Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Northern Ireland: A solution.

Mon 10 December 2012, 6:23am

At a time of great austerity and joblessness, anxiety and uncertainty, Northern Ireland has distinguished itself, once again, by finding a whole week to devote to identity politics.

Make that two weeks because we’re about to go another round. Next Tuesday’s census figures could reveal a foreseeable tipping point: the moment when the PUL (Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist) majority Northern Ireland was created to serve no longer represent its dominant block – with all that that entails.

The reaction scripts have already been written, of course, and since we have built-in disincentives for thinking anew or in a spirit of cooperation, (just ask the level-headed Basil McCrea), we’re in for a depressing week ahead.

The whispered Nationalist reaction to Tuesday’s data will essentially be, “Who needs to focus on making a persuasive and coherent case, we’re en route to winning the birth race.” Inspiring stuff.

The leading unionist parties meanwhile will continue playing their new found game of Peak-a-Boo politics. Like the kids who cover their eyes in a futile attempt to make difficult realities just go away, Unionists faced with Nationalist majorities in Northern Ireland’s only two real cities’ elected councils, are seeking comfort by holding up unionist newspaper polls to the same end.

While it may be comforting to think that Catholics only vote overwhelmingly for Nationalists because unionists hadn’t before invited them to fly the Union flag and vote DUP and UUP, this willful ignorance is as depressing as Nationalists’ plans for a united Ireland amounting to little more than intermittently checking the demographic stopwatch.

In contrast to Belfast’s endless identity politics, the rest of the world is grappling with serious business.

Politicians in Dublin, for example, remain on an economic war footing. It’s similar in London where they have the added headaches of growing Nationalist movements to the north in Scotland and to the West in Ireland (north and south), growing anti-Europe feeling across England, and increasing anti-British sentiment in Brussels; indeed the very existence of the UK as a global power operating within the EU has never been less secure. In Washington, they’re gearing up to strike a bi-partisan budget deal that could soon see the US economy leave the rest of the world gasping to keep up.

So what makes Belfast so different? How can its political class and those who cover it in the local media spend so much time on issues of identity and symbolism rather than public policy and prosperity development?

The answer is obvious. Belfast’s politicians waste time because they have no real responsibility or power to tackle anything more substantive.

Explanations for Northern Ireland’s solipsistic, narcissistic and impotent political culture typically focus on its history, its “ingrained tribalism”, its conflict legacy, and so on. And on. Sure, these are not irrelevant factors but neither are any of these unique to Northern Ireland.

What is absolutely unique to Northern Ireland is its ability to live in first world prosperity, with first world facilities and lifestyle expectations (other than its dentistry), without anything remotely resembling a real world, never mind first world, political culture.

The entire project is subsidized not simply with huge cash injections from London but with endless enabling supplied by politicians in London, Dublin and Washington. These enablers see the place as something like a kindergarten project best kept stable by pumping in endless money transfers, well paid non-jobs and patronizing head-patting.

So here’s an idea. Hand Stormont tax rising responsibility and greatly increased responsibilities for domestic policy making. Call it Northern Ireland’s Devo Max option.

I know, I know. One cannot have tremendous confidence in the prospect of our current class in Stormont availing of real political powers – but that’s the point: A huge chunk of Northern Ireland’s electorate would have no confidence in further empowering many of current crowd whose only qualification is loyalty to the old scrip. Alternative candidates with serious politics would be sought and found. The conversation would change and very quickly.

Changing the political culture in Northern Ireland is possible but only with serious enhancements in the capacity of local politics to radically improve or harm local lives.

The political playacting won’t cease until the curtain falls on the theatre of democracy we have now.

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Comments (29)

  1. JoeBryce (profile) says:

    That’s a damn fine idea.

    What do you think?
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  2. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    One weakness: Your idea needs a SERIOUS local advocate;l.

    What do you think?
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  3. GavBelfast (profile) says:

    Give them MORE power?

    No thanks.

