Response to the ‘St. Andrews Agreement’
The Alliance Party will do everything within its capacity to promote and deliver genuine, stable and sustainable power-sharing, support and respect for the rule of law, and the creation of a shared future in Northern Ireland.
The St. Andrews Agreement has the potential to bind the DUP into a commitment to assume power alongside Sinn Féin, and all parties, including Republicans, to policing and the rule of law. However, it is far from clear if either is prepared to rise to this challenge.
There is a significant popular demand for the restoration of the political institutions and in particular the devolved Assembly. Local people want to have control over local-decision-making. This Agreement gives hope that these demands will be met.
A roadmap is now set out as to how the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement can be restored. A series of small steps can now be taken as opposed to one large leap.
The DUP and Sinn Féin now have the responsibility to deliver. Alliance will expect them to rise the challenge. We will not be placing any obstacles in their way, nor will we let them off the hook.
Crucially, it has now been established that the institutions of the Agreement can be modified, consistent with the Agreement’s underlying fundamental principles.
Some of the institutional changes made to the Good Friday Agreement are positive, as are some of the changes to public policy.
Nevertheless, Alliance has major reservations regarding aspects of the content of the St. Andrews Agreement and the feasibility of its implementation.
In particular, we do not yet see a process where mutual commitments are clear, ambiguities have been removed, and shared understandings exist. The danger is that a fragile process could easily break when difficulties are inevitably encountered.
The St Andrews Agreement only addresses the issues and priorities placed on the table by the DUP and Sinn Féin. The wider range of changes to the institutions, public policy priorities, and measures required to build a shared future have not been addressed.
Alliance is concerned at a process that is aimed solely at producing a quick-fix, doing no more than what is perceived as necessary to achieve the restoration of the suspended institutions, without addressing the deeper and wider problems that have been identified within the Agreement or neglected over the past eight years.
Power-sharing was already weak under the Good Friday Agreement. This was evidenced by the poor relationship between the UUP and SDLP. While some minor improvements have been made, these are not sufficient to take into account the increased political polarisation, and the ascendancy of the DUP and Sinn Féin.
The removal of the need for any vote for either the joint election of First Minister and Deputy First Minister or for the Executive as a whole is a major flaw. The need for government parties to formally recognise each other’s mandates, and legitimacy of having a share of power and responsibility has been undermined.
There is a danger that the only way the DUP and Sinn Féin could operate or co-exist within the same government is through creating more and more separation/Balkanisation.
At present, the DUP and Sinn Féin are not talking to one another. It is a big leap to see them effectively running a regional government in partnership.
It may be possible for parties to co-exist within the same government without actually having to deal directly with each other. Rather than Ministers working together, Northern Ireland could end up with ‘government by memorandum’, with civil servants acting as messengers between various ministers who are not prepared to talk to one another, and who are not required to do so by the system.
Furthermore, the Governments missed an opportunity to bind all the parties into a firm commitment to build a shared future, in order to counter the tendencies towards separation.
A short-term fix to restore devolution may be superficially attractive to the governments, but would not provide long-term peace and stability, never mind the strong and effective government that Northern Ireland needs.
More general flaws with the Good Friday Agreement as it was established and operated include:
· Institutionalised sectarianism
· Politics of ‘them’ versus ‘us’ over control of territory and resources rather than any consideration of a shared vision for Northern Ireland or common goals
· Co-operation, moderation and accommodation are not incentivised
· Entrenched intra-ethnic competition that rewards ethnic out-bidders
These problems are potentially set to get worse if the Governments go down its current path.
There are inherent difficulties and dangers in the Governments focusing almost exclusively on the two largest or the two most problematic parties. This prevents a full and holistic discussion of critical issues, blocks some potential solutions to problems from being considered, and prevents some matters even being examined at all.
This lack of inclusivity brings a number of negative consequences.
Ø First, it limits the number of ideas that are placed upon the table.
Ø Second, it risks missing some aspects of the process that need to be addressed.
Ø Third, it removes the ability of other parties to put pressure on recalcitrant parties.
Ø Fourth, the focus on the most recalcitrant parties has reinforced their position of being able to hold the overall political process hostage, and enhanced their political power at the expense of other voices.
Ø Fifth, and most crucially, it removes any sense of collective ownership of outcomes.
Ø Sixth, it is important to note that where the Government focuses on only two parties, other parties feel no ownership of results and simply reject them – note the difference between the Agreement and every initiative since, e.g. Weston Park, Joint Declaration, and Comprehensive Agreement.
It is not realistic to restrict all meaningful discussion and evolving documentation to two parties only, and then to present a fait accompli to other parties on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.
Alliance has also been restricted from giving a more definitive view on the St. Andrews Agreement, given the unwillingness of the Governments to release all ‘side-deals’, despite a call from all five parties for this to be carried out.
Overall, the proposed reforms are unlikely to be sufficient to place the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement on a stable and sustainable basis.
There are elements of this Agreement that are tantamount to the division of power rather than the sharing of power. In some respects, the Agreement is contrary to the vision of a shared future which is articulated by the Government.
Attention seems to have been directed on the issue of getting the DUP and Sinn Féin to agree to the restoration of the institutions, but very little attention has been given to how the DUP and Sinn Féin could govern effectively together.
There is a certain over-optimism that a deal is not only now possible but can actually hold. The basis for this belief is that any deal including the DUP and Sinn Féin would be more secure as both have the ability to bring anything else crashing down either politically or through violence. Both the UUP and SDLP were constrained as they were constantly looking over their shoulders.
A more realistic perspective is to recognise that while both the DUP and Sinn Féin have moderated to some extent, they remain parties on the relative extremes of the Northern Ireland political spectrum. International history suggests it is extremely difficult to sustain a political process on such a basis.
