Slugger O'Toole

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#Flegs: Assembly Commission fails to make a quorum…

Wed 12 December 2012, 8:49am

A side note, but one worth putting on the record before it disappears from view, this came through from the Assembly comms office yesterday…

An Assembly spokesperson said: “The Assembly Commission meeting, planned for 11 December 2012, did not proceed as a quorum was not achieved. Arrangements will be made to reschedule the meeting.”

What it means that the DUP and UUP wanted to push the issue of more days for flags up at Stormont, the opposition, Sinn Fein, SDLP and the Alliance party all decided not to play ball, didn’t turn up and the meeting was cancelled.

So the issue goes on the long finger until the new year. When hopefully the streets will be clear of protesters and the death threats against politicians dies down again.

Update: BBC has the technical details… The commission has an inbuilt majority for Unionists, there is no cross community vote so it is likely that when the vote takes place the flag issue will get resolved in favour of Unionists.

#awkward

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Comments (36)

  1. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Peter Robinson was highly critical of this decision, but this is the same man who refused to back an Assembly motion regarding the Belfast City Council flag vote as “legitimate and democratic”. I am not sure what basis he has to complain about the Assembly Commission being obstructed if he can’t support the legitimate processes on local councils.

    The Commission has six members, three unionists (2 DUP including the speaker and 1 UUP), 1 Alliance, 1 SDLP and 1 Sinn Féin. Any unionist-inspired vote to change the flag policy would be expected to be a tiebreak. Accordingly, there are very practical reasons for boycotting; Judith Cochrane sits on the commission and she’d be compelled to vote for designated days in the same way as her colleagues on the council did. During this heightened atmosphere this would accomplish nothing other than renewing the tensions and expose her to the same kind of threats that Naomi Long is facing.

    The unionists know this and a cynical person might conclude that their objective here is to expose Alliance MLAs to further threats, all because they want to save face by reversing their own policy on flags to match the belligerent line they have taken in Belfast.

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  2. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    It’s politics CS. And all is fair in politics, but it is also generally a swing door of some description. Better hope you can see this one through to positive conclusion, and the swing is longer rather than short term.

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  3. BarneyT (profile) says:

    It should be plain to see that whilst we have unresolved matters to deal with regarding the City Hall fiasco (and in particular the role the main unionist parties steering the loyalist juggernaut in the Alliance direction), all emblem and flag related matters should be shelved.

    We need to expose the role that the UUP and DUP played prior to the vote and in particular how they left the Alliance dangerously compromised.

    If the unionists cannot balance the City Hall concession (as it will be seen) they will be exposed to those they poured fuel on. That is the face-saving motive for securing more flag time.

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  4. SDLP supporter (profile) says:

    Amusing to hear Peter Robinson berating SDLP, SF, Alliance for not attending the Assembly Commission yesterday and not working the democratic institutions. Was it not the DUP which refused for years to send its ministers to the Northern Ireland Executive?

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  5. iluvni (profile) says:

    Amusing?
    Seems the 3 parties ran away from their duties on the Commission.
    A rather cowardly decision if you ask me, and for Alliance, it looks like they’ve taken sides again.

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  6. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Just had someone point out that it contrasts with the lauding of democracy after last weeks vote… The unionists have a majority…

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  7. Alone and Easy Target (profile) says:

    So much for respecting democratic decisions….

    I would not be surprised to see the UUP/DUP advocating cross-community voting in local government after this. Bringing the same excellent policy delivery that we have in Stormont to the councils.

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  8. Billy Pilgrim (profile) says:

    Mick

    ‘Just had someone point out that it contrasts with the lauding of democracy after last weeks vote… The unionists have a majority…’

    I thought it was three unionist, three non-unionist. How is that a majority? (Unless you’re including Alliance as unionists?)

    Actually, far from having a majority, they can’t even rustle up a quorum with non-unionists playing ball. And why on earth would any sensible person think the non-unionists should play ball, under the present circumstances?

    Unionism’s attempt to call this meeting is utterly outrageous
    in the present circumstances. Alliance, SDLP and SF have done the only decent thing.

