Thursday, 8 May 2008

Devolution isn't delivering

Today marked the first anniversary of current power sharing arrangements at Stormont and as such provided a pretext for reflection on a year of devolved government. Mark Devenport has provided something of a balance sheet for devolution on the BBC website and ironically the Belfast Telegraph (which I have been eviscerating below) has carried the results of a Mori opinion poll recording the public’s attitudes to the institutions, and the politicians who man them.

In the early weeks of devolution last May, I suggested that Northern Ireland’s public was not in the grip of ‘heady optimism’ contemplating the renewal of local government, but rather the mood was one of ‘indifferent scepticism’. At that time I observed,

“Unless my circle of family, friends and workmates are chronically unrepresentative, the “fresh new start” heralded around the world, went by remarked on by people here only with a few cynical asides and weary expressions of overwhelming apathy.”

Scrutinising the results of the Mori poll it appears that little has changed. 79% of respondents feel that the Assembly’s performance has been either indifferent or poor. 72% believe that restoring devolved powers has made no difference to their lives.

Devenport’s piece identifies the executive’s greatest achievement as its continued existence. The BBC’s political correspondent is then scrambling for positives to attribute to Northern Ireland’s government. Agreeing a programme for government was hardly a remarkable accomplishment given that the document merely sets out a vague list of aspirations. Compromise delivered over super councils has produced suggestions which are neither fish nor fowl. And so we are left with much vaunted handouts to a handful of flood victims, the fact that either by luck or by design Northern Ireland avoided a foot and mouth outbreak and the observation that Paisley and McGuinness form a reasonably effective pair of salesmen when faced with American business men.

Devenport is on substantially firmer ground listing the negative aspects of our devolved government carve-up. Stand offs between unionists and nationalists, DUP / SF authoritarianism and disregard toward smaller parties, the failure to address democratic deficiencies in a system which does not provide for opposition or accountability. Devolved government is not perceived to be delivering by the people of Northern Ireland and looking ahead, taking into consideration the disabling factors mentioned, there is little realistic prospect that it will begin delivering to our satisfaction any time soon.

Perhaps the only positive to be garnered on this anniversary is the poor poll showing of Sinn Féin when respondents were asked who would command their first preference vote if there were to be an immediate election. The republicans came in 4th on 11% behind both the UUP and the SDLP. Such a result would promise some real hope for Northern Ireland.

1 comment:

beano said...

"The republicans came in 4th on 11% behind both the UUP and the SDLP. Such a result would promose some real hope for Northern Ireland. "

It would, except many of those who declared for a party would not really vote, given the large discrepancy between those who said they'd not vote and recent turnout levels. I'd guess the Sinners are better at getting their supporters out than the rather more apathetic general populace.