We must not underestimate the problems ahead. Both parties have built electoral success on representing segregated constituencies, and have interests in preserving their power bases. They regularly garner votes through demonising others. In particular, unless there is a meaningful attempt to overcome the ingrained patterns of division and to build a united community from the bottom up, disputes over matters such as parades, policing, symbols and who gets more funding are likely to provide plenty of issues for these parties to have significant disagreements.
Main Body of Text
The goal was restoration of the political institutions. There has been a transformation of context due to ending of IRA’s campaign.
Discussions in Scotland were limited to a few outstanding issues: support for/devolution of policing and justice; and changes to the operation of Agreement institutions. Certain other matters flowing from the Preparation for Government were also discussed (i.e. the wish lists of the DUP and Sinn Féin).
Governments remain fully committed to the fundamental principles of the (Good Friday) Agreement. These are:
Ø Consent for constitutional change;
Ø Commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means;
Ø Stable and inclusive partnership government;
Ø A balanced institutional accommodation of the key relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South and within these islands;
Ø Equality and human rights
Noted. Alliance endorses these principles.
The Governments have made an assessment of the practical changes to the operation of the institutions that are necessary. These are set out in Annex A. The British Government stands ready to legislate.
Policing and the rule of law to be extended to every part of the community. The Governments believe that all parties share this objective. There are fundamental principles of support for police and courts which underpin democratic society.
For Alliance, the fundamental starting point for successful governance must be support for the rule of law.
We must strive to ensure that we build a society underpinned by democracy, human rights and the rule of law. All of these are intertwined – none of them can survive without the other.
First, a culture of lawfulness must be promoted. This exists when the dominant or mainstream culture of thinking in society is sympathetic to and/or consistent with lawfulness and the rule of law.
A culture of lawfulness helps to prevent crime and other violations of the law, as people understand the role that they can play in preventing the lawless behaviour of those around them. Most people act in a manner that is consistent with the law because they expect others to behave similarly. Most crucially, it is vital that the state and its institutions are seen to act in a lawful manner.
The alternative to a culture of lawfulness is a culture of lawlessness. In this, might equals right and the strong exploit the weak. This is not a fair and equal society.
Northern Ireland suffers from a range of threats to the rule of law, including:
Ø the continued threat from terrorist violence;
Ø continued activities of paramilitaries, in particular efforts to perpetuate social control over large areas of Northern Ireland;
Ø high levels of organised crime;
Ø the highest rate of recorded hate crimes in the UK.
These problems bring huge economic, social and personal costs.
In far too many ways, the state and its agencies contribute to this situation through accepting that the local strongmen are the legitimate voices of communities and allowing them to broker what does or does not happen in certain areas. While it may seem easier to cut deals and accommodate to a situation rather than tackling it head on, this often further exacerbates the problem.
Similarly, it is often the perception that there is a selectivity with respect to how the law is enforced. Too often, it seems that those engaged in mass public disorder or acting with paramilitary muscle or an implied threat are only to be ‘managed’ by the state rather than properly addressed. Such impunity in the system is a threat to the rule of law.
There must be a wider debate regarding how as a society we can adequately ensure that the rule of law is not only upheld but seen to be upheld. There must be a concerted plan to adequately address paramilitarism not to pander to it.
Essential elements of support for law and order (not rule of law) include full endorsement of PSNI and criminal justice system, actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with PSNI.
If the suspended institutions of the Agreement are to be restored in the near future, it is critical that they are placed on a durable and sustainable basis. One of the key elements to this is ensuring that all parties which might be in government are fully in support of both the policing structures and the rule of law.
To assist the process, the Alliance Party has developed its own series of benchmarks for assessing the commitment of political parties to policing and the rule of law. This must be a wholehearted commitment: not merely being prepared to take seats on the Policing Board, it must include constructive engagement with the Police Service, and a recognition of its exclusive legitimacy. Furthermore, all parties must be prepared to engage with the forces of law and order to address any criminality within any organisations with which they are associated.
While most attention may fall on the nature of Sinn Féin’s commitment to policing and the rule of law, Alliance believes that these benchmarks should apply to all political parties. Notably, given the UUP’s relationship with the UVF-linked PUP, there are also particular issues where the Ulster Unionist Party needs to give assurance to the wider community.
The Alliance Benchmarks on Policing and the Rule of Law
Ø Are the representatives of parties engaging with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in a regular, consistent and constructive manner, both locally and centrally, and promoting that view within their communities?
Ø Are political parties prepared to recognise the Police Service of Northern Ireland as the sole and exclusive legitimate policing agency within Northern Ireland? (This does not imply agreement with every operational decision, but rather a recognition of the right of the PSNI to make them.)
Ø Are parties prepared to take the seats that they are entitled to on the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and on the District Policing Partnerships?
Ø Are Ministers prepared to take a revised Pledge of Office containing a specific commitment to upholding the rule of law in a fair and consistent manner?
Ø Are parties prepared to co-operate with the lawful authorities to address so-called ‘individual acts of criminality’ arising from any organisation with which they may be associated?
Alliance would want assurance that each of these benchmarks has been sufficiently addressed.
Parties to discuss further the departmental structures for devolution of policing and justice. The target date for devolution to be May 2008.
The devolution of policing and criminal justice powers to the Assembly needs to be handled with great sensitivity. It goes straight to the heart of people’s sense of security. More than any other aspect of current or potential devolved responsibilities, the conduct and control of policing has been at the heart of the political disputes and conflicts that have afflicted Northern Ireland.
While there is little public discussion on this matter at present, that should not be mistaken for a lack of interest. Fear and tension, with associated political repercussions, could easily build in the imminent face of the implementation of any decisions.
