Belfast Telegraph

Stormont crisis: We can all play a part in putting paid to our system of stalemate

Editor's Viewpoint

Yesterday's exclusive article in the Belfast Telegraph in which the First Minister Peter Robinson attacked the ongoing crisis over welfare reform, but more importantly went on to claim the present government structures are unfit for purpose, predictably sparked an immediate and intense debate.

At its heart is the case for reform of the way we are governed. In most democracies parties stand for election on political programmes and, if they are elected, are then judged on those programmes. Even where one party doesn't rule, as in the UK at present, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats will be judged on their record in government when they next go to the polls.

But that does not happen in Northern Ireland. Mandatory coalition gives every party with the required representation a seat in the Executive at Stormont. There is no real opportunity to change the governing parties regardless of their performance in the administration. It is an unique answer to the problem of binding everyone together for the creation of peace and stability.

In essence it is a bit like having stabilisers on a cycle when one first learns to pedal. But, just like stablisers, this form of government was not meant to last for ever.

As the administration became ever more bogged down by inter-party dispute, the calls for change from politicians and academics became increasingly strident. Mr Robinson's intervention yesterday lent new weight to the argument given his role.

While the DUP, Alliance and UUP have been the most vociferous in suggesting new processes at Stormont, Sinn Fein and to a certain extent the SDLP have been resistant, fearing a return to the days of Stormont being a cold house for nationalists, never mind republicans.

But no one is suggesting a return to those days of one-party perpetual rule. It need not be so. Mechanisms can be put in place to ensure community vetoes are still in place.

The DUP favours a 65% Assembly voting threshold for important votes, making it impossible for any community block to railroad through policy.

However, such mechanisms are for the political anoraks. What most of us want to see is an end to the current dysfunction and stalemate in government.

Few of us fully understand the complexities of d'Hondt, but we can all realise that we are not being governed in the way we had hoped when peace was first declared and later when power-sharing replaced direct rule.

Mr Robinson is right. It is time for a rethink on how the Stormont administration can be reformed to deliver on the hopes and aspirations of the general public. Throwing our hands in the air and crying dysfunction or merely shrugging our shoulders at yet another crisis at Stormont are not options.

A St Andrews Mark 2 should be the opportunity for everyone to join in the debate about government. The public, the business community, charities, community groups all should have an opportunity to contribute their views.

It is already evident that this is not something that politicians can, or should, solve on their own. We all have a stake in the future.

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