In defence of politicians05 February 2024 - by Anna Mercer
A renewed sense of optimism flooded the floor of Stormont’s main chamber on Saturday as the new NI Executive took shape on the eighth attempt after the election in May 2022.
A step change that has been navigated with some caution, politicians are understandably weary of seeming self-congratulatory against the backdrop of what has been a very challenging couple of years for pretty much everyone in Northern Ireland.
A collapsed Assembly became emblematic of crumbling public services, with a health service at breaking point, schools seeing cuts to vital services and roads littered with potholes.
And now with a financial package due from UK government that will start to address some of the problems – but certainly not all – there is a sense of relief and nervous energy from MLAs who know that the road ahead is challenging.
As an organisation that has worked with politicians across the 25 years of the institutions, we know the job of an MLA isn’t an easy one.
With an institutional framework that enforces the principles – but not the mechanics – of partnership and collaboration, getting things done in a multi-party Executive with opposing ideologies is tough.
The words of our new First and deputy First Ministers give hope that there is a genuine desire to move forward and deliver positive outcomes for everyone in society. But delivery of this isn’t easy, and in many ways, our system is stacked against them.
So what can be done to support our new Executive in the challenges that lies ahead?
- Support the development of relationships between parties
Trust and understanding are key components of any relationship, and it is essential that our new politicians are supported and work hard to build this. With five years of collapse, and two years of COVID, MLAs have a lot of catching up to do. Whether that is through working together in committees or grabbing a coffee in the canteen at Stormont, trust is earned through the ordinary daily transactions that haven’t been available in the absence of the Assembly.
But more than this, the UK and Irish Governments, as custodians of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement have a role in supporting our politicians navigate the challenges of a post-conflict society, and this needs more than crisis-point interventions that have characterised recent years.
- Give space to consider ideas
Social media has a lot to answer for, and this is never clearer than when it comes to debating policy issues, particularly controversial ones. From the environment to immigration, rights issues to identity, there are no good outcomes to policy debate by tweet/X. Accepting that this form of communication isn’t going anywhere fast, wouldn’t it be great if we could create space for more reflective conversations and debates, that might, dare I say it, even convince people to change their mind?
- Engage with politicians and policy
Our 90 MLAs are elected to represent the people they serve, but they don’t pretend to be experts in everything that falls within their brief. From reforms to planning, innovative approaches to managing health conditions and finding ways to improve our environment, organisations that come forward with solutions rather than just problems stand a stronger chance of having their issues progressed by those with the power to change things.
Interested in learning more?
With over 25 years in business, Stratagem is best placed to help organisations navigate the politics, processes and personalities that frame our institutions in the weeks, months and years ahead.
We are hopeful for a more stable political future, but achieving this doesn’t just lie with our politicians; we can all play a role in supporting the class of 2022 see through the rest of the Assembly mandate – our clients are already doing this.
Get in touch to let us help you contribute thoughtful, meaningful and constructive ideas in a way that makes an impact.