Notwithstanding such problems, Alliance sees great potential in giving a sense of cross-community ownership of policing and criminal justice, through the devolution of such powers to the Assembly. Alliance has been a consistent advocate for devolution in this area.
The devolution of these powers to a Department that is part of a power-sharing Executive must go in hand with significant changes in the mechanisms for accountability and collective responsibility within that Executive.
Policing is a very sensitive matter as it affects people’s sense of security. There is a great potential in giving a sense of cross-community ownership of policing and criminal justice, through the devolution of such powers to the Assembly. However, there is considerable sensitivity over power being placed in the ‘wrong hands’. These powers were reserved for the British Government at the time of the Agreement, but with the intention that they would be devolved in due course. There will be three aspects to any negotiations over this issue: structures of accountability; timing of any devolution; and the powers to be transferred.
There will be some fears over a unionist taking control of these ministries given the legacy of the abuse of power under the 1921-1972 Stormont regime. In more recent times, unionist politicians have not demonstrated an unambiguous commitment to the rule of law, primarily in relation to the public order problems surrounding contentious Orange parades.
Both unionist parties have failed to demonstrate an unambiguous commitment to the rule of law. Notably and most recently, there was a failure to fully support the police in upholding the rule of law in the riots associated with the disputed Whiterock parade in September 2005. There is also a pattern of questioning police tactics when they are involved in major policing operations targeted against suspected Loyalist paramilitaries. Recently, the Ulster Unionist Party sought to form a combined ‘Ulster Unionist Assembly Group’ with the PUP.
This tendency has been replicated by SDLP representatives and Sinn Féin criticising the police for being heavy-handed in policing Republican suspects, while unionists warmly welcome such actions.
However, it is the prospect of a leading member of Sinn Féin taking on this power that creates most fears at this stage. Previously, there was a huge reaction among unionists to Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness becoming Education Minister during the last Assembly, with the futures of their children being placed in the hands of an alleged senior member of the IRA.
Thus, there would be resistance to a member of Sinn Féin or indeed any nationalist, and a member of the DUP or indeed any unionist, holding the posts of minister of policing and/or criminal justice. These fears can only be ameliorated within the appropriate institutional structures.
In the worst-case scenario, a politicised minister of justice/policing could seek to influence the operational decisions of the police with respect to parades or other contentious public order situations.
At present, the Executive structures within the Assembly are inadequate. There are few incentives for moderation and accommodation. Instead, once posts are allocated, Ministers have considerable discretion to take decisions within their own area of responsibility with little or no reference to ministerial colleagues or the Assembly overall. While this situation is problematic with most policy portfolios, it would be disastrous with respect to policing and criminal justice.
This approach amounts to power division, not power-sharing. Ministerial posts are distributed according to the lottery of the d’Hondt procedure leading to ministers from certain parties having a large degree of say over particular departments. However, with respect to each portfolio, people right across the spectrum have a deep interest in the decisions taken. Unionists do not lose all interest in for example education issues if that department happens to be headed by a nationalist, and nationalists do not lose all interest in, for example, economic development issues if that department happens to be headed by a unionist.
Structures must be put in place that both recognise and facilitate the genuine interest and concern that exist right across the community.
It is likely that the eventual structures for handling policing and criminal justice will come under serious strain in the event of major civil strife or public disorder, possibly linked to the matter of contentious parades. These matters go to the heart of the current cultural war being played out between unionists and nationalists. For this reason, the structures need to be sufficiently robust. Furthermore, there is a strong case for the Executive demonstrating its ability to govern successfully, and also react to politically sensitive issues on the ground, before such powers are formally transferred.
Alliance does not believe that any of the structures offered in the Joint Declaration and the subsequent NIO Consultation Paper provides an ideal way forward. We welcome the Preparation for Government Committee’s support for a single Department of Justice, but problems of lack of accountability and collective decision-making remain to be addressed.
These dangers would be substantially mitigated if that Department was part of an Executive working on the basis of collective responsibility. The Minister in question would be allocated his or her portfolio as part of inter-party negotiations, serve with the confidence of the Assembly, operate to collective responsibility, and could be removed from office (either with or without the collapse of the entire Executive) in the event of a major breach of faith.
Even if there is not full collective responsibility in the Executive, there has to be collective decision making on Justice issues if there is to be community confidence.
The timing of the devolution of policing and criminal justice powers should be primarily determined by the correct conditions existing within society, not some arbitrary timetable.
Nevertheless, Alliance can accept a target of 18 months for devolution. However, in practice, before powers are devolved, a quadrupule lock has been addressed:
· A proposal to the Assembly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
· a cross-community vote in the Assembly;
· a certification by Secretary of State that the conditions are appropriate; and
· an affirmative vote in Parliament.
As Alliance helped to formulate these steps, we support them.
Human Rights, Equality, Victims and other issues.
Some of these issues relate to final implementation, while others were raised in the context of Preparation for Government committee. (In practice, this is only the select lists of the DUP and Sinn Féin).
Alliance is unhappy with the very unsatisfactory references to a shared future. These are essentially made in passing. The sparse reference stands in stark contrast to the comments made by the Prime Minister in his remarks following the publication of the St. Andrews Agreement, and more particularly the strong commitment made to a shared future by the Northern Ireland Office, Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and personally by the Secretary of State.
The topic of a shared future should have been decoupled from reference to ‘building confidence in both communities’. The only reference in the entire documentation to ‘both communities’ rather than ‘community’ or ‘communities’ ironically occurs within the sentence dealing with a shared future.
The Governments are to work with the parties on a financial package. UK Chancellor and Irish Finance Minister are to meet with FM and DFM to discuss this further.
Noted. See comments under Annex C.
