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Evaluating the Quality of Northern Ireland’s Democracy . Discussion Topics. The ‘democratic deficit’ in Northern Ireland (is Northern Ireland democratic?) The disenfranchised (victims, the poor, the apathetic, those outside the ‘two communities’)
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Discussion Topics • The ‘democratic deficit’ in Northern Ireland (is Northern Ireland democratic?) • The disenfranchised (victims, the poor, the apathetic, those outside the ‘two communities’) • What is the relationship between democracy and reconciliation, if any?
How to assess democracy? • Wilford and Wilson (2006) The Trouble with Northern Ireland • Wilford, Wilson & Claussen (2007) Power to the People? Assessing Democracy in Northern Ireland
Definitions of democracy are contested • Majority rule? (Unionists)
Definitions of democracy are contested • Nationalists – minority rights • (see Coakley 2009 on different electoral systems in NI)
IDEA (International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance) • IDEA defines democracy as having two aspects: • Popular control • Political Equality
Belfast Agreement • Majority rule = consent principle • Political equality = parity of esteem & proportionality The Agreement has placed competing constitutional claims side by side allowing ‘the conflict to be pursued … less violently … [but] with more alacrity than before.’ [W&W, p. 5-6]
Consociational Features • Government by ‘grand coalition’ • Mutual veto powers • Autonomy of ‘segments’ preserved in wider society • Proportionate distribution of public employment
Integrative Features • Institutional arrangements which soften communal divisions • Power sharing that incentivises (i.e. through electoral systems) the formation of interethnic coalitions
The Belfast Agreement Wilford and Wilson say the Belfast Agreement has a ‘contradictory combination of the two approaches.’
The Belfast Agreement & the Democratic Deficit • Difficulties in implementing the Agreement have led to prolonged periods of ‘direct rule’ • The Agreement lacks a ‘moral core’ • This adds up to a significant democratic deficit
Does the Agreement lack a moral core? In the past, sectarian division was seen as something to be challenged and worked against, now it is ‘increasingly seen as the inevitable basis for the political future of Northern Ireland’ (Jarman 2002: 17, quoted in W&W, p. 25)
The Belfast Agreement & the Democratic Deficit • This means consociationalism rewards the ‘extremes’ and the elites, and disenfranchises moderates • When the Assembly is in operation, the ‘grand coalition’ obscures responsibility • When the Assembly is in operation, the Executive dominates
W&W suggest ‘cosmopolitanism’ (David Held 2003) Egalitarian individualism: treats individuals, not states or communities, as the unit of moral concern and recognises that each individual is equally worthy of respect and consideration
Cosmopolitanism • Reciprocal recognition: involves acknowledgement by everyone of this state of equal worth; and • Impartial treatment: requires public authorities to treat the claims advanced by individuals and associations on principles on which all could act
The ‘Shared Future’ and Cosmopolitanism • Wilford and Wilson claim that the ‘Shared Future’ document is based on cosmopolitan ideals and see as key to advancing this vision the development of a fully participatory civil society
Limitations of Democracy (W,W&C 2007) • Outstanding issues of policing and justice (collusion) • Section 75 (for equal opportunities) has had modest impact
Limitations of Democracy • Increase in ‘hate crimes’ • Human Rights Commission not as successful as it could have been (i.e. no bill of rights for N. Ireland) (Mural in Derry)
Limitations of Democracy • High level of social disadvantage • Seeming lack of ability to reform education (11-plus, lack of integrated schools)
Limitations of Democracy • Decline in participation in elections • Low level of women in political life • Disenfranchise-ment of ‘others’
Limitations of Democracy • Assembly lacks control of macro economic policy, welfare system • Lack of an ‘opposition’ in the assembly means the Executive receives little scrutiny
Achievements • Police reforms leading to some ‘normalisation’, increased trust • Incidences of paramilitary violence decreasing (except for recent dissident republican activity)
Power to the People? • ‘The most positive feature of Northern Ireland’s democratic life is its vibrant voluntary sector.’ (p. 236)
The Disenfranchised • Although Wilford and Wilson claim that ‘civil society’ is the most promising site for democracy in Northern Ireland, significant numbers of people are not participating adequately in the political process
The Disenfranchised: The Poor • In rural and urban areas, poverty is exacerbated by segregation, which affects people’s ability to interact and access resources
The Disenfranchised: The apathetic and the ‘others’ • ‘Garden Centre Unionists’ • Leaf-lined streets dwellers • ‘Others’ (research by Mitchell, Ganiel and Templer shows ‘others’ see few avenues of political participation open to them)
Discussion Focus Questions: Is Northern Ireland democratic? What could be done to improve the quality of democracy in Northern Ireland? Is there a relationship between the quality of democracy and the prospects for reconciliation?