The DUP-SF carve-up at St Andrews has clearly failed

Johnny Andews, of the Northern Ireland Conservative and Unionist Party
Johnny Andews, of the Northern Ireland Conservative and Unionist Party

With talks now stalled on the restoration of devolved government, the two governments as guarantors of the Belfast Agreement have an obligation to instigate a long overdue review of the institutional arrangements in the agreement.

With economic challenges ahead Northern Ireland desperately needs a functioning government.

The carve-up agreed between DUP and Sinn Féin at St Andrews in 2006 has evidently failed.

The current inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme highlights the systemic failings of the institutions.

The secretary of state has said the government are looking at all options, it is now incumbent on the governments to foster a deal that is sustainable and supported by everyone and including the smaller parties with a combined 35% of the vote .

After a year of limbo it is clear that the basis of a sustainable deal is not there.

The current phase of ‘Indirect direct Rule’ must now end and be replaced by coherent and decisive government as our economy is seriously lagging the rest of the UK due to a failure to deal with competitiveness and ensure efficient public services.

The Good Friday Agreement included the aspiration for an inclusive and shared future including moves towards an integrated education system.

The two governments as guarantors of the agreement need to take responsibility for dealing with the continuing sore of segregation and polarisation worsened by the flawed St Andrews Agreement.

While many in the pro-Union community population may prefer the return of formal direct rule, this would be contrary to Good Friday Agreement and the declared will of the people at the referendum of 1998.

The Good Friday Agreement is internationally recognised by the United Nations and is not dead we simply need to revert to its original principles and follow up on the outworkings of the unfinished business it created.

It was always the intention to review the Good Friday Agreement. The St Andrews agreement of 2006 was neither endorsed by the local parties nor the people. It was a best guess to get the institutions up and running.

It has failed to allow the institutions to mature towards real and normal politics as envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement.

The current power sharing arrangements are not democratic as ministers cannot be thrown out and there is no opposition or alternative as is essential in any democratic system.

It is time to move away from mandatory coalition. Real and democratic politics are long overdue and would encourage more accountability and responsibility.

Voluntary coalition must now be the goal with sufficient checks and balances eg weighted majority voting and stronger committees chaired by the opposition

A limited period of ‘direct rule’ should be introduced for two years to stabilise the functions of government and allow important decisions to be made.

This will allow the UK to conclude the exit from the EU and, in conjunction with the government of the Republic of Ireland and the local parties, conduct a review of the agreements.

If there is a successful review and a comprehensive agreement elections can take place to a new assembly at the end of the two year period.

In the interim to demonstrate a commitment to restoring devolution the government should appoint eight commissioners to form the NI Commission to carry out the day to day functions of ministers,act as the NI Executive, and make collective decisions.

Decisions can be announced in statements the chamber of the assembly.

Commissioners will answer written and oral questions. Commissioners will appear before assembly committees.

The NI Assembly will continue to exercise a scrutiny and legislative role. Committees can be encouraged to bring forward legislation which has cross party support.

The people of Northern Ireland don’t just want a ‘quick fix’ government but a functioning government that delivers and works for the economy and ensures better public services for all of us.

• Johnny Andrews is a member of the Northern Ireland Conservative & Unionist Party