Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

The danger of an impotent Assembly

Mon 10 December 2012, 11:53pm

The litany of ritual condemnation in  yesterday’s Assembly debate could have been spoken any time during direct rule.   There is no hint here of a responsible government trying to get on top of events. Just a wringing of hands in an Assembly, impotent, riddled with its own contradictions, waiting for the trouble to burn itself out. For another night the initiative is surrendered to the streets. No MLA  of course  shares any measure of responsiblity.

Perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps for the moment there’s not much else that can be done beyond careful policing. Politicians can sometimes make a difference behind the scenes and clean up the mess they helped create.  But efforts  that have been piecemeal and localised now need to become systematic, sustained, cross community co-ordinated and eventually upfront, so  we all can see that politics works. (Now there’s a thought).

The flags vote was indeed democratic but shows the  high risk of playing  an ill-prepared round of the  zero sum game. The rioting remorselessly exposes the severe limitations of power sharing at one level and continuing struggle for sectarian advantage at another. Perhaps one day politicians will decide what game they’re actually playing. This is a cycle that has to be broken. It can be done;  at least these days trouble is  the exception and not the norm.

What’s next on the Stormont agenda? Census reports will be unpicked for sectarian advantage and  tension will rise again.  The unveiling of a weak cohesion strategy will ring hollow in this atmosphere. It risks literally being laughed off the same streets.  Any common strategy has to be about more than funding for shared public spaces and school facilities. Alliance quitting the talks behind closed doors was a very bad sign. Why in any case were the doors closed?  Do the DUP and Sinn Fein really believe a programme of  development requiring close woven community cooperation can be stitched up and presented as a fait accompli?

A massive step change is required. At its heart must be a joint commitment to head off points of conflict between parties in the same government before they can be exploited by troublemakers. What are the odds that the Executive will meet the challenge? Can they at least honestly explain to us what holds them back?

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Comments (30)

  1. keano10 (profile) says:

    The Assembly probably needs some outside assistance just now. David Ford appeared visibly angry tonight when stating that David Cameron had failed to return a phone call to him today despite the continuing pogrom against his party.

    Westminster has opted of this dispute but the attack in East Belfast on the Police tonight might finally prompt a rethink.

    The Census figures may not be overly dramatic and there is enough to worry MLA’s without a sham fight around all of that.

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  2. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Brian

    “The unveiling of a weak cohesion strategy will ring hollow in this atmosphere. It risks literally being laughed off the same streets.”

    Indeed.

    And yet we’ve been promised that strategy by Christmas.

    Now, where have I heard that before…

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  3. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    keano10,

    It seems like the only way to get the Prime Minister to do something will be for Ford and Farry to resign.

    Frankly, I think the ongoing suggestions by Edwin Poots this evening that Alliance are to blame for the flags issue, combined with his plans to raise the issue through the Assembly Commission tomorrow, are grounds for resignation by themselves.

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  4. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    “David Ford appeared visibly angry tonight when stating that David Cameron had failed to return a phone call to him today”

    I doubt the Prime Minister even knows who David Ford is.

    Apart from Boris, is he expected to know the name of every parish councillor in the UK?

    I would think he would struggle with the Isle of Man justice minister ot the Gibraltar one. Why one with even lesser powers than the latter?

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  5. ayeYerMa (profile) says:

    As usual, Alliance show the intellectual equivalence to their LibDem colleagues — come up with some hair-brained scheme and then blame everyone else for when it flares up in their face.

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  6. Lionel Hutz (profile) says:

    CS,

    I agree with you. This has been the single most nefarious political attack on any party in the executive that I have seen. I doubt they’ll do it though.

    I would also like to see the SDLP do it. But I am sure they won’t. They wouldn’t leave when Sinn Fein DUP forced Attwoods agenda on RPA so I can’t see them jumping out for another party. It’s cold out there.

    If there are any moderate parties there, they need to jump out together. If Alliance left on their own, they would look weak. If others jumped with them, it would provide some validation.

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  7. Nevin (profile) says:

    “Can they at least honestly explain to us what holds them back?”

    Brian, you’ve already give us the answer to this question: ‘the zero sum game’. It’s the contradiction built into the 1998 Agreement, an Agreement endorsed by Unionists, Nationalists and others but for very different reasons.

    “The danger of an impotent Assembly”

    The violence was triggered by the democratic process and decision of a potent Belfast City Council where Nationalists have a narrow two-seat advantage over Unionists. There’s no cross-community voting in councils to curb such destabilising potency and the degree of potency will be highest where there’s a possibility to tip the Unionist-Nationalist balance and lowest where each holds a substantial majority. There’s little or no pooling of resources for the greater good, not even in the inappropriately named power-sharing ones.

