Monday, 8 October 2007

Executive divisions illustrate the drawbacks of devolved administration

It is difficult to take Daithi McKay’s posturing over the Seymour Sweeney controversy remotely seriously, but understandable disquiet within the executive about the affair illustrates perfectly the inadequacies and frailties of the form of putative government established in Northern Ireland.

In an executive established by enforced coalition, unity is only ever a cosmetic façade and when a hint of controversy manifests itself, naturally this flimsy construction comes crashing down as the other parties jostle to distance themselves from their supposed partner’s difficulties. The current government will most likely survive the Causeway issue, but sooner or later the whole fragile edifice will disintegrate.

Of course the very idea that disparate or indeed diametrically opposed parties can deliver coherent government without an element of opposition is inherently flawed. Either they merely allude to government, endlessly prevaricating on important issues and producing only a compromised mish-mash delivering nothing (this has so far been the tenor of the current executive) or they exist in a stasis of stalemate.
Electorally d’Hondt delivers a supreme nonsense, a parody of democracy whereby parties compete at the ballot box before being expected to unite around a programme of government under the conventions of collective executive responsibility.

The limitations of the current system of devolution are already beginning to manifest themselves in this young executive and it is inevitable that they will become ever more apparent as the novelty of a functioning Assembly wears off and the electorate seek delivery. It will be ultimately for the parties to decide whether they are happy to continue short-changing the people of Northern Ireland with an insipid caricature of democracy and government or whether they are prepared to move toward political maturity and deliver an adversarial system of government with power sharing requirements.

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