Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Revitalised Stormont is needed

The frequent crises over spending plans, failure to implement welfare reform which will cost us millions, education and health demonstrate the dysfunction at the heart of Stormont
The frequent crises over spending plans, failure to implement welfare reform which will cost us millions, education and health demonstrate the dysfunction at the heart of Stormont

It is 16 years since the Good Friday Agreement paved the way for devolved government to return to Northern Ireland. At the time that was seen as a triumph, ending nearly three decades of conflict and bringing former sworn enemies into a joint administration.

There were many rocky periods in the intervening years which saw the first Assembly fall, but it has to be recognised that we now have relative peace and political stability, which are no mean achievements given the historic backdrop.

Yet there are many who think like Justice Minister David Ford, who has put forward a seven-point plan for rebooting – or revitalising – our system of government.

He essentially wants a redesign of the architecture of the administration, doing away with the current mandatory coalition which sees five parties in government. Even the politicians will admit – but do little to change – that the system is not a real success for administering Northern Ireland.

The frequent crises over spending plans, failure to implement welfare reform which will cost us millions, education and health demonstrate the dysfunction at the heart of Stormont.

That is inevitable given the differing party policies on many issues and the fact that the administration does not work on the basis of collective responsibility.

We only have to look at the response to Mr Ford's proposals. The unionist parties welcome them, at least in part, while the nationalist parties reject them as irrelevant.

That in a nutshell shows the difficulty of getting anything that is in any way contentious agreed at Stormont.

The question is – are we now mature enough to press for a more normal system of government, a voluntary coalition in power and an agreed and funded opposition, as works in other parliaments?

At some stage, hopefully sooner rather than later, politicians here are going to have to grasp the nettle and make a real effort to create a shared society.

The electorate may need to force them to get their own house in order first, and certainly Mr Ford's proposals provide a good platform for discussion.

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