Why Brexit is going wrong and how it could be fixed…

This is the first of two posts here in which I’m going to look at Brexit through a democratic, rather than a political lens. I’d argue that Representative Democracy is humanity’s single most valuable invention. It has provided government that fosters a level of prosperity and a standard of justice that all of our ancestors could only dream of, and it has hosted history’s greatest period of innovation. Representative Democracy is a robust system. It has an internal logic – … Read more

Why do we need a government anyway?

In 7 days we will overtake Belguim for the record of longest time without a government. Now putting aside the whole debate of do we have a government or regional assembly the big issue is no one seems to care. People are not exactly taking to the streets demanding the restoration of Stormont, so it is fair to conclude the general population could not give a monkies if it ever comes back. There is the wedeservebetter campaign but really what is … Read more

Nichola Mallon brings the sort of forensic scrutiny that’s vital to the future health of democracy.

Interesting to see that the Assembly’s absence produced an opportunity for an individual MLA to corner a particularly troubling issue that’s arisen in the Belfast Trust area. In this case, it was the SDLP’s North Belfast MLA and deputy leader, Nichola Mallon. It is too little understood, just how important this kind of visible inquiry into the conduct of public services (whether it be infrastructure or healthcare) matters to the health of democracy. Many issues (and I’m not just talking about … Read more

Democracy Requires Another Assembly Election

In most established democracies there is only one solution when the political parties are deadlocked and cannot come to an agreement: hold another election. In Northern Ireland, for historical reasons, there has been the suspension of ‘normal’ rules with so-called ‘direct rule’ by the government in London instead of continued regional democracy. In the rules governing the Assembly, there is a short timeframe to form an Executive—just one week—after which the Secretary of State has the power to call another … Read more

Is British Democracy Becoming A Competition of Incompetence?

If we all stand back and take a ruthless, non-tribal, unheroic look at the standards on offer in the general election, this is a competition of incompetence. It is only because the Labour Party has so lost its way that the Conservatives appear in any way competent. In practice, the Conservative’s current majority and ‘liberation’ from the moderating power of the LibDems, has seen them binging on their ideology: cut public services in the name of austerity economics, harsh on … Read more

Whichever way you vote, in Northern Ireland, the Government always *does* get in…

Tony Benn was, in my opinion, as mad as a March Hare, but this quote of his is truly insightful in the context of our own very particular [Nay, peculiar? – Ed] democratic experiment: “In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person–Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates–ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? … Read more

“It might not take much to expose this as a vulnerable sort of robustness.”

Missed this yesterday, which I’ll put down to a bad dose of man flu. It’s Newton Emerson in the Irish Times: In financial and administrative terms, RHI is hardly an unprecedented failure. Its loss is currently estimated at £490 million (€577m), spread over 20 years. Comparable sums have been squandered on other Stormont schemes and projects since devolution, with official reports revealing similar levels of incompetence. The annual loss from RHI, at just under £25 million (€29m), is mundane by … Read more

“[Women] need to be held accountable for their actions, just like any man. “

Let’s just remember we’ve not seen the terms of an inquiry (remember, it’s not a line I’m in favour of) never mind the detail of what Ms Foster may be culpable for, but for now, I’m just putting this here: …you know what isn’t sexism? Facing valid criticism after overseeing a calamitous failure. It all reminds me of the Emily Thornberry debacle in September. The shadow foreign secretary was asked a relatively obscure but still relevant question in a Sky … Read more

Speaker ignores standing orders and sparks an Assembly walk out…

This morning the dFM withheld his consent for the First Minister to make a statement on behalf of the joint office of the Executive (the artist formerly known as OFMdFM). As Mike Nesbitt raised in a point of order just after the start, this changed the terms on which the Assembly had been summoned. Extraordinarily, the Speaker at first refused to accept Nesbitt’s point of order and then was forced to take a 20-minute adjournment. Restart brought a flurry of points of order … Read more

OPINION: Promote critical thinking skills for better democracy @WFDemocracy Strasbourg 2016

OPINION: Promote critical thinking skills for better democracy: World Forum for Democracy: Strasbourg 2016
by Allan LEONARD for Northern Ireland Foundation
7 November 2016

The 600 seats of the hemicycle of the Council of Europe soon filled with young activists and seasoned practitioners at the 2016 gathering of the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg. I attended as part of a delegation from Northern Ireland, all beneficiaries of the Civic Activism Programme administered by Building Change Trust. Our objective was to learn and share experiences to improve democracy and equality through education.

