LGBT people across England, Scotland and Wales have been getting married for up to four years now but marriage equality has still yet to be achieved in Northern Ireland. A number of separate attempts have been made to legalise the practice through legislation at Stormont, but so far all have been unsuccessful. These attempts include one vote where a majority of MLAs backed same-sex marriage but didn’t pass because of a unionist petition of concern. However it does appear that political leaders in Northern Ireland are beginning to change their tune as public opinion has shifted. Although the existing dispute goes largely down green and orange lines, some unionist politicians seem to be softening their stance.
In the 2015 the DUP and the UUP formed an informal electoral alliance whereby the parties agreed not to run candidates in certain constituencies so as not to split the unionist vote. The result of this, in collaboration with some other local factors, was that unionist candidates in two constituencies, namely Fermanagh and South Tyrone and East Belfast, defeated non-unionist incumbents. However, in the last few days it was announced that the DUP and the UUP will not pursue such a pact in the upcoming general election. This needs to be exploited by the republican movement before the opportunity passes.
After a short election campaign full of tense exchanges and talk of the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement, the results are in. The story from the election is complex but the immediate reaction is the following. Sinn Féin wagered that bringing down the executive, in my view justifiably, would curry favour with the electorate. This shows to have been a correct estimation as the party massively increased their share of the vote Alliance also gained and this is thought to have come from unionists who are disaffected with the DUP.
Arlene Foster today unveiled the DUP’s manifesto for the assembly election that will be held on 2nd March. However, rather than outline a detailed plan about what the DUP was planning to do, she mentioned general policy goals with a lack of substance to back them up. Rather than talk about the issues that the people of Northern Ireland are desperate to have resolved, the former First Minister emphasised the potential electoral success of Sinn Féin in an attempt to scare unionists into voting for her party. This cannot be allowed to stand.
One of the many definitions of politics is that it is a collaborate effort between different social groups with the purpose of resolving disputes. As a result of this definition, a variety of government systems have been designed by political scientists, and many of these focus on the idea of consensus. Northern Ireland is a prime example of a consensus system, as opposed to the majoritarian system of Westminster. Consensus systems are designed to stop policy-making from occurring when there is no consensus. This mechanism is essentially to prevent one social group dominating another, but apparently some parts of Northern Irish civil society are unaware of this concept.
The Northern Irish government can only function, by law, with an Executive that is a partnership between a nationalist/republican party and a unionist one. This came to an end today when Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned, citing Arlene Foster’s refusal to resign over her role in the RHI scandal. This doesn’t in and of itself mean that an election will take place however in his resignation speech, McGuinness said that Sinn Féin shall not be nominating another candidate for the position of Deputy First Minister. It is this second aspect of his resignation that makes another election inevitable.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has been facing heat, pun intended, over her handling of the RHI scandal. The RHI scandal concerns a renewable energy scheme that was set up in 2012 to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The scheme was the responsibility of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and the minister responsible was Arlene Foster. The questions that people are asking are whether or not the scheme was an example of incompetence- and as such the person in change shouldn’t be First Minister- corruption, or unavoidable. The scandal is the largest financial cock-up in the history of devolution because it came in £490 million over budget. Unfortunately Foster has now claimed that calls for her resignation, even though she is clearly culpable, are misogynistic, but what she’s actually doing is seeking an electoral example.