Conference Motion 2006:
Proposer: Naomi Long
Seconder: Stephen Farry
Motion 3: Political Situation
Conference notes the current failure to agree the basis for the restoration of the institutions of devolved government.
Conference affirms that only full Executive devolution can adequately address Northern Ireland’s problems.
Failure to resolve the current deadlock will ensure that division, dependency and apartheid policies continue to impact upon all in Northern Ireland.
Conference calls upon the British and Irish Governments to avoid seeking another quick-fix, and rather to focus on addressing all those aspects of the Good Friday Agreement that have frustrated progress, including institutionalised sectarianism and the absence of collective responsibility.
In proposing the motion Naomi Long said:
“Public confidence in the political process is already at a low ebb and people are, quite rightly, fed-up with the lack of political progress and the constant grand-standing of local parties and the Governments.
“The Secretary of State is absolutely right that the current situation of suspension cannot continue indefinitely; however, if he wants to see lasting progress made in the timescale he is outlining, which we in Alliance certainly do, then he needs to get a serious, intensive and inclusive process underway now which can actually address all of the barriers to restoration of the Assembly.
“The Governments know that the structural problems which plagued the last Assembly are still there. It would be reckless to attempt to restore the Assembly, without addressing those weaknesses as part of the process.
“We must have a proper review of those structures, to ensure that any new Assembly is constructed on a firm foundation and is built to last. The Governments simply cannot afford to take short-cuts to get the Assembly back on the road, knowing that the wheels will inevitably come off at the next bump.
“More ‘revolving-door’ devolution, lasting a matter of weeks or months and ending in further suspension or total collapse will simply serve to completely erode what little public confidence remains in the whole project. People need a restored Assembly which lasts long enough to actually deliver on the issues which really matter to us all – health, education, the environment, the economy, water charges.
“Whilst the two Governments have a particular responsibility in this process, it is way past time that the other parties asked themselves whether they are serious about consensus politics and delivering real leadership for the benefit of all, or whether they would prefer to continue to shirk responsibility and just settle for direct rule, joint authority and a permanent sectarian stand-off.
“The posturing and game-playing must end now – parties need to be honest with the people about whether they have a genuine appetite for cross-party agreement, and if they are serious – get on with it.”
In seconding the motion Stephen Farry said:
“Eight years on from Good Friday 1998, it must be clear that all is not well with the Agreement. The Agreement has heralded major changes in this society for the better, but it must be surely clear to all that the institutions as designed are simply not working.
“Meanwhile, the deep structural problems in our economy, sectarianism and segregation continue to cripple our economy, and a culture of lawlessness pervades in many parts of Northern Ireland. Some would have you believe that this is all due to the faults of the Two Governments, or breaches of faith on the part of Nationalists or Unionists. This is simply denial. They are not only mistakes with implementation, but flaws within the Agreement themselves.
“Rather than being part of a process of overcoming division in this society, the Agreement institutionalised sectarianism. Rather than putting in place incentives that would encourage moderation and accommodation, and collective responsibility in government. Instead, politicians are rewarded for being as extreme and as inflexible as they like. Executive ministers are not encouraged to look out for the interests of the community as a whole, but just their own tradition. Some have been bemoaned the emergence of the DUP and Sinn Fein as the largest two parties. But this was simply the logic conclusion of the system of government put in place by the UUP and the SDLP. The utter failure of the UUP and SDLP to work together when they had the chance only accelerated this process.
“Those who stick their heads in the sand and pretend everything is well with the Agreement are an obstacle to progress. They are Agreement fundamentalists. The British and Irish Governments have accepted the need for changes to be made to the Agreement, provided that they are within the parameters of the principles of the Agreement. This is to be welcomed insofar as it goes. However, I am concerned that the Governments have only come to this conclusion due to the new electoral context with the rise of the DUP, rather than any appreciation of the much deeper problems with the Agreement.
“They are now growing numbers of people who agree with Alliance that communal designations need to be removed, and that government is best organised through a voluntary coalition power-sharing executive. But the process of change at present seems to be at best offering some limited reforms to address the lack of accountability and collectivity in the executive – and even that is being resisted by some.
“No other issue better illustrates the need to fix the institutions that the possible devolution of policing and criminal justice powers. Given the legacy of Republican involvement in paramilitary and criminal activity, would you want a Sinn Fein Minister of Justice?
“Given the vindictive manner in which the SDLP insisted on the early retirement of Ronnie Flanagan, would you want an SDLP Minister?
“Given the abject failure of the unionist parties to stick up for the police and to back the rule of law during the post-Whiterock riots last September, would you want either of the unionist parties in charge of policing?
“For Alliance, none of the four possible models from the Government are satisfactory. Only through proper collective responsibility can sufficient confidence be generated.
“Building any sort of Government based around the mutually antagonist DUP and Sinn Fein is going to be incredibly difficult. Getting even agreement to restore the institutions is going to be one thing, but getting them to work together for the common good may be something entirely different.
“My fear is that the only way that this may be achieved is through increased separation and Balkanisation in this society. That will do nothing to resolve the underlying problems in this society, if anything they would be exacerbated.
“Conference, quick-fixes will simply not do.”