At Stormont, democracy must prevail – even when it’s wrong

Even with a strong tail wind we are realistically at least a month away from any deal to restore our devolved institutions, for all kinds of reasons, and possibly rather longer. That leads some in the commentariat to suggest it is stretching its viability. Yet that is another example of what I referred to yesterday – people trying to overturn democratic outcomes through artificial interventions. The people must get what they voted for.

The current Northern Ireland Assembly (the one the people elected) actually exists – it does not sit because of Northern Ireland’s bizarre insistence on having an Executive before its legislature may meet to discuss anything else, but it does exist. It was elected in a free election with a broadly proportional system, and the people voted for what they voted for in the full knowledge that it would likely deliver gridlock, paralysis and atrophy.

So gridlock, paralysis and atrophy are what they must get. It’s called democracy.

I have of course long argued on these pages that the requirement for an Executive to be formed before the Assembly may meet to discuss anything should be removed; I have argued that the requirement for two specific parties to agree before an Executive is formed should also be removed; I have indeed argued that the requirement in effect for any decision to have an absolute majority of both designations should also be removed except where in legitimate instances where minority interests may genuinely be harmed. All of those moves would be legitimate for a Secretary of State to make in the interests of good government, and may well enable restoration. So that is where the focus should be – nowhere else.

But, for all that, there is no getting away from what the people voted for. In a system which they know requires partnership government, they voted for parties with commitments which made it very difficult for them to be partners. Democracy requires that the voters experience the consequences of their choices. After all, it is only then there will ever be even the remote possibility that, next time, they may make a more sensible one…

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