Rebooting Stormont … however Alliance walking away from Justice would trigger a faster restart?

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Reacting to the most recent political shenanigans and particularly the DUP and UUP walkout from all-party talks [Ed - seemingly with a two page press release agreed and up their sleeves] David Ford says “Stormont needs a reboot”.

For too long now public services and the entire community have been held back as a result of the almost complete failure of leadership over crucial issues and the breakdown of functioning relationships between the two main political parties. It is clear to me that things must be done differently at Stormont. The public deserve better – we should no longer accept the status quo. A lack of commitment and ability to work professionally is stifling social cohesion, damaging communities and the prospects of our young people and impacting on economic success. Politics must work for the entire community.

The decision of the DUP and UUP to walk out on the all-party talks last week has created a crisis over parading. And this is not the only crisis that Stormont is facing. There is a failure to agree a way forward on welfare reform which if not addressed will have dire financial consequences across all public services. The parties have failed to address the key problems facing our schools. We have handed money back to Europe over the Maze peace and reconciliation centre and the Narrow Water Bridge. The policy to build a united community remains incomplete and half-hearted. Their dysfunction is costing Northern Ireland dearly and will seriously impact on the future of all of us.

David Ford suggests a number of ways to secure a better functioning and more stable political system for Northern Ireland. This significantly augments the party’s 2012 response to the Secretary of State’s consultation on Measures to improve the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

However, it still omits the largest lever that Alliance has in terms of banging heads together at Stormont to stop the kind of petulant power plays we’re witnessing this summer.

David Ford could calmly phone the First and deputy First Ministers, explain that he is stepping down as Justice Minister, and then sit back to give DUP and Sinn Féin the space to figure out once and for all how to share power as a tangible example of the shared future they insist Northern Ireland deserves.

Common sense would surely prevail, even if an awful compromise involved rotating ministers every 3–6 months. No party wants to abandon devolution. Very few people want a return to direct rule. No MLA wants their pay cut while the Assembly is suspended. And since proposing a shared future is so core to Alliance’s message, it should be possible for them to sell to their voters that this is the most sacrificial gift they can offer Northern Ireland at this time. Cultivating political maturity would strengthen democracy … for everyone.

In the meantime, short of their nuclear option, Alliance propose:

  • A coalition which is decided through voluntary negotiation between parties and subject to a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Collective responsibility must apply.
  • Replacing the Petition of Concern system, which has been abused, with a qualified majority system.
  • An opposition, free from the voluntary government, with the opportunity to properly hold the government to account.
  • Greater co-operation between Ministers requiring them to work together under law.
  • All Executive policies should be required to be “shared-future proofed” to ensure that all public investment supports and underpins an open, peaceful and united society rather than continuing division.
  • An end to sectarian designations in the Assembly.
  • Letting the public know who donates money to political parties.

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  • chrisjones2

    before the electors do it for them

  • tmitch57

    Turgon,
    My feeling based on discussions with John Alderdice in 1998 is that Alliance wants to move to a system based not on ethnic desigations but on weighted majorities that would have the effect of protecting the interests of both major communities but would slowly ween NI off of its tribalism. So the power sharing will be voluntary rather than mandatory but there will be structural incentives to do so.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Speaking personally I feel that my patience with the DUP and SF is running out and we are approaching the point where Alliance should give some consideration to walking out of the executive. I’m particularly annoyed with the unionists (and I was glad to see Ford channel his criticism mostly in that direction).

    It’s not an easy decision though, and it’s not a case of, as Turgon puts it, snouts in the trough (Turgon may not be aware that David Ford has to be escorted everywhere 24/7 by a close protection team from the PSNI). Walking out of the executive would lead directly to its collapse. It would also, in some ways, run counter to the principles of democracy; with just under 8% of the vote, Alliance cannot claim a mandate to decide whether power sharing lives or dies over the heads of the DUP and Sinn Féin, especially as participation and being constructive are core values in the party. It runs counter to the sense of responsibility that many Alliancers have to talk about walking away and leaving others to pick up the pieces.

  • Comrade Stalin

    There was an election a couple of months ago where the electors renewed Alliance’s mandate. Sorry to disappoint you.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Joe, well no. Alliance extended the Unionist policy of designated days from Craigavon and Lisburn. It was the Unionists who decided to reverse their own policy and distribute leaflets.

