Samuel Morrison: It’s absurd to say that defending the Stormont status quo equals defending democracy

The repeated attempts by Unionists in the DUP and UUP to avoid giving a straight answer to the question ‘Would you nominate a deputy to a Sinn Fein First Minister?’ – and the reaction to the same – has raised a number of interesting issues.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 12:00 pm
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Consider it from a DUP point of view.

Since the possibility of a Sinn Fein First Minister arose after the St Andrews Act in 2007, the DUP have warned of the danger of this happening at every election.

If they are genuinely concerned about it, they surely will agree to block a Sinn Fein First Minister. Failure to do so leaves the party open to charges of cynically using the threat to force people to vote DUP, rather than it being something they are genuinely concerned about.

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Consider it from a UUP point of view.

The UUP have correctly pointed out for years that a Sinn Fein First Minister was impossible under the Belfast Agreement.

Under the Belfast Agreement, the largest party in the largest designation got the First Minister’s post. In practice, that meant that as long as there were more Unionists than Nationalists – regardless of how many parties the Unionists were spread across – the First Minister would always be a Unionist.

The St Andrew’s Act changed this so the largest party full stop got the First Minister’s slot.

The UUP could quite reasonably and rationally make the argument that the current system for nominating a First Minister should revert to the one outlined in the Belfast Agreement.

The only argument I’ve seen anywhere countering the TUV’s proposal is that what we are suggesting – a pan-Unionist agreement to block a Sinn Fein First Minister – is undemocratic.

Yet if you can only command the support of less than one-third of voters (and that’s all Sinn Fein have) why should you be automatically entitled to the top job?

Sinn Fein has been the largest party in three elections in the past (specifically, the last three European elections) and the world didn’t end. No one claimed that Republicans were entitled to say they spoke for Northern Ireland. Why? Because no one thought they did. Any such claim would have been nonsensical.

Secondly, it is absurd for any defender of the current system to claim that they are standing up for democracy.

Can they name another government which is formed by way of coalition with parties automatically guaranteed seats round the executive table as long as they reached a certain level of support?

Can they name another government which has been made up of the same parties for 25 years and where, but for a brief exception, none of them were in opposition?

Where was the Nationalist and Alliance concern for the integrity of 1998 Agreement when abortion and same sex marriage were introduced over the heads of the locally elected Assembly?

Where were the protests from them when the pledge that there could be no constitutional change without the express consent of the people of Northern Ireland was thrown out the window by the imposition of the Protocol?

Where was the fury when the cross-community protections of the Agreement where dispensed with when it came to agreeing the process for the Assembly vote on Articles 5 to 10 of the Protocol?

Samuel Morrison is the press officer for the TUV, in charge of the party’s communications. He hails from Dromore, Co Down

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