Quintin Oliver writes for the Daily Mirror on what's next for the new Assembly?

10 May 2016 - by Quintin Oliver

After two decades of grindingly slow peace process, since we voted so overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, we now have stability, almost to the point of normality. Unlike the volatile political change sweeping the rest of these islands, we have returned the same parties, in roughly the same numbers, on the same 55% turnout. That’s good.

We have elected 30 women MLAs, a 50% rise on 2011 (equal to the House of Commons, double Dublin’s Dail, but not as good as Rwanda’s 66%!); that’s good. We have also selected generally younger faces, with a 35% turnover of representatives; that’s good. We have even taken a risk on some fresh articulate voices in People Before Profit and the Greens; that’s good for diversity and challenge.

Now, down to work; the Assembly will meet on Thursday, under the ‘Father of the House’, East Londonderry’s George Robinson MLA to elect a new Speaker (probably the DUP’s doughty Robin Newton MLA) and start the new process of negotiating a Programme for Government, before selecting Minsters to the nine new slimmed down departments; that’s the right way round - last time they selected Ministers before agreeing what they should do!

Those negotiations will focus on the well-being of the citizen, not just economic growth; and on the outcomes for government actions, not just the inputs; for example, encouraging a fitter society, as an outcome, will lead to work to achieve that end, rather than just funding sports groups or paid advertising to take more exercise; that should lead to schools’ walking projects, say, measured - and then rewarded - by increased fitness, less illness and reduced pressure on health services. Expect lots of management speak!

Look out for some argument over the DUP / Sinn Fein joint manifesto promise to invest £1 billion in health, but with what outcomes, opponents will query? Also watch for the SDLP and UUP being squeezed out of the coalition and opting for the first time for opposition, now made more formal and structured by out-going MLA John McCallister’s Private Member’s Bill on that subject.

The Alliance Party will have to choose whether to take the cross-community Justice post, as before under Leader David Ford, or opt for regrouping outside the Executive. My prediction is for a three-party government under DUP, Sinn Fein, with Alliance in Justice.

Next up will be the drama of the D’Hondt process, under which parties will pick Ministers in order of electoral strength. Economy, Health, Education, Infrastructure or the new monster Communities department will be hotly contested. Finance, Agriculture & Environment are also up for grabs; then the Committee Chairs are chosen who will scrutinise the Ministers’ work. Expect a row from new MLAs, Eamonn McCann, Clare Bailey and Gerry Carroll on their allocation of Committee places!

The public have their chance again to input during the eight week public consultation on the draft Programme for Government, in June and July, before a Budget, revised Investment strategy, economic plan and Anti-Poverty are each devised, published and consulted on, over the autumn. All things being equal, everything will be agreed by the end of the calendar year.

Only leaving the small matter of the critical European Referendum to squeeze in on 23rd June!

Published in the Daily Mirror, 09 May 2016