Hard-hitting investigations on the stories that matter in Northern Ireland. Jennifer O'Leary looks at the challenges over making power sharing work at Stormont.
Browse content similar to 21/02/2017. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
The clock is ticking towards polling day.
I propose to set an election date of Thursday 2nd of March.
In the world of politics, it's game on.
You have to ask Enda about the battle bus.
Battle lines are being drawn after the collapse of Stormont...
..but will the new Assembly work any better than the old?
Tonight, in the second of two special programmes on power sharing,
we review what really may have caused the collapse
of the Executive last month.
Can power sharing work better?
Can it even be put back together after the election?
This partnership was the future once.
Last May, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness,
as First and Deputy First Ministers,
reaffirmed their commitment to power sharing.
But seven months later, the fresh start went up in smoke.
Sinn Fein pulled the plug on power sharing by not re-nominating
for the position of Deputy First Minister
following Martin McGuinness's shock resignation.
He listed the Renewable Heat Incentive - RHI - scandal,
among others, as the reason for his resignation.
I think anybody that knows the history of our relationship
with the DUP, particularly over the course of recent years
and the different issues that have really raised
all sorts of question marks about the DUP's behaviour.
Things like Red Sky, Frank Cushnahan and Nama,
the Liofa decision, a despicable decision, the RHI -
all of these things are hugely concerning
for us in Sinn Fein.
Arlene Foster immediately took to social media to respond.
At a time when we are dealing with Brexit,
needing to create more jobs and investing in our health
and education system, Northern Ireland needs stability,
but because of Sinn Fein's selfish actions, we now have instability.
Martin McGuinness, in leaving the Assembly chamber for the last time,
marked the end of a decade of power sharing
between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
But how did it come to this? What's really going on and
what other factors may have led to the fracturing of relationships
at the heart of the power-sharing executive?
For the DUP, it had all been going so well.
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party,
the First Lady of Northern Ireland,
the First Minister of Northern Ireland,
the Right Honourable Arlene Foster, MLA.
In her Party Conference speech last October,
Arlene Foster may have been prematurely triumphant.
Just 12 months ago,
Northern Ireland was a byword for political crisis and instability.
Devolution was in crisis. Stormont was teetering on the brink.
Our rivals were cocky about their election chances,
already measuring up their curtains for their new offices.
And the pundits were yet again predicting the demise of the DUP.
Jon Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool
and co-author of a book on the DUP.
My thoughts at the DUP conference were Arlene Foster, First Minister
until 2021 and beyond, and full steam ahead for the DUP.
I thought the DUP would be governing Northern Ireland...
essentially in perpetuity,
albeit in partnership with Sinn Fein.
I think what the DUP forgot was that the whole of
the Good Friday Agreement is built upon a partnership.
It only takes one partner to walk away,
and the whole edifice collapses.
But the responsibilities we do have, in terms of education...
Daithi McKay resigned as a Sinn Fein MLA last year,
after the party suspended him over claims he'd coached a blogger
to give evidence to a Stormont inquiry.
He worked alongside Arlene Foster in the Assembly.
There was a hope, I think, that
she would be more modern,
that she was relatively younger
and that she would be business-like in how she dealt with things.
# Arlene is our leader
# We shall not be moved... #
Arlene Foster is no moderate. She is a tough, tough unionist.
She had led the party to a 38-seat win at the May elections last year,
a resounding victory for the new leader.
I think the DUP, to some extent,
in their celebrations of the May 2016 result, probably took
their eye off the ball somewhat and didn't see the danger signs.
I think the DUP miscalculated.
I don't think for one moment they really thought that Sinn Fein
would collapse the Executive.
Just ten weeks after a triumphant DUP Party Conference, Arlene Foster
found herself out of a job as First Minister.
Arlene Foster is damaged goods by virtue of the fact that she's
effectively been sacked by Martin McGuinness's resignation.
So that's simply a statement of fact - she is damaged.
The question for Arlene Foster is,
can she ever resume as First Minister?
The "cash for ash" controversy sparked discontent in
the relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
But the decision by a DUP minister to withdraw,
just before Christmas,
£50,000 in funding for an Irish language scheme
was akin to pouring petrol on the fire.
In his two-page resignation letter,
Martin McGuinness listed a catalogue of his party's grievances.
