Mark Durkan and power sharing

At last weekend’s British-Irish Association conference, SDLP Party Leader Mark Durkan made some musings about potential evolution of Northern Ireland’s power sharing govenrment:

“For decades the SDLP argued that power-sharing was the only way to
prevent unfair unionist domination but now Mr Durkan said a strong bill
of rights could provide sufficient protection for minorities.

“Last night the party confirmed that the new future envisaged by Mr
Durkan could see Stormont operate on the same majority voting systems
as Westminster or the Dail.

“The Good Friday Agreement was built on the designation system and the
d’Hondt voting procedures but Mr Durkan said there is scope in future
years to attempt to make some radical changes if parties evolved to a
situation where their appeal crossed traditional divides.”

Lest one thinks that Durkan is promoting a voluntary coalition form
of power sharing (the norm in every other parliamentary democracy),
fear not as he envisages the continuation of mandatory coalitions,
through the mechanism known as d’Hondt (where Executive ministries are
distributed based on the number of seats your political party has won).

I don’t see how removing communal designations makes the Executive
function any better. It would help in the passing of legislation in the
Assembly, but retaining d’Hondt does nothing for collective
responsibility.

Furthermore, Durkan’s mooted bill of rights would mean legally
protecting nationalists qua nationalists and unionists qua unionists.
This is antithesis of liberal democracy, where human rights are
predicated on the autonomy of the individual, over any other group
right. The codification of unionist and nationalist group rights would
make our consociational model of power sharing even more rigid. You
might as well just keep communal designations, which is less
restrictive on the lives of all of us.

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