Read moreOPINION: Promote critical thinking skills for better democracy @WFDemocracy Strasbourg 2016

I am a peace journalist, because I believe in transforming conflict-driven narratives. I am editor of Shared Future News, which reports on peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. I am a co-founder and editor of FactCheckNI, Northern Ireland’s first fact-checking service, which works improve civic discourse. I also support the conflict resolution work of the Forum for Cities in Transition in Belfast.

My interests include Northern Ireland, peacebuilding, photography, and politics. You can also read my work at Northern Slant and Slugger O’Toole and learn more about me at Mr Ulster.

After Colombian Peace Accord rejected at the polls, whither Santos, and FARC?

As noted by Paul at some length here, Referendums are turning out to be something of a game of Russian Roulette for ruling political elites (and in the case of Colombia, political insurgents). Colombia has by the narrowest of margins voted to reject a peace deal ratified by the President and the leader of the FARC rebels just last week. The BBC were reporting on Saturday that Colombia has never rejected any motion put to them in a referendum (including one … Read more

David Cameron and the problem of setting real political choices

David Cameron’s referendums were regarded as reflections of ‘the will of the people’.  But is that true?  Here Peter Emerson of the de Borda Insitute questions that assumption then proposes a better methodology. 2011 Referendum on the Electoral System. Cameron’s first problem?   “Those damned Lib-Dems and the voting system!”  Hence the first ‘which’, to silence dissent in the coalition cabinet. Many people wanted proportional representation, pr, either pr-list as in Denmark, the Irish pr-single transferable vote, pr-stv, or whatever.  … Read more

Changing the conversation with e-petitions in Northern Ireland

As part of the Xchange Summer School, Mairaid McMahon announced the launch of e-petitions in Northern Ireland, which is scheduled to appear on the Northern Ireland Assembly website in September 2016. She described the shortcomings of the current system of petitioning politicians, which included the need for support from an MLA — making them gatekeepers to what could be submitted. There was also the matter of not know whatever happened to the physical petition documents. Mairaid was motivated by the … Read more

Friday Thread: Could we have a democracy without Politicians?

We are all gearing up for an Assembly election at which we will select decision makers, complain about them for the next five years, and then select a slightly different crew in five years time. This is called democracy. Broadly speaking it works, but given the gridlock in the system and a pervasive sense of apathy about politics, it is probably wise to be on the look-out for ways of improving our democracy. One approach is to suggest that for … Read more

Labour, Syria and the problem with mandates…

DEMOCRACY OR POLITICS: Labour is asking for a two-day debate as a sticking plaster to cover for the lack of compressed wisdom it would get from a functioning internal party debate Labour MPs need some armour if they are to make a principled decision to support the government, and they will have to expose themselves to endless suspicion if they don’t…

Soapbox: Is it time to consider giving Loyalists special group rights?

LEVELLING UP: Sophie Long argues that we should equip Loyalists with the necessary power and resources to compete as equal participants in Northern Irish politics. She advocates the fairly radical step of implementing special group rights, not only in order for Loyalism to flourish, but as a matter of justice for minority groups.

Irish Elections: Chasing the Democracy Dream

DEMOS RETURNS: The Athenians and the Romans shared many things, but they had radically different ideas on government. In Rome, most State power was reserved to the winners of elections. Athens focused instead on intensive citizen debate, frequent direct votes, and lottery-appointed officials to handle the bureaucracy.

A Good Week for Democracy Globally

There was something discomfiting about the funeral of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore’s achievements under his rule were extraordinary, but the story presented on his death was a sanitised fable. World leaders queued up to subscribe to the cult of wise old Harry, father of the nation. Lee wasn’t so benevolent when challenged. Opposition politicians were sued for libel and bankrupted for criticising government policies during election campaigns. When the opposition had the temerity to actually win some seats, the state … Read more