There is a fixed timetable set out in Annex D. The PfG Committee will continue to meet.
See comments under Annex D.
Verification and compliance mechanisms relating to the Assembly already exist as set out in Belfast Agreement and also the Joint Declaration (May 2003). These are unchanged. Govts are determined that default by any one party should not delay or hinder political progress in NI.
Alliance notes this position. We believe that there is scope for strengthening the requirement of the Secretary of State to have regard to the contents of any IMC Report where he or she has the capacity to act when the Assembly has failed to do so, through not passing a cross-community vote with respect to sanctions. There is also a case for tightening up the definition of acts of violence contained in the 2003 Monitoring and Compliance legislation to move from the traditional definition of a ceasefire to include the wider range of paramilitary activity.
In the event of failure at any stage, the Governments will proceed on the basis of a new British-Irish partnership arrangements to implement the Belfast Agreement.
Summary. The Governments see clear support for rule of law and for power-sharing from parties.
Annex A: Practical Changes to the Operation of the Institutions
The changes are in the interests of efficiency and fairness.
The Governments ‘believe the changes will enable all the institutions to operate in an effective and stable manner, with all parties engaging in good faith and in a spirit of genuine partnership.’
Given our wider points, Alliance is sceptical regarding these claims.
Statutory Ministerial Code. Amendment to Northern Ireland Act (1998). This sets out safeguards to ensure all sections of the community work together, and interests of all sections of the community are protected.
Alliance can generally support this insofar as it goes, though unsure that by itself it is sufficient to achieve the stated objectives.
Elements of Code, relating to Ministerial Accountability, including:
(i.) requirement to discuss cross-cutting issues, in particular financial;
(ii.) prioritising executive proposals;
(iii.) prioritising legislative proposals;
(iv.) recommending a common position where necessary
(v.) agreement each year on Programme for Government and Budget
Alliance can agree with this, but the measures are probably insufficient. For instance, the Executive should seek common positions as frequently as possible rather than just when necessary. It is unclear what the commitments will be in respect to upholding the rule of law in any ministerial code. It is disappointing that the SDLP could not support this in the Assembly’s Preparation for Government committee.
The Code will also provide for the discussion of and agreement of any issue which is significant or controversial, which is outside Programme for Government, or which the First Minister and Deputy First Minister might refer.
Alliance supports this, though it recognises that it may not be sufficient to provide enough collective responsibility. It is disappointing that only the DUP and Alliance could support this within the Assembly’s Preparation for Government committee.
The New Code to be discussed and agreed by Executive, and then referred to the Assembly for its consent.
Alliance supports this. This paragraph has also been endorsed by the Assembly’s Preparation for Government committee.
Para 6. Assembly referrals for Executive review. 30 MLAs may refer important ministerial decisions to the Executive for decision. Presiding Officer of the Assembly must agree that it is a substantive issue. It also must be a matter covered by the Code of Conduct.
This amendment is reasonable, but again limited in that it can only deal with certain matters. While there must be safeguards against vexacious actions, this approach does potentially rule out action by the Assembly over some significant issues. It is disappointing that only the DUP and Alliance could support this within the Assembly’s Preparation for Government committee.
Reflecting the Pledge of Office, Ministers would be required to act in accordance with any relevant decisions of the Executive and/or Assembly.
Alliance supports this.
Pledge of Office would require that Ministers participate fully in all the institutions and would observe the joint nature of OFMDFM. Government is also awaiting the outcome of further discussions in PfG on the matter of policing and the rule of law.
Alliance can support this, but it may not be sufficient to prevent a situation where some ministers attempt to govern without directly communicating with one another. Alliance is concerned that a situation may arise where civil servants are asked to serve as go-betweens.
Alliance has consistently advocated that there would be an explicit commitment to the rule of law within the ministerial Pledge of Office. While the Government does maintain that this is already implicit within the current wording, Alliance believes that any ambiguity should be removed. There is nevertheless an issue regarding the timing and scheduling of when a revised Pledge of Office is introduced.
Amendment to Northern Ireland Act. The nominating officer of largest party in the largest designation shall make a nomination for First Minister and the Nominating officer of largest party in the second largest designation shall make a nomination for Deputy First Minister. The d’Hondt procedure would then be run to fill all other posts. There would be no vote for either the election of FM/DFM or for the Executive as a whole.
Alliance is strongly opposed to this. We believe that this is a major retrograde step, and further moves government in the direction of power-division rather than power-sharing. There will be no requirement of the mutual acknowledgement of mandates, and the right of parties to be present in the Executive. Ministers can be in office, while denying the legitimacy and equality of their counterparts. This could contribute to a situation where ministers do not communicate or work together.
This is no basis on which to form, never mind sustain, any type of government that is supposed to be acting in the interests of the whole community. It is wrong to fence off some portfolios to be controlled by nationalists and others to be controlled by unionists – in a power-sharing situation, the whole community has an interest in the decisions and outcomes within every Department. As noted, this will be especially true over policing and justice.
Our preference is that OFMDFM would remain a joint office irrespective of whether the posts are filled as a pair or chosen separately.
Alliance would favour a vote to elect FM/DFM on a joint ticket followed by a vote to collectively legitimise the entire list of ministerial choices by nominating officers.
Our second choice is that in the event of no election of FM/DFM but their filling by party nomination, there must be the above collective vote. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that anyone who wishes to serve in an Executive should be prepared to vote for the entire Executive.
Our third choice would be the retention of the status quo, which is a joint election for FM and DFM.
We remain firmly opposed to the removal of any collective vote. The principal benefit of this proposal is to ensure that the DUP have to face up to the reality of sharing power with Sinn Féin. As they will have to vote for Sinn Féin ministers, they will not be able to argue that they will be part of government, taking their entitlement to ministers, while at the same time continuing to oppose Sinn Féin taking office.
