Executive Committee Business - Department of Justice
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Mr A Maginness: I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all after “2009,” and insert
“a second Act of the Assembly which results in the Minister of Justice being appointed by d’Hondt is brought forward to ensure that the Department of Justice is to continue operating from 1 May 2012.”
The SDLP amendment is about defending and preserving the values of the Good Friday Agreement. It calls for the appointment of the Minister of Justice by way of d’Hondt, which is the original methodology set out in the Good Friday Agreement. That agreement was endorsed by people, North and South, on this island and by an overwhelming majority. It is with that authority that the Assembly has political legitimacy. It is with the authority of the people of Ireland, North and South, who exercised their franchise in support of that agreement, which was the first time that the people of this island of Ireland exercised simultaneously their political will since 1918. That is a very important historic fact. That is the power of the Good Friday Agreement, and that is the basis upon which the Assembly is founded. All the other institutions under the Good Friday Agreement — the North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council and all of them — derive their authority from that.
The amendment reflects the kernel of the Good Friday Agreement: the principle of inclusive government and partnership between the two great traditions here of unionism and nationalism. All those who have significant political support, derived from any election, have as of right a place in government. Why should that be? As many critics claim, it does not happen in other jurisdictions. It is because of our history of exclusion, division, alienation and conflict — a conflict that created a situation in which more than 3,000 people died, several thousand were seriously injured and society was traumatised by savage political violence that nearly saw the collapse of civilised living in Northern Ireland. The agreement established the concept of inclusive government in order to establish a real and genuine partnership between Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist; a partnership that would, through spilling our sweat, not our blood, bring about the conditions in which a genuine and sustained reconciliation would take place between our two great traditions and communities in Northern Ireland.
We could, as a result of this bold political experiment, transform our society and change the historical legacy of bitterness and division and hatred. Reconciliation is the objective of the Good Friday Agreement, and partnership is the means of achieving that. For those reasons, the SDLP is rightly precious about the agreement — precious in preserving its integrity. Therefore, we will criticise, and have criticised, any serious departure from the agreement, and we have warned constantly about the adverse consequences of departing from it. Some of those consequences are as yet unseen.
In this instance, we see serious departure from the agreement by way of electing the Minister of Justice on a cross-community vote instead of by d’Hondt. We see that as a departure from inclusivity and partnership. We see the misuse of the cross-community vote as a perverse political act, designed to obstruct legitimate political appointment under d’Hondt.
It was designed to exclude, initially in 2010, the SDLP, and, following the 2011 election, the UUP, from providing the Minister of Justice. The use of the cross-community vote was a naked political expedient, perversely used by the DUP and Sinn Féin to consolidate their political ascendency and to continue their political carve up in the Executive. It was, and remains, a cynical gerrymander designed to get them out of a hole and exclude the SDLP and Ulster Unionists. It certainly was not about building inclusion, and it certainly was not about developing partnership. In essence, it is anti-agreement; in spirit, it is subversive of the agreement and corrosive of the partnership ideal.
The departure from the agreement in this instance is now to be further consolidated by this motion until the next mandate. Sinn Féin says that at the next mandate it will return to d’Hondt. The DUP says that it will not and that it will actually seek to end the use of d’Hondt for everything.
In fact, the DUP wants to see the end of the Good Friday Agreement, and through acts of political expediency like this and other expedient acts, it may well achieve that aim. Complicit in that gerrymander was the Alliance Party, which abandoned its principled opposition for the unprincipled seeking of office and power. Indeed, by sacrificing principle for office, it got its just reward. The Alliance Party’s servility and subjugation to the DUP and Sinn Féin is something it will live to regret.
Finally, the unintended and perverse consequence of the Minister of Justice gerrymander was the ludicrous position of the Alliance Party having two seats in the Executive with eight MLAS, the Ulster Unionists having twice that number of MLAs but only one Minister and the SDLP having one Minister but 14 seats. That made a mockery of the Executive and was so unjustifiable that even the DUP and Sinn Féin were ashamed and embarrassed by it. Unfortunately, the Alliance Party did not share that embarrassment.
In order to remedy that perversity, the DUP and Sinn Féin have decided to indulge in another exercise of political expediency and dispatch the Alliance Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Farry, together with his Department. I have little sympathy for the Alliance Party in that situation, although I have some sympathy for Dr Farry. I remind the Alliance Party that, if you have no political compass and no political direction, you will enter into Faustian political deals. If you enter into those deals, you will get what you deserve.
Now we are told that we will end up with a so-called “proper” political balance in the Executive, brought about by another piece of political chicanery. That political expediency will produce further unintended consequences and will further corrupt our politics. The lesson is clear: do not eat the forbidden fruit and stick to the letter and the spirit of the agreement. I support the amendment.