We need real coalition politics in Northern Ireland away from tribal headcounts
From the recent UK foreign policy review;
“We are committed to a strong bilateral partnership with Ireland, with which we enjoy a Common Travel Area,” the new review of United Kingdom foreign policy asserts.
“We have a shared responsibility and an essential common interest in upholding the 1998 Belfast Agreement in all its elements.”
The key principles and aspirations of the Belfast Agreement have not been delivered or even nurtured by UK and Irish governments as guarantors.
The aspiration of promoting a shared society based on mutual respect for the two traditions has been ignored by successive governments.
A shared future strategy has been abandoned and the assembly committee disbanded.
The aspiration of allowing a maturing of politics to more normal real politics has similarly been ignored thus impeding the evolution of more genuine democracy.
Mandatory coalition is not a long-term solution as it does not equate to real democracy. It was Tony Benn who said: “If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.” Such change of government cannot happen under the current system of government in Northern Ireland and there has been little serious attempt since the Belfast Agreement to transition to genuine opposition style politics .
Lebanon is an example of the failure of mandatory coalition and carve up, Iraq offers another example (interestingly, its architects were the same as gave us the Belfast Agreement).
Both are now experiencing state failure. Without the scrutiny of opposition Lebanon has moved inexorably through phases of carve up,cronyism,corruption,financial scandal and finally recent state collapse.
While accepting The Belfast Agreement was underpinned by an International agreement it should not become sacrosanct and static as it is so often upheld by many of its architects and establishment figures.
I trust this new assertion of foreign policy can be more visionary with regards bilateral relations with our nearest neighbour than this soundbite. It lacks any recognition of the failings that ‘carve up’ creates.
It is time for a serious review as provided for in the agreement .We need to move on to real coalition politics and away from tribal politics which makes elections meaningless sectarian headcounts.
Elections can then be fought on policy and the promotion of bread and butter issues based on a genuine democratic and shared future for our people.
• Johnny Andrews is a board member of the Francis Hutcheson Institute
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