Well, I note where the British Secretary of State is doing what he does best: pretending to act as an enlightening influence on the two benighted tribes in the north of Ireland. Nudge us towards being as normal as Finchley. It’s important work, because it makes him look as if he has a function here.
The areas he believes need addressing? The size of the Assembly. Hands up if you didn’t know that was an issue under discussion already. Right. We have 108 MLAs because it was vital that every section of society was represented. So who’s going to lose out if the Assembly is shrunk? Owen probably knows but he hasn’t told us yet.
Then there’s the length of the Assembly terms - the time between elections. Owen doesn’t mention if he wants them shorter or longer. It’d be nice to know – and why.
And there’s double-jobbing. Hands up if you think that is an issue that’s been neglected and on which there’s been no movement? Right.
But of course the issue that really matters – the big one – is this question of developing an opposition. I agree with Jim Allister on this – it’s good to have an opposition, where there’s an opportunity to vote a government out as well as in. But unfortunately this unnatural state of affairs exists because the state itself was an unnatural construct. Look at the map: the clear intention was to have a permanent unionist majority and a permanent unionist government. And it worked – for unionists – for fifty years of misgovernment until the top blew off. The present arrangement is unnatural but alas, it’s the only way in which unionists could be persuaded of the merits of power-sharing.
Any change in the present situation would involve radical change to the Good Friday Agreement itself. Which in turn would open the door to the reinstatement of Articles 2 and 3 in the Irish constitution. That would provide some handy evidence for dissident republicans that nothing has changed.
Like it or lump it, the constitutional question is at the heart of politics here. We’ve reached an agreement that ended bloodshed. Change that agreement and you’re risking releasing the dogs of war again.
I suggest Owen Paterson tells us what he thinks the government here and the development of an opposition would look like. Because if such a government were unionist, nationalist/republicans would be stripped of power. We see what happens in unionist-dominated councils. If there’s a nationalist majority, then it’s referendum time, with the future of the state in question.
Does Owen Paterson seem the kind of man to have answers to these complex questions? If he is, he’s been hiding his talents pretty effectively until now. As things stand, he looks almost as useful as a fifth tit on a cow.