Micheal Martin: NI’s ‘establishment parties’ are failing the Belfast Agreement

Micheal Martin QUB

So Micheal Martin’s speech last night, revisited with my own analysis appended. First the word cloud (kindly generated by John) of Micheal Martin’s speech has one word which stands far out above any other. And it’s Agreement.

Not surprising perhaps since the speech was themed around the coming 15th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement. And, it seems, he came to Belfast not to bury, or even just to praise it, but remind his audience of young students at Queens last night of…

…how the potential of that document remains unfulfilled, and to lay down a challenge to us all; to lay down the challenge of unleashing the power and potential of that Agreement, especially in the context of all-Ireland politics, in a way that the political class has so far failed to do.

Fightin’ talk Micheal. Certainly the focus of comment both on our initial thread and in Conor Bradford’s studio interview this morning on Good Morning Ulster was on his candid and sustained attack on Sinn Fein as the major representatives of Irish Republicanism in Northern Ireland: part of Northern Ireland’s ‘political establishment’ as he chose to put it.

Yet Mr Martin did also hammer the British Secretary of State and the Irish Governments for a degree of detachment from the issue of Northern Ireland now devolution appeared to be under sail:

Unfortunately, what has also happened is that the British and Irish governments have significantly disengaged. That’s not to say that they are disinterested, but no one could look at their level of activity at the most senior levels and say that they view the development of the Agreement as a real priority.

In the last two years there we have seen no ambitious initiatives, no new agenda, no sense of urgency. The formal basic structures of the Agreement have been the only focus. There are a lot of warm words, uttered with absolute sincerity – but the scale of involvement and hands-on management required to tackle entrenched problems has been missing.

That’s pretty much the same roster of criticism that Sinn Fein themselves have been criticising for many of the same reasons. The difference is that Sinn Fein themselves are implicated in a grand cycle of negativity that’s been gripping Northern Irish politics for much of the last year.

Mr Martin’s party – now releived of government responsibility in the Republic – is not.

He also notes that the Belfast Agreement was brought about by the self sacrifice of parties and politicians of the moderate middle, who put a peaceful settlement before the direct interests of their own political parties (although there is a decidedly nationalist bent to the subjects of his praise):

The risks for peace taken by John Hume, Seamus Mallon and the SDLP, and their work with Dublin governments, remain a foundation without which the Agreement would have been impossible. On every major issue at every point, they put the people’s interests before their party’s interests and this should never be forgotten.

It is a great success of the Agreement and a victory for moderate politics, that the DUP and Sinn Fein are now sharing power. Without the steady leadership and commitment of centre-ground, constitutional parties over the last twenty years this would have been impossible.

However they remain two parties deeply committed to their own interests. Just as they happily exploited the risks for peace taken by others in the early years of the process, their approach to all issues remains, to this day, primarily motivated by party interests.

Deeper than that he hammers the lazy idea that the mere fact of the existence of power sharing institutions in and of themselves would solve all problems. Along with the sense, perhaps, that those now working these institution remain (however cackhandedly they handle their briefs) above criticism:

Only last week the Taoiseach told me during Dáil questions that he is very happy with the level of engagement on Northern issues. This he justified not because of any particular achievements, but because there have been more meetings of ministerial council than before.

This is exactly the sort of formulaic approach that causes disillusionment. If the main political leaders concentrate on formalities rather than substance, and if they let party interests take precedence over real cross-community engagement how can the potential of this part of Ireland possibly be realised?

Securing all of the benefits of the Agreement require all who care about the future of this island to renew their commitment to a process based on active cooperation. We must have a more urgent focus on the wider agenda of the agreement.

In other words the eschewing of political delivery as a legitimate measure of progress in favour of a continuous (and at times uncontrollable war over symbols is leading to a slow rot in actual politics in Northern Ireland.

One of the more striking passages is where he says that the imperative of the Agreement leadership binds both political traditions on the island to engage positively for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland. Shades of Peter Robinson’s “if we want a better society, it can’t be them and us”:

Parties have a major role to play by changing the ways in which they assert their traditions. For example, as President of Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party, I believe that I have an added responsibility to respect the symbols and traditions of Unionism.

Perhaps the biggest thing which has been missing in the last 15 years has been a willingness of behalf of some to be more challenging of themselves and their own roles in fostering division. To overcome those divisions we need much more openness about the past and more honesty about, and regret for inexcusable actions.

For twenty years my party has been relentless in seeking opportunities to show how all traditions can be valued – and how the act of commemoration does not have to be either triumphalist or sectarian.

We’ve repeatedly addressed what we acknowledged as the failures of the Irish state and sought ways to strengthen supports for minority traditions. For example, for the first time ever the Irish state has specifically commemorated those who died in the service of the British flag.

A culmination of this was the invitation from former Fianna Fáil Leader and Taoiseach Brian Cowen to Queen Elizabeth to undertake a state visit to Dublin. During that visit, she was accompanied by the President and leaders of an independent Irish state as she paid tribute to both those who died on the Somme and those who died in the fight for Ireland’s freedom.

