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Legislative Behaviour in the Northern Ireland Assembly, 2007–11: Conflict and Consensus in a Developing Consociational Democracy

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Abstract

While most research has focused on the executive in Northern Ireland, this study examines behavioural dynamics in the legislative assembly by focusing sharply on division votes and the use of procedural mechanisms in the four sessions from 2007 to 2011. By assessing patterns of coalition configurations and employing Poole's ‘Optimal Classification’ method for examining dimensionality on division votes, the analysis explores the basis for the relative consensus and conflict that have marked legislative behaviour in the most recent attempt at power sharing. This research uncovers two essential dimensions to legislative behaviour: a cross-community dimension that diminished over time in advance of the 2011 election, and a more traditional left–right and nationalist–unionist divide. The study accentuates, however, that unionist and nationalist parties do not vote consistently as cohesive, monolithic blocs. The empirical analysis further shows that use of the ‘minority veto’ was sparing and reserved largely for the most controversial issues of importance to each community.

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