Republicans guard against return to pure democracy

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Unionists have assured nationalists they have no intention of restoring a proper democracy to Northern Ireland by the back door.

Republicans and nationalists, however, believe an Assembly reform bill, which is currently being moved by the former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MLA John McCallister, may do just that.

Mr McCallister, who now sits as an independent unionist wants to legislate for a formal opposition at Stormont.

But he also wants to remove the legal requirement that unionist and nationalist support must be secured for any divisive standing orders or legislation.

Instead his bill suggests that rather than require cross-community support, any controversial measures, should instead require a ‘weighted majority’ regardless of community affiliation.

Whilst normal democracy isn’t allowed here under the Belfast Agreement republicans fear Mr McCallister’s bill has the potential of reintroducing such a system and have opposed it on those grounds.

Londonderry Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said: “We are not going to allow this House to slip or sleepwalk into the idea of majority rule being better or Westminster being better so let us try to creep towards that. That is not going to happen.”

Mr McCallister responded to republican fears over a return to democratic majority-rule by stating: “Our system here was designed to deal with and help us to address our historic divisions. What I have put forward in the Bill in no way damages how we might address those historic divisions.

“It does not move away from d’Hondt - much to the disappointment, I am sure, of others. It does not move away from that; it stays very firmly with it. In no way would it move us back. You have two safeguards there. D’Hondt cannot be changed, and there was no attempt to change it. D’Hondt is your key to government.

“Our electoral system - a proportional representation system - also means that you cannot change it.”

UUP MLA Danny Kennedy agreed that no-one wants the old Stormont back.

“I see no party or individual in the House wanting to go back to majority-style rule when it comes to the structures of the House.

“Everyone has to be realistic about that and, in some cases, finally accept it.

“I say that particularly to the nationalist and republican parties in the House. I hear no one advocating such a position.

“I think that the concerns about community designation are something of a misrepresentation and are almost an invention by people who are trying to persuade themselves that there are parties here who want to do them down on traditional lines.”