Assess the view that, since 2007, politics in Northern Ireland is increasingly dominated by two political parties.

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(a) Assess the view that, since 2007, politics in Northern Ireland is increasingly dominated by two political parties.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been the dominant parties in Northern Ireland since 2007 and this was reinforced in the recent 2016 election, with Arlene Foster of the DUP becoming First Minister and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein maintaining his post of deputy First Minister. This unbroken record of dominance has led many to claim that politics in Northern Ireland is increasingly dominated by the two parties. In examining this view, a good place to start is considering how the strengths of the parties have changed since 1998.

The relative strengths of parties in the Assembly have changed significantly since 1998. Leading up to the St Andrew’s Agreement of 2006, Northern Ireland had been under direct rule from Westminster after the assembly was suspended in 2002. From 1998 until 2002 the Ulster Unionist Party had been the largest party with David Trimble taking the post of First Minister and the SDLP’s Seamus Mallon was deputy First Minister, later changing to Mark Durkan. Since 2007 there has been a dramatic shift in politics and the DUP and Sinn Fein have emerged as the biggest parties. Peter Robinson The number of UUP MLAs has decreased from 28 in 1998 to 16 today, the SDLP has also seen the number of their MLAs decrease from 24 to 12. Such is the dominance of the DUP and Sinn Fein that some believe we are heading for a dominant two party system in Northern Ireland. In this view, the UUP and SDLP will continue to decline or possibly be absorbed into the larger unionist or nationalist party.

Perhaps the most significant way that the DUP and Sinn Fein dominate politics in Northern Ireland is through their use of petitions of concern. All legislation must be passed by OFMdFM and this can lead to legislation getting killed before it is initiated if either of the ‘big two’ do not like it. MLAs have the possibility of raising a Petition of Concern if they believe there is an issue which is a serious concern to their community. To enact this they have to achieve the support of 30 MLAs. In such cases, a vote on proposed legislation will only pass if a weighted majority (60%) of members voting, with at least 40% of each community present and voting.  It gives each community a veto to prevent decisions or legislation being made which can affect them.  Mark Durkan of the SDLP claimed that it was being, “played like a joker.”

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A good example of the petition of concern being used is in the rejection of a Sinn Fein motion calling for same sex marriage. A DUP backed petition of concern was used to reject the motion. The DUP is the only party with enough votes to reject a proposal outright as it has over 30 Assembly seat (38 MLAs). However, it is not just the DUP that use Petition of Concern. The Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Act 2015 introduces a range of changes to the benefits system. It was initially introduced in 2012 and took years of debate, including Sinn ...

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