But some believe Sinn Fein pulled the house down
to forward their own agenda.
Sinn Fein were losing votes.
That's why they decided that they wanted to re-engage
with their base in this way that they've done.
In the last election, they took a very significant drop,
and that's why Sinn Fein has done what it's done.
That's the real reason, underlying it.
The scandal over that heating scheme is the pretext,
but the real reason is their loss of support.
There is no political institution in the world
would have survived the alleged corruption
we have witnessed and been witness to
over these number of months.
It's not about an attempt to increase our mandate.
This is about defending the principles of
the Good Friday Agreement, defending the Good Friday Agreement
and defending the integrity of government.
Despite John O'Dowd's assertions,
some believe that the collapse of power sharing
really is all about Sinn Fein.
It was Sinn Fein that became
increasingly unhappy with the arrangement,
because the DUP, they felt that they were in the ascendency.
Sinn Fein felt that they were simply having to go with the DUP agenda.
As a former Sinn Fein insider,
Daithi McKay has an insight into the party's election strategy.
I do think that Sinn Fein now find themselves in a position
where they have a political opportunity,
and that they can help to mobilise
a dormant republican, nationalist vote,
that certainly exists out there.
In politics, there's always a game within a game.
What do you think your former party's strategy is?
Its strategy is to go back into the Executive with a stronger position.
So Sinn Fein shouldn't be rushing in
to restore the Executive and the Assembly again
until they make some significant gain.
Sinn Fein's election message has been consistent.
There will be no return to the status quo.
..back to the status quo...
There will be no return to the status quo.
-There will be no return...
-There will be no return to the status quo.
..to the status quo.
It means, for Sinn Fein, that they're not going to go back
into government as secondary to the DUP, in their view.
So it means change, probably on an Irish language act.
It means change on such things as a same-sex marriage,
and it means a greater equality, a co-badging, in many ways,
of First and Deputy First Minister.
If Sinn Fein don't get those, then, for Sinn Fein,
whilst they wouldn't welcome British direct rule,
for obvious reasons, they may feel they have less to lose than
the DUP, at least for a limited period of British direct rule.
That, of course, may seem very ironic
for an Irish republican party, but that's the current situation.
Are republicans restless for change?
On the last day of the Assembly,
People Before Profit's Eamonn McCann told us they are.
The structures up here in Stormont
were sold to rank and file republicans
as an alternative path to a united Ireland.
Abandon armed struggle, because we have discovered
a different project which will carry you forward.
That was accepted by the great bulk, sort of,
of members of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA.
So the reason why Sinn Fein stayed for so long,
to the frustration of many in the rank and file,
to anger of the rank and file,
is that, having dropped the traditional republican idea
of armed struggle until there's a united Ireland,
their alternative having now collapsed,
what's their next trick?
What's Sinn Fein's next trick?
I think it would be foolish for republicans
to rush back into the Assembly, and the Executive.
I think that republicans continually need to review
whether their strategy is going to deliver on their ultimate objective,
which is a united Ireland.
The question now is has society moved on?
We're just going to jog down to the bottom of the field, right?
Then we're going to come up, right up to the top of the field.
In Keady, the Armagh junior camogie team
is training ahead of a busy competitive season.
We're trying to get up and down the field.
We're trying to get ourselves warmed up.
Many here travel to and from their jobs in Belfast
for their twice-weekly training sessions.
I think this generation of girls we see out here this evening
have been completely shielded from, you know,
maybe our generation when we were playing sport.
It's absolutely brilliant that they don't have, you know,
that additional worry or fear.
Absolutely, it's clearly onwards and upwards.
We'd like to think that we wouldn't go back to the dark days.
Grainne Kelly is the team's joint captain.
Do you have a personal view on the situation at Stormont
and on power sharing?
It's a bit rubbish.
The Good Friday Agreement was that long ago now
that things should really be running quite smoothly.
It's nice to think that we don't have to worry about,
you know, who follows what political party,
and it doesn't matter where you are from,
and it would be sad to think that we would go back to that.
Do you and your peers aspire to live in a united Ireland
or are you happy to live in a Northern Ireland at peace?
I would be happy to live in Northern Ireland at peace
as opposed to maybe live in a united Ireland
that's going to cause more uproar
and is going to cause more fighting and things to reoccur.