  • Andrew Gallagher

    Voluntary coalition is too reminiscent of Old Stormont to be broadly acceptable. Even supermajority voting cannot guarantee that one side will not continually gang up against the other, and mutual-veto deadlock is just as possible as now. Unfortunately, we have not progressed to a stage where communal safeguards are no longer required, but that does not mean we shouldn’t search for a better system of safeguards.

  • John Mooney

    basically its the same tactic that Joan Burton and Nick Clegg will be using.
    Disassociating Alliance from DUP and SF will be difficult.
    All five parties are in the Executive but Alliance is more in it than SDLP and UUP.
    Id expect that Opposition will be a growing topic.
    Alliance wont want to be on the wrong side of debate.

  • Comrade Stalin

    This.

    I love in particular the way Unionism goes “let’s go back to simple government and opposition” and then, in every single local council it controls, systematically acts to exclude pretty much all non-unionist councillors from any positions on the council using their simple majority vote. In the past, oh, century ? – I think there has been one single case where a unionist-controlled council elected a nationalist Mayor.

  • chrisjones2

    It has been rebooted

    1912 Ulster Solemn League and Covenant promising a fight to the death and signed in blood

    2014 Pledge for Peaceful Protests signed in what looks like WKD Blu

    If that’s not change I don’t know what is

    PS Love wee Davys speech that Police are on Knees and cant cope. Someone might remind him again that hes the Justice Minister and supposed to make sure that sort of thing doesn’t happen

  • Ulidian Realist

    That is democracy – you vote with those you agree with, and that includes along social and economic lines, of which the main Unionist parties are quite in line. The simple fact is that is if you are not Unionist you are the source of the conflict and are working to undo the only realistic solution for Irish Peace. People like you who make excuses for destructive Irish Nationalism are the prime driver against stability and in encouragement of conflict to flare up again in the future.

  • Ulidian Realist

    This is in contradiction if the architects of this farce in the first place — Hume, Malton and Durkan never intended the “ugly scaffolding” to remain for long.

    Forced rigid “power sharing” is a complete non-starter for effective governance, end of. It wouldn’t work in any part of the world. Oppose reform and direct rule is coming your way.

  • Barneyt

    Government and a formal opposition is certainly the way to go, for lots of reasons i.e. accountability and to have contentious points or otherwise, examined and discussed. I may introduce normalised politics and perhaps increase the number of bums on seats in the house. However, there are inherent dangers in such a structure. Its possible that unionism could secure a majority, perhaps without Alliance cooperation, and we must all know what this would take us back 30+ years as we would have a government for one and only one culture. What are the realistic coalitions that can emerge and secure an operating majority?

  • Comrade Stalin

    UR,

    Nope. In a democracy people switch their vote. That doesn’t happen here; people vote along tribal lines.

  • Ulidian Realist

    People switch their vote here all the time too it has shifted from UUP to DUP for a start. (and just look the countless number of Unionist parties that have existed throughout the years, and the amount that they have attacked each other)

    In a normal democracy people don’t vote for parties that unconstitutionally want to destroy the sovereign state they represent, nor are ambivalent about the existence of that state.

    Time to face the reality that the Irish two-state peace solution is the only game in town and that the core of the problem is those aiding its subversion.

  • mjh

    You have put your finger on the main problem there, Barneyt. I don’t think Alliance are proposing a Simple Majority government. That would require 54 seats if the governing parties did not supply the Speaker, and 55 if they did. In 2011 there were 56 unionists elected.
    I think Alliance are proposing a Weighted Majority (that certainly was their position a few years ago) in which the Government would need, say, 60% of the seats. That would mean the governing parties would need 66 seats (or 65 if the Opposition parties provided the Speaker).
    In 2011 results SF and DUP won 67 so could have formed a Government.
    An UUP/Alliance/SDLP combination would not have been possible – with only 38 seats.
    It is hard to envisage the SDLP going into coalition with both the UUP and DUP (68 seats). And they would probably be even more exposed to charges of an anti-SF stitch-up if Alliance were included.
    As for the UUP leadership going into coalition with the SDLP, SF and Alliance (67 seats) – I doubt if they could carry all of their MLA’s with them even if they wanted to.
    So, unless voting patterns change substantially, the arithmetic and the politics point to an SF/DUP coalition as the only available option.

  • Comrade Stalin

    People switch their vote here all the time too it has shifted from UUP to DUP for a start.

    People vote along tribal lines.

    Token gestures to reach across the community divide to appoint people from the minority do not damage the union or the political strength of those making the gesture, which is the logical conclusion of your argument.

    In a normal democracy people don’t vote for parties that unconstitutionally want to destroy the sovereign state they represent, nor are ambivalent about the existence of that state.

