Colin Harvey


This Essay examines the structure and functions of the new Northern Ireland Assembly within the context of the constitutional changes in the Britain and Ireland. Since its election in May 1997, the new Labour Government has been steadily putting in place key constitutional reforms. The changes were widely discussed, both internally while the party was in opposition and externally within the scholarly community. The Labour Government came to power on a manifesto that promised substantial constitutional reform with an emphasis on decentralization and participation. It is evident that the change of government had an impact on the process in Northern Ireland. In particular, the new Government has been willing to adopt a pragmatic approach to the process, and it is in a significantly more secure position than its predecessor. The pragmatism of new Labour has been mistakenly read by some as evidencing a lack of a unifying principle. Labour's approach, however, springs from modern trends in social democratic politics that stress the centrality of the enabling function of government. At the core of this new politics is a conception of autonomy in which the importance of participants reaching consensual outcomes in appropriate cases is accorded priority. This can be cynically cast as evasive or simply empty of content. It is suggested here that both readings are inaccurate.