Whatever has happened to attitudes here
in the 19 years since the Good Friday Agreement,
the world has moved on.
In the last ten months alone,
there have been significant geopolitical shifts
on both sides of the Atlantic.
Congratulations, Mr President.
The British people have spoken, and the answer is we're out.
Britain is distracted by Brexit,
the Republic by its own political crisis,
and the US by its new President.
The latest Stormont crisis shows no sign of triggering
major diplomatic efforts to get power sharing back on track.
And some believe that Brexit has made
a very significant contribution to the fracturing of power sharing.
Brexit has been a really, really big fault line
in this whole recent scene.
For nationalists and republicans,
the possible resurrection of the border is getting in the way
of why they signed up to the Good Friday Agreement,
which is they could retain their legitimate...
They may disagree or agree, but it's a legitimate political objective,
provided it's by the vote and not by the bomb
to achieve a united Ireland.
Unionists will fight it all the way,
that's a legitimate political objective for them.
I think that's destabilised the situation,
and in turn made unionists dig in.
Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU by a majority of 56%.
Sinn Fein immediately demanded a border poll...
We're calling for a border poll, of course,
because we're united Irelanders.
..but was quickly dismissed by Arlene Foster.
The Secretary of State has already indicated
that the test has not been met to call a border poll.
I suppose the call for the border poll
was as predictable as the flowers in May.
We knew it would come, but the test has not been met.
The Sinn Fein president has said
taking Northern Ireland out of the EU
will destroy the Good Friday Agreement,
claiming it would be a "hostile action".
Brexit poses unprecedented political, economic
and diplomatic challenges to peace and prosperity on this island.
But in an interview to an online news channel,
Gerry Adams also said that Brexit may offer the chance
to win further political concessions.
In a way, then, Brexit is a gift for you, right?
You campaigned against it,
but now that it's happening,
you're using it to make the case for a united Ireland.
Yeah, well you always have to...
never waste a crisis, never waste a difficulty.
We don't believe in a scorched earth policy
for creating a united Ireland. We want to build this place up,
we want to, of course, integrate across the island,
but we need to have Northern Ireland working as well,
and I just think it's a very dangerous kind of strategy
to say, "Let's have Brexit and that will somehow
"magically bring a united Ireland."
The DUP led the Leave campaign In Northern Ireland.
Some suggest that unionists who voted for Brexit
may unintentionally have advanced the prospect of a united Ireland.
People are now talking, to some extent seriously,
about a united Ireland again,
as a consequence of Brexit.
I think the DUP had not really thought through Brexit.
They hadn't really thought about the border.
Very few people had thought about the border.
UUP party leader Mike Nesbitt,
who campaigned to Remain,
warned that Brexit could lead to the break-up of the UK.
I'm not sure how deeply anybody thought
about the vote and, you know, I think what has been destabilising
is the lack of response
from the Northern Ireland Executive to Brexit.
The politics of identity, some suggest,
is at the core of much of the friction at Stormont.
The result is an increasingly polarised political discourse
because, according to some, the middle has been hollowed out.
This is the border between Arlene Foster
and Michelle O'Neill's constituencies -
the leaders of the two biggest parties in a power-sharing system
that seems to leave less and less room
for the middle ground of Northern Ireland politics.
There was clearly a view in governments in London and Dublin
that we needed to bring in the extremes into government
in order for it to work,
and that's an understandable strategy, but it hasn't worked.
We now don't have a government.
Even when we did have a government, they didn't deliver anything.
The middle ground wants to work together, the other's don't.
Mike Nesbitt's recent comments that he intends to give the SDLP
his second preference vote in the upcoming election
sparked controversy within his party,
but he's denied he made a mistake.
I think there's a middle step,
and it's the one I'm calling for in this election,
and that is a partnership of the willing.
It's still going to be compulsory, it's still mandatory,
but it's done between two parties
who are doing it for a bigger and better reason.
I think it is a very brave call of Mike Nesbitt
to call for cross-community transfers across the divide,
because it goes against all the statistical evidence
in respect of cross-community transfers that we have had to date,
so it would be a brave, bold new era for Northern Ireland if it happens.
If we are going to be 21st century leaders,
we need to be confident enough to say,
as a unionist - I am a proud unionist -
"The union is safe but it will be even safer
"if nationalists are comfortable within Northern Ireland."
