Ford: Stormont talks must work for all of us

Most people will hear of further crunch talks taking place at the Assembly and sigh. It’s understandable – for several years, we have been locked in a seemingly regular dance with parties sequestered to try to break deadlocks in front of them.

But it’s for that very reason we need these talks, with a set deadline, to once and for all put to bed the issues and restore integrity in the wider political and peace processes.

This term at Stormont has been characterised by squabbling and in-fighting, with the non-implementation of the Stormont House Agreement beginning a crisis that was compounded by the murder of Kevin McGuigan, a walkout by the UUP, grandstanding by the SDLP and irresponsible resignations from the DUP.

Investment in public services and the economy has been delayed. No longer can this go on. We need a fresh start, so the next term is not poisoned by the same problems.

However, there is no point in talks that result in a temporary, sticking plaster solution. No one wants us to be standing here again in a few months.

To stop that, we need to tackle the underlying problems and one leading to constant stalemate is the framework of the institutions themselves.

Under the current set-up, a sufficiently large party can block any motion, including exclusion or attempts to censure ministers; even in the most clear-cut circumstances of breaches of the ministerial code.

That is only one example, albeit one of the most serious, of the ongoing problems of in-built mutual vetoes across political structures.

While safeguards are obviously required, a different voting system or monitoring external watchdog would be a better approach to stopping this abuse of democracy.

While devolution is the best option for Northern Ireland, there is no question it is not delivering how it should. I want what most people want – a peaceful, prosperous Northern Ireland, safe for our children and grandchildren.

With the lack of public faith in the current Assembly, that future looks further away than it has been for a while. If we wish to regain that confidence and reach that potential, these crisis talks need to be the last.

The above first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on September 15, 2015.

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