Reform and Review of the Agreement is Possible – Let’s Have It

Councillor Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston, from the Progressive Unionist Party, explains the thinking behind their ‘Review and Reform’ document, published yesterday.

This week the Progressive Unionist Party has published and distributed, to the Secretary of State and Northern Ireland’s political leaders, its proposals for review and reform of the institutions set out within the Good Friday Agreement. The document, which can be read in full here:, sets out our rationale for enabling a review. It cites strand one, subsection thirty-six, which reads;

“After a specified period there will be a review of these arrangements, including the details of electoral arrangements and of the Assembly’s procedures, with a view to agreeing any adjustments necessary in the interests of efficiency and fairness.”

Following the fifth collapse of the Assembly since the agreement was made, we believe that the time is now right to exercise this review. This does not equate to the “scrapping” or “repeal” of the agreement as some have suggested. But rather a recognition that, just like the devolution of justice or an extension of fiscal responsibility, the institutions grow and change in relationship with the political landscape. We have presented this document as an open call to reflect on, and reform, these structures, underpinned by a resurgence of the spirit with which the agreement was intended.

The second part of the document lists a number of our recommendations relating to the sharing of power and responsibility. These include Permanent Secretaries assuming responsibility for their departments, and Members of the Legislative Assembly overseeing, developing and progressing the work of the departments through their respective committees.

This is a form of governance that is practiced in the United States, as well as closer to home in our Councils across the province. We believe that combining the strong political leadership of elected officials in the form of a governing and legislative body, with the strong managerial experience of an employed Director, per department, has allowed Councils and its members to diligently fulfil their roles without threat of collapse or accusations of financial mismanagement. The council-management system of governance is a tried and tested model that, despite occasional controversies and disputes, has weathered political storms with an integrity and strength not associated with our Assembly.

Of course we are not suggesting that every T and I of the local government arrangements would complement a legislature. But we do believe that, by adopting the very best elements of the model, we can introduce the mechanisms for accountability, rejuvenate and copper fasten the concept of sharing responsibility envisaged in 1998. And that we can improve public confidence in the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland at a fraction of the cost.

The people of Northern Ireland who voted for this agreement did so with the knowledge that a review would be exercised – let’s have it.

Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston is a PUP Councillor for Oldpark. She tweets at

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