Yet where was Sinn Fein when the British monarch bowed her head in tribute to Padraig Pearse and James Connolly? It was on the street outside chanting and holding protest signs. It was seeking to discipline the one Sinn Fein councillor in the country who knew the party’s position was inexcusable and had the courage to defy it. These were empty and divisive stunts, witnessed by millions.

Sinn Fein cannot be fully committed to all-island, all-community politics if it continues to insist on its own version of history and what it means to be Irish. How can a party be truly all-island and committed to convincing unionists if it sells t-shirts and mugs emblazoned with “IRA undefeated army”?[Emphasis added]

Undoubtedly he pinpoints Sinn Fein as the weak point in the critical fulfilment of the Belfast Agreement. Why? Well apart from the bleedin’ obvious that they are his political rivals, he argues they are obsessed with curating their own legacy and thus failing to create a functional platform for powerful present day action on behalf of its own electorate:

…the non-stop effort at trying to be “more republican than thou” is a direct impediment to fulfilling the potential of the Agreement in terms of all-island development.

It stands in the way of building a credible cross-party agenda and it reinforces the fears of some in Northern Ireland that Sinn Fein does not genuinely respect their place in Irish society.[emphasis added]

And to those who still believe that all that’s needed is an upturn in the southern economy to convince a small section of Unionists to ‘convert’ to United Ireland, he argues that good will cannot be manufactured out of thin air after some fictitious 50% +1 point in the future.

Rather…

Unionists that will need to be convinced of the benefits of a new Irish State must first be convinced that republicans respect their identity within the current constitutional arrangement.

Parties need to return to the founding principles of this process, which see everyone as having a shared stake in success and which say that we should all try to respect our histories in a way which is non-divisive.

He then goes on to point what’s already happening because of cross border funding and what can still be done without even the least hint of a border or implied threat of an agressive takeover. For instance:

Agriculture is also an area that is crucial to the economies of both north and south.It makes sense that there is co-operation particularly during the CAP negotiations, animal welfare issues and in areas of cross border rural development .

Expanding the shadow of the future…

These are a few of the many, many areas where a greater cooperation on an all-island basis would be a benefit to all. Equally I have no doubt that the broader perspectives of a deeper and more systematic engagement about social and economic policies between our political systems would be to the benefit of both.

I have specifically not gone into the work of the cross-border bodies because I want to make the point that the all-island agenda cannot be defined by their tasks or the compulsory agendas of ministerial councils. Genuine cooperation doesn’t need a legal basis, it is an ongoing search for areas of mutual interest. [Emphasis added]

And finally, he warns his audience not to take at face value anything any politician tells [including himself, presumably? - Ed]

There is nothing inevitable about peace and there is nothing inevitable about progress. You have an obligation not to accept the assurances of any political party or orthodoxy at face value.

You have an obligation to take up the process and make it bigger, make it better – to deliver the potential that was written into the Agreement and remains untapped today.

, , , ,

  • Ruarai

    Memo to FF: Don’t repeat the SDLP’s mistake of focusing the thrust of your message on constant critiques of and snipes at SF.

    The main message must be how you can deliver and on what.

    In terms of an all-island agenda for improving everyone’s lives… “show, don’t tell”.

  • Mick Fealty

    Id finesse that advice by suggesting the SDLP could hardly criticise SFR after faciltating SF at the big table. At this stage I can’t see any harm in building provenance for an alternative critique.

    If you think that your opponent is making a heims of things, why wouldn’t you say so?

  • megatron

    Ridiculously party political. Bends over backwards not to criticise SF (and way over the top praise of SDLP).

    MM would be better off ignoring the north rather than halfhearted engagement to criticise SF.

    At least FG are consistent.

  • John Ó Néill

    Ruarai – I knew it reminded me of something. I’d a look there – Mark McGregor threw out a tag-cloud of Margaret Ritchie’s speech to the SDLP conference in 2010. There you go – I’m simply copying McGregor. Or Martin is simply copying Ritchie.

    Well someone is copying someone here.

  • Mick Fealty

    This was my first at the Telegraph. sadly corroded now: http://goo.gl/30tEG How is Martin copying Ritchie?

  • BarneyT

    I have to second Ruarai and ask that MM do something about it. Despite the predictable anti SF rant, which is getting very tired now, he spoke positively about a new level of all-ireland engagement and perhaps reminded us that the northern parties are not the sole stakeholders in the GFA and this island for that matter. I’d like to see action too.

    He identified many of the executive failings, most of which have been discussed in this site, which is not a bad thing.

    He’s in danger of defining himself through his “enemy” and is becoming as predictable as Enda Kenny in response to Gerry in the Dail

  • John Ó Néill

    I had actually meant it flippantly, Mick.

    Although, if you want me to parse it … the SDLP modus operandi for making itself relevant has mostly been to criticise Sinn Fein. Both the SDLP and FF are reading off the same narrative here. But in case anyone in Michael Martin’s speech-writing team didn’t notice, it hasn’t exactly been electoral gold.

