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Time for change at Stormont

By Gemma Weir

Published 29/10/2015

It seems the Assembly is never out of crisis. In many ways, the recent breakdown is no different to previous crises at Stormont
It seems the Assembly is never out of crisis. In many ways, the recent breakdown is no different to previous crises at Stormont

It seems the Assembly is never out of crisis. In many ways, the recent breakdown is no different to previous crises at Stormont. A major reason for this is that the Assembly is built on the accommodation of sectarianism and sectarian structures.

The current model of devolution has failed to realise the ambitions of the Good Friday Agreement. It has also failed to bring about the political, social and economic changes that we all demanded.

For the Assembly to function effectively in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, the way it is structured and operates needs to change fundamentally.

The Executive parties - and Sinn Fein and the DUP in particular - will reach an interim accommodation, which will ensure the survival of the Assembly. But if we are to avoid the cycle of crises, then radical change is required, including:

  • the introduction of a formal Opposition;
  • the party, or parties, with the most seats forming the Executive, and;
  • an end to the designation of MLAs as unionist or nationalist.

However, structures are only part of the problem. The Executive is also implementing a home-grown austerity programme, in the form of the Stormont House Agreement.

Some 20,000 jobs will be stripped out of the public service and the Executive has borrowed £750m to fund the redundancies.

The Stormont House Agreement will also see the sell-off of profitable state assets, like Belfast Harbour Estate and Translink.

But the central plank of the Stormont House Agreement - and the only economic strategy the Stormont Executive has - is to lower corporation tax.

What the Executive parties should be examining is the cost of a segregated society in Northern Ireland and taking immediate measures to dismantle it: this alone could save £3bn.

The current talks should be working on plans for public investment to create jobs, wealth and economic stability.

Lowering corporation tax will cost between £350m and £500m. If the talks process scrapped that "bright idea", there would be no need for any welfare cuts.

  • Gemma Weir is the Workers Party's North Belfast representative

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