Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Haass failure keeps SF-DUP in driving seat

Tue 31 December 2013, 12:07pm

Richard Haass’ failure to facilitate a “comprehensive agreement” on Northern Ireland’s “contentious issues” represents yet another missed opportunity for would-be opponents of the SF-DUP axis.

To recap, NI’s main problem is not its past, its parades, its parties or its people.

Instead, it’s the structure of the current Stormont arrangement where a “battle-a-day”, to quote the SF President, plays out as a sectarian conflict. This is not the design flaw but the design; a brinkmanship contest that inevitably rewards the parties most committed to tribal rivalry with mandates from voters most invested in tribal scorekeeping.

For voters least interested in these issues the alternatives are twofold: don’t vote or emigrate.

The battle-a-day is, in reality, a charade-a-day. The absence of a Stormont political contest rooted in government vs. opposition makes the interminable, intolerable, and intractable orange-green arm-wrestling the only show in town – and who better to fight it than the DUP and SF, the two parties most committed to it preserving it?

Breaking this dynamic was never likely to happen on the watch of the two parties who benefit most from it.

The question is whether or not Northern Ireland has any moderate parties who can offer an alternative to the DUP-SF axis of eejits.

For a number of years, the SDLP and UUP have been casually referred to as just such. They’ve done little to earn the label, neither during the prickly Trimble-Mallon years nor in their failure to form a real coalition of opposition since.

The fall-out from Haass process offers them an opportunity. Will they get together and collectively lambast the failure of the talks on SF-DUP?

Or will they prove there are no moderate parties in the nationalist and unionist blocks by depicting this latest failure as content-based rather than participant-based?

Northern Ireland will never have agreement on its past. No societies – even peaceful ones – ever do. But for its future to be based on something other than distractions about parades and flags, an opposition to the current Robinson-McGuinness carve-up must formally emerge on the benches of Stormont.

Don’t blame the Peter and Martin show for where we are, that scorpion was never going to carry us over the water.

If the UUP and SDLP cannot or will not form an opposition, focus your ire on them.

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Comments (27)

  1. cynic2 (profile) says:

    But they are driving one of the old Belfast Trams with a wheel at each end and trying to go in opposite directions

    So it goes nowhere but they all continue to collect our fares.

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  2. Charles_Gould (profile) says:

    One of the mainstays of the GFA was that of “mutual veto”. That is being played out. All proposals have to satisfy both the main unionist and the main nationalist parties. It’s a kind of safeguard.

    If people feel their “party of choice” is getting it wrong they can always vote differently at the next assembly election.

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  3. streetlegal (profile) says:

    Why should we feel obliged to meekly give our votes to keep this sectarian circus on the road?

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  4. sean treacy (profile) says:

    Tell me anything on which the stoops would differ from SF regarding the Haas talks.

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  5. GEF (profile) says:

    “If people feel their “party of choice” is getting it wrong they can always vote differently at the next assembly election.”

    Good point CG, but who are they going to vote for?

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  6. tmitch57 (profile) says:

    During 2013 there was a celebration for the Good Friday Agreement at Queen’s University. When one of its architects, Brendan O’Leary, was asked about the divided sectarian school system in which unionists are educated in state schools and nationalists in church schools, he replied that sectarianism was necessary for the functioning of the GFA. Consociationalism or power sharing is posited on the division of voters and a coalition of interests among the elite. In NI that coalition of interests is the Sinn Fein/ DUP duopoly. The alternative is designing a system that rewards voters for forming their own coalitions by forcing the winning party to collect votes from both main groups.

    Under the present system everyone is co-opted in, there is no real opposition, and the “integrity of the quarrel” is maintained with the two main parties keeping their respective electorates revved up so that each can sweep its category at Stormont. Next time the system breaks down seriously the whole system should be scrapped and a system negotiated that rewards moderation rather than extremism.

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  7. I actually welcome the “Failure”.
    I applaud political parties that stand by their mandate.
    They asked for votes from the electorate …got them…and didnt let the voters down. Nor did they listen to the disenfranchised OverClass in MetroTextual Land.
    Political parties produce manifestos and we vote for them on that basis. We dont vote for Negotiating Positions and the “lines in the sand”.
    Really there was nothing Life or Death about these Talks.
    1 The British Flag flies at the City Hall on designated days and not at all in Derry and Newry. I can live with that. What talks would actually make that better for me? What SF orSDLP. Politician will walk down my garden path and say they agreed to less?

    2 Twaddell Avenue…..they can stay there until Rapture and it wont bother me.

    3 The Past? Fewer and fewer of us remember. Few of us care. And after 1998, nobody cared enough. Oldl loyalists! London Spooks, Special Branch, the boys and girls in the Felons Club have the veto on policing, inquiries and all the rest. Theres been an unwritten Amnesty for years..

