top of page

Is Devolution Dead?


Is Devolution Dead? Not yet, but 999 has been called, the emergency response unit is on its way and the defibrillator has been charged.

Now that I have answered my own supposition, the natural follow-on question is whether devolution in Northern Ireland should be euthanised or resurrected?

How has it gone so wrong in our region? Why are we experiencing these red line issues, that are invalidating the entire process and throwing us back two decades, when other regions have embraced the opportunity that devolution brings? How are Scotland and Wales getting it right, and we, in Northern Ireland, so wrong?

Was the the initial fatal error giving both First Minister and deputy First Minister equal power? Having forced those two bodies to govern by agreement should surely have been acknowledged as a challenge too far. After decades of hatred and violence, to do a “180” and have to work together in full co-operation should have been envisioned as a nigh on impossible task. Paisley and McGuinness outwardly appeared to relish the challenge but time has shown just how divisive the gap was.

We appeared to limp along for a decade without the derailing issues changing the trajectory significantly. However, in the past five years or so, the newly qualified millennial voters started to pay close attention to how prohibitive and strangulating our devolved government's attitudes and opinions really were. There was a dawn of realisation that we were being held back from embracing the modern, diverse society of our GB counterparts. The DUP's use of the Petition of Concern to block the Assembly's majority vote in favour of marriage equality shone a light on how restricted our future would be with dinosaurs remaining in charge.

In stark comparison, the Republic of Ireland was making leaps and bounds in areas that mattered island-wide, such as the success of the same-sex marriage referendum, the commitment to the abortion referendum in 2018 and evidence that the Church had finally released its grip on government. However, Northern Ireland appeared to be taking backward steps, much to our emerging generation's frustration and disdain.

When we think about what has occurred in the last 18 months, there have been several death blows charged at Stormont. The RHI “scandal”, a £500 million oversight, which was then hijacked as an Assembly-dissolving exercise by the resignation of the Sinn Fein deputy First Minister.

I personally feel that the subsequent collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive and dissolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot be solely attributed to the RHI events, but that RHI acted as catalyst to invoke events that ultimately both parties consciously or subconsciously wanted.

However, I wonder if all the parties concerned had understood last January that Brexit will affect this whole island in a completely different way to how it will affect the rest of the UK, then those in power would have made different decisions.

Now we find ourselves in an impossible situation of being the only part of the UK that shares a land border with a member of the European Union. This is a no-win situation. As Westminster resumes control and autonomy there is nobody able to affect and represent our interests internationally, as our own focus has been consumed with so-called red line issues. It is ironic that DUP resistance to the Irish Language Act was the distraction that pulled attention away from a imminent United Ireland.

To conclude, in my opinion devolution should be euthanised before being put out of its misery by the arrival of a United Ireland. If Brexit doesn’t arrive at a point when effectively we are economically and politically one island, then the contrary position would be an devastating prospect. A hard border brings such complex logistical impacts that it is hard to envisage how devolution could be a priority.

If devolution had commenced in 2018 instead of 1998, I would have been far more optimistic that, not only would it have succeeded, but that the Northern Ireland we would have had for the future would have truly represented the majority's attitudes and opinions.


Katherine is an A Level student from Carrickfergus. She is a member of her student council and loves politics. When she leaves school she wants to read PPE and possibly purse a career in politics.


bottom of page