Policy Style and Governing without Consensus: Devolution and Education Policy in Northern Ireland



Devolved government was established in Northern Ireland in 1999 at the same time as Scotland and Wales with a varying range of powers, particularly over the major areas of social policy including education. Devolution in Northern Ireland was set up on the basis of statutory power-sharing in the core executive with a number of mechanisms to promote involvement by all sections of the community through their political representatives. This marked a departure from the traditional majoritarian and hierarchical model of UK government. The operation of devolved government in Northern Ireland requires a consensus on major policy items requiring legislation. The main aim of the article is to assess whether or not there is a devolved policy style in Northern Ireland and to compare this policy style with the findings of similar analysis in Scotland and Wales. Consideration is then given to the impact of both the distinctive policy processes which reflect the consociational nature of the Good Friday Agreement and wider social, political and administrative factors. Decision-making on education policy is a totally devolved function and thus serves as an important example of autonomous policy formulation and policy-making. The three main topics of current policy debate in education are selected for analysis to determine the nature of the decision-making process and the existence of a distinct devolved policy style.