    The split in Northern Irish politics is no longer Catholic-Protestant, or nationalist-unionist. It is the coalition-of-the-civilised versus the forces of barbarism.

    The former includes Alliance, SDLP, SF and that large section of the unionist tradition that is for democracy and against attacking police officers and elected representatives.

    The latter includes the DUP, UUP, unreconstructed supremacists and the inarticulate mob, plus some sneaking-regarders in the media.

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  9. Billy Pilgrim (profile) says:

    EDIT:

    Should read:

    ‘…they can’t even rustle up a quorum withOUT non-unionists playing ball…’

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  10. Count Eric Bisto von Granules (profile) says:

    Given that there is no sign of this going away, indeed some parties are deliberately keep adding oxygen to the fire, could a nationalist dominated council choose to fly the tricolour?
    I am not advocating this as a course of action, but wondering whether a council actually has the power to fly the flag of another sovereign nation.
    So if unionist are successful with changing Stormont policy or with their motion on the cenotaph, is it within the powers of Derry City council to fly the flag of the Irish republic?
    Interested in hearing thoughts on whether this could be another step in the zero sum politics being played out at the moment.

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  11. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Billy, check the tech details from the Beeb above. In the event of a draw the larger number of seats represented win. And that’s Unionist. I had no idea either.

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  12. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Count,

    I don’t think there’s legislation on local authorities, but like everything in NI, it’s is subject to the dreaded Equality law.

    McCreesh would have made it through in Newry because its not a workplace which is how the City Hall was snagged.

    All the unionists are doing here is upping the days the flag is flown, not trying to introduce it. The Assembly is governed by statute.

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  13. Billy Pilgrim (profile) says:

    Mick

    So what you’re describing is a highly esoteric technicality. Yet you describe this as a ‘majority.’

    In another technicality, the group can’t meet unless some section of the coalition-of-the-civilised plays ball with the forces of barbarism.

    Since the civilised representatives are, quite obviously, not inclined to do so, the forces of barbarism can do nothing other than rant (as Peter Robinson did on UTV last night) with unmistakable impotence.

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  14. Billy Pilgrim (profile) says:

    The attempts by the forces of barbarism to open up a new front in this battle, at Stormont, raises a serious problem. How can the Assembly Commission ever now meet?

    Since the coalition-of-the-civilised has no wish to allow the forces of barbarism to open a new front, and since the forces of barbarism have shown themselves to be utterly incorrigible in their desire to open a new front, we surely now have a stalemate, in which the Assembly Commission cannot meet at all, unless either the barbarians drop the proposal, or the coalition-of-the-civilised blinks first, and surrenders to barbarism.

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  15. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Billy,

    “How can the Assembly Commission ever now meet?”

    By nationalism and alliance turning up to do their job?

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  16. Billy Pilgrim (profile) says:

    And if unionist representatives make it impossible for them to ‘do their job’?

    Perhaps you might define exactly what you think their ‘job’ is?

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  17. Billy Pilgrim (profile) says:

    Personally, I think their refusal to make up the quorum was a great example of civilised political leaders ‘doing their job’ – ie repelling the efforts of the forces of barbarism to open a new front in their campaign of violence and intimidation.

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  18. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Just think that through Billy? Both City Hall and Assembly Commission are democratic votes. If they cannot turn up then they are abandoning their representative duty.

    Or do we just play this game so long as we get the outcome we want?

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  19. BarneyT (profile) says:

    I dont think in this case, duty is be abandoned for political gain or because they fear the demcratic outcome. Clearly the stormont flag issue is in response to the City Hall mess and most can see that.

    Whilst you are right Mick that it would be consistent for the nationalists and alliance to be present and see this one through ( even if the outcome is undesireable) they would be playing along with the Unionist games and adding oxygen to the fire in very sensitive times. This is more evidently an attempt by unionism to even things up to lesson the pressure on the unionists and save face.

    If they do vote to extend flag flying times, then that is the way it should be, however the process is compromised now and it is valid not to play ball at this present time.