    “Perhaps one day politicians will decide what game they’re actually playing. This is a cycle that has to be broken. It can be done

    I’ve put forward a suggestion as to how it might as distinct from can be done. What is your suggestion? Mick, do you have a suggestion? It’s a relatively easy matter to misrepresent my ideas and comments so here’s an opportunity to set out your own stalls.

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  8. Nevin. I think we can now say this rioting isn’t really just about a flag which isn’t up every day at Stormont or many unionist controlled councils. The census returns are the real reason as the loyalists must know from sources close to NISRA what they hold. Meanwhile after a week of unionists showing their true colours and the flag at city hall is still not back up there. The troops will, I predict, be back on streets here before many months have passed,

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  9. Brian Walker (profile) says:

    Nevin, I think there’s little point in going back to a fundamentalist discussion of the 1998 structures. People will argue to the cows come home about whether the system forces parties together or keeps them apart.

    Patently it does both in different ways. What is required is a change of behaviour inspired by the failure to tackle neuralgic disputes which one can see coming a mile off.

    Cooperation already exists to identify common interests. Now, they need to move up to a step change and and tackle the familiar neuralgic disputes which can flare up at any time.

    It’s hardly a hopeless cause. They all can do the analysis backwards. With the devolution of policing and justice the next stage is to plan to take over parades regulation.
    Not today or tomorrow but start planning now. There are plenty of local models to work on

    National government intervention may be needed. My fear there is that the NIO and DFA may have lost their expertise and it doesn’t exist in the Cabinet Office in Whitehall.

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  10. iluvni (profile) says:

    Ford and Farry resigning….seismic!

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  11. Ulidian (profile) says:

    NISRA has a report on its website – why is there no article crawling all over it?

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  12. BarneyT (profile) says:

    The assembly played it quite carefully last night and clearly it was orchestrated to maintain as much calm as possible and push through a unanimous motion.

    But this was pointless. I felt for David Ford. He pulled the least punches. Yesterday was not a time for nice politics but the truth.

    With regard to the flag issue, I understand that we were presented with two extremes initially. Fly 365 or Remove 365. Had the vote gone ahead with Alliance abstention, which was their entitlement, Remove 365 would have prevailed.

    The Alliance, being moderate, proposed a compromise. The motion was tabled and votes were submitted. The Alliance voted for their motion and secured the compromise and ensured the Fly 15 option. It’s very twisted and distorted to justify the initial leaflet campaign which has UUP\DUP paw marks all over it and the subsequent UDA\UVF coordinated response which the former are partially responsible for. It also indicative of something entirely unhealthy to suggest that the Alliance Party are motivated to strip the unionists of their culture and trinkets.

    The Flag was subsequently removed on the basis that the conditions for Fly 15 were not met and Fly 365 is now obselete. It was not “torn town” as the DUP and TUV have suggested. That is intemperate and emotive language and should be treated as an attempt to incite. It should be openly challenged and perhaps be pursued by the PSNI.

    The Assembly was weak yesterday in that they elected to cross the finish line holding hands. Our first minister should have been held directly to account, as should others who advocated even peaceful protest against a democratic decision in the current climate.

    Peaceful protest will always be compromised when Unionist leaders stir emotions, inflame, incite and reduce themselves to hate politics and refuse to accept the basis principles of democracy.

    At no point should any politician have been encouraging these people on to the street, who are now at the point of being entirely disowned and even further disenfranchised on many levels. The majority of the mainland British do not want any association with Northern Ireland Unionism and Loyalism presently.

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  13. Nevin (profile) says:

    “What is required is a change of behaviour”

    Brian, the zero-sum game of the 1998 Agreement has prevented a necessary change of behaviour for the greater good, indeed the modifications to the Agreement have consolidated the stand-off. You urge a step-change yet you suggest no mechanism to facilitate it.

    You say co-operation exists yet we have no real idea what precisely happens within OFMDFM. There have been accusations that deals are done there in advance of meetings of the Executive; that’s trade-off, not co-operation.

    You refer to NIO and DFA expertise. This is the expertise which produced the zero-sum Agreement and its modifications; the local parties got to tinker at the margins. The BBC and other parts of the MSM shed little light on ongoing interventions by the NIO and DFA. For example, when I look at folks behind DFA email addresses I find that some are from DJE – justice and equality. The NIO and DFA will accommodate ‘internal housekeeping’ – so long as it is confined to Northern Ireland. This is the sort of thing we have to fear from NIO and DFA expertise.

