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Five things that must change at Stormont

1. Petitions of concern: Any 30 MLAs can raise one of these petitions about a measure being voted on.

The result is that the measure will fail unless it gets a majority of nationalists and a majority of unionists voting separately to support it.

Sinn Fein controls a majority of nationalist votes, with 29 MLAs, and the DUP, with 30 MLAs, has a majority of unionists. This means that once a petition is raised either party can block legislation.

The use of petitions could be limited, or the number of signatories increased.

2. Reduce the number of MLAs: At present there are 108. Sinn Fein proposes reducing this to 90. That would still be far more proportionately than Wales, Scotland or Westminster.

If MLAs required the same number of electors as MSPs in Scotland, then we would have only 36.

The DUP favours a reduction to 72 or less. The UUP and then the SDLP would be likely to lose most seats proportionately.

3. Reduce the number of government departments: At present we have 12 departments and the number of ministers rises to 15 when we include the First and Deputy First Ministers as well as two junior ministers. There are 10 members of the Scottish Cabinet assisted by 11 junior ministers. However, Scotland's population is more than double ours, 5.2m compared to 1.8m. It is generally agreed that reducing departments would streamline decision-making.

4. Weaken the silo system: Here ministers are nominated by their party leaders and can only be removed by them. In most other legislatures ministers can be replaced by the Prime Minister and can be removed for poor performance. Each minister has considerable power within his or her own department and this leads to stand-offs over spending and policy. They can ignore votes of no confidence in the house or the scrutiny committees.

5. Set up an official opposition: Here ministers are allocated to parties via a mathematical formula, d'Hondt. This means that the five main parties are all in government and only a few independents of one-member parties, like the TUV and Greens, are excluded. As a result it is hard to vote a government out of office.

Setting up an official opposition would provide funds, speaking right and access to research for parties who did not agree with the Executive. Most advocates say that the Opposition would still need to include some unionists and some nationalists.

Belfast Telegraph


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