One of the founding principles of democracy is the right for voters to kick the government out, if they don’t think it’s doing a good job. I's not a rule which operates at Stormont. That is wrong and, sooner or later, things will have to change.
Currently the Executive isn’t working. Even the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, admitted this week that the public holds it in contempt.
No wonder. The two main parties, DUP and Sinn Féin, refuse consistently to behave in a constructive fashion and, as they move towards elections, their desire to appear at loggerheads grows stronger. They constantly play on sectarian divisions in our society and let down the vast majority of people, who simply want to work hard and get on with their lives.
Right across most of the central issues of government, the executive is failing. Education is in a mess, with no resolution to the transfer question and no agreement on introducing a single body to govern the system.
Stormont has failed to pass a bill on welfare reform and the result is that Northern Ireland is set to lose about £200 million per year. The agriculture and finance ministers have clashed in court over European subsidies to farmers, which could pose a real risk to our agrifood industry. Northern Ireland’s economy is lagging behind the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
The list goes on and on. Yet, although voters in Northern Ireland can kick out individual MLAs, the executive is always likely to be made up of the same old parties, having the same old quarrels and refusing to get things done.
The alternative is to have an opposition at Stormont, which could offer a competing set of policies to the executive and challenge it on its record in government. That system works in almost every other country in the free world. The executive must be formed on the principles of power-sharing, because of the divisions in our society, but it needn’t include five parties.
It is clear that the current executive has failed to deliver social stability and prosperity for Northern Ireland, so voters should have a chance to kick it out. Meanwhile, people can register their disapproval of the current system by using the European Election in May as a referendum on whether they want a big flag or big issues to dominate politics here.