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  14. Nevin (profile) says:

    “With the devolution of policing and justice”

    Brian, you will be familiar with the term ‘political policing’. What is the current mechanism for such policing? Does the current Minister of Justice have much or any input into decisions taken by or attributed to the Chief Constable? What about NIO and DFA officials? I ask these questions because the police sometimes get or take the blame for decisions taken by others.

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  15. RegisterForThisSite (profile) says:

    “…With regard to the flag issue, I understand that we were presented with two extremes initially. Fly 365 or Remove 365. Had the vote gone ahead with Alliance abstention, which was their entitlement, Remove 365 would have prevailed.

    The Alliance, being moderate, proposed a compromise…”

    BarneyT, the Alliance Party stated prior to the vote that they would not support the both/no flag proposal, so fair to presume they would have vote with the DUP and UUP for 365 days as abstaining would have tactically supported the nationalist parties.

    The Alliance stance was the same as Ford’s speech, it’s a shared British future, with a neutral flag and emblem policy apart from British flags and emblems.

    Nationalists now understand that the APNI is nice unionism and whats being played out is a game of ‘good guy / bad guy’ which suits the Alliance in holding on to tactical nationalist votes and attracting nice unionists, in return the DUP win back East Belfast with a hardman act.

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  16. BarneyT (profile) says:

    If the police can step in to pursue possible race hate crimes in English football stadiums, they can do the same here with regard to recent events and look closely at the incitement issues that many senior NI politicians are guilty of.

    Using the phrase “torn down” (spelled correctly this time) is in that category. The leafleteering is another more extreme version as is the recent calls for protest.

    I think the police have enough to act upon without guidance or input from the justice minister….and need to act without fear of being accused of political policing. That has not stopped them in the past.

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  17. RegisterForThisSite (profile) says:

    Ulidian, it appears that the diff in community backgrounds has dropped from 9.3% to 3.22% of the pop. I imagine some people are getting new batteries for their calculators in the hope that…………

    With the figures 45.14 v 48.36 no wonder the Alliance and others are falling back on the old constitutional malarkey to justify their flag flying

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  18. iluvni (profile) says:

    I’d say BarneyT that if we go down your road of investigations into incitement, the Alliance might have a few politicians under the microscope too, given their continued insistence in inferring that many of the UUP/DUP politicians looked on with sneaking regard to the activities of the Loyalist thugs breaking the law.

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  19. Nevin (profile) says:

    “The Alliance stance was the same as Ford’s speech, it’s a shared British future, with a neutral flag and emblem policy apart from British flags and emblems.”

    RFTS, here’s a link to the assembly debate, including David’s speech. Have you read it?

    The agreement confirmed Northern Ireland’s position in the UK, for as long as the majority wish, and recognised that our diverse society is a place where people of British, Irish and both identities live together, as Dr McDonnell said. ..

    In my view, the flag decision at Belfast City Council, like similar decisions elsewhere, is respectful of national sovereignty and of the variety of allegiances that make up our community. What was potentially most significant last Monday was seeing nationalist parties pragmatically, but positively, responding to that position. It showed that accommodation is possible if people are prepared to move beyond zero-sum approaches.

    It’s this sort of muddled analysis that leads to the ridiculous assertion that SF voted to fly the Union flag on the Queen’s birthday [my paraphrase]. David apparently doesn’t get the contradiction in the first paragraph of that quotation.

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  20. BarneyT (profile) says:

    As I said before, we need to tolerate the Union flag and the tricolour. We will never agree on a common emblem or neutral flag.

    Now yes, why would you tolerate a foreign flag flying on an official UK building…agreed…but NI is a different case in point.

    Going neutral is more aligned with stripping identity, so unless some creative magic can be performed to produce a flag we can all hold dear, stick with the two established emblems.

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  21. BarneyT (profile) says:

    With regard to the religious stats, the reality is that the “no religion” stat will increase over time. Who is “suffering” most in terms of religious wastage? I’m guess there is room for more lapsed Catholics and perhaps the Anglicans will also cause this “no religion” stat to increase.

    These stats should be used to demonstrate that Northern Ireland is no longer managed for just one culture and one religion but that it must introduce balance and representation for all.

    Some will be licking their lips at the prospect of the Catholic gains, but increased numbers does not translate into short-term increased vote share, nor does being Catholic confirm a tick for reunification.

