First appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 10th February 2024.
The return of power-sharing in Northern Ireland has rightly been welcomed. But many are already acknowledging that the hard work starts here, with the evidence showing government and politicians have got their work cut out to rebuild trust in political processes and boost the wellbeing of citizens. Research conducted last year by Carnegie with Ipsos found that democratic wellbeing – including trust in politics and other institutions – is much lower than NI than elsewhere in the UK. People in Northern Ireland were the most likely from across the UK to report that they cannot influence decisions affecting the UK as a whole. Furthermore, most people in Northern Ireland also felt that they couldn’t influence the Executive (74%) or local level decision-makers (59%).While the return of power-sharing arrangements will likely restore some belief, there’s still a mountain to climb. That’s why at Carnegie UK we’d urge decision-makers at Stormont to work hard to involve local people in their work, through initiatives like citizen juries and panels. Not only would these moves help to improve transparency and faith in politics, but they would also help elected members and officials reach better conclusions.
With FM O’Neill warning that incoming ministers had “in-trays as long as your arm”, the reconvened Executive must be strategic in their approach. For that reason, I would urge them to put the wellbeing of the people of NI at the centre of their thinking – designing policies to improve social, economic, environmental and democratic outcomes. New wellbeing legislation – designed to measure what matters to the people of NI and build systems to deliver improvement – would be a smart first step. The development of these new laws, following models we’ve seen in Wales and New Zealand, wouldn’t only help build consensus but would also provide shared goals for all parts of the state and society in NI.