As we begin the new session the debate continues as to the future of the Assembly. There is growing public concern that the Assembly has failed to deliver and at its perceived inability to make any significant decisions. A growing number feel that the present gridlock is unacceptable and it should be wound up. This trend is reflected in the recent opinion poll.
The Green Party has always supported a devolved local Assembly as we feel it is the only way to tackle the major social and economic issues facing the people of Northern Ireland. In addition only a local Assembly can successfully tackle issues like climate change, environmental protection, and the need for a Green New Deal for the economy.
However in the present gridlock these important issues are being ignored and we share the frustration of many who had high expectations for our devolved Assembly.
I am therefore concerned by the present deadlock over Policing and Justice and I believe that unless a decision to devolve Policing and Justice is made in the near future the whole Assembly is in danger of collapsing. Not because of Sinn Fein threats but because of a loss of community confidence.The fundamental principle on which the Assembly was to operate was that of cross community support .If one community withdraws its support theinstitutions cannot survoive.
I do not believe devolving Policing and Justice is not a major policy issue. Indeed all parties support it. It is being used as a pawn in much wider political negotiations. It is not the problem but a mere symbol of the problem.
The appointment of a local Justice Minister will not make a significant difference to local policing. Westminster will continue to fund the policing service, the Chief Constable will carry on administering the police ,any new legislation can only be introduced with cross community agreement and the role of the Policing Board and the DPP’s will not change. Any new Minister will have to act within these severe constraints.
There are still issues to be settled but these are not major issues of principle and relate more to detail or timing. These could be resolved if all parties had the will and determination resolve them.
The problem is that such will and determination does not exist. The fact is that over the past year instead of the political leaders trying to get agreement politics has been reduced to the traditional zero sum game. Every issue must have a clear winner and loser- there is no room for compromise. It would appear that both sides are frightened of doing anything which could be perceived as a sign of weakness. Instead of looking for “a win win solution “in which both parties gain something and therefore increase confidence on all sides of the community there must be a winner and loser.
I recall how in the sixties such macho attitudes exacerbated the divisions in our society and provided fodder for the violence of the next three decades. As issue after issue such as gerrymandering of local government, discrimination in housing and employment and marches were converted into zero sum issues .Therefore no compromise could be contemplated. The refusal to recognise the concerns of the other community or seek conciliation led to years of conflict.
My concern is that unless the spirit of the agreement is enacted we could blindly stagger into a similar situation. The new Assembly was created with great aspirations and expectation within both communities and it is essential that it retains community confidence with both communities.
There is much talk that the devolution of policing and justice does not have community confidence.while this may be the case any loss of confidence is in the detail of the devolution and this can be resolved as long as the political leaders have the will to resolve it. Much more important is the loss of community confidence in the Assembly. This has clearly increased over the past year and will continue to do so if the gridlock is not broken and the deadlock over P&J is not resolved.
I t is clear that many DUP MLAs are concerned by the result of the European election. The fact that the DUP lost over sixty thousand votes to the TUV seems to have paralysed the party to the extent that they are incapable of making any decisions.
During the campaign I spoke to many former DUP voters. Many were extremely angry and shocked and felt betrayed that the party had gone into coalition with Sinn Fein .They were therefore determined to protest by voting TUV. The size of this protest was exacerbated by the failure of the DUP to prepare their members for the inevitable coalition. Having made their protest it is difficult to believe that these voters will continue to vote for a party which offers the people of Northern Ireland absolutely nothing but a return to conflict.
I also met many former DUP voters among the two hundred thousand who did not vote because they were disappointed by the failure of the Assembly to deliver. These voters have no doubt grown since June and must be won back to the political system or the Assembly has no future.
Successive unionist leaders have always accepted the need to power share and compromise. Spirit of agreement accepted by the DUP Let it work.
The only public policy from Sinn Fein The abolishment of the 11plus has only made the policy more difficult and the way it has been implemented has alienated a significant proportion of both unionists and nationalist voters but has prevented any sensible discussion of the urgent need for the reform of secondary education.
Unionists basically Conservative and in favour of the status quo nothing happens
Not because Sinn Fein brings it down but it lacks confidence of Nationalist community.