    They nationalists and alliance must be careful not to reward bad behaviour as that is what quorum right now would achieve

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  20. BarneyT (profile) says:

    Adding to this….any decisions made regarding Stormont will probably represent a loss for the nationalists and alliance using normal mechanisms. Despite voting parity, the unionist vote is weighted in their favour due to a greater electoral mandate I believe…bit bit like the old times when voting was influenced by ratable value :-) I jest

    Its never going to be a case of “playing the game so long as we get the outcome we want”…I hope

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  21. Billy Pilgrim (profile) says:

    Mick Fealty

    ‘If they cannot turn up then they are abandoning their representative duty.’

    How are they ‘abandoning their democratic duty’? I think most people understand that voting in committees is only one aspect of a representative’s role.

    I would submit that facing down the forces of barbarism is another – and at present, a much more pressing – function of our elected representatives.

    Talk of ‘representative duty’ and ‘democracy’ is mendacious when those who want this committee to meet share responsibility for the widespread fear being felt on our streets.

    As long as that fear pertains, those responsible for stoking it, and their sneaking regarders, have no right to speak of democracy.

    You can decide yourself whether that includes you.

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  22. BarneyT (profile) says:

    count eric: wee link of flags in the uk which is interesting if not only to find that the st pats element of the flag ranks beneath the st andrews and thereafter gets little mention
    http://www.flaginstitute.org/index.php?location=7.1.2

    billy p: couldnt agree more.

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  23. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Billy,

    “facing down the forces of barbarism”

    That would be, like, getting on and taking a vote on something you already know you are going to lose? Isn’t that #democracy?

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  24. Kevsterino (profile) says:

    If depriving the Committee of a quorum is the only way to defeat what you regard as an unwise and unwarranted change in policy, then pragmatically, it is the right choice.

    The MLA’s who absented themselves from the meeting played it smart. So far.

    If they want to continue to play smart, they will find a way to make a deal. It is only a flag, after all. The trouble is, in my view anyway, that whatever concession they give to unionism regarding the flag, it would now appear to reward the mad freaks in the street. That is poison.

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  25. IJP (profile) says:

    Mick

    Let’s be frank, Alliance didn’t turn up to facilitate a consultation on flags because it would have been outright dangerous, literally, for them to do so. No one should be in any doubt about that.

    Such a consultation would simply have led to flags being an “issue” over a protracted period, with another outpouring of “grief” at the end of the consultation, and then at a further period down the line when Unionists lose their majority (read the census).

    Put another way: can you imagine all the aspects of the Agreement (constitutional status, nationality, prisoner releases, decommissioning etc) each being dealt with one by one? You would never have got agreement!

    The way to get agreement on flags is to put it into the CSI pot and make a serious attempt at actually addressing real issues – parading, education, housing and so on – though a comprehensive compromise. That’s how it worked in 1998, that’s how it worked in 2006, and it’s the only way it’ll work in 2012/13.

    Once Unionists deal with that fact, the rest of us will deal with them. Until then, it is impossible.

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  26. Billy Pilgrim (profile) says:

    Well said IJP.

    Mick – stop batting for the forces of barbarism.

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  27. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    I’m just being a right a*sed moderator, and trying to remind people of the detail…

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  28. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Mick,

    I can see you are trying to look at both sides but in this case you are suggesting that Alliance supporters are to be expected to put themselves directly in the line of fire (in every sense of the word) all because the unionists refuse to show leadership and are desperately trying to save face by overturning their own flags policy by attempting to force an outcome through a cynical manipulation of the Assembly’s mechanisms.

    As I explained above, if that meeting went ahead Judith Cochrane would be compelled to vote for the party’s policy of designated days. What effect do you think that is likely to have on the streets ? The unionists have acted with crass irresponsibility over the past number of months on this issue, this matter of the Commission shows that they mean to continue to do so and frankly if they don’t pull their heads out the Assembly is going to grind to a complete stop. As it stands my view is that the position of the two Alliance ministers, particularly the Justice minister, is untenable under the current circumstances and if unionists continue this behaviour his resignation, followed by the collapse of the Executive and the assembly, will be inevitable.

