Steven Agnew calls for reform of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement

Tuesday 6th March

Green Party Leader Steven Agnew will today (Tuesday 6th March) tell the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that it is time to look again at the ‘ugly scaffolding’ of the Good Friday Agreement.

The North Down MLA will say that we now face marking the 20th anniversary of the Agreement with no functioning Assembly or Executive and that is a betrayal of the majority of people in Northern Ireland and Ireland who endorsed the power sharing settlement.

“The Green Party in Northern Ireland is not interested in assigning blame for this failure but rather is focused on offering solutions to our current difficulties,” he says.

Mr Agnew says the UK Government must take the necessary steps to implement a budget for Northern Ireland and address legacy issues as a matter of urgency.

“An inclusive talks process with an independent facilitator and chair should be established with a Citizens’ Assembly operating in parallel, tasked with producing recommendations to review, reform and revitalise the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.”

He says that the Green Party is committed to seeing progress on issues such as marriage equality, a bill of rights and an Irish language act and believes these issues can be resolved through a reformed Assembly.

“The Good Friday Agreement was often referred to as the “People’s Agreement”. However, since then politicians have seized power and guarded it jealously. The Hillsborough, St Andrews, Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements have all been negotiated behind closed doors and have changed what was endorsed by the people in 1998, without ever having sought the people’s explicit consent on those renegotiations to the original Agreement,” he says.

“Since the 15th anniversary of the GFA, the Green Party has argued for a process to review, reform and revitalise the devolved institutions. The Party contends that the 1998 Agreement was the right solution for its time. However now that we have a generation for whom the GFA is something which is taught in history class, it is time to look again at the ‘ugly scaffolding’.

“The GFA was the outworking of our peace process. Having achieved relative peace, it is now time to set the bar higher and require good governance.”

The Green Party Leader warns that no single party should have the power to tear down devolution or to block progress, and called for a shift to a voluntary coalition to be explored.

“Review and reform was part of the GFA and it is time that such a process be carried out with a focus and determination similar to that which led to that agreement,” he says.

“The abuse of the petition of concern was arguably one of the biggest factors that led to the collapse of the power sharing Executive. Underpinned as it is by a system that requires that MLAs register their community designation, thereby enshrining sectarianism within our institutions, this is another area that requires reform.

“Having myself designated as ‘European’ and my colleague Clare Bailey MLA as ‘feminist’ we each saw our identity reduced to ‘other’. Our system reduces the people of Northern Ireland to “unionist”, “nationalist” or “other” only.

“Ironically, the votes of those of us who do not subscribe to either ‘nationalist’ or ‘unionist’ designations, politics or political aspirations etc., do not count in a cross community vote, despite being from parties which are cross community. This includes key votes such as the budget as well as cross community votes triggered by petition of concern.

“To fail to address these issues would in fact be a return to the status quo. Even if we see progress on contentious issues that are supposedly at the heart of current disagreements, without fundamental institutional reform future blockages will arise leaving the institutions vulnerable once again.”

The Green Party Leader says power should be devolved back to the people through a Citizen’s Assembly model, acting as a constitutional convention, reviewing the outworking of the GFA and proposing a list of reforms, and which should then to subject to referendum.

“Our proposal is not to replace an elected Assembly. Instead, when it is functioning, we propose to augment it with greater participation of citizens, and in its absence, we propose a process that ensures that devolution, which has the support of all NI Assembly parties, is still our end goal,” he says.

Mr Agnew is calling for a talks process that involves all parties with an Assembly mandate, citing the importance of the Women’s Coalition in the talks that established the NI Assembly.

He is also calling for the involvement of an independent chair as was done in the talks that led to 1998 Agreement, warning that the UK Government cannot be both chair and party to the discussions and was not in such a position during the talks that led to the 1998 Agreement.

Read: Green Party in NI Briefing to NI Affairs Committee’s Devolution Inquiry 6_3_18


Media Contact: Linda Stewart

028 9052 1141
07594 391264
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