    Yes Compromise is required on important issues but these three issues are of academic interest only.
    Nobody cares….ENOUGH.

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  8. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    fjh,

    What you have written there is quite close to my conception of how a lot of nationalist (and some not-so-nationalist) RC’s think.

    There is an acceptance that reunification etc. is not going to happen but there is also an acceptance that the status quo mostly pretty much suits them. I don’t necessarily strongly object to anything you said. I guess the overused word “pragmatic” applies.

    Which takes us to the matter of the unionists. Are they as comfortable with the status quo as nationalists are ? Are they likely to be comfortable with the future changes to the status quo coming in the next decade or so as a nationalist majority takes control of City Hall, and as unionism loses it’s two-seat overall majority in the Assembly ?

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  9. Dixie Elliott (profile) says:

    As I thought… A Haass-been.

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  10. Gopher (profile) says:

    CS, Northern Ireland has reached demographical stalemate and the DUP is placed to wipe the UUP off the map and Alliance are going to hurt too. Gerry and his carpet bagging down South is looking nervy he would have loved something to show the electorate down there he is normal. Why objectively speaking should the DUP deal now apart from the fact you want them to. unless it is a bloody good deal

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  11. sean treacy (profile) says:

    Gopher,so an Irish citizen involved in politics in his own country is “carpet bagging”?

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  12. Comrade Stalin,
    I dont believe either side can win in Norn Iron….unless one side gives up.
    I dont want a “Settlement” that isnt nationalist.
    Id prefer instability as long as its passive.
    Its not rocket science. nationalism is about establishing and maintaining differences between me and Britain.
    Basically I enjoy it.

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  13. notimetoshine (profile) says:

    Is anyone else sick of this?

    They were given ample opportunity to resolve their differences, but they buggered it up as usual. Cue the mud slinging as to whose fault it is, with elections in mind of course.

    If the people if the people of NI keep voting these cretins in, they don’t deserve the vote. Bring back direct rule maybe?

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  14. Greywind (profile) says:

    So there is a one-party state in Northern Ireland, admittedly with its green and orange wings. The failure of the Haass talks points to unpleasant fact that the agenda of this monolith of bad government is simply this – continuing disagreement and conflict. The disappointment is not the failure of the talks, but the on-going failure of politics in this country. Nobody the world over wants one-party politics. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the old South Africa all suffered from world-wide contempt, and were disposed of. So can we dispose of our one party state? Its not working and nobody has any respect for it.

    What on earth could replace it? If I were to suggest a return to a first past the post system, there would be howls of protest from Nationalist / Republicans at a proposal to return to Unionist hegemony. But there is today a very different balance of power in the Assembly compared to that of the old (and equally contemptible) Stormont. The DUP would almost certainly be the largest single party, but there would be no mandate for unswervingly Union-centred policies. And why not? The quality of opposition, never available at Stormont, would simply not tolerate it. There would be sufficient permutations of opposition to bring down instantly a runaway single identity government of any variety.

    Of course, we might be submitted to years of minority government with no one party able to secure an overall majority, as in Italy. That might simply be the price we have to pay to force politicians who currently avoid each other religiously to work together in effective opposition. Whatever the reputation of Italian politicians, their country still functions. Ours doesn’t, so what have we got to lose?

    It was intended that the consocialised deal of 1998 would prevent Northern Ireland ever returning to one party government, but it is now clear that it has become a Frankenstein’s monster, possessing an unexpected and disruptive identity. Consocialism puts politics in the freezer. Whatever divisions pre-exist, consocialism has the effect of rendering them permanent. The present Assembly is stuck firmly in the permafrost of its own making. Why not give the politics of conventional opposition the opportunity to challenge the current DUP/SF monopoly in a reconstruction of devolution?

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  15. notimetoshine (profile) says:

    @ Greywind

    you ask

    What on earth could replace it?

    Well maybe we should accept that our parties are incapable of governance notwithstanding Haass there was the even worse (in my view) show from the agriculture and finance ministers, if two ministers in the same government can’t cooperate what hope is there?

    The only options appear to be direct rule or some sort of technocratic government (a la Italy) made up of professionals and non political public figures from NI.

    As people in NI we have only ourselves to blame, because we have continued to vote in sectarian lackeys, so maybe the power needs to be taken out of our hands… Maybe all we are capable of voting in are local councils.

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  16. Greywind (profile) says:

    @ notimetoshine

    I am not really suggesting a return to Stormont. Anything that enables credible opposition would be better than the present stalemate. In GB, when everyone gets fed up with monetarism, there’s a surge of votes to Labour, and when they all have had enough socialism, then it all swings back to the Tories. Its quality opposition that keeps an elected government on its toes. But there’s none in the Assembly. We need an elected whatever where that can happen. But you’re probably right – our politicians are not capable of it.