It is notable that the UUP, SDLP and Sinn Féin, in addition to Alliance, all voted to retain the status quo within the Preparation for Government Committee. This begs the question regarding why changes have been made.
The Functions of OFMDFM. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister would consider whether some functions should be transferred to other Departments.
Alliance believes that this should be a decision of the Executive as a whole, rather than just FM and DFM.
An amendment to the 1998 act would provide for the existing Assembly Committee of the Centre to be placed on a statutory footing like other departmental scrutiny committees.
Alliance supports this. However, the current committee does not have the ability to scrutinise all aspects of the work of OFMDFM. This should be rectified. The argument that some functions should be free from such scrutiny is weak as ministers can withhold individual pieces of information from a committee on a case-by-case basis where there is a clear necessity.
Reviews. The Assembly would appoint a standing Institutional Review Committee to examine Strand One institutions. The committee’s reports would be considered by the Executive and Assembly, and by the British Government, in consultation with the Irish, where legislation is required.
This is a limited approach to other outstanding issues as neither Government is directly involved in discussions. Both Governments have an interest in the smooth running of the devolved institutions and have leadership responsibilities.
Both Governments should clarify the status of the Review of the Agreement as prescribed in the Agreement. This has never been formally concluded.
FM and DFM would appoint an Efficiency Review Panel to examine efficiency and value for money of aspects of Strand One institutions, including size of Assembly and departmental structure.
Alliance believes that this is acceptable.
Repeal of the Northern Ireland Act 2000. This covers power of suspension of the institutions.
Alliance can go along with this. It is fairly meaningless, as under Parliamentary Sovereignty, the British Government can step in if required in the event of a major crisis.
Community Designation. An MLA would no longer be able to change community designation for the whole span of an Assembly term, except in the case of a change of party membership.
Alliance believes that this is a further entrenchment of communal designations when in fact they should be being removed. Alliance is disappointed at the lack of interest from the Governments in addressing this issue.
Alliance has had concerns with the designations and voting system for the Assembly since Good Friday 1998.
There are four particular problems with the current system:
· the institutionalisation of sectarian division
· a lack of equality of votes between MLAs
· an inability to adjust to changing demographic and political circumstances
· the ability of minorities effectively to hold the process to ransom
The system demonstrably does not work when placed under stress, most notably in November 2001.
Preferably, Alliance should seek a replacement to both of the current systems of cross-community voting with a weighted majority, free from communal or sectarian designations, of around 60% to 65%. If this is not possible, it should be possible to add this as a third system alongside the existing two, and create sunset points for the end of the existing two methods.
Alliance is adamantly opposed to any suggestions that candidates would be required to designate at the point of electoral nomination.
It is very notable that the DUP and Sinn Féin backed Alliance in the Preparation for Government Committee in supporting the removal of designations at the earliest opportunity.
Changes in the Ministerial Code relating to the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.
Alliance supports this.
All draft NSMC and BIC decision papers should be circulated to all executive parties in advance. Any member of the Executive can require a discussion in the Executive on the issue.
Alliance supports this.
Attendance at NSMC and BIC is required from the minister of the lead department involved.
Alliance supports this.
The Executive and Irish Government are to review the efficiency and value for money of the existing implementation bodies and the case for additional bodies.
Alliance is content with this. Future co-operation should be on the basis primarily of need. If there are any political side-effects to this, then those would be a bonus for some parties. Institutions should follow the need rather than being created to fill a political purpose.
The Chair and Chief Executive of North-South bodies shall appear before Assembly committees at least once a year.
Alliance supports this.
The NI Executive will encourage parties in the Assembly to form a North-South Parliamentary Forum
‘parties in’ should be deleted. It should be the Assembly as a whole that addresses this. This was a strand within the Good Friday Agreement, and it is disappointing that both unionist parties are not prepared to support this.
The NI Executive will support the creation of an independent North-South consultative forum to be appointed by both Administration and representative of civic society.
Alliance supports this, while noting that problems with the structure and functioning of the Civic Forum need to be addressed.
A standing Secretariat will be created for the BIC
Alliance supports this.
The Two Governments will encourage the creation of an East-West inter-parliamentary framework.
Alliance supports this.
The Preparation for Government Committee will be reconvened, and if they agree on further institutional changes by 31 October, then the Governments can implement them.
Executive Formation – Voluntary Coalition vs Mandatory/Involuntary Coalition
Alliance has proposed that the Executive should be formed by negotiation among parties endorsed by a weighted majority vote in the Assembly to ensure a cross-community composition.
It is intellectually sound, and provides much more efficient, effective and coherent government. It also creates incentives for moderation and accommodation.
Coalition government is the norm in many liberal democracies, including the Republic of Ireland, and was the default assumed form of power-sharing between 1973 and 1996, and is much more common than mandatory coalition.
Our concept of voluntary coalition is not aimed against any particular party; it is envisaged that different parties would move in and out of government with coalitions of different make-ups being formed.
Alliance is frustrated that the Governments were not only avoiding discussion of this issue at St. Andrews but arguing against it being implemented in the longer term.
Annex B – Human Rights, Equality, Victims and Other Issues
Government/putative Executive parties have made a number of commitments:
Ø Publication of an Anti-Poverty and Social Exclusion Strategy
Ø Introduction of legislation to establish a (permanent) Victims’ Commissioner for Northern Ireland
Ø Establishment of a forum for Bill of Rights, to be convened in December 2006
Ø Preparations for a Single Equality Bill, which the new Executive would take forward
Ø Introduction of an Irish Language Act
Ø Development of Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture
Ø Review of issues around parading
Ø Reduction of barriers to employment of former prisoners
Ø 50/50 recruitment to PSNI will lapse when the Patten target for Catholic officers is met
Ø Legislation will be introduced to increase the powers of the NI Human Rights Commission
Ø Reform civil service entry requirements to ensure access for EU nationals
Ø Facilitation of meeting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee in Northern Ireland
This list of commitments is an amalgam of wish-lists. This is a selective list to address the immediate concerns of the DUP and Sinn Féin rather than a list of priorities within this area.
