Power sharing in Northern Ireland : design, operation and proposals 1999-2006

  • Joanne McEvoy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The literature on power sharing focuses on the intense debate between consociationalism and integrative approaches. While consociationalists maintain that democracy in divided societies can be developed via a ‘grand coalition’ and segmental autonomy, ‘integrationists’ argue for institutions that break down antagonisms and promote contact. The thesis considers the optimal executive design for Northern Ireland. It explores how institutional design impacts on executive operation and analyses the proposals for reform. In particular, it centres on the conflicting prescriptions between a fully inclusive executive and a cross-communal voluntary coalition of just some parties willing to work together. The first PhD on this topic, it provides new primary data from documentary research and elite interviewing with former ministers, advisers and politicians outside of the Executive.

The provision in the 1998 Agreement for the d’Hondt method of executive formation came about due to the evolution of proposals since the 1970s and the intentions of the parties for inclusive, proportional and automatic executive power sharing. The thesis demonstrates that the UUP and the SDLP agreed on 10 departments for political reasons which took precedence over the administrative rationale for departmental responsibilities. It shows that executive design impacted on the operation of the Executive in terms of the semi-detached position of the DUP, the lack of collective responsibility, extensive ministerial autonomy and constraints on joined-up government. In the post-suspension period, while the UK and Irish Governments sought to refine the consociational framework, some parties proposed a significant departure from the Agreement towards a more voluntary arrangement. The thesis argues that fully inclusive power sharing is not the optimal form of power sharing in Northern Ireland and that a voluntary coalition would better promote compromise and moderation. It suggests the region may be moving towards a post- consociational future and advances some prescriptive reforms to executive design.
Date of Award2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorRichard Wilford (Supervisor) & Graham Walker (Supervisor)

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