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  4. veryoldgit (profile) says:

    ‘Hand Stormont tax rising responsibility and greatly increased responsibilities for domestic policy making. Call it Northern Ireland’s Devo Max option’.

    Why doesn’t NI just declare independence? The UK is dying. Let’s put it out of its misery!

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  5. BarneyT (profile) says:

    “Alternative candidates with serious politics would be sought and found”

    Maybe you are right, but where will these people be found?
    I am all for accountability that surely comes with local tax raising powers and critically local spend. I would hope that it would foster a new level of responsibility, and if N Ireland is as some see it, a country in its own right, it is appropriate that it does govern itself in every possible way.

    Can Northern Ireland raise enough revenue to sustain itself? I’m guessing not. This would only demonstrate that N Ireland cannot exist on its own and equally it would strengthen the calls for N Ireland to be absorbed by the Republic or remain as it is. It would demonstrate just how unviable and dependent N Ireland is.

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  6. iluvni (profile) says:

    Take that man to Holywell.

    We had word last week about the waste of yet another few millions on those charging stations for electric cars, virtually unused…nor will they ever be used.
    Not a word said by the politicians about it so swept up are they in saying the right thing about ‘green’ issues.. All are complicit in the waste but it doesnt matter a jot because no-one is accountable.
    And Ruarai suggests giving them the chance to waste even more money … I think not.

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  7. Henry94 (profile) says:

    Ruarai

    An interesting idea. It would run into the problem that cross-community government does not allow for the natural ideological differences that are the normal basis for elections.

    Perhaps (fantasy stuff here) candidates should designate as left or right of centre. and whichever gets a majority should form the government.

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  8. Nevin (profile) says:

    “So what makes Belfast so different? How can its political class and those who cover it in the local media spend so much time on issues of identity and symbolism rather than public policy and prosperity development?

    The answer is obvious. Belfast’s politicians waste time because they have no real responsibility or power to tackle anything more substantive.”

    ruarai, your answer may be obvious to you but it’s not one I subscribe to. We have the politicians we have because we voted for them. I don’t think that extracting more money from voters would significantly change voting patterns; it might even intensify the confrontations.

    “endless enabling supplied by politicians in London, Dublin and Washington.”

    Have you researched this enabling? Some of it is difficult to penetrate because London-Dublin intergovernment exchanges are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I ‘embedded’ myself in these exchanges and published some of the material in NALIL blog and my Scribd account. The Dick Spring 1996 briefing sheds a little light on this secret governance. The CAIN archive categorically refused to include the Irish DFA transcript in its NI political archive. Such refusal puts a small question mark over the independence of the archive. What else has been excluded? The BBC refused to include it in its Drumcree archive even though some of the questions were being asked by a BBC journalist! The DFA civil servant who sent me the transcript is the current Irish ambassador in Seoul [youtube]

    The Washington enabling, unfortunately, has been contaminated by input from the pro-Nationalist Irish-American lobby. I’d have preferred the US input to have been non-partisan.

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  9. PaulT (profile) says:

    Ruarai, Just to point out that the UK in general exists on big handouts, they’re called loans, £110 Billion this year (granted down from 160 billion in 2009), and no real sign of them dropping in the future, borrowing even after all the cuts would have increased this year but for the sale of 4G licenses.

    At the moment 240,000 people live on food parcels and 14million are in poverty.

    So after running the GB\UK for so many centuries and being in that state, how many centuries do you think it would be fair to give NI a chance to make a go of it (bearing in mind that NI has only had something resembling a western government for a couple of years)

    Speaking of all things Western the UK will have the biggest soveign debt of any western country by 2015.

    So I think the whole thing is a bit unfair to NI, cos living beyond their means is itseems a UK thing.

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  10. Michael (profile) says:

    Illuvni seems to have a problem with the scientists pointing out that at a global level, the biosphere is in decline and that the biosphere provides us with all the life supporting services that right wing economists can’t seem to cost into their externality models – fresh air; fertile soil; fresh water; biodiversity; air, land, and water that is not polluted with large compound pollution or heavy metals. (note I haven’t majored on climate change which is the flavour of the month but by no means the only big issue globally).