  • Ruarai

    Mick,

    “If you think that your opponent is making a heims of things, why wouldn’t you say so?”

    Because: is that all ya got?

    Look how well that’s worked for the SDLP since 1998.

    Political branding must at its core be about building the case that you have a project – not just a critique. And a project that’s relevant to people’s lives.

    Many voters are not sold on SF’s project but are nonetheless irked by the SDLP’s constant knocking of it rather than offering an alternative all-island project. They see in SF a deeply flawed operation, morally and political, but they at least see an operation.

    By constantly criticizing SF, all one does is frame SF as the primary driver of change – it’s an inadvertent compliment.

    Nationalists, like many non-Nationalists across Ireland, want change. They’ll vote for a party of change, not a party of commentary.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ruarai,

    I admit, I just don’t get this.

    I’ve never come across any party anywhere that no one can ever criticise without coming off second best. It’s not as though criticism is banned the other way.

    For instance, the SDLP did not self-append the name Stoop Down Low Party. It was part of a long, and largely successful campaign of demoralising an opponent.

    And what’s this rule that unless FF organise in Northern Ireland they cannot criticise how Northern parties work a set of arrangements under a treaty that their gov reps signed?

    That’s worth conjuring with actually. A member of FF actually signed the international treaty that authorised these arrangements. No one from any of the NI parties did.

    Even laying that to one side, Martin gets a say because Strand Two gives him a voice on what goes on in Northern Ireland. Or does that not matter now? If not, why not?

    It certainly does not bind him to endorse whatever is done in the name of Irish Republicanism. Particularly if in his view it is pushing the people of Ireland further apart rather bringing them together.

    There’s a long passage in there (the speech) about what is already being done, what can be done and what can be built on what’s already been achieved.

    SF give FF hell every moment they can. And fair play. I’d think much less of them if they didn’t. It’s just odd that SF folk cannot see that what’s fair for the goose, etc..

    The realpolitick of what’s going on is that FF have noted that SF’s record in the NI admin is poor to appalling. The NI Water debacle is just one of several blots on the party’s record.

    If Catholic education performs better at the lower end that has a much to do with tighter management structures through the CCEA.

    It owes nothing to the party’s three ministers, the third and possibly most able of whom has turned almost everything over to his senior civil servants.

    In short, voting SF over twenty years has done next to nothing to improve the lot of the poorest folk in Belfast who are still the poorest in NI and still living in single identity areas surrounded by more prosperous Protestant working class areas.

    The party have eschewed agency in government because its leadership (as opposed to individuals in the rank and file) are not interested in it.

    That’s ripe for disruption. It’s this I think Martin has spotted.

    Whether or not he is man to do it, is a moot point, but his consistent narrative is pointing it out to others who might be in a better position to exploit it north of the border.

    The SDLP certainly ought to be looking at that ‘weird’ polling result in the Spotlight Mori poll (http://goo.gl/y51ox).

    At SF 21.7 SDLP 18.6 for which party best represents your views, it looks to me that SF are, ten years after borrowing the votes of SDLP, still far from ‘sealing the deal’.

    If you haven’t sealed the deal after ten years, when are you going to do it?

  • Ruarai

    Mick,

    I’ve never come across any party anywhere that no one can ever criticise without coming off second best. It’s not as though criticism is banned the other way.

    No one – except maybe SFers – is suggesting that “no one can ever criticize” – it’s simply a question of proportion and priority. The priority should not be being anti-SF, it should be being pro-something.

    And what’s this rule that unless FF organise in Northern Ireland they cannot criticise how Northern parties work a set of arrangements under a treaty that their gov reps signed?

    It’s a rule I’d never heard of until you just mentioned it. Pretty sure you just made it up:)

    FF and any other group or person else is welcome to criticize all they like, I for one appreciate the engagement efforts. The more constructive and inspiring approach would be to go a step further: walk the talk – offer an alternative by organizing. If, for the sake of conversation, FF are testing the waters in the north then hopefully they’ll realize very quickly that the road to relevance and success is not via selling anti-SF rhetoric in new bottles. No, it’s by organizing an alternative based on constructive all-Ireland policies and initiatives.

    Even laying that to one side, Martin gets a say because Strand Two gives him a voice on what goes on in Northern Ireland. Or does that not matter now? If not, why not?

    Strawman… No one is suggesting Martin shouldn’t have a say. I’m glad he’s talking. I just hope he comes up with a new script, one based on…you’ve guessed it: an alternative project, not simply anti-SF rhetoric.

    There’s a long passage in there (the speech) about what is already being done, what can be done and what can be built on what’s already been achieved.

    Yep. More of that is welcome. But hopefully we can have some more detailed policies and initiatives and less rosy language about coming together, reconciliation and so on. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose bored rigid of vacuous come-to-getherism language, from all quarters. We need new policies not new rhetoric.

    SF give FF hell every moment they can. And fair play. I’d think much less of them if they didn’t. It’s just odd that SF folk cannot see that what’s fair for the goose, etc..

