Background to the Research
- Reviewing the first Programme
for Government (2001-2002), key members of the NI Executive expressed
the opinion that devolution was making a difference by delivering
open and accountable government for the people of NI. But was this
view shared by the public in NI?
- This chapter examines public
attitudes to devolution during the time that the first Programme for
Government was being replaced by the second Programme, thus giving
people the opportunity to express their views on the devolved government's
stated aims and delivery of those aims.
- The data used by the author come mainly
from the 2001 NILT survey although some findings from previous NILT
surveys are used for comparative purposes.
- The NILT survey began in 1998 and is carried
out annually. Interviews are conducted with a random selection of
adults (aged 18 years and over) who live in private households in
- The sample size for the 2001 NILT survey
was 1,800 respondents.
- 21% of respondents think that New Labour's
devolution project in Wales, Scotland and NI has strengthened the
UK, 17% feel that it has weakened it and 50% say it has made no difference.
- Protestants are more likely than Catholics
to see devolution as corrosive to the Union (25% and 8% respectively).
- 42% of respondents say that the Assembly
gave NI a stronger voice in the UK. Only 11% think that the Assembly
gave NI a weaker voice, but 38% think that the Assembly made no difference.
- A slim majority of respondents (51%) say
that the UK government at Westminster had most say over how NI was
run, with 28% opting for the NI Assembly.
- However, 65% feel that NI should be run
by the Assembly and only 17% say it should be run by Westminster.
- 35% of respondents agree that NI's Westminster
MPs should be stripped of voting rights on exclusively English matters,
28% disagree and 21% neither agree nor disagree.
- 40% of respondents believe that the Assembly
was giving people in NI more say on how NI was being governed, 8%
say less, and 44% say that it was making no difference.
- More Catholics (51%) than Protestants (31%)
think that the Assembly was giving people more say.
- The 2000 NILT survey found that 28% of
respondents compared with 30% in 2001 thought that health care was
getting worse post-Devolution.
- In 2001, 24% of respondents believe that
education had improved under the Assembly which is higher than the
16% who held that opinion in 2000.
- On the question of whether the NI Assembly
represented good value for money, 35% of respondents say that it definitely
or probably did, as against 44% who say that it definitely or probably
- Over one half of Protestants (53%) and
36% of Catholics feel the Assembly was poor value for money.
- Majorities in both communities - 52% of
Protestants and 69% of Catholics - believe that the Assembly will
still be in place in three years time.
- Given the political context, the findings
from the NILT survey produce a number of mildly encouraging responses.
Public political discourse and the evident depth of enmity displayed
between members of the same government may have led to reasonable
expectations of more gloomy attitudes towards the Assembly.
- Instead, many NILT respondents show a willingness
to give the devolution experiment a chance and suspend definitive
judgements. However, political circumstances, culminating in the suspension
of devolution in October 2002, meant that the experiment was cut short.
The patience displayed by many survey respondents is unlikely to be