How Unfair is Cross-Community Consent? Voting Power in the Northern Ireland Assembly
Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 4, pp. 349–62, 2010
14 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2011 Last revised: 11 Aug 2014
Date Written: June 10, 2010
One of the central elements of Northern Ireland’s consociational framework is the idea of “cross-community support”. That principle finds its most concrete expression in the decision-making procedures of the Northern Ireland Assembly where, with respect to certain “key” decisions, cross-community “consent” is a formal procedural requirement. The procedures require that members of the Assembly register a “community designation” as “unionist”, “nationalist”, or “other”. When the procedures are activated, designated unionists and nationalists enjoy a potential veto power that designated others do not. Accordingly, the cross-community consent procedures have been criticized for privileging the two named communities at the expense of those who identify with neither. Thus far, however, the debate about the cross-community consent procedures has transpired at a very general level. This article advances the conversation by showing precisely how the procedures impact voting power within the Assembly. This should help to correct vague notions about the unfairness of the procedures. Voting power analysis shows that the critics overstate their case: in practice, “others” are not necessarily any more (or less) disadvantaged than designated unionists and nationalists. Moreover, it is argued here that cross-community consent is a valuable mechanism for managing the constitutional politics of Northern Ireland in an appropriately non-majoritarian way.
Keywords: consociationalism, cross-community consent, Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland, voting power, veto power
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