Belfast Telegraph

Fact D'Hondt still exists proof Fresh Start is nothing of sort

By Cedric Wilson

The content of Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan agreed by the DUP and Sinn Fein does not constitute a fresh start in the sense of a new beginning that substantively deals with the problems that brought the Stormont Assembly to the point of collapse.

The D'Hondt method for the appointment of the Executive is untouched by Fresh Start, but D'Hondt is the core political and moral defect of the Belfast Agreement - for two basic reasons.

First, this method of appointing an Executive is politically defective because, under the D'Hondt method, the government of Northern Ireland is a forced coalition of political parties that (1) does not share an agreed socio-economic policy agenda and (2) builds into the heart of government in Northern Ireland the polar division between unionism and nationalism.

D'Hondt is, therefore, a blueprint for policy deadlock within the Executive/Assembly, which is exactly what occurred over the refusal of Sinn Fein (backed by the SDLP) to agree to welfare reform.

This policy deadlock has been temporarily resolved by devolving back to Westminster the responsibility for implementing in Northern Ireland the disputed welfare reform measures, but this is a sticking plaster.

The legislation allowing Westminster to undertake the required welfare reform in Northern Ireland will end in December 2016. But two things will continue: (1) the economic imperative to reduce "social protection" expenditure in the UK and (2) the extent and growth in recent years of welfare dependency in Northern Ireland.

These considerations mean that further budgetary deadlock at Stormont is a future certainty given the composition of the Executive determined by D'Hondt.

Second, the moral defect of the D'Hondt method is that it guarantees Sinn Fein a place in the Executive. The Villiers report on paramilitary groups stated that the so-called "army council" of the IRA "oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy". D'Hondt has institutionalised government by the godfathers of mafia criminality and terrorism.

D'Hondt also means that there can be no effective opposition at Stormont. Parties which opted for opposition under the current D'Hondt system would have to refuse to nominate any of their members for Executive departments, which would in effect mean that the DUP and Sinn Fein monopolised the Executive.

Further, the "cross-community" voting requirement of what in the Belfast Agreement is called a petition of concern (politically sacrosanct for nationalists) could be used by a dominant DUP and Sinn Fein to render opposition ineffective.

The provisions in Fresh Start to limit the use of petitions of concern involve only "voluntary commitment" and, consequently, would not prevent the use of petitions of concern by Executive parties to block effective opposition.

The system of government for Northern Ireland (with D'Hondt at its core) was designed to accommodate the demands of IRA/Sinn Fein terrorists within the so-called "peace process".

But once terrorists are put in a position where they govern the citizens they terrorised, then it becomes imperative to rewrite history to legitimise the new status of the terrorists as politicians.

This, crucially, requires the language of moral equivalence and the sacrifice of justice for the members of the security forces and for the innocent victims of terrorism.

Convicted terrorist prisoners serving multiple life sentences were released under the terms of the Belfast Agreement and "letters of comfort" and royal pardons have been given to IRA members on the run.

But, at the same time, millions of pounds have been spent on investigating the activities of the security forces (and specifically the RUC) with the aim of criminal prosecution. There is nothing in Fresh Start to end this disgraceful perversion of justice.

As far as innocent victims are concerned, Fresh Start has (to quote Ann Travers) "shoved the issues of the past into the back of the cupboard". The chief executive of the Wave Trauma Centre raised a question that puts the unionist politicians who agreed Fresh Start to shame: "Where is the fresh start for the bilateral amputees, the blind, the paraplegic and the severely traumatised?"

  • Cedric Wilson is a former MLA for Strangford

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