|Tom Elliott - Ulster Unionist leader|
A new way - Fracture or Progress?
But what Tom Elliott is today calling for is a transition in the working of government so that when the next Parliamentary term (which begins after elections in the spring) ends in 2015, it will be replaced by one that sits in the traditional way - with a government being faced by a scrutinising opposition.
Can it work? The fact that we now have a government led by the deadliest of foes, the DUP and Sinn Fein, shows testament to how the political process has matured in recent years in Northern Ireland. But then, is the current mandatory form of government the best way of keeping them all together, pointing in the same direction? Will a government/opposition system only help to remind the differing parties and particularly the nationalist and unionist camps, of their differences?
At present, the 108 seat Stormont Assembly is composed as follows...
DUP - 36 Members
SF - 27
UU - 16
SDLP - 16
Alliance - 7
Green - 1
Independent - 5
For arguments sake, presuming that the 2015 result (let alone the 2011 result this coming May) is the same, a government would need 55 seats to form an outright majority.
I think the idea, whilst a reasonable one, is not for this time. There's no doubt that the test of the Northern Irish political structure is whether in the future it can adapt to a government/opposition system without breaking back out into the old battles of the past. Indeed, it would be proven to have matured completely if a unionist/nationalist majority government could be formed through choice and not through mandation.