For Alliance leader Naomi Long,
the common good should be the driving force
for a new power sharing Executive.
Power sharing, in its truest form,
where it's focused on the people we serve, and not self-service,
ought, actually, to be relatively simple.
There are of course philosophical divisions between parties,
people who have different perspectives on the economy,
people who have different perspectives
even on moral questions,
but we should be able to work through those together,
in terms of power sharing,
by being able to see the bigger picture,
and that is what is in the best interests
of the public that we're here to serve.
The Good Friday Agreement generation
has largely grown up under devolution.
Hiya. I'm Jennifer. Nice to meet you.
'I've come to meet a group of them - all politics students at Queen's.'
I think we should move to an adversarial system of government,
where we have an official government and an official opposition, and
they actually can take turns to be the government and the opposition.
Do you think that politics at Stormont
is a fair reflection of society?
I think parties here, they have their strongholds and they know that
they're safe in those strongholds, and they focus all of their efforts,
all of their political will, towards those strongholds.
They don't try to reach out. There's no need for them
to shake up their policies or to progress in any way.
Just to take a straw poll.
Who here thinks that power sharing is working?
'Just 4 out of 12.'
I think power sharing has been good. You know, we have
went through a lot of problems in this country, and it has helped us
to move forward as a society.
I think the kind of prevailing opinion, particularly amongst
our generation, is that power sharing was great in 1998, it
has brought peace, but we do need a change in the structures of
government, the structures of how our politics actually works
here. I think we have a serious problem with a lack of
accountability within our Assembly, within our government.
It seems likely fresh talks on the other side of the election
will consider potential structural changes at Stormont.
We'd actually like to see a review, reform and revitalisation
of the Good Friday Agreement
to bring our structures up to the modern day.
I think we'd have to look at, for example, voluntary coalition.
I think we do need to get rid of community designation
and stop dividing our society as nationalist and unionist -
it's about one Northern Ireland, not two divided communities.
So I think we should do that,
but I think we should do it in the context
of a constitutional convention,
where we bring in citizens to have their say.
It was the people's agreement,
we need to return it back to the people.
The centrepiece of the Belfast Agreement
was mandatory coalition, and it's lying in tatters.
I am not opposed to voluntary coalition.
That's the only way we are going to get
durable, respectable, workable devolution.
You have to work it on the basic democratic process
that the people are those who have the discretion
as to who is in government and who is out,
and recognising that, at its heart, voluntary not mandatory coalition
is the way to go. If that can't be done,
then this Stormont and these structures
are not worth keeping, because they are not delivering.
It isn't just those determined to scrap mandatory coalition
who recognise it can have serious drawbacks.
I do think there are dangers in the sort of forced coalition system
you have in power sharing,
because it leads to a sort of stasis in government -
no-one is in opposition,
everyone is in government and it leads to corruption,
it leads to the staleness of any ideas.
This systems privileges stability over almost everything else.
Competence in government, accountability,
all of those things come secondary.
All the parties there,
as long as they play the game of the tribal tribune -
the person who's coming to represent the Gael or the planter,
then you come home without necessarily delivering the goods,
and you can always blame the other side
for the fact that you didn't get the goods.
But is Northern Ireland ready to scrap mandatory coalition
in favour of majority rule?
If you can get beyond sectarian parties
then you could, of course, you could get have majoritarianism,
but we are not there yet.
We don't even seem to be even moving very fast in that direction.
I don't believe in changing
the mandatory coalition model that we have.
I think we need to protect minorities,
and that's the vehicle for doing it.
We need to change how we operate in the Assembly.
We need to get rid of half of the Spads that we have.
We need to curb their pay and curb their power.
I think those are the kinds of things
that could begin to open Stormont up.
If a power sharing Executive cannot be formed after the election,
a return to direct rule may supersede
efforts to restore devolution.
Sinn Fein might take a gamble
that direct rule will have a greener tinge to it,
because the British government needs the Irish government at the moment
on issues relating to Brexit,
and so direct rule might be not quite the same from Westminster
over the next couple of years as it would normally.
Direct rule is unpopular.
Most people do want a devolved government in Northern Ireland,
or you could have joint authority,
which would be a hard sell to unionists, to put it mildly.
