Opinion

Time for the Good Friday Agreement institutions to be reviewed

The Irish News view: Getting power-sharing running and ending the DUP boycott should be the priority, but Stormont can also be more effective and representative

The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement was marked in April
The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement was marked in April The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement was marked in April

It isn't difficult to argue that there should be a thorough review of the Good Friday Agreement. The fact that the DUP, a party which only won a little over a fifth of the vote at the last assembly election, has been able to block power-sharing for the past 21 months is a clear sign that something is deeply wrong. That was also the case when Sinn Féin collapsed Stormont between 2017 and 2020.

Beyond being a perversion of power-sharing, the politics of veto and the inherent dysfunction in the current system means we are denied stable government for the benefit of the common good.

The question of how, 25 years after the deal, the Agreement's institutions should be developed has been examined by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Its suggestions include renaming the titles first minister and deputy first minister as joint first minister, to reflect the reality of the positions' equal status and joint powers. The change should come into effect at the start of the next assembly mandate, say the MPs, with first ministers' nominations open to any two MLAs of any two parties who run on a joint slate.

The committee also wants to change how the first ministers, as well as the speaker, are elected. Moving away from the established method, which calls for votes from a majority of MLAs within both the nationalist and unionist traditions, and towards a two-thirds 'supermajority' would effectively "equate to cross-community consent".

With the election of a speaker being stymied by the DUP at present, the committee says the supermajority approach should be implemented "as soon as practicable". This would at the very least allow some Stormont functions to operate, even if the DUP maintains its executive boycott.

The committee's overarching recommendation is that the British and Irish governments, "in close consultation with the Northern Ireland parties", should commission a formal, independently-led review of how the Agreement's institutions operate. More engaged governments in London and Dublin would already have conducted such an exercise.

The report offers reminders of the leadership and bravery shown by those who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement.

There has been little evidence that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's DUP is prepared to summon even a measure of that vision and courage and allow Stormont to return to work.

Whether or not unionism's largest party is able to accept wider, changed political realities, a review would seem sensible.