For the second time in five years the Northern Ireland Assembly has no Executive. Sinn Fein collapsed it with a walk out in 2017 and now the DUP have refused to walk in and allow a new Executive to be formed: people, public services and any prospect of progress are being held to ransom.
Both parties are allowed to perform in this reckless manner by the original provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Agreement provides that the largest unionist and the largest nationalist party must nominate a First and Deputy First Minister before an Executive can be formed.
If either or both refuses to do so then no Executive can be formed and the Assembly can’t operate.
Whatever merit those arrangements might have had when the Agreement was signed in 1998, it no longer makes practical or political sense in 2022. They are no longer fit for purpose and now stand in the way of effective devolved government.
The route to a working Executive is root and branch reform of the Assembly’s structures.
The starting point has to be:
- getting rid of the sectarian and inoperable structures that the two main parties in particular continue to use, abuse and hide behind.
- a move from mandatory to voluntary coalition,
- abolition of the Community Designation requirements
- reform of the Petition of Concern to ensure that it can never again be used to veto social or equality legislation.
We cannot endure another five years of stop / start government. Immediate and far reaching reform is the only way in which a new Assembly can function effectively.