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Fragile Stormont needs support, nurture and evolution, say MPs

16 July 2020

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee publishes its report on New Decade, New Approach agreement.

The delivery of the reforms enshrined in the New Decade, New Approach agreement that restored Northern Ireland's 'fragile' Executive can only succeed with a change in working cultures at Stormont, the report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has found.

To achieve this the Committee recommends that links between the Assembly and other legislatures be strengthened, by creating a Fellowship Scheme and giving officials secondment opportunities. The report warns that the stability of power-sharing rests on all parties' commitment to working within the spirit and the letter of the rules to maintain ‘pivotal' devolved institutions.

The report comes as recent events in Northern Ireland have highlighted the fragility of devolved institutions, with Committee Chairman Simon Hoare commenting that it 'doesn't take a scandal of the magnitude of RHI to blow devolution off course'. The Committee urged all parties to 'focus on the needs of the people of Northern Ireland', who had been 'ill-served' by the Executive's collapse.

New Decade, New Approach, was set to herald a transformation in public services and infrastructure improvements following years of stagnation in the absence of an Executive. However, the inquiry heard concerns that the £2 billion earmarked to meet the commitments of the deal falls far short of the sum needed to transform public services in Northern Ireland and that funding will be further stretched by the effect of Covid-19. The report demands that the UK Government set out a long-term financial plan for the implementation of the agreement that acknowledges the effects of Covid-19 on public finances.

The report concludes that the UK and Irish Governments' approach should be one of fostering dynamic and stable devolved government, instead of seeing New Decade, New Approach as a static deal. This would allow institutions to evolve to serve the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Simon Hoare MP said:

"Recent events have exposed the fragility of the Executive by showing that it doesn't take a scandal of the magnitude of RHI to blow devolution off course.

The repercussions of COVID-19 notwithstanding, meeting the commitments enshrined in New Decade, New Approach is the only way to restore trust in the devolution settlement and its ability to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland, who have been ill served by stagnating public service provision for too long.

All parties, the Executive, UK Government and Irish Government must work constructively to meet their commitments to forge a better future for Northern Ireland and to nurture healthy devolved governance. The UK Government must provide a realistic and long-term financial plan that recognises the challenges imposed by coronavirus.

No amount of money will make NDNA work without the development of a more productive working culture at Stormont. To restore trust, the implementation of NDNA will require regular monitoring and review.

New Decade, New Approach should bring people together to deliver. There should be no excuses for failure. We cannot sleepwalk into another Executive collapse, because the people of Northern Ireland deserve more".

Other recommendations included in the report:

The Independent Fiscal Council needs to be truly independent and be given the resources and powers to scrutinise Executive policies.

  • Bi-annual Cabinet delegation must facilitate meaningful, high-level engagement between the UK Government and the Executive.
  • The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Executive should issue a joint statement on how the UK Government-Northern Ireland Executive Joint Board will carry out its work.
  • Close working between the UK Government, Irish Government and Executive to maximise delivery of the promises made in New Decade, New Approach

Further information