Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Voluntary Coalition in Northern Ireland?

With the Current overhaul of the Irish political landscape which may see Fine Gael form a Single Party Government for the first time and the Celtic Fringe Devolved Elections tkaing place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Could the next Stormont Assembly be one of Voluntary Coalition?

This Question has cropped up for numerous reasons, The Tories want to see normalisations of Coalition Politics in NI, (they're really getting into the Coalition thing) The Drastic changes predicted for the Republic of Ireland's Government, (including 100% more Baron Gerry Adams) the Possibility of a Sinn Fein First Minister and the Potential for TUV MLA to be elected in May.

So the question I pose is, what would this new Northern Irish Coalition look like?

To give an idea of seat numbers i'll use the current numbers (as of February 16th 2011) with a few tweaks, that means our hypothetical Assembly looks something like this;

DUP - 35
Sinn Fein - 27
UUP - 16
SDLP - 16
Alliance - 7
Green - 1
*Fianna Fail - 1
**TUV - 3
Other - 1
***Presiding officer - 1

*Fianna fail currently have a member sitting in the Assembly though he hasn't takent he designation
**The TUV were assigned the 3 current independent Unionist seats
***The Presiding officer is formerly DUP

In the 108 seat Assembly, 54 seats are required for a majority of one (Gov.=54 Opp.=53 P.O.=1)

DUP Led Coalitions?

In our scenario the DUP have remained the Biggest Party in the Assembly (poor Sinn Fein) so they get first crack at forming a Coalition. With their 35 seats they only need the support of 19 more to form a government.

1) DUP + Sinn Fein (62 seat government, majority of 9) - The Grand Coalition. Possibly one of the least likely to ever happen Voluntarily. However it offers the most seats with the fewest number of parties involved. Should this Coalition ever be formed not only would the DUP/Sinn Fein Coalition command quite a strong majority in the Assembly but would also check Cross-Community protocols being made up of the Two largest parties of the Unionist and nationalist Communities. Likely that the DUP would favour the more business and financial orientated Ministries with Sinn Fein focused on the more social, this would allow Sinn Fein to promote it's Irish programs in NI while the DUP handle financial infrastructure. Unlikely to happen as both Parties hate the other with equally.

2) DUP + UUP + TUV (54 seat Government, Majority of 1) - The Unionist Unity Coalition. An Unlikely option for many reasons. First the TUV would hold to much sway for it's size it's 3 seats being the final piece needed for a majority. Second the Pan-Unionist Government would have problems getting cross-community support unless an arrangement could be made with the SDLP. Thirdly, likely to push up Sinn Fein votes as they will be percieved as the best option to break the Pan-Unionist Government. Finally, majority of one will mean every vote will be needed most of the time and one rebel could defeat Government.

3) DUP + UUP + SDLP (67 seat Government, Majority of 14) - The Workable Coalition. A potential option for a Coalition. The SDLP and UUP have a history working together and are the likely parties to voluntarily leave the Current Executive to form an Opposition. If the UUP/SDLP (Classic) Bloc chose to support the DUP, they would provide a large majority and Cross Community support. Likely to cause a lot of anger from Sinn Fein ranks from what is essentially the Current Executive minus them. SDLP would likely be happy to take the Education brief to try and fix the problems that Sinn Fein couldn't and would also be given the Deputy First Minister to ensure the Coalition appeals to both communities.

4) DUP + Alliance + SDLP (58 Seat Government, Majority of 5) - The Bridge Coalition. Choosing the Alliance Party over the UUP would mean that the Bridge Coalition would be made up of a 'Unionist', a 'Nationalist' and an 'Other'. Though a smaller majority than the Workable Coalition, it would allow the UUP a chance to form their new identity and mean the Bridge Coaliton would not be seen as Unionist Dominated. Sinn Fein could not complain that they were purposefully being excluded as so to would the UUP. The TUV would be supportive of the Lack of a Sinn Fein presence in Government. SDLP again takes Deputy First Minster with Alliance remaining at Justice.

5) DUP + Alliance + UUP (58 Seat Government, Majority of 5) - The 'ConDem' Coalition. Made up of the Lib Dem sister and the Tory something parties, this coalition would numerically be as strong as the Bridge coalition, though lacking the cross community appeal. Could be seen as the only way the DUP and UUP could form a Unionist coalition without the more hardline TUV.

6) DUP + SDLP + TUV (54 seat Government, Majority of one) - The Hardline Lite Coalition. An unlikely coalition due to the Hardline Unionism of the TUV and the Nationalism of the SDLP, but would have cross community support. Would also give the UUP time to decide it's future direction.

A seventh option exists in the all but Sinn Fein option in which everyone but Sinn Fein is invited to help form the Government though this will likely backfire and result in Sinn Fein gains.

Sinn Fein First Minister?

Should the DUP find no love with any of the other Parties, perhaps then it will be the opportunity for Sinn Fein to lead the Government of the North.

1) Sinn Fein + SDLP + UUP (59 Seat Government, Majority of 6) - The Anti-DUP coalition. Perhaps the only credible coalition that Sinn fein could actually lead which would have a majority. A deal with the Classic Bloc would give Sinn Fein power but leave them facing the DUP and TUV across the aisle.

Any other Sinn Fein lead Coalition would require both the UUP and SDLP plus anyone else they could get on board.

The reality of the current Seat numbers is that the DUP are the only party to have the numbers to give them a wide range of options in forming a coalition thanks to the 8 seat difference between them and Sinn Fein. As May approaches and talks about DUP/UUP deals in North and West Belfast continue it is likely that by the end of this election cycle the DUP will remain the Strongest party in the Assembly.

I will note however that these coalitions were based on the idea of very little change come May (with the TUV being the exception) and therefore may be pointless. Regardless, What Coalitions could you see forming in Northern Ireland? How much impact will the TUV make? and any other thoughts you have? please comment.