This guest blog is by Aoife Mallon, Women’s Sector Lobbyist Policy Assistant at the Women’s Resource & Development Agency
In February 2022, Paul Givan resigned as First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive, which, due to the nature of the devolved settlement in Northern Ireland, automatically resulted in the Deputy First Minister losing her role and the Northern Ireland Executive collapsing. Since this time Northern Ireland has been without an Executive.
In the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has the power to implement a budget for the region and exercise Executive capacity. In spring 2023, the Secretary of State outlined a budget that is widely considered to be one of the most punitive budgets Northern Ireland has ever seen. The Northern Ireland Civil Service has estimated it will need to find £800m in cuts and additional resources.
Cuts to budget = rights regression
These cuts, made by a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who was elected not by the people of Northern Ireland, but by the people of Daventry, England, impact on the everyday rights of people in Northern Ireland. Cuts to the budgets of our schools, hospitals and funding for voluntary and community organisations negatively impact our rights to education, health and adequate standard of living. Furthermore, these cuts are already significantly worsening pre-existing levels of inequalities and hitting the communities already experiencing the sharpest ends of poverty the hardest.
Where is our democracy?
The Women’s Policy Group Northern Ireland is demanding a change. In February 2023, one year after the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive we launched the ‘Where’s Our Democracy?’.
The ‘Where’s Our Democracy?’ campaign is calling for the urgent re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive and long-term stability for our democratic institutions, in the spirit of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement. This includes:
- ensuring that the people of Northern Ireland have stable democratic representation and government institutions that actively work to uphold the principles and values of democracy.
- upholding and strengthening human rights and equality protections for all people.
Failure to progress
Because while the punitive budget imposed by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State regresses our rights, the lack of an Executive here means there’s also been a failure to progress rights.
Before the collapse of the Executive, several key pieces of policy and legislation were almost ready to sign off, such as the Gender Equality Strategy, the Childcare Strategy, the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy and legislation to further implement the Gillen Review Recommendations from 2019. However, with no Ministers in place since the collapse, all these developments have been put on hold, and progress on gender equality in Northern Ireland has largely ground to a halt.
People living in Northern Ireland are democratic citizens and have a right to democratic representation. Despite this, the people of Northern Ireland have been stuck in a perpetual cycle of political collapse and are frequently without democratic representation. This in turn is having dire impacts on the realisation of our economic, social and cultural rights as crushing budget cuts to our schools, hospitals and community support organisations are made without our say.