    I’m sure SF folk can see that – but they’re clever enough to base their rhetoric on marketing not morality.
    No one cares much for what’s “fair” – they care about what works. Only critizing SF doesn’t work so well – it can stem their rise to a point, yes. But the real opportunity for FF, should they or others eventually come north, will be found by those who offer an alternative platform for change, not simply snipes at SF (that seat’s taken).

    In short, voting SF over twenty years has done next to nothing to improve the lot of the poorest folk in Belfast who are still the poorest in NI and still living in single identity areas surrounded by more prosperous Protestant working class areas.

    So…offer voters an alternative…

    The SDLP certainly ought to be looking at that ‘weird’ polling result in the Spotlight Mori poll (http://goo.gl/y51ox).
    Political leaders should be shaping polls, not following them.

    Look, a whole host of attempts were made to block nationalist political initiatives since the inception of the northern state. Now that the Nationalist parties have more power than ever before, prepare yourself for a never-ending stream of polls that provide comfort to those terrified by this reality and who hope to deflect from the only polls that actually count: Electoral results.

    It would be really disappointing however, should FF or others eventually organize in the north, were they to target their ambitions merely as taking over from the SDLP, in tone and rhetoric and target constituencies. Should anyone new come forth to organize in the north, a key test (for me) will be whether they can articulate a platform for all-island politics that is based on policy, innovation and not freaking identity BS.

    At SF 21.7 SDLP 18.6 for which party best represents your views, it looks to me that SF are, ten years after borrowing the votes of SDLP, still far from ‘sealing the deal’.
    If you haven’t sealed the deal after ten years, when are you going to do it?

    I agree. Neither SF nor the SDLP are vehicles built for developing innovative all-island political initiatives of the sort I, and I suspect many others, would vote for with the confidence that we’re backing a paradigm-changing platform for change.

    So…perhaps FF or others will walk the talk and organize across the island on a platform that could attract support and, more importantly, improve the lives of everyone on the island.

  • son of sam

    Well said Mick for above (8 26pm)
    Your posters thus far seem to reckon that the S D L P should receive no credit for putting people before party in the evolution of the Peace Process.Conversely any recent criticism of Sinn Fein is often seen as eroding the P Process.It seems to be an article of faith that the Shinners have a monopoly of credit in this area.Any significant Republican who is arrested nowadays seems to merit the epithet “crucial supporter of the peace process”.Why should we not be able to point out that from time to time that the Sinn Fein emperors have no clothes?Its what politics is all about.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “the Agreement was not an end in itself, it was a “new dispensation” – it was a dramatic opportunity to reshape politics on this island”

    Wrong. It’s a 3-Strand Agreement that reshapes politics across these islands but particularly in NI. NI represents the overlap of the two constitutional aspirations.

    “Lifting from society a constant fear of violence is a dramatic achievement which remains in place in spite of the efforts of a handful of extremists.”

    The violence has indeed decreased dramatically yet the Dublin political establishment under FF actually endorsed community projects that were under paramilitary control, even cross-community paramilitary control.

    “it continues to suit the dominant political parties to lock their communities and the media in a never ending cycle of controversies and conflicts about old-style identity politics”

    MM points the finger at the DUP and SF yet IMO the fault lies in the tug-of-war constitutional settlement promoted by London and Dublin. Identity may be a symptom but sovereignty is the issue.

    “The risks for peace taken by John Hume ..”

    The confrontational street politics of Paisley and Hume helped put the respective mobs at each other’s throats. Hume’s political analysis left out the unionist aspiration so it was an obstacle to progress.

    “It is a great success of the Agreement and a victory for moderate politics, that the DUP and Sinn Fein are now sharing power.”

    Ah yes, the great OFMDFM stand-off; MM doesn’t recognise failure for moderate politics when it’s staring him in the face.

    “There are a lot of warm words, uttered with absolute sincerity – but the scale of involvement and hands-on management required to tackle entrenched problems has been missing.”

    There’s not a drop of sincerity in the ‘reaching-out’ utterances coming from London and Dublin or from unionist or nationalist sources.

    “Securing all of the benefits of the Agreement require all who care about the future of this island to renew their commitment to a process based on active cooperation. We must have a more urgent focus on the wider agenda of the agreement.”

    MM continuing to obsess about the island of Ireland whilst ignoring the ‘wider agenda’.

    “An ambitious anti-sectarian agenda is now an absolute priority.”

    MM, sectarianism is merely a symptom of the constitutional blunder you and others signed up to.

    A bit of SF bashing follows …

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ruarai:

    Memo to FF: Don’t repeat the SDLP’s mistake of focusing the thrust of your message on constant critiques of and snipes at SF.

    The SDLP’s mistake is being crap at having policies and running elections.

    I’d agree that the public don’t respond well to a campaign which is dominated by attacks. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t land a few carefully choreographed attacks on your opponent’s weak spot just to remind the public who they actually are. It has the effect of stunning SF into a standstill as they are at this point lumbered with the fact that their party leader in the Dáil led the IRA for many years out of Ballymurphy.

