Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Co-opted MLAs show gap in accountability

'The Prime Minister flies in to Belfast today to give his blessing to the restoration of power-sharing'
'The Prime Minister flies in to Belfast today to give his blessing to the restoration of power-sharing'

Editor's Viewpoint

The Prime Minister flies in to Belfast today to give his blessing to the restoration of power-sharing.

The First and Deputy First Ministers have been appointed, a Speaker and three deputies have been elected, and a 12-strong Executive has been named, including Naomi Long who is taking the sensitive post of Justice Minister.

The new Executive has an impressive gender balance -six men and six women - but the wider Assembly itself displays a democratic deficit.

Almost a fifth of the 90 MLAs at Stormont have been co-opted since the March 2017 Assembly election. Thus they enjoy no recently-confirmed popular mandate, but only their respective parties' anointment.

They include eight members of Sinn Fein, three DUP, two SDLP, two Alliance and one Green Party representative. The UUP is the only one of the five main parties not to have replaced any of its MLAs.

The co-opted MLAs are replacing those members who resigned their seats for a variety of motives, including careers outside politics, or being elected to the Westminster Parliament.

Significantly in the Stormont departments of Communities and Economy, their new Ministers - Sinn Fein's Deirdre Hargey and Diane Dodds of the DUP respectively - have been co-opted for less than a month.

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Jim Allister, the leader of Traditional Ulster Voice, whose mandate rests only on the 7,989 votes he received in the 2017 poll, has called for fresh elections.

He argues that the parties are going back into government in very different circumstances compared to their 2017 commitments, and that mandatory coalition means we are not allowed to change government, or vote a party out of office.

Members of the DUP and Sinn Fein, the two main parties at least, must be relieved that the 11th hour deal only a few days ago has helped them to avoid another daunting date with the electorate who gave their Westminster candidates such a rude awakening last month.

The next Assembly poll is not due until March 2022, and it is not even certain that there is much of a public appetite for fresh elections so far in advance of that date.

So while the relief that we, once again, have a functioning government at Stormont, is understandable, it should not blind us to the accountability gap that lies at the heart of the Stormont institutions.

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