    I wonder if he foresees a tipping point where these complex systems fall into positive feedback loops of decline. I suspect he, like many are short-term focused and fooled by GDP statistics and desires infinite economic growth on a planet of finite resources and a finite capacity of the environment to sequester waste.

    True poverty and inequality are rife, but are in fact symptoms of the same society design flaws that rewards the winner and does so at the expense of the loser.

    Northern Ireland may not be significant at a global level in these issues, that doesn’t mean these issues don’t exist or that they are unworthy of local attention. Sustainability and resilience is probably the most effective strategy for any single community or company to guarantee some level of success, albeit not at the crazy growth levels of old, but for sure it is a more robust strategy than the ideology of growth at all costs.

    I’d challenge Illuvni to highlight a city or a company who is doing very well and which doesn’t have a distinctly sustainability strategy – just look at the tax evaders and the flak they are taking – don’t feel this is an entirely separate issue – it’s all part of the interdependence we see across society and which is thankfully increasingly to the fore.

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  11. iluvni (profile) says:

    I challenge you (and others) to type my username correctly. Seems to create so many problems for people.

    Do you, Michael, think the spend to which I refer as good value for money?

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  12. Michael (profile) says:

    Iluvni

    chicken and egg – people won’t move to more sustainable lifestyles if the infrastructure isn’t there. Also – we are generally herds – so when someone starts others will surely follow and in time it will look like a cheap investment and is surely the start of something that will grow hugely.

    It pays – it just takes time.

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  13. PaulT (profile) says:

    Iluvni and Michael, I think there is a difference between sustainability and the sustainability industry. The cost of the electric car charge points being a good example as are wind farms and green energy in general, it’s all been turned into a cash cow while achieving very little.

    I noticed in Turkey while on holiday that most houses had a cheap galvanised drum and plumping system on the roof to heat water, probably 100th the cost of the same principe in use here, probably not as good but pound for pound I’d say it compares well. Yet even though the internet is full of info on how to make cheap use of green energy everything here seems manufactured to death

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  14. iluvni (profile) says:

    ‘herds’…..I wish I’d used that word in my first post. Its perfect.

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  15. Michael (profile) says:

    Cash cow? Why is our public transport one of the least subsidised in the world, certainly in Europe, and why is it run as a social project for poor people?

    Why are there so many roads – big ones – even ones that people don’t want?

    Why is fuel poverty over 50% of households in NI?

    Why are we 900% self sufficient in beef but import most of our other foods? Think subsidies.

    Roads, cows, and fuel – Now that’s cash cow stuff!

    Electric car charging points are buttons.

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  16. Greenflag (profile) says:

    Ruarai ,

    Thought provoking and the analysis is very much on the nail

    ‘What is absolutely unique to Northern Ireland is its ability to live in first world prosperity, with first world facilities and lifestyle expectations (other than its dentistry), without anything remotely resembling a real world, never mind first world, political culture.’

    Very true -in natal terms the child suffered from oxygen deprivation at birth (1920) and it’s been undergoing remedial care ever since :(

    ‘The entire project is subsidized not simply with huge cash injections from London but with endless enabling supplied by politicians in London, Dublin and Washington. These enablers see the place as something like a kindergarten project best kept stable by pumping in endless money transfers, well paid non-jobs and patronizing head-patting.’

    Indeed but not because these outside enablers are hopeful of curing the ‘disease’. It’s just that keeping the lid on has been the name of the game since day 1 . A couple of times the lid has blown off the place and what was seen was considered too ugly and too difficult to deal with that the only option was to bang down the lid again -but firstly throwing the kiddies enough sweeties to keep them busy for a while while the rest of the world moves on.

    As the man said about Marxian social and economic analysis . Overall probably the most accurate of interpretations of capitalism and economic history but the ‘prescription ‘ at least in practice /attempted practice -turned out worse than the disease .

