Northern Ireland Assembly Essay

Submitted By adammmtay
Words: 1147
Pages: 5

JUNE 2009
Assess the extent to which the Assembly has made the government of Northern Ireland more democratic. [26]

The assembly of Northern Ireland which was established after the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 has for various reasons made NI more democratic. Under The GFA and consequently the St Andrews agreement the democratic deficit no longer exists that was evident under direct rule, the representative and scrutiny functions now in place can be viewed as more democratic to a certain extent while the power sharing executive formed from the assembly has also provided more democracy. There are however limitations with the assembly that suggest it is not totally more democratic and still lacks complete democracy.

The fact a scrutiny function is now in place suggests there is more democracy. Under direct rule this was non-existent with policies made by MPs from Westminster not being scrutinised and with MPs not being held accountable. Now within the assembly the committees take on the role of scrutiny. The main form of scrutiny comes from statutory committees. They hold the executive to account by examining each department and their ministers. They do this by looking at the actions and policies of the minister and suggesting amendments, criticising the minister and proposing legislation. They have the power to get expertise from outsiders and form a collective bond from the permanent nature of the committees meaning they are well placed to scrutinise. Scrutiny also comes in the form of debates that occur every Monday and Tuesday; here policies are debated and scrutinised. A recent example of this is the debate on abortion which produced a wide range of views and scrutinised a policy brought forward by the DUP and SDLP that suggested abortion should only be administered by the NHS .There is however a suggestion that a real lack of an opposition limits the democratic nature of the assembly with parties from the executive also being in the committees. There is doubt that real scrutiny can take place if a party is forced to scrutinise the work of itself. Also debates rarely change anything for example the recent debate on the shared future document had already been agreed by Sinn Fein and DUP which like most bills and policies already decide what is going to happen with their majorities.

The representation function of the assembly has made the government of NI more democratic. We now have a system were the people governing us are now voted in by the electorate, something that was not evident under direct rule. With the democratic Single transferable vote which is a form of proportional representation in place the seats a party attains in the assembly is equivalent to their vote share. This system has given the Nationalist parties more influence as they achieve more seats than they did under the old first past the post system. Sinn Fein for example are now in a position of more power with 29 seats as their vote is spread across the country. With 6 MLAs per constituency now representing the electorate in the assembly it is clear this is far more democratic than the MPs from Westminster deciding legislation.

The forced coalition of parties in the NI executive from the assembly which is in place can be viewed as more democratic. It gives all parties the opportunity to participate in the executive if they achieve enough votes, this is done through D’hont which allocates ministerial seats on the basis of party strength in the assembly, and this means that the parties and personal we decide to elect are actually governing us under a system that fairly distributes executive seats. This forms a cabinet style government that is able to work collectively and produce better legislation than their Westminster counterparts who had no real interest or desire for NI and its growth. The assembly term between 2007 and 2011 for example produced 69 bills and lasted the full term with EC reaching around 50% of…