been properly dealt with.  I know it’s a slogan often used but “No return to the status quo” is simply a repetition of what Sinn Fein are hearing back from their voters.

For the DUP, the Assembly election was a set back. Arlene Foster had performed poorly during the campaign, looking rattled in debates and failing to say much else other than “Radical Republican Agenda” over and over again. But more importantly for the first time in the history of an Assembly election, Unionism lost its majority and the DUP went backwards in the number of seats they held. Had just 1 more seat changed hands, they would have been tied with Sinn Fein for the first time.

A near death experience for the DUP did help reinforce a narrative for their voters that political dominance cannot be taken for granted. Luckily, the General Election came just three months later & the party stormed to victory. Most DUPers see the June result as a correction of the March result and with the balance of power position at Westminster, they are happy for the time being to highlight their influence.

Where do we go now?

I know it’s in vogue for parts of Northern Ireland society to think that our political situation stems simply from backward looking politicians. However, it’s important to remember that in a democracy with high turnout that the people are endorsing the DUP and Sinn Fein stances. These two parties commanded 56% of the vote in March and over 65% in June which was a sizeable increase on the previous election.

We are here, because the voters put us here. Do you know why there was no protect outside Stormont this evening or any petitions doing the rounds to get Stormont back up, because they wouldn’t attract very much support. Northern Ireland is not North Korea, politicians react to the public mood. Sinn Fein recognised in 2016 that they were being perceived as weak & acted accordingly, the DUP recognised that voters didn’t like aspects of their approach in March and they acted accordingly.

This may sound like I am being overly pessimistic, but crossing your fingers isn’t a strategy, nor is expecting two parties who don’t trust each other to last the distance in government. The cries of “we need an Executive” fundamentally fail to grasp the fact that the key word that is missing from that sentence is “functioning”.  Whilst any sort of Executive might suit for cutting ribbons at events or posing with big foam numbers. For me, I’d like one that can actually, you know, govern the place. The reason why, nobody is organising a “Devolution Now” protest is that for many sections of our society, they didn’t think the original incarnation was doing very much.

I regularly wrote that the last devolved administration was failing in policy-making terms, well now is the time to actually correct some of these mistakes. I mean reform of the Petition of Concern, roles of committees, election of the Speaker and the other procedural issues that can improve our daily governance.  If we start to tackle some of these issues, we can get an agreement that can last, not one that will crash on the rocks of Northern Ireland political realities.

We don’t have an Ian Paisley or Martin McGuinness this time to really make these big leaps if something falls short halfway through. That’s why it’s really important that we take the time to get this right. Back in 2007, the DUP ran on that very slogan & it’s something that we need to do now.






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  • Reader

    Mimi Balguerie: Was there even one city, town or even major village that would have changed jurisdiction as a result of the proposal?
    Crossmaglen and Belleek, I think. Net transfer of 200 square miles and over 10,000 people.
    Worth having, surely?

  • Reader

    Skibo: Is it not democratic to follow the views of the majority?
    Partition left 500,000 in the ‘wrong’ state. Failure to partition would have put 1,000,000 in the ‘wrong’ state.
    How could you possibly justify a refusal to partition? Do you care about land rather than people?

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill: My belief in the illegitimacy of NI is inherited from a Protestant Home
    Rule tradition which entirely rejects the use of force. In fact my
    opposition to Unionism comes from its inceptive role in bringing the gun
    into the Home Rule debate.

    Does the use or threat of force invalidate any political position, or only the ones you are against anyway?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Good heavens Reader, where did you get that from? I have pointed out on Slugger endlessly that I oppose political violence in itself, and my whole critique is not of the Union with the UK but with the Unionist resort to arms in 1912. I reject the IRA resort to arms in 1969 at the moment when Civil Right were coming about here. I have pointed out to exhaustion that in 1912 Home Rule, which was devolution, would not have alienated UK sovereignty here and the IPP was of its nature pluralist liberal and secularist. So Unionism’s resort to arms was hyperbolic and on the issues it did so, pretty nonsensical.

    Ideas stand or fall on their own strength, and their validity on that alone. As an idea presented in a Constitutionalist context Unionism would have had a strong, even a directive voice in any Irish Parliament, but the resort to arms by Unionism then and by those who have since followed their example, seeing it as the one thing Westminster will listen to, is self evidently wrong as can be seen by the terrible polarisation it has carved into our community.