Both the Irish News and Redemption’s Son have carried articles supporting the contention that Northern Ireland’s executive should be comprised of fewer departments. A motion in the Assembly proposed that the existing 11 department administration should be cut to six or seven. The DUP found backing from Ulster Unionist and Alliance MLAs, whilst Sinn Féin abstained and the motion was passed.
Government at Stormont, and the Assembly from which it is drawn, are bloated institutions. Five million people are represented by 129 MSPs in Scotland. The Welsh Assembly is composed of sixty members for a population twice that of Northern Ireland. Meanwhile we have 108 MLAs. And Sir Reg Empey has raised the infantile fashion in which money is squandered by this cadre of men and women.
His point is that a reduction in departments is not enough, on its own, to save money. We need to cut civil service functions and we need a commensurate effort by MLAs not to fuel bureaucracy unnecessarily. With too many representatives, all of whom are seeking to justify their presence at Stormont, this will not happen unless we start by shrinking the Assembly to between sixty or seventy members.
And whilst it is important to make regional government efficient, requirements for accountability should not be neglected. The DUP and Sinn Féin have connived, not only to make the executive less accountable to the Assembly, but also to bolster independent functions of the OFMDFM within the executive. Efficiency is desirable. An overly centralised, authoritarian carve-up is most definitely not.
Certainly reducing the size of Northern Ireland’s government is both vital and necessary. But a smaller executive should also be subject to much more effective scrutiny from a smaller Assembly. That is the model we need to strive towards.