This post first appeared on http://www.openunionism.com
Lucius Winslow is an MA Politics student at Queen’s University Belfast, who takes an intensive interest in his subject. He also writes things.
Readers, I am sure, will be astounded to know that I dislike the Good Friday Agreement. This is for a myriad of reasons, not least for compromising with murderers. But let’s not go into that. That shoddy compromise is done, and isn’t going to be undone.
So let us proceed with the assumption that I supported it at the time as a means of bringing peace and so on and so forth. But something happened in the Assembly on Tuesday which should be deeply concerning to those who value good governance, or at least a good legislative process. And people should be particularly concerned, because what happened on Tuesday has happened before, repeatedly in fact.
On Tuesday MLAs debated an amendment put forward to the Criminal Justice Bill by the DUP’s Paul Givan and the SDLP’s Alban Maginness. This was the piece of legislation which would have banned all abortions everywhere except in NHS hospitals, where they would be regulated under the existing (strict) guidelines.
Now, one can be for or against this position, and abortion splits the population in a fairly acute manner. However nobody, but nobody could be stupid enough to think it was an issue that split nationalists and unionists on that matter alone; it has nothing to do with the constitution. Indeed the cross-community nature of the amendment was illustrated in the backgrounds of its proposers.
But along came Sinn Fein opposing the vote. I do wonder if, despite protests to the contrary, they are not angling to be the pro-choice party. Certainly that was the strong impression I got from Caitriona Ruane when I had to endure her infuriating, simpering posturing. Anyway, Sinn Fein opposed the motion, and they are perfectly entitled to do so.
But the bill passed – a majority of the Assembly voted in favour. Yet it failed. Because a ‘petition of concern’ came along, demanded a cross community basis, and it didn’t get it. This is absurd, and an abuse of the system. And it has happened before – gay marriage went down the pan for the same reasons, except the DUP bombed it thusly.
As a conservative I might be inclined to rejoice in that it means nothing will ever change. But from an abstract basis who can argue that this is anything other than appalling? It is an abuse of the process. And it’s not going to end. I have colleagues up at Stormont who tell me this happens on smaller-scale issues constantly.
There has been a tendency to see the Good Friday Agreement as settled. Indeed some ghastly commentators have even said it is Northern Ireland’s constitution. Well, if it is it needs an amendment. And soon.