One proposal put forward by the Ulster Unionists to resolve the current deadlock is what it refers to as the “original Welsh” or “body corporate” model. Sometimes this is stated as a “no Minister” model, but this is inaccurate.
The whole issue is somewhat confusing. At the outset of devolution, the powers devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland were similar, and both had an Executive and the capacity to pass primary legislation. However, one notable difference was that what was then the “Scottish Executive” was a separate body from the legislature, whereas the “Northern Ireland Executive” was and still is a Committee of that legislature.
Wales was different in that it initially lacked the power to pass primary legislation. It had an Executive Committee, known as the “Assembly Government”, but as in Northern Ireland this was a committee of the Assembly. It did have Ministers with portfolios, but where it differed was that Ministers (or the whole Executive) could only act upon the request of the Assembly as a “body corporate”.
It is hard to see how this resolves anything in Northern Ireland. The experience of the 1982-6 “Prior Assembly” is that Nationalists have no interest in participating in a legislature without an Executive. Fundamentally, in any case, it does not get over the hurdle that there would still be no Ministers to whom to refer things.
In fact, there may be a better case for doing what Wales now does, and separating the Executive (what Wales now simply calls the “Welsh Government”) and the legislature (the Assembly). The next time Ministers are appointed, they should be appointed (as everywhere else) until they are replaced, not merely until polling day; and the Assembly should be able to sit after an election without its first item of business necessarily being the appointment of the Executive.
For all of this, it is hard to see how it helps until the Petition of Concern is reformed. The Assembly itself was not really a functioning legislature even before January, largely because abuse of the Petition of Concern worked against those trying to make progress and deliver change (as it can be used to block change, but not to force it). Yet there is a reason the Petition exists. The fundamental structural problem lies there.