View previous topic | View next topic

For how long can democracy be suspended in Northern Ireland?

Page 1 of 3
Goto page 1, 2, 3  Next

GuyBarry
1247335.  Fri Sep 01, 2017 6:50 am Reply with quote

There has been no democratically elected government in Northern Ireland since January, when the power-sharing executive collapsed. There were assembly elections in March. Legislation required a new executive to be formed within three weeks, but legislation was then introduced extending the deadline to 29 June, and then (using some power I don't pretend to understand) the Northern Ireland Secretary suspended the power-sharing talks over the summer. Sinn Féin have rejected the DUP's latest proposal to resume power-sharing.

There's been talk of reintroducing direct rule from Westminster, but it hasn't happened yet. Which means that for the last eight months, no elected politician has had any control over the government of Northern Ireland at all and the situation could continue for some time yet. If I understand correctly, all budgeting and policy-making decisions have been in the hands of civil servants.

This is an extraordinary situation for any democracy. It's often mentioned that Belgium once went 541 days without an elected government, but the previous administration was asked to stay on in a caretaker capacity. Unless I've seriously misunderstood, there's not even a caretaker administration in Northern Ireland at the moment.

I live in England and the only time I generally hear about Northern Ireland is when there's a news item like the one today about the progress (or lack of progress) in the talks. I really can't imagine what it's like living in a part of the country where there's effectively no government at all for many purposes. Obviously the UK government is responsible for defence, foreign policy and other reserved powers but much of the day-to-day business of government is devolved - except that there's no one to devolve it to.

How is Northern Ireland managing to function as a civil society under these circumstances?

 
crissdee
1247362.  Fri Sep 01, 2017 9:00 am Reply with quote

Because the fire brigade, police, ambulance service, water companies, electricity companies, supermarkets, health service and all the other appurtenances of "civilisation" don't need the government to do their business. They will just carry on as before until someone in authority tells them otherwise.

 
GuyBarry
1247384.  Fri Sep 01, 2017 11:27 am Reply with quote

crissdee wrote:
Because the fire brigade, police, ambulance service, water companies, electricity companies, supermarkets, health service and all the other appurtenances of "civilisation" don't need the government to do their business. They will just carry on as before until someone in authority tells them otherwise.


So does that mean that, for most practical purposes, we don't need a government? If it can work in Northern Ireland, it can work elsewhere. Maybe we could just disband Parliament, have the Cabinet meet once a year to set budgets and let public servants get on with the rest of it.

I'm playing devil's advocate, of course. But it does seem significant that Northern Ireland has managed to run the departments of agriculture, communities, education, the economy, finance, health, infrastructure and justice for eight months with no political intervention whatsoever.

 
Jenny
1247393.  Fri Sep 01, 2017 1:13 pm Reply with quote

It's interesting to speculate whether this shows the weakness or the strength of democracy. None of these institutions could flourish if there had not been a political agreement beforehand about how they should be run and funded.

 
crissdee
1247401.  Fri Sep 01, 2017 2:00 pm Reply with quote

I'm almost tempted to say we could do without a government/parliament once they had set things up at the beginning of their term/each year, but there is a problem. We still need someone available to react to changing international situations and make decisions about the big stuff, but the day-to-day stuff can run perfectly well with just the people who actually do the work.

 
GuyBarry
1247406.  Fri Sep 01, 2017 2:34 pm Reply with quote

crissdee wrote:
We still need someone available to react to changing international situations and make decisions about the big stuff, but the day-to-day stuff can run perfectly well with just the people who actually do the work.


Aren't you forgetting about something called "accountability"? Public servants generally do a great job but they're not directly accountable to the taxpayers who pay for their services. Without elected politicians, how are those officials going to be held responsible for their actions - especially if there's perceived to be a misuse of public money?

I would love to know more about how Northern Ireland is being run at the moment. The power-sharing executive fell apart because of the "Renewable Heat Incentive scandal", which reportedly cost the public purse £500 million. Arlene Foster was asked to step aside as First Minister but refused to do so. Sinn Féin then pulled out of the power-sharing executive, creating a power vacuum which has not yet been resolved.

Officials can take responsibility for a limited period but it can't last. There has to be some sort of policy direction, otherwise government becomes disconnected from the people. Why should taxpayers continue to pay towards a system where they aren't represented?

I think the current situation in Northern Ireland is very dangerous. I suspect that the Government would have imposed direct rule by now if it weren't reliant on the DUP for its Commons majority. It knows that Sinn Féin will never accept the jurisdiction of a UK government that's not seen as politically impartial, so it's having to come up with a series of fudges.

Maybe the time has come for Sinn Féin to change its constitution and take up its seven seats in the UK Parliament. It might be the only way of getting its voice heard in the current impasse.

 
suze
1247410.  Fri Sep 01, 2017 2:58 pm Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
I suspect that the Government would have imposed direct rule by now if it weren't reliant on the DUP for its Commons majority.
It knows that Sinn Féin will never accept the jurisdiction of a UK government that's not seen as politically impartial, so it's having to come up with a series of fudges.


I suspect that is correct. If direct rule were imposed at a time when the DUP is propping up the British government, there has to be a possibility that Sinn Féin would start talking to its "less tolerant friends".

No one in London, Dublin, or Belfast wants that to happen, but Sinn Féin will not take it on the chin if there is the slightest hint of a return to a government which discriminates against the smaller community.


