Nationalists in NI must recognise need for institutional reform

Mandatory coalitions can actually work. There’s been one in Switzerland of the same four parties since 1959, in effect. However, Northern Ireland’s doesn’t work – it is time for Nationalists to face that obvious truth.

Northern Ireland’s system delivers a modicum of stability – but it is an expensive stability which delivers nothing but gridlock.

Ministers who breach the Ministerial Code – say, by endorsing terrorism or racism – are left in office. Issues such as educational or welfare reform are left untouched at huge expense. What Sir Humphrey once described as ‘organisational atrophy and administrative paralysis’ has become the ingrained norm.

There is a serious long-term penalty for this. As the institutions increasingly look like the utter facade they actually are, people justifiably give up on them – either by electing to them communal mouthpieces or not voting at all in the immediate term, but more worryingly by losing general faith in democracy in the long run. The opposite of democracy is chaos – chaos in which, in NI more than most places, gangsters and terrorists are only too happy to roam.

Thus, it is simply not good enough for Nationalists to endorse the pathetic status quo. There is no rational reason not to support, or at least engage with, Alliance proposals at least. As it happens, looked at objectively, there are some perfectly reasonable Unionist proposals out there too. It is time for progress and reform.

In 1998 we opted for democracy over terror. Now it’s time we made that democracy work.

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5 thoughts on “Nationalists in NI must recognise need for institutional reform

  1. Ian,

    Nationalism and Republicanism gave up a lot in the early stages of the peace process, most specifically the principle of consent by the electorate of Northern Ireland, and the consequent changes to the Constitution of Ireland. It seems to me that rather than seek to find ways in which to be persuasive about the possible benefits of a United Ireland they have since then sought only to defend what they see as their balancing institutional guarantees. Thus creating a fortress built with stones hewn from the present arrangement.

    Unionism too is in a neighbouring but unconnected defensive emplacement, not acknowledging to their people the very real gains they made in the process, but rather spreading a narrative of threat and doom.

    is it harsh to conclude that neither bloc seems interested, from within their present encampments, in planning for a shared future, but rather each seeks to accrue political capital to use as ammunition to blast at the other?

    I therefore worry that the changes needed to fully operationalise the administration are against the perceived self interest of the main blocs.

    Do those of us who want an exciting shared future for a healthy, energised, well educated youth of Northern Ireland not now need to find a way of communicating with and helping bring together folk somewhere other than in the war torn open ground between the big castles?

    Perhaps we need to withdraw from that dangerous space and set up a peace camp( 😉 ), firm in developing policy built from a base of solid values; and declining to act as referee in a utterly pointless sectarian game.

    What specific proposals might we put directly to the people to build the future we really want?

  2. Sean says:

    Ending mandatory coalition just returns us to the dark days of unionist majority rule

    • No, it absolutely doesn’t. That’s the lazy Nationalist response, *but it’s fundamentally untrue*.

      Alliance proposals (and my own, for what they’re worth) involve a Qualified Majority system which sustains power-sharing.

  3. other paul says:

    Ian, I’m curious as to why you singled out the nationalist community in this article. If you substituted the word “unionist” for nationalist, would any of the above not be true?

  4. No, it wouldn’t. Both main Unionist parties and the Alliance Party have made clear statements and have clear policies in favour of institutional reform. On the contrary, both Nationalist parties (most recently in the form of a letter to the papers from John Dallat last month) have made clear statements against.

    The underlying reason given for this is that they fear reform would lead to a return of majority rule. This is nonsense of course, if you actually read the proposals on offer. What it would mean is having to take more responsibility for financial management…

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