    I am sure you are probably aware of this but Alliance members and representatives are under threat of a kind that goes beyond what is currently in the public domain. The DUP and UUP are now openly colluding with often illegal protests which have the effect of making it dangerous for anyone to work in or visit an Alliance office. An attempt is being made to choke the life out of the party in order to make it fold up and disappear – I pray that these thoroughly anti-democratic attempts will not succeed, but I really don’t think this situation is one where it is appropriate to complain about the party’s failure to adhere to assembly procedure.

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  29. Neil (profile) says:

    First they sent out their leaflet.

    http://sluggerotoole.com/2012/11/13/dup-leaflet-accuses-alliance-party-of-ununionist-activities/dup_all_leaflet/

    Directing people bizarrely to Naomi Long – even though she’s not a councillor on BCC, but coincidentally is in five pound Pete’s old seat.

    Then the dogs which the DUP whistled out onto the streets are cheerfully burning Alliance offices and then you have the whole death threat thing, and you think politically Alliance are obliged to do the DUP a favour?

    Given our ministers regularly cannot make it to the business they should be at, how many days grace can one claim if you’re offices are being burned and people are being threatened with death? No days if the DUP click their fingers? Utterly, utterly bizarre. Get your dogs off the street and normal business can resume.

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  30. I wonder how long stormont can continue if this baiting exercise goes on. Robinson has, in this whole affair since the leaflets were put out, shown that he’s not a big enough man to be in charge ofd a whelk stall. Too petty and bloodyminded, mind you he’s in good company for that up on the white elephant in East belfast.

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  31. latcheeco (profile) says:

    I don’t know why given the census results yesterday the pan democratic front don’t now encourage these chaps to stick up as many union jacks as they can. I’d also call for more kick the pope parades outside chapel gates adorned in UDA flags where possible.
    Kulchur-the gift that will eternally thwart the dream that was Mcilronia

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  32. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Daniel,

    That is an accurate assessment in my view.

    Nobody in mainstream politics in NI wants the assembly or the executive to collapse, but I really feel like I am supporting a charade when my party leader together with Stephen Farry are essentially being told “you knew what would happen” and “you brought this on yourselves” and who will not stop despite repeated pleas for calm. This is the ideology of a rapist. How can you collaborate or work with people who are out on the streets picketing your office alongside roadblocks, riots and violent attacks on those offices ?

    I imagine the concern among the leadership of Alliance is that the public want the institutions to be maintained and there is a fear that any collapse will play right into the hands of the paramilitaries, dissidents in particular.

    But I really feel at this point that the only way we are going to see progress is at all-party talks. I keep hearing about unionist anger, apparently we are supposed to quiesce to their anger but not to the anger of people who want to get on with their lives in peace. The bloodyminded part of me feels that the unionists need to be reminded of the prospect of joint authority in order to focus their minds. Their choice is to either operate the assembly and come out against this thuggery, intimidation and illegality, or they can content themselves to spend the rest of their careers lobbying Maryfield.

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  33. AndyB (profile) says:

    Question.

    While Parliament Buildings is not explicitly listed in the original of The Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, regulation 9 does say that flags may not be flown over Government Buildings except on designated days.

    If so, does that not mean that the Assembly Commission does not have the power to change the flying arrangements of its own accord, and new secondary legislation would be needed – and would therefore be subject to a petition of concern?

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  34. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Fascinating point Andy, I did not spot that.

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  35. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Hmm, the explanatory notes with the legislation define a “government building” as a building wholly or mainly occupied by civil servants. Does Parliament Buildings fit into this category ?

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  36. RegisterForThisSite (profile) says:

    Surely democracy is exercising the mandate given to you by electors. Which in the case of nationalist politicians is to follow a path to equality and in the future a united Ireland.

    For nationalist politicians to facilitate additional days flying the union flag would be a betrayal of that mandate and the electorate.

    Lessor of two evils Mick to not ‘Clock-in’ to your job rather than betray your electorate.

    If the people who elect the majority of nationalist MPs give them a mandate not to attend the Commons, how would it be democratic to force them to attend. Surely it’s the same argument?

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