There are also suggestions that other understandings have been reached between parties on certain items through side-deals.
One such area is the future of academic selection. Alliance is content for there to be an open, transparent and informed debate over post-primary education. However, Alliance objects to the future of education being treated as a bargaining chip in talks. This is not in the interests of children. The right thing should be done, not the most politically expedient.
Publication of an Anti-Poverty and Social Exclusion Strategy
Alliance is happy for this to be taken forward, provided that resources allocated solely on the basis of need rather than communal affiliation or attempts to balance resource allocations between different perceived communal blocs. This has not always been the case.
Introduction of legislation to establish a (permanent) Victims’ Commissioner for Northern Ireland
Alliance supports this. However, Alliance is concerned at the cursory attention paid to victims issues compared to other aspects of this document. This is a perspective that many victims groups have articulated to us.
Establishment of a forum for Bill of Rights, to be convened in December 2006
Alliance is prepared to support the creation of a Forum or Roundtable on a Bill of Rights.
Alliance can support a roundtable forum of political parties and civil society to engage in the process of drafting a Bill of Rights. However, we want to make sure that it does detract not from the role of the NIHRC as the primary body to present advice to the Secretary of State. We see it as essentially a body for market-testing some of the current thinking by the Commission rather than a body that would itself try to draft a Bill of Rights from first principles. Leaving the negotiation of the content of a Bill or Rights to a political committee runs the risk of generating a document that would be a sectarian carve-up or that did not sufficiently and consistently reflect international standards.
The PfG Committee was able to agree on the principle of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. However, this masks much deeper disagreements over content. There was not agreement on human rights roundtable, but it remains to be seen who would show up.
There are a number of issues relating to any roundtable that require to be resolved. These include:
Ø Terms of Reference;
Ø Role of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission;
Ø Nature and level of political party involvement;
Ø Involvement of representatives of civic society;
Ø Chair and Secretariat provisions.
Preparations for a Single Equality Bill, which the new Executive would take forward
Alliance has consistently supported the creation of a Single Equality Act for Northern Ireland.
Introduction of an Irish Language Act & Development of Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture
Alliance is concerned at the way matters relating to language have become polarised. Irish is not just a language for Nationalists, and Ulster Scots is not just a language for Unionists.
We should be celebrating the rich heritage of culture available to us in Northern Ireland. Resources should be made available to encourage all of the community to develop an interest in language.
However, a word of caution must be said regarding the issue of need. When people demand the right to use either of these languages in relation to the state, they are not really looking to address a matter of need. There are few if any speakers of Irish or Ulster Scots who cannot access services in English.
Those who actually suffer are those with sensory disabilities migrants to Northern Ireland whose first language is not English, or who have very little grasp of English. This is particularly true of older generations. While many public bodies are trying to assist such people, it is worth remembering that when others demand the creation of language rights, they will do little to help such people.
The European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages does nothing for those whose first language is not European.
Alliance would be wary of any language act, in particular if it imposed undue obligations upon the state or individuals in relation to Irish and/or Ulster Scots, or neglected to protect those users of other languages. There is a need to properly estimate the financial implications of this. Alliance would be very concerned at the potential costs.
We await further details on this proposed legislation.
Review of issues around parading
Alliance does not accept that there is unqualified right to parade or to object to a parade. The claimed right to march/parade is derived from the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. It is not absolute. Alliance also believes that the alleged distinction between ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ parades is meaningless. There is a clash for competing rights. Disputes over parades are also a forum for much wider communal/cultural battles over territory and resources. There must be some type of body to regulate different competing claims and interests. It used to be the police, but they erred on the side of countering the great threat of force rather than the merits of the case. Hence the need for the Parades Commission. Police are happy to police Parades Commission determinations, but do not want these powers back.
Alliance can support any review into parading. However, we believe that its terms of reference should be extended to cover matters relating to the regulation of the display of flags and bunting.
Reduction of barriers to employment of former prisoners
Alliance can support this, provided that no preferential treatment is given.
50/50 recruitment to PSNI will lapse when the Patten target for Catholic officers is met
Alliance has opposed 50:50 quotas from the outset. We had three reasons.
First, they were unnecessary – there are other means to address under-representation, including wider affirmative action measures. Now, the Government need to determine to what extent quota is the reason for increased Catholic representation in PSNI versus other factors such as removal of threats, wider political support etc. Second, they are discriminatory -the government had to exempt UK from two European anti-discrimination directives. This point still stands. Third, they are divisive – that it could polarise the police, and create a sense that some people had been given a leg-up, with decisions not taken on merit. This remains a very real problem.
We also have concerns over how representative quotas are actually making the police. They act against the interests of getting more ethnic minorities into the police. Also, they are not capable of ensuring that the full spectrum of background within Protestants and Catholics are represented. They are a blunt instrument, based on the erroneous view that this society consists of just two internally homogeneous groups.
Alliance believes that the proposal is a pragmatic way forward.
Legislation will be introduced to increase the powers of the NI Human Rights Commission
Alliance has consistently supported increasing the powers of the Commission.
Reform civil service entry requirements to ensure access for EU nationals
Alliance would support this.
Facilitation of meeting of Northern Ireland Grand Committee in Northern Ireland
Alliance has no objection to this.
What is Missing?