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  17. notimetoshine (profile) says:

    I agree, but we don’t have the parties. I’m no fan of New labour or the Conservatives, but I would happily vote for one of them if it meant a move to real governance. I’m 25 and to be honest I don’t see a future here.

    How can NI grow and prosper economically when we don’t have the government to back it up. Street protests and dissidents aside, the major obstacle to economic growth is political instability. We have the talent (for now but people are leaving) and to a certain extent the infrastructure but nothing else.

    Our politicians seem to see economics, health, education etc as a sideshow to their flags and marches and when one does see news regarding new jobs and investment (invest ni backed no doubt) its in low value call centre jobs. Seems to me that our political establishment put just enough effort in to throw the odd scrap from the table and then return to their constitutional crap.

    I despair I really do.

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  18. Reader (profile) says:

    sean treacy: Gopher,so an Irish citizen involved in politics in his own country is “carpet bagging”?
    The original carpet baggers moved from the union to the confederacy after the American Civil War to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the economic distress down there. A nationalist should regard it as a better analogy than a unionist would, supposing they weren’t convinced of Gerry Adam’s honourable intent.

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  19. mr x (profile) says:

    @notimetoshine

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  20. mr x (profile) says:

    @notimetoshine

    I wouldn’t want to minimise the problems you have with politicians in Northern Ireland but what do you exactly want them to do? Eire which has been doing this manufacturing thing a lot more successfully than you isn’t exactly awash with new factories and judging by even the last month is struggling to keep those it has.

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  21. notimetoshine (profile) says:

    @ Mr X

    I’m not saying that effective politics will create a wonderfully prosperous society, but stable effective political will is a must. It is not helping economic growth. Governments need to be proactive and ours isn’t. And while the republic is certainly not perfect economically by any means, it has the right conditions for future economic growth and stability, along with a highly business orientated government.

    A political establishment that is busy with fringe cultural issues is not well placed to deal with forward thinking economic policies. In fact I doubt our politicians have the ability at all.

    Northern Ireland is well placed to take advantage of high value foreign direct investment and home grown business especially in things like IT, software etc. But if the environment isn’t there (and government has a huge part to play in creating that environment) progress is not going to be made.

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  22. Charles_Gould (profile) says:

    notimetoshine

    Don’t you think that the First Ministers and Arlene Foster have been working quite hard on foreign investment? (“Quite” in the sense of absolutely not in the sense of “a little bit”).

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  23. redstar2011 (profile) says:

    Well apparently the talks were not a failure

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-25568846

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  24. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Gopher:

    CS, Northern Ireland has reached demographical stalemate and the DUP is placed to wipe the UUP off the map and Alliance are going to hurt too.

    I wouldn’t be predicting that the events of the past 18 months will prove to be net beneficial to the DUP; or net harmful to Alliance.

    Gerry and his carpet bagging down South is looking nervy he would have loved something to show the electorate down there he is normal. Why objectively speaking should the DUP deal now apart from the fact you want them to. unless it is a bloody good deal

    History, old chap. When unionism refuses to deal, a worse deal gets forced on it, which it then has to run with.

    For example, unionists hate the Parades Commission and their objections to it are not wholly unjustified. But the only likely outcome of a failure to reach agreement over parades is a strengthening of the Parades Commission and its powers imposed from Westminster.

    Another example – unionists are claiming that designated days is a sellout. In the absence of a deal, they are going to have to implement designated days on the councils they control where 365-day flying of the flags still applies; for example in Newtownabbey, or face significant legal costs. By failing to reach agreement on this issue in the talks they have made this problem worse for themselves.

    Despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t like seeing unionism on the back foot in this way. But this is entirely self-inflicted pain. The biggest threat to the union is unionism itself.

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  25. ForkHandles (profile) says:

    Greywind, Regarding a proper government / opposition set up. I said this previously on slugger, it could work if a requirement for sectarian balance was applied to any party or coalition proposing themselves as the government after an election. Sectarian based tribalness is the real problem in NI, so a government only needs to have the same religious balance as found in NI society to be acceptable. The official opposition would also need to meet a sectarian balance to be recognized as the opposition.
    A government / opposition option could be available on top of the current Stormont arrangements. If a majority party or coalition cannot be put together to meet the sectarian balance requirements, then the current ‘all in’ messy arrangements run until the next election.

    We are happy with applying a sectarian balance in employment and so on, we should apply it to government also. I wish someone in the political arena would start promoting this idea.

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  26. David Crookes (profile) says:

    “The biggest threat to the union is unionism itself.”

    That sentence from Comrade Stalin says it all, and encourages me to keep quiet for two or three days. Chisel on stone and repeat constantly.

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  27. ForkHandles (profile) says:

    any takers on the working out a government idea?
    or are most sluggers concerned with the amoeba like inter tribal themuns are bad posts?

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