Northern Ireland

ANALYSIS: Stormont reform would rob 'big two' of key electoral asset

The St Andrews Agreement made changes to Stormont's rules. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA
The St Andrews Agreement made changes to Stormont's rules. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA The St Andrews Agreement made changes to Stormont's rules. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA

The Good Friday Agreement was meant to nurture power-sharing and support reconciliation but its vulnerability early on made that difficult. Within a matter of years, the DUP and Sinn Féin had become the largest unionist and nationalist parties, respectively, and the accord's spirit of co-operation was sacrificed to help the more entrenched parties into government together. 

The St Andrews agreement, a deal between the two governments and the largest parties, changed the method of electing the first and deputy first minister, making the process more divisive rather than inclusive.

While Stormont's two top roles have equal standing, being deemed 'first' rather than 'deputy' has been used to gain political advantage.

Read more:

  • Analysis: Lack of consensus on shape of Stormont reform
  • Irish News readers give thoughts on Stormont reform as deadlock drags on

There's no doubt that the measures recommended in the MPs' report would lead to greater stability and sustainability but they would also deny the two largest parties one of their key electoral assets – keeping the other side out.

Sadly, it's only when the institutions are down that reform rises to the top of the agenda. Once there's a government in place, self-preservation kicks in. While reform requires the consent of all the parties, it's up to the two governments to help drive change.