  • Ruarai

    CS,

    I agree that negative campaigning works very well, in all liberal democracies, when executed properly. And efficacy aside, I also think there’s a perfectly appropriate place for it when the target of the negativity is guilty of something particularly heinous.

    I’m not making the case for no negative campaigning, I’m making the case against a politics that’s at its core merely reactionary, particularly when it’s reacting against a political project that appears – to many – to have forward momentum.

    You and I would no doubt disagree on the value of many SDLP policies – as personally I don’t think the combined policy output of the rest of NI’s parties since 1921 comes close in value, impact or far-sightedness to those produced by the SDLP on Europe, the Three Stranded approach to conflict transformation or policing reform (to name but three).

    But we can agree that over the last decade or more the party has self-inflicted some terrible own goals in terms of vote management.

  • keano10

    It might be hard for some to take, but the fact is that many within the Nationalist community simply like many of the Sinn Fein senior figures much more than the somewhat oblique individuals who now hold office within the higher echelons of the SDLP. Martin MCGuinness is generally well liked within broader Nationalism as is Gerry Kelly and the countless others.

    There is a noticeable disconnect with people like Alisdair McDonnell, Alex Attwood etc…

    Like it or loathe it, personality does go a long way in politics. Personally I always thought that Mark Durkan was a decent leader for the SDLP. Certainly a lot better than the recent incumbents of that position.

  • Zig70

    You aren’t going to effect change by coming into the room with a negative gloom, you’ll just get chased out which is Martin’s just desserts. He’s not coming up north with a bag full of credibility to allow him to point to our failings. I just think it was a poor speech which will only serve to distance nats north and south.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I respect Martin McGuinness a great deal. He comes across as sincere, that he knows there can be turning back, and he knows he his position requires him to discharge great responsibilities and show courage, all of which he has done. I would trust him.

    Gerry Kelly I have more of a problem with. He was extremely rude to Malachai O’Doherty on the radio a couple of weeks ago for example, and comes across as a bit of a gangster at times what with the fancy suits and expensive smells etc. But I can respect the straight talk, and he’s good with people. Apparently he’s popular with the ladies too.

    I really can’t think of anyone in the SDLP I could respect these days. In the past you had fine statesmen such as Seamus Mallon, Sean Farren and Mark Durkan. These statesmen and negotiatiors are either gone or out to pasture. We’re left with careerists like McDevitt, who make a career out of endlessly waffling regurgitated Humespeak, and people like McDonnell who constantly wears a sour face and who clearly cannot stand people.

    Ruarai – the SDLP’s policies on policing – namely regionalization – were eventually rejected. The SDLP’s three-strand stuff was accepted in theory but rejected in practice (not everyone admits the reality which is that North South, as well as East West, relations are simply not taken seriously by the Executive anymore – can you remember what happened at the last British Irish council meeting ? Or can you think of any major decisions taken by the cross border bodies?).

    I am reminded of the SDLP’s broken policies on a daily basis. Their nonsensical sectarian tribal ideas about how powersharing should work are a significant part of the reason why we have broken and dysfunctional government today.

  • http://twitter.com/mckinneytweets CJ McKinney

    “The lazy idea that the mere fact of the existence of power sharing institutions in and of themselves would solve all problems” – quite so. The disengagement of the respective governments that he also identifies is a symptom of that particular illness.

  • Mick Fealty

    I buy Keano’s view that changing matters, whatever the polls hint at, won’t be easy for anyone who tries to do that. SF probably has the most personable set of pols of any of the Northern Irish parties.

    Zig, your problem is you just don’t like Martin. Which is fair enough. But tell me how does anyone create political space without critiquing what’s already there.

    Who’s going to buy a “you know, those guys are great but I’m even better?” line?

    And where exactly has Martin got it badly wrong (apart that is, you know, from actually having the temerity to exist)?

  • Barnshee

    “The disengagement of the respective governments that he also identifies is a symptom of that particular illness.”

    This is indeed the crux of the matter HMG have carefully painted the parties into a corner (or up shit creek) and left them in charge–Villiers hand off recently was a prime example

    The look on the face of the local vermin reminds me more and more of the (useless ) vociferous team sub who finally gets on the team and faces the terror that she/he is now responsible

    keep cutting the subvention

  • BarneyT

    Mick
    I don’t believe Ruarai or anyone is saying that SF cannot be criticised, something you are not accepting.

    When I saw your first MM post flash up, I expected and got a giddy SF attack from MM. I object to the predictability of these attacks and the obsession which he is clearly distracted by. By all means hold SF( as your main rival) to account and make gains where you can, but it has become incessant and for me defines MM in part.

  • http://igaeilge.wordpress.com Concubhar

    It’s a great pity that Micheál Martin didn’t for a moment focus on the work of the cross border bodies. In the case of language, which is my specialist subject, if you were to ask an Irish speaker north or south about the benefits of cross border co-operation embodied by Foras na Gaeilge, you would get a frosty response.

