Assembly is not delivering good government for Northern Ireland
The Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister is an unworkable farce and should be scrapped, writes Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister
Published 28/09/2009 | 08:00
Northern Ireland needs and deserves good government. Obtaining and delivering such should be the ambition of every caring politician.
An unavoidable starting point is facing up to the reality, no matter how uncomfortable this may be to the vested interest of some, that the present Stormont regime is abjectly failing to come anywhere close to the delivery of good government.
Its record is appalling. Serial deadlock is its hallmark. If there is a single issue which brands the failure of the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition it is the calamitous shambles which it has brought to education. The manifest reason why Belfast Agreement devolution is so hopelessly dysfunctional is that its foundation is irredeemably flawed.
The absence of the common purpose essential to good government is reinforced by the equal vetoes held by the DUP and Sinn Fein. The guarantee of mandatory coalition underwrites the paralysis.
The absurdity of mandatory coalition is the cancer at the heart of the Stormont failure. The right to change your government and vote a party out of office is the essence of democracy.
Yet, at the core of mandatory coalition at Stormont is the denial of that basic right, compounded by the prohibition on having an opposition.
Because it so defies the basic tenets of democracy, mandatory coalition can never be the basis for good and durable government. Its removal is a prerequisite.
Likewise, at the top of government, workable authority is indispensable. The office of joint first ministers is an unworkable farce so it too must go.
TUV is certainly opposed to terrorists in government but we are not opposed to shared government.
The proper route to shared government, with every party in Northern Ireland being a minority party is voluntary coalition.
By the practice of normal politics and negotiation after every election a government and opposition would evolve.
Those who can agree a platform and collectively command the requisite majority (which arguably could even be a qualified majority of 60% so as to guarantee partnership government) form the government, those who cannot form the opposition, challenging and affording voters an alternative at the next election.
By choice, TUV would not be entering a coalition with Sinn Fein but if, by the persuasion of others, they can attain government by the route of voluntary coalition, from which the electorate have the right to remove them at the next election, then we would accept such and perform the role of opposition.
We can accept the rules of democracy.
Why should others benefit from special pleading and provision? If the answer is because of fear that the supposedly democratic IRA/Sinn Fein would then take us back to "the bad old days", then we are being blackmailed as well as conned. If Sinn Fein are only democrats so long as they are in government then they are not democrats at all.
But given the vested and pecuniary interest of the present Stormont parties in clinging onto the mutually advantageous but unworkable system of mandatory coalition, how can democratic change be secured?
The answer lies in securing a sufficient bridgehead of Traditional Unionist MLAs in the next Assembly who are pledged not to operate mandatory coalition. That will force change.
Sufficient unionists rejecting mandatory coalition makes it unworkable and hastens the acceptance of voluntary coalition as the only alternative.
Faced with the end of mandatory coalition, voluntary coalition will be accepted - even by those who now claim otherwise, because without it they will have no Stormont and that would never suit politicians and parties wholly dependent on it for their financial and political lifeline. Remember there is no party more dependent on Stormont than Sinn Fein.
The democratic imperative against mandatory coalition cannot be resisted long-term.
If - which we do not accept - Northern Ireland can't have devolution without Sinn Fein always in government, then why would anyone want such rigged and perpetually deadlocked misgovernment? TUV wants acceptable devolution but if it is blocked by the intransigence of others, then what is wrong with enhanced local government?
We don't need 108 MLAs, 11 departments, 14 ministers and all the vast expense that goes with it to administer the affairs of just 1.7m people. Streamlined local government combined with a single elected authority to corporately administer such province-wide issues as education, health and roads could easily provide efficient - and sufficient - government.