Until we get to the point
where people stop trying each other's patience
and start to be a little more gracious,
and perhaps a little more generous
in how they operate these institutions,
we will continue to find ourselves back at this juncture.
It's Saturday morning,
and East Belfast Football Club is playing against 18th Newtownabbey
in the quarterfinal of the Templeton Cup.
I'm here to find out how the election pledges
and political party appeals
are playing with a younger generation in East Belfast.
I think Stormont is almost akin to the likes of a playground.
The DUP and Sinn Fein tap into the things
that are most dearest to us in the community -
they tap into our identity. They tap into...
Sinn Fein are looking at Irish language,
the DUP tap into our potential anxiety,
but our passion for the union.
But they use that, actually, to their own advantage -
whether it's to get votes, whether it's to get popularity, whether...
It's ultimately, in my opinion, to get power.
Would you trust a nationalist or a republican First Minister?
I can't seem to trust my own local, my own politicians,
so it's hard to take that I'll trust somebody
on the other side of the community.
It doesn't matter whether it's a Green First Minister
or another First Minister,
they both have to sort of come to terms
and make a decision between themselves.
One can't do one without the other.
Will you vote, and what would you like to see done with your vote?
I'm not too sure, personally, if I will vote.
It's obviously clear what's going on up there is a shambles.
Maybe it'd be better saying what I don't want to see done
with my vote. I don't want to see just a continued pattern of things
that have been happening for the last 20 years.
Our country was so desperate to put an end to the conflict we had
that we substituted a violent conflict for a political one,
and the latter is far better than the former,
but both of them seem equally ineffective.
Power sharing offers all the major parties
a seat at the Executive table,
but it can't force them to agree once they get there.
And of all the issues that continue to divide,
none is more poisonous than the past.
Last week, in her home village in County Tyrone,
Michelle O'Neill attended a commemoration
of four IRA men who were shot dead by the SAS 25 years ago.
These four young men that we remember tonight
weren't afraid of any challenge.
They faced it head on.
They did so out of a desire to build a new future.
In Belfast, in a BBC studio, Arlene Foster gave her reaction.
There can be no equivalence between terrorism
and those people who stood between those of us in society
who were living through it,
ie the security forces who were protecting people
and terrorists who were going out in the dark of night to murder people.
There are some who would say
we have no right to remember or honour them.
We have absolutely every right.
What do you make of her attendance at that event tonight?
I mean, it is what it is, and, eh...
I have to say no surprise given her antecedents,
so I'm not surprised.
The pain of victims' families is proving an insoluble problem.
You could never change what had happened for them,
but the one thing that they always used to say,
and I would say to them,
their sacrifices helped us to work for the future.
I never said that... When you take the number of people who died
and the number of the injured, it's just short of 40,000.
I never said you could deal with each of those individual cases.
And I don't really feel that if you keep trying to do that
or talking about trying to do that, it's a good idea.
It's not possible. It's just not possible.
From this hill in Dungannon you are supposed to get a clear view
of all of Northern Ireland and beyond,
but not on a misty day.
Some argue our view of the past is clouded
as much by what we forget as by what we remember.
There is a bit of a problem in that a generation has now grown up
that did not experience the Troubles and did not realise
the problems we were dealing with,
and did not realise how those problems were in fact resolved.
There are people, then, who are vulnerable
because they don't know,
and they may be fed an incorrect version of what happened.
We have got to have a degree of frankness
and an awareness of how we must ensure that it doesn't happen again.
The Good Friday Agreement,
a peace deal based on compromise,
was endorsed by a majority in Northern Ireland.
But in terms of understanding and trust between communities here,
it seems at times like all and nothing has changed.
I think a peace process is not a fairy story.
You don't get to live happily ever after
once you sign a peace agreement.
So, no, Northern Ireland is not suddenly a perfect
and wonderful society, but you no longer have the Troubles.
I don't believe that you are going to go back to the Troubles,
and that is a major gain.
After the election, all of the major parties
will have to decide what compromises they might be willing to make
to put power sharing back together.
If you don't get to a rapid agreement,
it could go on for a very long time
and both sides will then find it very difficult to compromise.
It will be up to voters across Northern Ireland
to decide who gets the opportunity to share power.
Those elected will have to decide
whether to sit at the table or sit it out.