Alliance believes that a number of key issues have been neglected in this section.
Shared Future/Good Relations
The PFG committee agreed:
“That all parties stress their commitment to building a shared future”
In the letter from the Secretary of State inviting parties to St. Andrews, it states
“There are of course other important areas for collective discussion and collaborative work between the partiers both now and following restoration which are central to ensuring stable and durable devolution and continuing progress away from the violence and sectarianism of the past. Many of these are encompassed in the shared future agenda and we remain committed to working with the parties to implement the necessary policies and practices as set out in the Shared Future Framework Document (2005) and the Shared Future Action Plan (2006).”
Alliance believes that there is a fundamental relationship between building a shared future and political progress. Building a shared future is a core public policy objective of government.
The absence of any reference to a shared future in this section is extremely worrying. At the very least, the above language from the Secretary of State’s invitation should have been carried forward into the document.
The Past and its Legacy
One of the missing ingredients from the Northern Ireland Peace Process has been any comprehensive process for dealing with the past and its legacy. This is a common aspect to most processes internationally.
Alliance believes that the British and Irish Governments should appoint an independent commission, composed of domestic and international experts to consult, deliberate and make a series of recommendations which would address how to approach outstanding issues relating to the past and its legacy, and their linkage to the promotion of reconciliation. The commissioners should be asked to report back within a period of nine months.
Some may argue that focusing in on the past is counterproductive, keeps wounds open, and that society should move on. We disagree with this view. We believe that addressing the past and its legacy is fundamental to the process of reconciliation and building a shared future. The failure to do this in a comprehensive and holistic manner is a barrier to political progress.
To date, efforts to deal with the past and its legacy have been handled on a very piecemeal basis. These matters have been allowed to create further division. Alliance firmly believes that only through the creation of a comprehensive approach can this tendency be countered.
There have been significant efforts to improve services to victims of ‘the Troubles’. Also, civic society has been to the forefront in identifying and advocating different mechanisms for dealing with the past. However, it is time to bring these efforts together.
A number of particular areas relating to the victims should be considered including memorials, a possible day of reflection and remembrance, a forum of testimonials, and most crucially a mechanism to address truth recovery. But there are other legacies of the past, such as the fate of ‘exiles’ and the effect of a history of paramiltarism and division on some communities. All elements of society, including the state and the paramilitaries need to confront the legacy of past actions.
At this stage, it is important to focus first on the process. There is a need for some type of process to determine what can be done and what should be done. That is why Alliance is proposing that the British and Irish Government appoint a Commission of experts, guided by the overarching objective of encouraging reconciliation within this society.
During the Preparation for Government Committee discussions, the past and its legacy was identified as a key issue. With the recent positive report from the IMC, and the St. Andrews Agreement, Alliance believes that there is a final opportunity for Northern Ireland to begin to properly address the past and its legacy.”
This remains a major outstanding issue for Alliance. While the IMC has reported a decrease in the practice of exiling, there remains a large number of people who have either been exiled from Northern Ireland or to different parts of Northern Ireland. They should have the threats against them lifted, and they should be given the assurance to return to their homes if they so choose to do so. It would be a major and unacceptable injustice if the OTR issue was addressed prior to the exiles being allowed to return home in safety.
This was not really mentioned in the St Andrews discussions. However, it is clear that the matter remains unresolved and has again returned to the political agenda.
It is critical that this matter is addressed in a manner that is acceptable to the wider community. At the very least, an open, transparent and accountable mechanism must be used.
For Alliance, any mechanism must have at least three elements.
First, as stated above, it would be perverse if paramilitary fugitives were allowed to return home, while those exiled by the benefiting organisations cannot.
Second, within any judicial process to handle the matter, there must be a requirement for the OTR to appear in person, not merely be represented by proxy. They must face up to their actions.
Third, OTRs must be placed on licence. The same regime that applied to early-release prisoners must be put in place.
It would be possible to refer the matter of how the OTRs should be addressed through a wider examination of the past and its legacy. If there is political deadlock on this issue, an independent Commission examining the past and its legacy may deliver fresh thinking on the matter.
Annex C – Financial Package for the Newly Restored Executive
In the context of the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, the Chancellor will meet all parties, and the Assembly sub-group on economic challenges, to consider proposals, and also the potential for further North-South co-operation.
Also, in response to the strongly expressed views of many in the NI community, the British Government will introduce a cap on domestic rates under the new capital values system, and will examine the possibility of further rate reliefs for pensioners on lower incomes.
Alliance does recognise the fiscal constraints that the Treasury is working under, and also that simply throwing cash at problems in Northern Ireland is not necessarily a solution.
Alliance appreciates the opportunity that is being given to Northern Ireland to make the case for a financial package.
There has been a drop in support for devolution in recent years, in large part, due to the political uncertainty. It is important the restored political institutions are placed on a sustainable basis, and have the opportunity to gain public confidence through being able to make a real difference to people’s lives.
The best economic advice is that a reduction in corporation tax to a rate comparable with the Republic of Ireland would make the greatest difference to promoting economic growth, and therefore addressing unemployment, poverty, and inequality within Northern Ireland. However, Alliance appreciates that Northern Ireland can’t simply look to repeat the approach used in Republic of Ireland. Any relaxation of corporation tax that the Assembly could take forward, would need to be accompanied by a range of micro-economic reforms to the local economy, regarding training, education system, size of public sector.
Any financial package would need to be accompanied by domestic reforms. It would give Northern Ireland the breathing space and opportunity to introduce changes within Northern Ireland to place local finances and economy on a more sustainable basis.
It is clear that significant sums are also required for investment in the physical infrastructure, as well as social capital, to support these reforms.
One area of particular concern to Alliance is the costs of managing a divided society.
