Belfast Telegraph

Stormont stalemate: Collective responsibility favoured

By Liam Clarke

The question left hanging by the First Minister's dramatic statement today is: What would St Andrews Mark 2 look like?

Peter Robinson is reluctant to be too prescriptive, and stresses that major changes can only come by negotiation and consensus. However, he has outlined his vision in his 2010 conference speech and in two DUP documents.

Yesterday he conceded that the present system of Petitions of Concern might have to be modified.

These are devices by which any 30 MLAs can delay a vote and require it to be taken on a cross-community basis, meaning a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists each have to approve the measure.

The DUP is, at present, the only party which can single-handedly pass a petition, though Sinn Fein can do so with support of one MLA from outside its ranks.

The DUP – in common with the other unionist parties, Alliance and some SDLP members – also favours the creation of an official opposition. This would allow some parties to form a voluntary coalition.

However, such an arrangement would have to include some nationalists and some unionists so that one community couldn't dominate the other. At present all parties above a minimum size are automatically in government.

Finally he proposes reducing the number of MLAs and government departments. In principle all parties are signed up to this idea though they differ on the details.

We currently have 108 MLAs – far more in proportion to our size than Scotland, Wales, the Dail or Westminster. If we adopted the same system as Scotland we would have just 36 MLAs – though nobody is proposing cutting that far.

The number of Executive ministers – 12 plus two junior ministers – is also high.

Critics say this makes our system of government top heavy while the so-called ministerial silo system allows Executive members to run their departments with minimal reference to their colleagues.

Mr Robinson would favour more collective responsibility and consultation over budgets to make decision-making faster and more consistent.

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