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For how long can democracy be suspended in Northern Ireland?

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tetsabb
1270057.  Mon Jan 08, 2018 11:47 pm Reply with quote

And now Mr Brokenshire is stepping down from his role in Norn Iron. This could go on a lot longer yet.

 
GuyBarry
1270068.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 4:19 am Reply with quote

It's now a year to the day since the late Martin McGuinness stepped down as Deputy First Minister, which led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. Since then, health, education and the other public services in Northern Ireland have been allowed to suffer because of the inability of their politicians to put the responsibilities of government before their usual sectarian squabbling. If Northern Ireland had been an independent nation it would have collapsed into anarchy by now.

Good luck to Karen Bradley, the new Northern Ireland Secretary. Let's hope she has more success in resolving the impasse than her predecessor.

 
dr.bob
1270095.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 6:32 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
It's now a year to the day since the late Martin McGuinness stepped down as Deputy First Minister, which led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. Since then, health, education and the other public services in Northern Ireland have been allowed to suffer


In what way are those public services suffering? Do you have any specific examples in mind? I would imagine a lot of people working in the public sector are relishing the opportunity to simply get on with their jobs without constant meddling from ill-informed politicians!

GuyBarry wrote:
If Northern Ireland had been an independent nation it would have collapsed into anarchy by now.


I'm not convinced that's true. Spain recently endured 10 months without a functioning government and managed not to have riots in the streets. Likewise, Belgium famously spent 589 days without a government, but I don't remember any news stories about them collapsing into anarchy.

 
GuyBarry
1270109.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 8:21 am Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:

In what way are those public services suffering? Do you have any specific examples in mind?


I have heard reports on the BBC about people who were considering leaving Northern Ireland because they couldn't get the specialist health treatment they wanted. No one is in place to set the necessary spending priorities.

Quote:
I would imagine a lot of people working in the public sector are relishing the opportunity to simply get on with their jobs without constant meddling from ill-informed politicians!


I'm sure the Northern Ireland civil service is doing the best it can to try to allocate budgets, but it's not their job to make political decisions. An emergency budget for Northern Ireland had to be passed at Westminster a couple of months ago because otherwise their public services would have run out of money.

GuyBarry wrote:
If Northern Ireland had been an independent nation it would have collapsed into anarchy by now.


I'm not convinced that's true. Spain recently endured 10 months without a functioning government and managed not to have riots in the streets. Likewise, Belgium famously spent 589 days without a government, but I don't remember any news stories about them collapsing into anarchy.[/quote]

Two points: firstly they both had caretaker governments in place, as far as I'm aware. Northern Ireland has none.

Secondly, it's only twenty years since Northern Ireland emerged from a terrorist war, and there's still huge mistrust between the two communities. The Good Friday Agreement was supposed to create public confidence in the institutitions that were being set up. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have ceased to function for an entire year, with no system of direct rule in place as has happened during previous suspensions. In my view that's creating a dangerous power vacuum.

 
dr.bob
1270120.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:09 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
I have heard reports on the BBC about people who were considering leaving Northern Ireland because they couldn't get the specialist health treatment they wanted. No one is in place to set the necessary spending priorities.


Of course there's no guarantee that anyone who was in place to make spending priorities would necessarily choose to fund specific specialist health treatments. There are stories from all parts of the UK of people complaining that they are unable to access specialist health treatments in their area.

GuyBarry wrote:
I'm sure the Northern Ireland civil service is doing the best it can to try to allocate budgets, but it's not their job to make political decisions. An emergency budget for Northern Ireland had to be passed at Westminster a couple of months ago because otherwise their public services would have run out of money.


But surely that was simply a box ticking exercise. The budget was only "emergency" because it was left until the very last minute to give the parties as much time as possible to come to an agreement. Then the UK government basically just quickly passed legislation to continue finding NI public services in the same way as they had been funded previously.

GuyBarry wrote:
Two points: firstly they both had caretaker governments in place, as far as I'm aware. Northern Ireland has none.


The caretaker governments were there to take care of day-to-day running on the country. In a sense, that's essentially what Westminster is currently doing for NI, as with the budget.

GuyBarry wrote:
The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have ceased to function for an entire year, with no system of direct rule in place as has happened during previous suspensions. In my view that's creating a dangerous power vacuum.


Certainly a lot of people are concerned about a possible power vacuum, which is why the UK government are so desperate to avoid reimposing home rule that they've preferred to leave NI without a devolved administration for a year.

 
GuyBarry
1270122.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:26 am Reply with quote

I can't get my head round this. Would it be acceptable for any other part of the UK to be run by civil servants for a year? I have nothing against civil servants - indeed, I used to be one - but they're not accountable to the people, and they're spending taxpayers' money. Doesn't this go entirely in the face of the principles of democracy? If I lived in Northern Ireland, I'm not sure if I'd be happy to be ruled by what's effectively a giant quango.

What the UK government seems to have decided, by default, is that no democracy is preferable to all the democratic alternatives. Was this the intention behind the Good Friday Agreement?

 
dr.bob
1270127.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 11:05 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
What the UK government seems to have decided, by default, is that no democracy is preferable to all the democratic alternatives.


What are the democratic alternatives?

They tried having an election, and the winners refused to work with each other. I guess they could try simply appointing to the government whichever single party got the most seats, but such a lopsided administration would probably result in things getting rather explodey rather quickly.

