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Give centrist parties the power and funding they need to prevent another Sinn Fein-DUP carve-up

After the latest divisive election in Northern Ireland, it's now clearer than ever that the St Andrews Agreement created the tribal stand-off that passes for politics here.

Legislation arising from that agreement determined that the First Minister would come from the largest party, rather than the largest designation (i.e. unionist, nationalist, or other).

The result, which was anticipated by David Trimble and others at the time, is that the extreme parties are more powerful and each election is turned into a sectarian head-count.

The system ensures that divided future is more likely than a constructive, genuinely shared future.

The current structures at Stormont are still predicated on forming a mandatory coalition, so it seems to me that there are three main options as regards this architecture:

1. The current arrangements continue;

2. The co-equal status of the First and Deputy First Ministers is officially recognised and they are known simply as Joint First Ministers; or

3. The official Opposition is properly empowered and funded, in conjunction with either of the two options above.

There could be other creative ways that the parties can challenge the current structures.

There are 35 Assembly members who are outside the DUP and Sinn Fein, most of whom are considered as being part of the middle ground. Together, the relative moderates form a group bigger than either the DUP or Sinn Fein.

Perhaps they should investigate the possibility of forming a voluntary coalition, under the 'other' designation, that could be entitled to seats in the Executive and to the First Minister's post.

As the largest grouping, they could test Stormont's rules and challenge the idea that Sinn Fein, or the DUP, have a veto on political progress.

It's food for thought. We need a government that brings out the best of this beautiful place we're lucky to share.

It's fair to say that is what the electorate really wants.


Holywood, Co Down


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