18 August 2012     

Powerful voice needed

By Lynda Walker

The people of Northern Ireland are being asked to comment upon the way that Northern Ireland is being governed. This week the Secretary of State launched a consultative document, and the public have ten weeks in which to reply.
     Whilst the Communist Party of Ireland welcomes the opportunity to have a democratic say in the governance of this part of the country, we are more than cautious in our response to this, especially when it is led by the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, a representative of the bastion of British capitalism not particularly known for its pro-people policies. In other words, we do not trust him.
     However, Mr Patterson acknowledges that the NIO has no power to change the system but that “the consultation will start a debate.” Such consultations are often used to rubber-stamp and implement unwelcome changes; the most powerful voices are heard, whilst positive responses are often ignored.
     Having said that, this is an opportunity for trade unions, women’s and community organisations to unite to become the most powerful voice for change. It is also an opportunity for political parties and individuals, republican and socialist, to put forward their views on change. If they disagree with Stormont, can it be reformed, or what is their alternative? And how do we build a progressive opposition?
     Can the Civic Forum be resurrected? Should there be a creche at Stormont, and should there be a 50-50 representation, as there is in Scotland? Can we build an all-Ireland social and economic base?
     The Communist Party of Ireland welcomes your views on this.
     Some issues up for debate are the size of the Assembly, “double-jobbing,” the length of assembly terms, and whether there should be an opposition. Mr Paterson has “vowed to stop MPs from being MLAs.” The CPI would welcome an end to double-jobbing.
     The question of whether there should be an opposition is more complex and requires critical analysis. Many believe that the voting system as it is now embeds sectarianism. A party has to declare itself and vote “unionist” or “nationalist,” otherwise the vote does not count. However, as experience shows, a “majority” government in Northern Ireland has not been a democratic solution.
     Many people are dissatisfied with the system of government here, but there is not a consensus on what changes should be made. If trade unions and others do not respond to this consultation, those who do will hold the day.

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