    While there have been minor advances – for instance the creation of Irish language of development officers in different areas throughout the north which otherwise would not have such support – the impact of Foras na Gaeilge since its inception has largely been negative. It has closed newspapers which were in existence before it came into being and largely acted as an ineffective and very expensive bureaucracy for funding work on the ground among people

    It’s largely obsessed by self curation, employing clerical officers and the like, measures whose value is not clear. And of course it has brought lack of transparency, accountability and political favouritism/appointments to a new level. The Language Body only published its 2009 accounts before Christmas. It isn’t bound by FOI either north or south and its code on the issue is a joke.

    I have sought documents via that code and been hugely disappointed at what I was allowed to see. Of course the system of appointing political hacks north and south (but particularly in the north according to a version of D’Hondt) means only that those with the right politics (rather than expertise) get appointed.

    SF appointed four representatives to the current board – two of those are putative general election candidates in Mayo and a border county respectively. These are the party’s ‘northern’ appointments. Other parties are guilty too of feathering their own nests and though a ‘conflict of interests’ policy abides in Foras na Gaeilge, reading the minutes of the 2012 board meetings (which are heavily redacted) the board members step out and in again dance routine leaps out.

    Of course the fact that a board member is not in the room when his/her project is being discussed is no guarantee that his colleagues won’t ensure that their interests are served anyhow. After all, it’s your turn today, my turn tomorrow….

  • Mick Fealty

    Barney,

    If there is an argument worth having within Republicanism, then it is worth having properly. Surely? Shouldn’t SF Republicans get the gloves off and fight back?

    Isn’t attacking your opponents what any self respecting political party should be doing?

    Con,

    I suspect the FF leader was not getting into what the cross border bodies are or are not doing because he’s wary of creating an opportunity for unionists to join in a kicking party.

    But you might alos ask, wtf Foodsafe Ireland?

    Why, if there are Republicans in government on both sides of the border has this body not been given the role of overseeing food safety and labelling both sides of the border?

  • Ruarai

    Mick,

    you’re in an argument with yourself. I can only repeat what’s stated above as you continue to repeat the same question. No one is advocating not criticizing SF. No one.

    The discussion above is on what the most efficacious approach to appealing to voters in the north could be, particularly set against the SDLP’s experience since the Agreement. The approach I have touched on, that I think resonates with some of the posters above, is one centered on being pro-something (and no, not simply “pro-Agreement”.)

    This does not preclude attacking opponents. It simply suggests there ought to be more to one’s political strategy than incessant reactionary attacks.

    (Slugger’s favorite anti-SF bloggers, for example, are persuading no one either way – they are simply offering candy to people who are already anti-SF and confirmation of bias to those who are ardently pro-SF. This is the consequence of an incessant, predicable and obsessive focus on an opponent. By contrast, MM and FF, should they come north, ought to adopt a disciplined strategy for pursuing a program for change of their own.)

    An alternative political platform ought to start and always come back to an alternative all-island political platform for change.

    Hopefully MM and FF realize this and make it happen.

  • Mick Fealty

    If someone defined your views a simply anti GOP, what would you make of them?

  • Ruarai

    Someone who doesn’t know much about my views. Or the value I place on strategy as opposed to reactionary politics.

    There are certain things in life it’s appropriate to simply be an opponent of. Party politics in a more-or-less liberal democracy isn’t one of them. (Clarifier: If participating in party politics, one needs more than opportunist opposition sentiment, one needs a platform offering an alternative.)

    A key test of anyone running for office ought to be whether one has a coherent platform for change.

    Incidentally, what you’re describing above regarding the GOP is known as a “Yellow Dog Democrat”. I can’t stand Yellow Dog Democrats – all emotion, no strategy. Always following and reacting…

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    I think it highly appropriate that the FF leader marked the upcoming anniversary of the GFA, if for no other reason, for the reason that the party’s NI policy has been the only real success that the party has had in the last twenty years in terms of policy. But if he is to criticize SF about its failure to reach a real accommodation with unionists, he should explain why he singled out John Hume and Seamus Mallon by name, and the SDLP as a center party by name, and did not mention David Trimble and Ken Maginnis or the UUP. Is it because he regards the SDLP as a Northern surrogate for FF in combating SF? Or that he is afraid that openly praising unionists by name would not go down well with the party faithful of the Republican Party in the Republic?

    If FF is to seriously engage or re-engage with Northern politics it should think about adopting the GFA to the requirements of a real democracy by introducing a real institutional opposition. Or are Dublin and London both scared that NI is not yet ready for real opposition in Stormont and that all major parties must be co-opted into the Executive?

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    The SDLP is suffering because John Hume back in 1994-96 bent over backwards to make sure that the Republicans stayed in the peace process by opening up his Washington contacts to them. Then during the early post-GFA process, the SDLP was afraid to take on the Republicans over their opposition to decommissioning in a principled forthright fashion, and instead made a criticism of the UUP’s attempts to coerce SF into getting the IRA to decommission as much as it criticized SF. So the SDLP came off as a me too party, and a rather inept one at that while the Shinners were plagiarizing their policy ideas and committing personation in elections. The SDLP has not replaced their star performers of the opposition period (1970-98) with new stars. And it is still inept at election organizing.

