Northern Ireland

Alliance leader David Ford calls for Stormont "reboot"

David Ford Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption David Ford said the changes he was proposing would make the political system in Northern Ireland more stable

The Alliance leader David Ford has called for a "reboot" of the Stormont system to prevent what he described as the cycle of crises that have affected political progress in recent months.

He said the decision by unionist parties to walk out of talks had created a crisis over parading.

He wants to see a voluntary coalition and an opposition brought in and the petition of concern system replaced.

Mr Ford said the changes would make the political system here more stable.

"It's absolutely clear at the present time if you look at all the difficulties we have dealing with budget issues arising from welfare reform, the kind of problems I've seen in the justice department over the National Crime Agency, a general issue about how we get coherent government, it's clear that we're now seeing the problems with the system we inherited since Good Friday 1998," he said.

He said the decision by the DUP and UUP to walk out on the all-party talks last week was not the "only crisis" that Stormont was facing.

"There is a failure to agree a way forward on welfare reform which if not addressed will have dire financial consequences across all public services.

"The parties have failed to address the key problems facing our schools.

"We have handed money back to Europe over the Maze peace and reconciliation centre and the Narrow Water Bridge. The policy to build a united community remains incomplete and half-hearted.

"Their dysfunction is costing Northern Ireland dearly and will seriously impact on the future of all of us."

Mr Ford, who is also justice minster, suggested a number of proposals to secure a "better functioning and more stable" political system in Northern Ireland.

These include:

  • A coalition which is decided through voluntary negotiation between parties and subject to a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Collective responsibility must apply.
  • Replacing the Petition of Concern system with a qualified majority system.
  • An opposition, free from the voluntary government, with the opportunity to properly hold the government to account.
  • Greater co-operation between ministers requiring them to work together under law.
  • All Executive policies should be required to be 'shared-future proofed' to ensure that all public investment supports and underpins an open, peaceful and united society.
  • An end to sectarian designations in the assembly.
  • Letting the public know who donates money to political parties.

'Only just woken up'

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt asked whether Mr Ford had "only just woken up to the fact that aspects of how business is done in Assembly are in need of reform?"

"The Ulster Unionist Party has made serious contributions to the debate on two of these issues in particular, with Lord Empey attempting to have structures put in place to allow for a formal opposition in the Northern Ireland Assembly through his work in the Lords during the passage of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill earlier this year," he said.

"It was also our preference that the assembly and Executive Review Committee carry out a review of the petition of concern, with the report completed in March this year.

"However we remain frustrated that this mechanism is increasingly not being used as it was intended - to ensure that one community does not ignore the needs of another - and instead being used more and more frequently to block issues that don't particularly affect one community more than another."

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