 
GuyBarry
1270130.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 11:22 am Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:
GuyBarry wrote:
What the UK government seems to have decided, by default, is that no democracy is preferable to all the democratic alternatives.


What are the democratic alternatives?


Well on previous occasions when they couldn't establish a devolved administration, they've brought in direct rule. But in the current circumstances they've decided that direct rule would be inappropriate, so they've left the civil service to run public services for 1.8 million people, for an indefinite period.

Who voted for this "rule by civil service" option? Is there a provision in the Good Friday Agreement that says "in the absence of any political agreement, control will pass to the Northern Ireland Civil Service"? Because that's what's happened, without any mandate from the voters that I can tell.

Quote:
They tried having an election, and the winners refused to work with each other. I guess they could try simply appointing to the government whichever single party got the most seats, but such a lopsided administration would probably result in things getting rather explodey rather quickly.


That can't happen under the Good Friday agreement. It's what happened under the old (pre-1972) Stormont parliament, when the Unionists ran everything and Catholics were excluded from power. After that, direct rule was imposed and lasted for 26 years.

It's starting to look as though Northern Ireland cannot be run as a democracy. And that's pretty worrying.

 
Alfred E Neuman
1270156.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 4:15 pm Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
If I lived in Northern Ireland, I'm not sure if I'd be happy to be ruled by what's effectively a giant quango.


Well, you're very much not happy about it already and you don't even live there, so while you may not be sure, no one else is in any doubt. :-)

 
GuyBarry
1270157.  Tue Jan 09, 2018 4:26 pm Reply with quote

Alfred E Neuman wrote:
GuyBarry wrote:
If I lived in Northern Ireland, I'm not sure if I'd be happy to be ruled by what's effectively a giant quango.


Well, you're very much not happy about it already and you don't even live there, so while you may not be sure, no one else is in any doubt. :-)


Eh?

I am not ruled by the Northern Ireland Civil Service, so I can't give you an opinion about whether I'm happy with it or not. I know that I wouldn't be happy if the elected government in this part of the UK were replaced by a bunch of unaccountable civil servants.

But maybe the people of Northern Ireland prefer the current arrangements to rule by their squabbling politicians. I don't know - I haven't seen any opinion polls about it. I doubt whether they were consulted in the matter.

What do you do when the people keep voting in politicians who are apparently incapable of governing together? I don't have an answer.

 
Alfred E Neuman
1270182.  Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:08 am Reply with quote

The fact that you bang on and on about it pretty much gives the game away. You're not happy. Nobody said you were ruled by them, but you can't tell me that you don't give a shit - the situation clearly bothers you.

 
dr.bob
1270247.  Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:22 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
dr.bob wrote:
What are the democratic alternatives?


Well on previous occasions when they couldn't establish a devolved administration, they've brought in direct rule.


Hmm, being ruled by a party that nobody in NI voted for doesn't sound terribly democratic.

GuyBarry wrote:
It's starting to look as though Northern Ireland cannot be run as a democracy. And that's pretty worrying.


I dunno. Democracy isn't the answer to all problems, so maybe another approach would be preferable in some cases.

 
GuyBarry
1285207.  Sun May 27, 2018 2:25 pm Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:

GuyBarry wrote:
It's starting to look as though Northern Ireland cannot be run as a democracy. And that's pretty worrying.


I dunno. Democracy isn't the answer to all problems, so maybe another approach would be preferable in some cases.


And so how are you going to solve the current problem? There has to be legislation to deal with the fact that abortion laws will be fundamentally different north and south of the border. And there are no politicians north of the border in a position to legislate. The civil service is utterly powerless in this respect.

The UK government is saying that it's a devolved issue and is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide. How can they decide it with no elected Assembly or Executive?

 
suze
1285209.  Sun May 27, 2018 4:29 pm Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
There has to be legislation to deal with the fact that abortion laws will be fundamentally different north and south of the border. And there are no politicians north of the border in a position to legislate. The civil service is utterly powerless in this respect.


Is this actually a problem, from a legal point of view?

While the criminal laws of the countries of the United Kingdom are in most cases very similar to those of Ireland, there are differences. For instance, fireworks are not available to the general public in Ireland, which they are in the UK. (There are restrictions in Northern Ireland because of concerns about public access to explosives, but there is not the complete ban that there is in Ireland.)

In any case, even if the NI Assembly were functioning, it would not liberalize Northern ireland's abortion laws. The DUP has made it plain that it opposes abortion and that the topic is not up for discussion, and the way things work in NI that means that it isn't.

 
GuyBarry
1285242.  Mon May 28, 2018 3:34 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
GuyBarry wrote:
There has to be legislation to deal with the fact that abortion laws will be fundamentally different north and south of the border. And there are no politicians north of the border in a position to legislate. The civil service is utterly powerless in this respect.


Is this actually a problem, from a legal point of view?


Not from a legal point of view, but when it becomes possible for women from Northern Ireland to travel south of the border to have abortions the existing law will effectively become unworkable.

In any case, the law may soon have to be changed for reasons unconnected with the Irish referendum. Last year the Northern Ireland Human Rights Committee brought a case before the Supreme Court arguing that current legislation is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and a ruling is expected within the next few weeks. If it goes in the NIHRC's favour, the UK will be required to introduce appropriate legislation.

Also, in February the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women ruled that the existing law breaches the rights of women in Northern Ireland. This is not binding on the UK but provides additional support for the legal challenge.

 

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