    OK, so first you argued that we should behave like a normal democracy. Now you are conceding that we are not a democracy. Which is it ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    You’re right on all counts.

    Ford is describing what has been my understanding of Alliance policy for a long time now. Weighted majorities with protections.

    But it’s not going to happen until nationalists feel secure that majoritarianism will not be used to discriminate against people.

  • Andrew Gallagher

    …which brings me back to my earlier point. We need some form of ugly scaffolding to definitively preclude majoritarianism. So what are the alternatives to what we have now?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Difficult to say.

    As a general high-level principle, I think there need to be political consequences whenever there is failure to govern, as opposed to the situation right now where our politicians feel that not governing is safer.

  • Ulidian Realist

    The only “token gestures” that are healthy and should exist should be towards treating people with respect as individuals. Individuals are not forced to vote for destructive collectivist political parties, and the encouraging such group-think collective identity to be the same as respect for individuals only entrenches the vote of such destructive parties.

    NB: A degree of “tribalism” that is in-line with supporting the current polity (i.e. Unionism) is also normal, healthy and is the only form which promotes political stability. Your problem is that you are in so much denial that you don’t make such a distinction, and fail to see that you too want us all to become a tribe of smug represent-nothing-Alliance voters like you (though, like many supporting the Alliance Party, it is dubious as to what your real motives are other than externally appearing smug). It is simply the same old tried and-tested leftist tactic of gaining power by any means, using the aged tactic of redefining problems to offer your own power, dressed up in altruistic language, as the solution. I wouldn’t trust the nihilistic Alliance Party with a 10 foot pole (I’d certainly need at the least a bit stronger a pole than John Taylor’s!)

  • Comrade Stalin

    You cannot treat people with respect as individuals if you build a political culture around systematically excluding their representatives on no basis other than their background. Which is where a lot of our current problems actually stem from. Had Unionism recognized this, and taken care to include minorities in the old Stormont parliament – or within the councils it controlled – significant steps towards progress can be made.

    A Unionist-controlled council electing a Nationalist mayor (it happened once – Antrim I believe) in no way whatsoever signals that Unionists are amenable to nationalist politics and cannot bring us any closer to a United Ireland. The fact is that nationalists are excluded because unionists find it offensive to have them there. The same applies in reverse (although it happens to a lesser extent) – there are councils out West where unionists are ignored.

    Unionism is not a “polity” in the way that this is generally understood. Elsewhere in the UK people switch their votes between the parties who stand for fundamentally different things. This doesn’t happen here. Unionist voters don’t switch to and from nationalist parties every election.

  • tmitch57

    Elsewhere in the UK people switch their votes between the parties who
    stand for fundamentally different things. This doesn’t happen here.
    Unionist voters don’t switch to and from nationalist parties every
    election.

    This is because in mainland Britain there is a plurality franchise and a two-party system, with the Liberals struggling to exist on the basis of floating voters and a small core of those who identify as liberals. Those who don’t identify strongly with any of the three main parties (England) will switch votes based on how the economy is or on scandals. In Northern Ireland there is a multiparty system created by the PR-STV franchise. And there is a fundamental political conflict along ethnic lines. In parliamentary and Euro elections Alliance voters outside of the core Alliance electorate tend to vote like the English–floating back and forth between more moderate parties that have a better chance of winning.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Turgon

    Also, a clear correction: what David Ford is proposing has been Alliance Party policy since long before there was a TUV.

    In fact, Jim Allister stood as a DUP candidate the same year the Alliance Party published Agenda for Democracy, which outlines all the above – i.e. over 10 years ago.

    What the Alliance Party rightly recognises is that any progress will require compromise.

    Alan is of course right to raise the point that the Alliance Party does have leverage, if it chooses to use it. However, such an option is not without its own risks, and certainly carries no guarantees.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Ulidian

    Just to be strictly accurate, Switzerland operates power-sharing. It has had the same four parties in government since 1959, with only one change to the proportion of seats they have in government in 2003.

    In many ways, Switzerland is quite a useful parallel – needing, as it does, to match the interests of competing linguistic and religious groups.

    That said, there are many clear differences, including the tendency towards direct referendums; extremely strong local government; and exactly 150 more years of recognising compromise is a good thing not a bad thing (since their own near civil war). I would suggest also that the media offer a more constructive and informed role there.

    Not that I disagree with you, by the way. But actually forced rigid power-sharing does exist in at least one prosperous European country – it’s worth noting that.