Friday, May 12, 2006

The Calm Before the ...?

'The agreement provides for a democratically elected Assembly in Northern Ireland, which is inclusive in its membership, capable of executing executive and legislative authority, and subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interests of all sides of the community.'

So starts Strand One of the Good Friday Agreement establishing a Northern Irish Assembly. If I was still in one of my previous jobs I would no doubt have driven away from the Stormont estate tonight and been wondering what next week would bring up the hill. I'd probably be considering taking a few walks through the estate at lunchtime to get an idea of what might be going on inside Parliament Buildings.

That first sentence of Strand one raises some key issues as the people of Northern Ireland and NIPPLEs (Northern Irish PeoPle Living Elsewhere) wait with less than baited breathe for what next week will bring.

Firstly we do have a representative inclusive membership. In the three years since suspension there has been a shift however in both communities. The more compromising and prepared to work parties the Ulster Unionists and SDLP have been overtaken by the more extreme edges of their communities the Democratic Unioinists and Sinn Fein, in both polls (Assembly and Westminster). When the results came through everyone knew there would be difficulties but the recent schenanigans between Adams and Paisley are surely a soap opera too far. Yes surely Adams announced he would nominate Paisley possible to get a reaction from the big man. But what if Paisley had called Adams bluff and accepted. Well that might lead us on to point tow.

Are they capable of executing executive and legislative authority? Having seen them up close from the civil service side of the fence I can assure that the Northern Irish politicians actually really seemed to enjoy getting down to dealing with real bread and butter issues rather than their usual posturing. Also a number of them did very well in their job Brid Rodgers as agriculture minister did an excellent job of containing the foot and mouth outbreak and did a far more effective job that Westminster or Holyrood managed. Reg Empey, now the Ulster Unionist leader, did a fine job overseeing the newly vibrant Northern Irish economy and there are other fine examples. The assmbly members did actually love to govern if only they were prepared to give themselves the opportunity.

The safeguards are in place to protect the rights and interests of all sides of the community. At the moment the people of Northern Ireland are still paying wages to elected representatives who are doing nothing 108 of them, 6 per constituency. However, the best way to oversee the rights and interests of Northern Ireland is to have the same rights as the people of Wales and lesser rights but still similarly given to the Scots; the ability to decide what is best for the people of Northern Ireland locally.

Therefore one of my home town Members, Eileen Bell, has an unenviable task as speaker next week, and beyond hopefully, trying to establish some sort of order to discussions to allow for the re-establishment of an Assembly. I'll be trying to keep up with the proceedings from a greater distance than I would like and blog about the progress from Stormont as it develops over the days ahead.

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