We need a functioning Assembly but do we need this Assembly? – By Terry Wright

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You cannot escape the darkness by hiding under the duvet any more than you can take a community forward and address problems on a credible democratic basis if it is governed predominantly by politicians who hold themselves hostage to narrow agendas, lust for power, trade-offs, old thinking and the politics of defence.

To re-establish this Assembly will be to ignore that it has become a slumbering and discredited democracy.

Political leaders who are now advocating the return of an Assembly at Stormont were, until recently, focused elsewhere or claiming that the process had failed. For over 1,000 days the strategies, cluttered mindsets and red lines which flowed from these positions have disenfranchised and heaped misery on the sick, instigated wanton and unwarranted stress on parents, teachers and learners and delayed development in a stalled economy. The state of our regional infrastructure speaks for itself. Now, that they determine it expedient, the mood music is changing and politicians, content to limit their accountability and treat their constituency like personal fiefdoms, deign to re-engage with their responsibilities.

From all appearances, Westminster and Dublin will allow partnership and power-sharing to be cynically manufactured and tokenistic. There is nothing new in this type of expedient indulgence which has condemned everyone to a political drift producing lengthy waiting lists for healthcare, scarce resources for public services and lack of transparency in government, all of which blight democracy and well-being in Northern Ireland.

In the case of the latter, it can be addressed quickly through the publication of the Report on the RHI crisis which lead to the collapse of the last Assembly and prevented its re-establishment. Make it clear to the population where the responsibility lies along with the flaws in a process which prevented meaningful scrutiny. There has been enough fudge and spin to protect individuals and parties seen as vital to the ‘peace process.’ Enough is enough.

The credibility of MLAs is already compromised by their receiving salaries for non-performance of their job and lack of any explanation as to why this has been allowed to continue for so long. The assumption in the community is that it was a price to be paid for the ‘Supply and Demand’ arrangement which the DUP had in the last Westminster parliament with the Conservative government to keep any contentious Direct Rule at bay.

Channels have undoubtedly been open continuously, however as talks begin again, in the public eye, the electorate has a right to know the level of accountability and measure of integrity of those who are being brought together to negotiate a return to Stormont and may be allowed to take their place in government. It is also in the interests of the two governments and MLAs that this should happen simultaneously with any talks about to get underway. If they do not appreciate this, the process is already flawed. The electorate will have little choice but to conclude that it is being treated with the same disdain that has been in place since the collapse of the Assembly.

The message is clear; publish or an already tarnished Assembly will be damned by a faultline which will run through any resulting process.

It may not be the only factor in the crushing election results of the Labour party in the General Election but there is clear evidence that ideology can be a way of not seeing something and opens up a gap between the belief and the reality of how a perceived constituency thinks and acts.

The results in Northern Ireland, as evidenced in constituencies like Foyle, Lagan Valley, North Down and South Belfast, point to a similar trend.

The two biggest parties who have been allowed to own the peace process and govern, primarily to push narrow agendas and retain power, have lost support to parties whose view of creating an agreed Northern Ireland through building consensus and co-operation is gaining traction with an electorate tired of stagnation and standstill rhetoric.

Three years after the last Assembly Election when any mandate can no longer be deemed to apply and the political landscape is changing, should voters in Northern Ireland not be given the opportunity to renew their choice of representatives? Do MLAs not require a fresh mandate for addressing key issues and problems which, when solved through a new Programme for Government and reformed structures with meaningful civic input, will draw the community together, restore hope and improve quality of life?

The publication of the RHI Report and a fresh election could, in the long-term, produce a more meaningful and sustainable outcome than any high-risk and unsound arrangement whose future, as before, is placed in the gift of politicians and parties whose commitment to partnership and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is problematic.

The most recent election results indicate that the electorate is less de-sensitised to the posturing dismissal of their economic, health and social priorities than these politicians and parties appear to believe.

This is a situation which needs to be addressed and not dismissed.


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