  • http://igaeilge.wordpress.com Concubhar

    Mick, I attended the Sinn Féin Summer School last year and a criticism which came from the floor on a few occasions was the lack of concrete progress towards putting a United Ireland on the national agenda was being made. Sure SF makes a lot of noise on the issue – but it’s to little effect. What the party has failed to advocate is incremental changes which would benefit more people – eg banking, language, food safety – so focused it is on having a border poll or such, pointless gesture politics designed for posture rather than real progress. The entire business about the Union Flag is part of this agenda – a symbolic matter which will goad unionists into apoplepsy but do nothing otherwise. Sinn Féin is an all gong and no dinner party with no agenda except self advancement.

  • Zig70

    I’d agree with Martin’s assertion that SF’s us alone attitude is probably a huge barrier to republican aspirations. Has he invited SDLP or SF to sit down and discuss where they can make gains? I’d challenge him to take some risks while FF are out of office. Otherwise he’s no better. The other thing I’d take issue with and one that Brid Rogers repeated is that the SDLP suffered for our benefit to get the GFA running. The SDLP suffered because they went into government as a junior to the toxic UUP on bended knee. Whether it was inexperience or grossly underestimating their voters dislike for the UUP, they didn’t stand as equals and that was their undoing.

  • http://footballcliches.wordpress.com/ footballcliches

    Mick,

    ‘If there is an argument worth having within Republicanism, then it is worth having properly. Surely? Shouldn’t SF Republicans get the gloves off and fight back?’

    Unfortunately, because of MM’s predictable speech, they don’t have to, and that’s the sad thing at play here. MM is not parsing anything new, interesting or insightful and by constantly going on the attack with his usual anti-SF polemics and fluffy speeches he’s not holding anyone, let alone SF, to account.

    ‘Isn’t attacking your opponents what any self respecting political party should be doing?’

    Agreed, but the real question has to be one of tactics, not strategy. As many above have noted, before we even pressed on the link and read the speech we could probably tell you what the colour of it would be, and that’s worrying for MM and anyone that wants to challenge SF, something you don’t seem to grasp.

    By telling all what a great job Hume et all did and how great the SDLP were yadda yadda, I have to ask myself, what does he gain? If he’s thinking of organising up North and sees FF taking over from the SDLP and this speech is in some way him trying to throw a speech like a new boss who wants to thank all the sterling work of the previous guy in charge then I would note he may have a small problem of the SDLP probably not going to go away any time soon.

    If its to try and be seen as statesman like and giving a crap about the North when FG and Labour are asleep at the wheel, again, I don’t know how many votes are in it for him, probably very few.

    If it’s to have a go at SF in the South and to keep them on their toes as to how to reply, again, I suspect they’re not losing any sleep over this and as you have probably noted, the speech itself would get very little coverage in the Southern media so there’s no pay off.

    By all means, hold SF to account, I sincerely hope you do and I see it as a win-win for nationalism and republicanism in general that he does, however, if I’m offering a critique of my opponent ansd tell all what I would do whilst using meaningless, unimaginative, letsgetalongerist language that no one in nationalism buys outside of the South Belfast bubble then forgive me and others for treating it with the contempt it deserves.We already have some one who does this in the North and that’s Conall.

  • Zig70

    The big thing Martin has to guard against is the North / South divide moving Southwards and the benefits that SF gain from being in government in the north. Would be a disaster for FF if SF actually managed to improve the economy. I think he is safe enough.

  • Mick Fealty

    I agree on the win win for nationalism of having these matters gone over competitively… But I don’t see many on this thread adressing the text of the speech above. The first, speech only thread was full of “don’t listen to him he’s a bollix” attacks on Martin himself.

    I can’t entirely figure Martin’s motive (and I talk directly to these guys). But at this stage Im not sure how much it matters. It’s what he says that interests me. That it’s a bit vague an unspecific about his party’s NI future is reflective of the fact he must first win seats in the south.

    I would guess has a clearer idea of what’s wrong in NI than whether there is an appetie for FF republicanism in NI. So long as I think it coherent, truthful and relevant Ill keep on posting it here on Slugger.

  • Reader

    Mick Fealty: I can’t entirely figure Martin’s motive (and I talk directly to these guys).
    While the speech may be an indicator of something more interesting in the offing; Occam’s razor suggests that a speech every few years is a small price to pay for a party that still refers to itself as “The Republican Party” and likes to keep its options open. Putting the boot into SF and getting a few column inches in the newspapers is also a bonus.

  • http://footballcliches.wordpress.com/ footballcliches

    ‘I agree on the win win for nationalism of having these matters gone over competitively… But I don’t see many on this thread adressing the text of the speech above. The first, speech only thread was full of “don’t listen to him he’s a bollix” attacks on Martin himself.’

    Loved that link btw, who was Busty Brenda then? Is she still posting here under a different name?

