Published as a contribution to From Powersharing to Democracy: Post-conflict Institutions in Ethnically Divided Societies (ed. by Sid Noel, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), this chapter argues that, while far from perfect, power sharing is the only viable approach to conflict resolution in Northern Ireland, and the Agreement reached in 1998 provides a reasonable framework for such an approach – but only if some of its structural shortcomings are addressed and only if political leaders rise to the challenges that the negotiation and implementation of such a revised agreement would bring with it, so that they begin to put the long-term interests of Northern Ireland before their own short-term constituency interests. This second requirement is a tall order, but its achievement can be significantly facilitated by appropriate revisions to the current Agreement, combined with the right combination of pressures and incentives from the governments in London and Dublin, and not least in Washington.
There are five parts to my examination of power sharing in Northern Ireland. I begin with a brief outline of the structure of the power-sharing institutions that were set up under the 1998 Agreement. This is followed by a discussion of the rationale behind opting for a power-sharing settlement and the wisdom of adopting the particular institutional design chosen. I then turn to the problems encountered in the implementation and operation process and examine in particular their underlying causes. Following this, I raise some normative concerns about the institutional structure of devolved government in Northern Ireland from the perspective of whether it is sufficiently democratic. In conclusion, I assess the future of power sharing in Northern Ireland.