    Re the NI economy and polity and your ‘cure ‘ ?

    The patient is on life support as it is . While I can understand the ‘frustration ‘ of well meaning commentators and onlookers -it has to be said that the patient is not in any condition -economically or politically to withstand any more shocks to the system other than the continuing IV feed .

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  17. ThomasMourne (profile) says:

    A simpler and cheaper solution – get the electorate to stop voting for bigoted political dinosaurs.

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  18. That was a very astute post, Ruarai, which surely no one can say is not perfectly true.

    Whenever it is obvious that elected political representatives are not clever enough themselves to provide what is needed for novel progress, then one does have to wonder why intelligence services are not supplying what is required, which is only the provision of a completely different script for them to perform on the media stage.

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  19. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    “One weakness: Your idea needs a SERIOUS local advocate;l.”

    http://www.niconservatives.com/news/trevor-ringlands-speech-ni-conservative-launch

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  20. Kevsterino (profile) says:

    Ruarai, that is a very sound bit of reasoning that in my opinion goes to the very root of the problem. I think that is why Stormont getting control of policing and justice was so crucial a step. When the politicos accept that they are responsible for the state of the state (or whatever it is you call Northern Ireland), perhaps people will be able to deal with each other in a way that seeks solutions that earn cross community ownership.

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  21. Submariner (profile) says:

    “ThomasMourne (profile) 10 December 2012 at 3:51 pm
    A simpler and cheaper solution – get the electorate to stop voting for bigoted political dinosaurs.”

    Not an easy job when a good percentage of the electorate are themselves bigoted political dinosaurs.

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  22. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    Submariner

    The best of our grammar school kids are leaving NI and not coming back. That’s the way its been for decades and it seems to be accelerating. That leaves us with a problem.
    Demographically, there are less under 16′s (hence school closures) and more over 60′s. The chances of getting a secure job in NI are even more remote than the rest of the UK. The public sector golden goose is going to stop laying – watch the disintegrated block grant in 2015- and construction will be on its knees for decades.

    The only growth sector will be for low paid healthcare assistants in the community and a fair number of those will be eastern europeans.

    That’s if they don’t catch the plane to Australia as well.

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  23. Greenflag (profile) says:

    PaulT @ 10 December 2012 at 11:16 am

    ‘Speaking of all things Western the UK will have the biggest sovereign debt of any western country by 2015.’

    That’ll be just right then to celebrate the Tories eh ‘Big Society’ At least you now know what the ‘Big ‘ refers to :(

    ‘cos living beyond their means is it seems a UK thing.’

    I would’nt put it quite like that . It’s called living at a standard which cannot be afforded due to ‘reduced ‘ means .This does not apply to all Britons .

    There are those large financial institutions which can afford to be fines of over a billion dollars for alleged money laundering and a whole lot of other activities which would see ‘ordinary ‘ Britons behind bars !

    A US Senate investigation said the UK-based bank had been a conduit for “drug kingpins and rogue nations”.

    Heres the full link from the Beeb for those who still believe in the financial banking’s claims that it can self regulate without the need for government controls .

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20673466

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20673466

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  24. Greenflag (profile) says:

    Submariner @ 10 December 2012 at 6:32 pm

    ‘Not an easy job when a good percentage of the electorate are themselves bigoted political dinosaurs.’

    So whats needed then is a ‘new ‘electorate ?

    Given that some 45% of the electorate don’t even bother to vote I’d think your claim above is somewhat inaccurate .

    There are only two ways that NI can have a ‘new electorate ‘ and thus ‘modern’ 20th century politics .

    One is full integration in the UK as in the old UUP ‘integration policy ‘under the leadership of James Molyneaux back in the wasted years of the 80′s .

    The other is full integration in a UI .

    Neither of the above is likely any time soon given the current state of NI .