    Look, IMHO, when MM decides to actually drop the anti-SF only polemics and wants to engage in a real discussion, and I’m sorry, I don’t think he does want to, then I’ll give it the time of day. His speech came across as someone defining everything through the prism of SF when in fact it should be a lot more than that up here. He talks the talk about the GFA about how it’s bigger than anyone party, but by then detailing all that is wrong in effect through an anti-SF tinted glass he makes a mockery of his first (well intentioned and fundamentally correct) point.

    ‘I can’t entirely figure Martin’s motive (and I talk directly to these guys). But at this stage Im not sure how much it matters. It’s what he says that interests me. That it’s a bit vague an unspecific about his party’s NI future is reflective of the fact he must first win seats in the south.’

    It does interest me too. Like him or loathe him MM is doing a decent job of detoxifying FF in the South. As for whether his motive matters, of course it does MF, it gives us an insight into his thinking. And yes, he may have to win a few seats first, but I get the impression they will move up North once they are back in power, it’s been on their agenda for a while now.

    ‘I would guess has a clearer idea of what’s wrong in NI than whether there is an appetie for FF republicanism in NI. So long as I think it coherent, truthful and relevant Ill keep on posting it here on Slugger.’

    Keep it up MF, gives us all something to read and get thoughts out in the open

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “But you might alos ask, wtf Foodsafe Ireland?

    Why, if there are Republicans in government on both sides of the border has this body not been given the role of overseeing food safety and labelling both sides of the border?”

    Mick, it’s called Safefood and it’s remit is limited to promoting ‘awareness and knowledge of food safety and nutrition issues on the island of Ireland’. Safefood HQ has its its HQ in Cork and an office in Dublin but AFAIK no presence in Northern Ireland other than an occasional jaunt across the border to put on an exhibition of healthy eating. None of its key people appear to be from Northern Ireland and three of its twelve advisory board members are from here.

    As for republicans, the ‘unscrupulous criminal elements’ could include republican paramilitaries.

    If there are no perceived benefits for the DUP or useful trade-offs then Safefood is likely to remain a cinderella body.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks for the correction Nev, but the substantial I was trying to make is that as a cross border body it seems have no executive impact on things like the Dioxin crisis, or this more recent one over horsemeat..

    They may have started off weak, but the decision to keep them weak is a political one. I don’t blame unionists for that decision, but I am puzzled as to why self declared Republicans would not be working to make that body strong enough to help protect Northern Ireland (and the Republic) from scares in the foodchain.

    As for the criminal (or, as I would prefer to put it, the anti state element) it certainly exists. Some of it very close to the leadership of SF. But this is another reason to welcome some competition from FF into the arena.

    With the possible exception of Jim Allister, there were precious few northern voices expressing their disapproval of SF’s attempts to politically manipulate the cops over the arrest of Padraig Wilson and now Sean Hughes.

    I think there is a real challenge in that FF have decidedly pro State instincts, which arise from running the southern state for a large chunk of the last 70 – 80 years. That is an Irish and Republican tradition too. It’s only new to northern voters of a nationalist background.

  • DC

    I respect Martin McGuinness a great deal.

    Insightful.

  • Roy Walsh

    Were Micheal Martin serious about attacking Sinn Féin he would have moved the once vaunted Fianna Fáil organisation into all-Ireland politics from aspiration to reality, he’s been their leader for over two years and has had abundant opportunity to organise what structure they have here into representative politics, as he has done with local area representatives in the 26 counties.
    He’s only here because he needs their Ogra members votes at the next Ard Fheis, hampered now by OMOV, introduced by them last year.
    He also sounds scared, SF will continue to rise in popularity in the 26 counties as they are the effective opposition in Dail Éireann while he, and his spokesmen (no women) make inefficient statements on the effect of cutbacks on ordinary people.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Ruari,
    “The priority should not be being anti-SF, it should be being pro-something.”
    Well yes, but given the dominance of SF within the nationalist community and the poison that “success” spreads into wider society, it’s important to be anti-SF to start with, right? That’s a given. So I don’t see why someone should be criticised for laying into them. We wouldn’t criticise Labour for having a go at the BNP and wouldn’t suggest it meant they lacked a programme of their own – particularly if the BNP were picking up 20+ per cent of the vote. In fact, I think we’d see it as a continuing priority to take them on.

    I’m not here to tell nationalists what to do but I am here to support nationalists who want something other than SF (and unionists who want nothing to do with loyalist paramilitary self-justification). Rejection of the terrorist past is the only basis on which Northern Ireland can move forward. Decent society cannot be anti-IRA or anti-UVF enough. Whatever else is going on with Michael Martin (and of course he’s scrabbling about for political advantage himself), having a pop at any party that justifies past terrorism ought to be uncontroversial and pass without much comment.

  • Mick Fealty

    Roy,

    “He’s only here because he needs their Ogra members votes at the next Ard Fheis, hampered now by OMOV, introduced by them last year.”

    This is intriguing? Have you more on this?