    How patriotic would it be to share the recent problems with “our brothers” in the south? Perhaps nationalists in the interest of the country they love have a duty to shield their “compatriots” from the mess we find ourselves in, thereby preserving the NI state. Should the problem be exported, as it surely would?

    Was it Star Trek and boldly predicted “Irish Independence” by 2024.

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  22. Nevin (profile) says:

    BarneyT, we need a constitutional arrangement and associated emblems that allow us to work the common ground. If that sounds a bit like John Hume, my analysis extended John’s to include the Unionism aspiration. No magic was required, just a nose for reality ie that NI represents the overlap of two constitutional aspirations.

    Further up, if I read him correctly, Brian suggests that politicians apply more effort. If you apply more effort either the tug-of-war rope breaks or APNI trousers get ripped asunder, depending on the metaphor you use.

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  23. RegisterForThisSite (profile) says:

    Strangely Nevin, you pasted the exact bit I mean

    “What was potentially most significant last Monday was seeing nationalist parties pragmatically, but positively, responding to that position. It showed that accommodation is possible if people are prepared to move beyond zero-sum approaches.”

    Pragmatic maybe, as the Alliance offered 365 days or 15 days, 15 days being closer to none.

    “Positive” not sure you can be pragmatic and positive, unless he meant it was better than nothing

    and now I don’t know if Alliance is about compromise in NI society or the accommodation of 45% of society (or indeed the 48% and largest community in Belfast whose council building it is)

    So, yeah, I think Ford has 2 fishing rods out, one for nationalists and one for nice unionists, and needs to flip flop between ‘compromise’ when talking to nationalists and ‘accommodation’ when talking to nice unionists

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  24. Nevin (profile) says:

    RFTS, I’ve not been to an APNI coffee morning but I’ve a feeling there might be a certain disdain, maybe even contempt for those appalling Unionist and Nationalist hayseeds/culchies in Belfast, descendants of migrants from north Armagh and other uncivilised places ;)

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  25. Nevin (profile) says:

    “one for nationalists and one for nice unionists”

    RFTS, I can’t possibly let that remark go unchallenged; I’ve met many nice nationalists. The trouble with nice people is that they can be a bit weak in the face of adversity – there’s all that wringing of hands, smiling, shrugging of shoulders, more smiling. I’m a smiler but there’s grit there too :)

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  26. RegisterForThisSite (profile) says:

    Ah Nevin, grit but no pearl of wisdom as yet, can you see my view on the muddled outpourings of Mr Ford who seems to say (to paraphase another Ford) you can have any flag you want as long as its red white and blue.

    Don’t forget his comment about getting SF to vote for flying the union fly where does that little pearl fit in, and is he claiming now that SF will be running the union flag up in a positive manner, I would have thought reluctantly at best and how Nevin is getting SF to vote for flying the union flag an accommodation of the nationalist majority in Belfast.

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  27. Nevin (profile) says:

    “Don’t forget his comment about getting SF to vote for flying the union fly where does that little pearl fit in”

    I flagged that one up at the time, RFTS. Hence my support for the more broadly based approach by Naomi Long and my criticism of some yapping APNI males.

    You can’t blame David for supporting the 1998 Agreement, just for failing to recognise its inherent contradictions, contradictions which Nationalist politicians of various hues enthusiastically endorsed.

    I also flagged up the problems with Hume’s analysis in the early 90s [Simple as ABC?] long before the Agreement.

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  28. Barnshee (profile) says:

    Impotence? what is the surprise ?

    NI is a client state where the parasites are bought of with English taxpayers cash and the loclal politicians are message boys for the paymaster

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  29. RegisterForThisSite (profile) says:

    Actually Barnshee as I keep pointing out to Bluejazz its French and German Banks cash, down to only £110 Billion this year, and not only are the people of NI on the hook pay back their allocation they also have the privilege of getting to payback their share of the spending on the all import Nuclear subs, nuclear warheads and the finance for whatever wars are being fought at the moment, circa £1.2Billion per annum.

    Parasites hardly, think that term belongs to the people who dole out the borrowed cash and add the trimmings on

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  30. Barnshee (profile) says:

    RFS

    The NI Tax take is insufficient to pay costs locally (NHS Dole Police,Education etc before we get to the sewers that are Local Government and Stormont) The fact that Governments waste money on nuclear subs etc is a red herring– they are also wasting money on NI

    The ( Largely SE England) taxpayer thus makes up the difference via government dsubvention If the UK government (hopefully) keeps cutting this support there is a chance that real politics will break out

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