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Reform of Stormont rules needed to avoid further collapses, says Martin

Policy must be agreed ahead of the next Assembly elections in three years - Tánaiste

New rules to govern the establishment of the next Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive must be agreed before the next Assembly elections in three years, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin has said.

In the Dáil last week, Mr Martin said questions are being asked “with increasing urgency” about the work needed to safeguard the institutions created by the Belfast Agreement.

Fleshing out his thoughts in an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Martin said rules requiring cross-community support that prevented the election of a new Speaker of the Northern Assembly and the creation of an Executive over the last two years should go.

“After most elections everywhere else you get an assembly formed. It does take longer to get a government formed, as you in Belgium, or Holland, now, I acknowledge that. But the idea that one party – it was Sinn Féin over the RHI heating controversy – can say that we not participating in the Assembly is not tenable into the future,” he said.


“It is 25 years on. The reason for its provision were solid and necessary in terms of parity of esteem, but the world has changed. People did not anticipate then the stop-start nature of the Assembly,” he said, though he emphasised the need for agreement among Northern Ireland’s political parties, and between London and Dublin.

“It has been down as often as it has been up [since the Belfast Agreement]. That is not satisfactory. You do need continuity,” the Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader said.

Systems can be devised to put in place that there “certain caveats there, certain balances there to ensure that no one runs amok” and that genuine minority concerns are protected.

Such changes would “allow the centre-ground to come through. The Alliance Party had a significant gain in the last election, but they were almost nobodys in the subsequent events. That’s not healthy,” he said.

In addition, changes could be considered for the titles of First Minister and Deputy First Minister to emphasise that the posts are of equal rank, and have been from the beginning.

However, he pointed out that it had been unionists who had wanted to have “a pecking order” in the titles of the jobs in 1998, “even though that has come back to bite them now”.

Urging Northern politicians to “make it work” now that the institutions have been restored, Mr Martin emphasised that the Belfast Agreement does not allow for joint authority over the North by Dublin and London.

“It does allow for engagement between the Irish and British governments in terms of next steps, and that very much depends on the configuration of the British government at any given time.”

Over the last five years “from Boris Johnson on”, London administrations have adopted “a more UK-ish view of the world, where Northern Ireland was viewed through “a prism, as London sees it”.

Urging unionists to back the deal agreed between London and DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, Mr Martin acknowledged that changes made over the last three years were previously ruled out by Brussels.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times