Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

A forum to get politics working

A few weeks ago a Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk poll indicated that a mere 10% regarded the Assembly as either 'good' or 'excellent'. That figure didn't surprise me as it's clear that increasingly people have disengaged from the political process.

Tie in that sense of despondency with the fact that turnout continues to fall and it would be tempting to draw the conclusion that most people wouldn't really care if the Assembly collapsed, to be replaced with direct rule.

That would be the wrong conclusion to draw. When people endorsed the Good Friday Agreement they did so in the hope that it would mark the beginning of a new era of politics here.

That hasn't happened and isn't likely to happen anytime soon; as a whole host of issues are either 'out for consultation' or buried so deep in the system that it may be easier to raise the Titanic.

Is there any way of getting around the problem? Well, there is: and it consists of rebooting the Civic Forum. It was first mentioned in the original agreement to act as a 'consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural issues and would have 60 members operating under the aegis of OFMDFM.'

But the problem with the Forum in that form was that it was too widely drawn with too little expertise on key issues.

I'm suggesting that the Civic Forum be used to address specific issues and limited to a maximum of a few months to produce a report which would then be presented to all of the Executive parties. Each new issue would require the drawing together of 'experts' from that particular field (limited to a maximum of 50) and once the report had been presented then that forum would be dissolved, to be replaced by other members to consider another issue.

Perhaps if we allowed something like my proposed Civic Forum to consider the logjam issues we might get something resembling a breakthrough. Such a Forum presents no challenge to the Executive and may make it easier to promote credible debate.

My proposals aren't perfect and they need refined, but they represent an easily set-up solution to a longstanding problem.

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