At present, considerable sums, perhaps as much as £1bn per annum, are spent on the dealing with the direct costs of managing division, or the indirect costs of duplicating a range of goods, facilities and services.
It will not be easy to change the pattern of the use of resources, and it may take some financial investments in the short-term in order to effect meaningful change. Short-term investment will create longer-term savings. Where a limited financial injection would be worthwhile in providing resources to create shared goods, facilities and services. The pattern of duplicate services is very inefficient. However, this deeply ingrained pattern of resource allocation cannot be turned around easily. It will take an initial investment in order to eventually free up other resources. In the long run, savings of c£1bn per annum are possible.
OFMDFM has commissioned a research report from Deloittes on the costs of division, and what can be done to change things; Alliance understands that this should be available in December.
It is important that promoting a shared future and good relations are core cross-cutting themes within the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Alliance would have concerns too about the revised proposals regarding rates. Our concerns would relate both to the decision-making process, and the new way forward, subject to the rest of the new Agreement being implemented.
With respect to the proposals, Alliance does not believe that a simplistic rates cap is an effective way to address significant house valuations. It will do very little to address the needs of those on low incomes but with considerable assets that fall below the threshold. Many of those benefiting from any cap will be high income and able to pay their original rates bill while there will be many on modest incomes who will not receive any help. This proposal is a regressive move. This point stands even if the introduction of funds is paid for from general taxation.
As is the issue of rates reform is revenue neutral, Alliance believes that the this entire matter should be placed on hold pending the restoration of the Assembly. It remains our preference that local taxation should be directly limited to income, not a particular form of asset.
Annex D – Timetable for Implementation of the St. Andrews Agreement
The Governments publish St Andrews Agreement
Parties consult, and respond by 10 November
PfG Committee in Assembly meets to agree priorities for new Executive
Deadline for party responses
Legislation at Westminster to give effect to necessary changes
Assembly meets to nominate FM and DFM
Assembly is still in shadow form
Endorsement of electorate of St Andrews Agreement
Members of Executive nominated by party leaders
Power and D’Hondt run
Failure to agree Executive then leads to dissolution of Assembly, as will
failure at one stage.
It is unclear when any Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in relation to support for policing and the rule of law would be held.
It is also unclear what the difference is between the ‘nomination’ of members of the Executive on 14 March and ‘running d’Hondt’ on 26 March. These are essentially the same thing. It is also unclear as to what will happen in this two-week gap.
Most crucially, the Governments have yet to determine whether popular endorsement will be achieved through a referendum or through bringing forward the scheduled Assembly election.
Alliance does not see the need for either an election or a referendum, but believes that the latter is less problematic.
A referendum is the clear mechanism for testing the will of the people. Elections create potential difficulties regarding mixed messages. A vote for a party can indicate a variety of things. Also, it is unclear to whom a voter should cast a vote in order to indicate their support if many are backing the Agreement; critically some parties may be split on the issue, reinforcing the prospects of mixed messages.
Ultimately, any new arrangements should be given time to bed down. The Government was right in opting not to have an election until May 2008. Trading an early election for a deal is a very dangerous proposition.
It is vital that the DUP is forced to face up to sharing power with Sinn Féin before any election is held. Otherwise, the danger is that the DUP would bank the election, and then find some other excuse to avoid sharing power. Even if the party’s stance was unchanged, there might well be problems caused by an influx of “anti-Agreement” new MLAs.
Annex E – Future National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland: Paper by the British Government
This covers arrangements for handling national security within Northern Ireland and accountability measures. They would bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, and provide a consistent approach, including in relation to international terrorism. As national security is an excepted matter, these changes will help prepare the way for devolution of policing and justice matters. There is a unique interface in Northern Ireland between national security and serious/organised crime. The new and integrated working arrangements are the first in the United Kingdom. The reforms will strengthen the PSNI’s criminal intelligence capability. PSNI officers will be co-located with MI5, and there will be sharing of intelligence. MI5 will have no executive responsibilities, even in countering threats to national security. The PSNI will mount operations. The Police Ombudsman’s role in relation to the police will remain in place, and the police will continue to be accountable to the NI Policing Board. Most agents will be run by the PSNI, under the strategic direction of MI5. The Chief Constable will be accountable to the Secretary of State in relation to policing matters that touch on national security. MI5 will remain accountable to the UK Parliament. All MI5 intelligence relating to the affairs of Northern Ireland will be made available to the PSNI.
Alliance is generally content with the proposed policing and criminal justice powers to be transferred to a Northern Ireland Administration set out in the NIO’s Discussion Paper, “Devolving Policing and Justice in Northern Ireland”, and is relatively content with these national security arrangements.
Alliance recognises the need for some powers to be retained and exercised at a national level, and regards the list of those to be transferred as fairly expansive. While the UK is not a formal federal state, it is useful to note that in other federal or quasi-federal states, it is normal to see a split in powers between the national and regional level.
There is some concern at the lack of accountability of the UK-wide structures with respect to how they relate to Northern Ireland. Part of the solution lies with a more general reform of the UK structures for tackling terrorism, defending national security, dealing with organised crime and addressing other general policing issues.
Another related problem is the perception of different approaches and responsibility for continued Republican and Loyalist terrorism, with the former being addressed at the UK level and the latter at the NI level, based on the rationale that only the former is a threat to national security. Alliance would have major concerns at such a difference in approach. Part of the problem lies with a traditional view of terrorism, where in practice the organizations involved have diversified into a wider range of paramilitary and organised criminal activity. The definition and parameters of the concept of terrorism need to be restored, and also the wider threat that paramilitary and organised crime pose to democracy and the rule of law needs to better understood.
Word document containing Alliance Response to St Andrews Agreement can be found at: