Why there absolutely must not be a snap Assembly election

The DUP and Sinn Féin are hopeless at government but very good at politics. Any immediate snap election will be on their terms, in effect electing negotiators for St Andrews II (or Good Friday III or Sunningdale IV) which will inevitably push people to the extremes to “keep themmuns in their place”. This is how Northern Ireland operates.

(These extremes no doubt now consist of three rather than two leaders, with polling and media bids showing rational people fed up with “Unionists” and “Nationalists” are increasingly turning to Naomi Long. I am not objective, but it is fair to say anyone objective would agree her party would probably do quite well too.)

Therefore allowing an immediate snap election, while jobs are at risk due to no Budget, lives are at risk due to lengthening waiting lists, education is at risk due to a teachers’ pay dispute and so on, would be the height of lunacy. There is no justification for allowing two parties running away from these issues then to set the terms of an election, not least when that may well be an election to nothing.

Instead, the Secretary of State should use the “reasonable” time period he has before having to call an election to leave the Assembly in place and convene reform talks involving those elected to it only eight months ago for a five-year term. He should note that he can pass emergency legislation to remove the requirement for an election at any moment, since one would be pointless.

And he should note that, at any time, he can also pass legislation restricting the use of the Petition of Concern.

Remove the abuse of the Petition of Concern, and you essentially remove the entire problem. Arlene Foster would be censured; same-sex marriage would pass; relevant inquiries could be set up; Irish language bursaries could be guaranteed; necessarily tough Budgets and reforms would be easier to get through.

Those talks should be the next step, not an election. And civic society should lose no time in saying so.

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2 thoughts on “Why there absolutely must not be a snap Assembly election

  1. Seymour Major says:

    I don’t think there is very much room for the SOS to prevaricate without justifiable circumstances.

    The topics you have mentioned may be a political crisis but they are not the kind of justifiable circumstances (as security issues would be) which ought to give the SOS that kind of discretion. If anything, best security strategy points to having an election at the earliest opportunity.

    The NI constitution has built into it the mechanism for bringing the Executive down by resignation of the FM or DFM. Sinn Fein have made that calculation. They expect an election. It may be irresponsible by them to have misused their power in that way but they have an electoral mandate to misuse it. It is certainly not reasonable (in terms of exercising constitutional power) for the SOS to delay setting the election.

    I wish you were right that Naomi Long would do well at an election. I don’t believe her party will do much better than to hold on to what they have. Whatever opinion is moving towards her right now will be snuffed out by Unionist politicians tapping into unionist fears of a Sinn Fein First Minister. It is a tactic that has no rationale to it since FM and DFM are constitutionally equal but you can be absolutely sure that it will be used to great effect. My feeling is that the Alliance Party will do slightly better but that the margins of gain in vote share would still be too small to make an improvement big enough to make a net gain of more than one seat.

    Unfortunately, I think we are at least 20 years away from the kind of generational change which is so craved by the few in Northern Ireland who are blessed with reason and enlightenment. That does not mean that the Alliance Party does not have an opportunity. There is a chance here to build on its reputation. They do not have any ministerial post.

    Unlike the UUP and the SDLP, they can attack both the DUP and Sinn Fein without appearing to be sectarian. They must attack them with the nastiest, most undermining, dirtiest and most vituperative gusto. They must turn heads as well as grab headlines. They must deploy their most talented orators and debaters. That includes you, my friend!

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