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  25. Hi, Greenflag,

    Regarding your posting of 11 December 2012 at 8:58 am in which you said ….. There are those large financial institutions which can afford to be fines of over a billion dollars for alleged money laundering and a whole lot of other activities which would see ‘ordinary ‘ Britons behind bars ! …. it is disingenuous and even misleading of you to use the phrase “alleged money laundering”, as it suggests that there be an element of doubt available to render the offence unproven, whenever one can read the guilty plea on the link you provided …….HSBC admitted having poor money laundering controls and apologised.

    “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes,” said HSBC group chief executive Stuart Gulliver in a statement.

    “We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again.”

    And it does beg the following question to be asked, [although sadly not through the voice of the Daily Mail, which was where it was first posted] ……. amanfromMars …. commenting on http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2246215/Banking-giant-HSBC-agrees-pay-1-2m-settle-money-laundering-probe-United-States.html

    So, is anyone to be found guilty of breaking any laws and sent to jail or is money laundering one of those crimes, with special and exclusive rules and privileges, which don’t have any persons prosecuted and liberties taken away?

    That would be a diabolical liberty taken, wouldn’t it?

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  26. Sean Og (profile) says:

    “I noticed in Turkey while on holiday that most houses had a cheap galvanised drum and plumping system on the roof to heat water”

    Does the sun shines in Turkey?

    “Why are we 900% self sufficient in beef but import most of our other foods?”

    It’s called specialisation in a global market.
    Very few countries aim to be self sufficient in everything they eat nowadays. It’s not the 1700s.

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  27. Barnshee (profile) says:

    Simple questions

    Which taxes would be cut ?
    What govt expenditure would be reduce to balance the cuts ?
    Which taxes would be increased ?

    The quote
    “the biosphere is in decline and that the biosphere provides us with all the life supporting services that right wing economists can’t seem to cost into their externality models – fresh air; fertile soil; fresh water; biodiversity; air, land, and water that is not polluted with large compound pollution or heavy metals.”

    should be on billboards everywhere more activity,more people-more pressure on the “biosphere” but WTF we don`t live forever let the next generations worry about it?

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  28. Greenflag (profile) says:

    a man from mars @ 11 December 2012 at 11:01 am

    ‘is money laundering one of those crimes, with special and exclusive rules and privileges, which don’t have any persons prosecuted and liberties taken away?’

    That would certainly seem to be the case . But then theres much more than HSBC going on . What now passes for ‘normal ‘ is that large financial institutions /credit reporting agencies / hedge funds /derivatives traders prefer to pay large fines for ‘alleged ‘ crimes and pay off government regulators etc than actually go through with the full courtroom procedures to establish their ‘innocence ‘ and thus maintain their ‘reputations ‘

    Now that few or none have any reputations for ethical business practices worth defending then it has become simply more profitable to pay up for alleged fines -admit to no wrong doing but accept poor management /human error as the rationale for these judgemental errors etc .

    Complete horseshit of course as everybody knows that Citcorps just as much as HSBC were involved in ‘laundering ‘ Mexican drug cartel monies before the current (2008-2012) financial crisis .

    You only have to add up the fines being paid by Bank of America and virtually every major financial institution in the USA to know that the entire edifice is irredeemably corrupt and the recent Dodds Frank legislation is hardly a band aid never mind a fix .

    And ditto for the UK & Ireland .While many Britons (some 14 million live in poverty ) and the Cameroonians prate on about the ‘Big “society -HSBC made pre-tax profits of $12.7bn for the first six months of 2012..

    ‘That would be a diabolical liberty taken, wouldn’t it?’

    All I can answer to that is %#@^&*^&*#@ right it is :(

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  29. Greenflag (profile) says:

    Max Keiser is always worth a listen to when the financia shenanigans fit the shan as it were .

    Bank of England executive Andy Haldane says the loss of income caused by banks is as bad as World War II. And Lord Stevenson admits the nation’s wealth has been lost to banker crimes, the cover up continues as the former HBOS executive claims it was mere incompetence that saw his bank nearly collapse.

    http://rt.com/programs/keiser-report/episode-376-max-keiser/

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