GuyBarry wrote:
Maybe the time has come for Sinn Féin to change its constitution and take up its seven seats in the UK Parliament. It might be the only way of getting its voice heard in the current impasse.


Ian Paisley once said "Never, never, never, never", although it turned out later that he didn't actually mean it. But Sinn Féin would say the same thing and mean it until such time as taking up seats in the UK Parliament ceased to required the swearing of an oath of allegiance to (as Sinn Féin sees it) the sovereign of a nation which is occupying Irish territory.

They will not do it, end of.

 
GuyBarry
1247478.  Sat Sep 02, 2017 4:59 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
If direct rule were imposed at a time when the DUP is propping up the British government, there has to be a possibility that Sinn Féin would start talking to its "less tolerant friends".

No one in London, Dublin, or Belfast wants that to happen, but Sinn Féin will not take it on the chin if there is the slightest hint of a return to a government which discriminates against the smaller community.


In that case, surely the best thing that Sinn Féin could do is to agree to restart the power-sharing executive as soon as possible. The longer this power vacuum continues, the greater the probability of direct rule being imposed.

Quote:
Ian Paisley once said "Never, never, never, never", although it turned out later that he didn't actually mean it. But Sinn Féin would say the same thing and mean it until such time as taking up seats in the UK Parliament ceased to required the swearing of an oath of allegiance to (as Sinn Féin sees it) the sovereign of a nation which is occupying Irish territory.

They will not do it, end of.


Yes, I agree - they stood for Parliament on an abstentionist platform, so they'd be breaking their commitment to their voters if they subsequently took their seats. And, as one of their spokesmen said a while ago, it would be hypocritical of them to start getting involved in the affairs of Britain when they've always said that Britain shouldn't be involved in the affairs of Ireland.

But if they've no voice in Parliament and there isn't a functioning Assembly or Executive, how are they going to exert any influence?

 
barbados
1247479.  Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:07 am Reply with quote

Quote:
In that case, surely the best thing that Sinn Féin could do is to agree to restart the power-sharing executive as soon as possible. The longer this power vacuum continues, the greater the probability of direct rule being imposed.


That is something that would never happen.

 
GuyBarry
1247481.  Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:23 am Reply with quote

barbados wrote:
Quote:
In that case, surely the best thing that Sinn Féin could do is to agree to restart the power-sharing executive as soon as possible. The longer this power vacuum continues, the greater the probability of direct rule being imposed.


That is something that would never happen.


What makes you say that? Direct rule has been imposed four times since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Two of those occasions were only for 24 hours, but the first period was for three months and the most recent one was for nearly five years (October 2002-May 2007). And of course Northern Ireland had direct rule for 26 years during the Troubles.

 
barbados
1247483.  Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:35 am Reply with quote

Because it will bring an end to the good friday accord, which is something that no one wants.

 
GuyBarry
1247532.  Sat Sep 02, 2017 12:04 pm Reply with quote

barbados wrote:
Because it will bring an end to the good friday accord, which is something that no one wants.


But it didn't bring an end to the Good Friday Agreement on any of the last four occasions. Why should this one be any different?

There is, of course, another option, which is to hold fresh Assembly elections - but I doubt whether that will break the impasse, since the DUP and Sinn Féin will inevitably be returned as the largest two parties. I can't see any other solution if those two parties can't agree.

Although one thing occurred to me - would it be possible for the SDLP to nominate a candidate for Deputy First Minister? I'm not sure exactly how the arrangements work at Stormont. I know that the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister have to be held by people from the two different communities, but I don't know how they're allocated amongst the parties.

 
suze
1247573.  Sun Sep 03, 2017 6:42 am Reply with quote

The answer to the question is contained in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Part III, §16A), which rules that:

"The nominating officer of the largest political party of the largest political designation shall nominate a member of the Assembly to be the First Minister.

The nominating officer of the largest political party of the second largest political designation shall nominate a member of the Assembly to be the deputy First Minister."

In other words, Sinn Féin gets to choose the Deputy First Minister, but the person that it chooses need not be a member of Sinn Féin. It's never going to happen, but SF could if it really wanted choose a DUP-ist - or, and marginally more realistically, a SDLP-er - to be Deputy First Minister.

 
GuyBarry
1247585.  Sun Sep 03, 2017 9:28 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:

"The nominating officer of the largest political party of the largest political designation shall nominate a member of the Assembly to be the First Minister.

The nominating officer of the largest political party of the second largest political designation shall nominate a member of the Assembly to be the deputy First Minister."


Thanks for clarifying that - so as long as Sinn Féin refuses to nominate a candidate for deputy First Minister, there can be no Northern Ireland Executive without further elections.

One further thing occurs to me. 40 MLAs are currently designated as "unionist" and 39 as "nationalist" (with 11 "others"). It would therefore take the gain of only one further seat by Sinn Féin to give them the right to nominate the First Minister. Would it be too cynical of me to suggest that they're holding out in the hope of fresh elections so that they can do so?

 
GuyBarry
1247735.  Mon Sep 04, 2017 12:29 pm Reply with quote

And now James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary, is saying he will have to legislate for a Northern Ireland budget at Westminster if there's no agreement between the parties soon.

It's getting ever closer to direct rule. "Rule by civil servants" was not an option ever laid down in the Good Friday agreement, as far as I'm aware. There has to be some sort of political direction.

 

Page 1 of 3
Goto page 1, 2, 3  Next

All times are GMT - 5 Hours


Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group