What comes after #AE17?

During the campaign, if there is one, I do not intend to post further on political opinion until eve of poll, but will occasionally post on matters of political structure and likely political (not electoral) outcomes.

3 March 2017. After the “brutal” election campaign, the DUP and Sinn Féin have been returned as the largest parties in their respective designation, and have a majority of the 90 Assembly seats between them. There are three weeks to get a functioning Executive up and running.

What next?

It is essential we are realistic about the answer to this question. Forget the #StormontIWant hashtag, what happens next will be based on what suits the DUP and Sinn Féin.

I would guess two things would go a long way to helping re-establish the institutions in that eventuality:

  • an “arrangement” around the Petition of Concern (an initial review of its operation plus perhaps some agreement not to use it in certain areas apparently in line with “A Fresh Start”) – this would enable at least some of the issues in Mr McGuinness’s resignation letter to be dealt with while also moving in the direction of stated DUP policy; and
  • a commitment from the UK Government urgently to introduce an Irish Language Act (which would take the form of placing a duty on public authorities to ensure respect for the language at all times, maintenance of Charter obligations, and certain other rights particularly in education) – this would cover this St Andrews obligation and secure the respect agenda, but would enable the DUP not to have to legislate.

Although there would be other things to iron out (like a Justice Minister, the speed of the “RHI Inquiry” and, not least, damaged personal relationships), such an agreement would at the very least make it difficult for either party to justify the continuing and worsening instability of a second election.

Of course, such a deal could be done NOW, so it may not be so easy.

3 March 2017. After a “brutal” election campaign in which it became apparent that both Executive parties are guilty of appalling financial mismanagement (RHI meet Welfare Reform delay; dodgy office costs meet inactive cultural societies; community hall grants meet agricultural subsidy blunders; United Airlines meet Ballykelly relocation; NAMA meet, well, NAMA… oh, and they don’t seem to have fallen out over SIF, funnily), the DUP and Sinn Féin are returned as largest parties in their respective designations but weakened so that they no longer command an overall majority between them. 

What next?

Noting that they, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP do have a narrow majority, the Alliance Party proposes (via a combination of its 1988 Governing With Consent and 2004 Agenda for Democracy documents) that the three parties clearly could form a power-sharing Executive which would command a majority in the Assembly. It would clearly be a nonsense not to proceed on that basis.

Initially by changing the time limit for appointment of First and deputy First Minister to 28 days rather than 14, the Secretary of State has time to introduce emergency legislation making the Executive a separate institution from the Assembly (as in Scotland and Wales) and allowing him, in practice in consultation with the Government of Ireland as a fellow guarantor of the Agreement, to nominate a full Executive consisting of all three designations which may then be approved as a whole by simple majority in the Assembly.

That is what should happen. Remember, if this unnecessary election does come pass, YOU decide…

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2 thoughts on “What comes after #AE17?

  1. martyntodd says:

    Your second scenario is much more likely if the Alliance Party (ideally in full cooperation with the SDLP and UUP) start talking that way now and right through the campaign. But even if such cooperation is not immediately forthcoming, the Alliance Party should be seen to be leading on cooperation and the prospects of a coalition. After all, if the Alliance Party, the party of conciliation, mediation and progress, cannot take the lead in bringing together the two more moderate parties (as seen by the electorate), then it has no prospect of ever achieving wider conciliation in NI.

  2. 1729torus says:

    Must be borne in mind IMHO is that SF/SDLP could use the existing rules to force the SoS to seek explicit approval from Dublin before nominating a government requiring a simple majority. But in that case why bother with the requirement that the executive be “cross-community?” Could also require a 60% majority as well.

    You are aware that the SDLP have arguably given up on the GFA? Listen to Colum Eastwood’s remarks on the resignation of Martin McGuinness, or his call for joint authority. Being the heirs of the IPP, the SDLP could be very effective in the current arrangement if they have ambition and courage, which Eastwood potentially does.

    SF aren’t interested in office, they’re going to prove that they aren’t sellouts to their hardcore republican voters.

    Neither party could accept unionist parties fufilling overdue promises from 1998-2008 as sufficient by this point. They’d risk getting replaced by someone more ruthless – FF or the dissidents are two potential groups that could step into the void.

    Both parties know that the next census will likely show the Protestant population has dropped noticeably below 45%, say 43.5% or 44% or 44.5%, so their position will improve with time, I don’t think many Unionist voters are psychologically prepared for just how severe the decline will be, and the release of the results in 2022/2023 will be a shock to them.

    Time hurts the DUP specifically as well since it gives TUV/PUP a chance to increase their strength.

    Paul Givan and Liofa has forced a recognition that the days of nationalists being nothing but supplicants are slowly receding.

    Many of the unreciprocated conciliatory gestures by nationalists over the past decade will be taken off the table or made conditional for fear of unionists “banking” them.

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