#SluggerReport on Stormont: “Suspect too much sweet-talk, but never close your mind.”

Well, Slugger hears that the SDLP parliamentary meeting takes place today at 4pm, so it may be that Brian gets his wish in the timely manner he may be hoping for. We’ll really have to wait and see what precisely emerges.

As Brian notes, Newton Emerson has a particularly useful piece in the Irish Times today, in which he notes:

…yet suddenly Stormont is transformed. In a matter of days, opposition has gone from a potential mutation in mandatory coalition to an established branch of political life. It is a reasonable expectation of every party other than the largest nationalist and unionist parties, who may reasonably expect to govern alone.

The word transitioned might be more accurate than transformed. Nothing of any actual political worth has actually happened yet. But then if we are honest with ourselves, not much has happened since the resumption of the institutions in 2007.

That’s largely down to the near impossibility of reporting on an institution in which everyone has a major stake in government: a feature of corporatist consociation, designed largely to preserve the structures and the peace.

If no one is reporting on you do, what incentive do ministers have to take a risk with their jobs by innovating? And how do you know what innovations to look for if everyone in the legislature is as (if not more) risk averse and as cautious as you?

Here’s this morning’s #SluggerReport…

Suspect too much sweet-talk
but never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
that blew me here. I leave
half-ready to believe
that a crippled trust might walk

and the half-true rhyme is love.”

― Seamus Heaney, The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Declan Doyle

    Was that not the idea of the Assembly in the first place? To stick it together and hope that after riding some stormy seas it would eventually arrive into a normal political harbour?

  • Kevin Breslin

    If no one is reporting on you do, what incentive do ministers have to take a risk with their jobs by innovating? And how do you know what innovations to look for if everyone in the legislature is as (if not more) risk averse and as cautious as you?

    I don’t believe we need an official opposition to do this sort of thing, and I don’t believe that reporting necessarily provokes innovations, at least not innovations outside the spin room. Private Member’s Bills, one source of innovative politics can be moved from either government MLAs or opposition ones.

    Switzerland a country that has no official opposition is largely innovative in its politics.

    If competition alone lead to innovation, then every sports person would be an engineer, not just the likes of Justin McNulty.

    A lot of the reason why politicans cannot be innovative is the limits of their fiscal powers. It’s not a national government, so comparisons with national governments is nothing more than useless jealousy.

    We have to respect Stormont’s limits, and the limits our society places on Stormont.

    Voters hold ministers and their parties to account, people have the ability to withdraw transfers for the parties of bad ministers.

    I believe that innovations can emerge from the grassroots of politics, not simply some improvised drama that is played on the Stormont Stage.

  • Lionel Hutz

    A problem I have with all the talk on opposition is that the failure of the media to report on the difference between the the major parties and minor parties in government is a failure of the media, not the failure of the system. The media should have been able to recognizer that power is in OFMDFM and that the parties with one or two ministries had limited say and should have been entitled to criticise the OFMDFM parties whilst still in government. There is no contradiction there when you have a consociational model. The media failed.

    Now we have an opposition so the previous position no longer stands. Parties opposed to OFMDFM have to leave the executive because they have that other option.

  • Kevin Breslin

    That may be true, we have a media that isn’t too use to the nature of coalition politics, but winner takes all politics seen in Westminster. The result is that we get large parties like the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP doing their best job at being their own opposition.

  • mickfealty


    I agree, up to a point. But in my experience the only consistently reliable channel of sound information on what HMG, NI has been the reports from the Office of Auditor and Comptroller General.

    The system is rarely stressed with the kind of questions that would prize good information out of it. That doesn’t exonerate a deeply incurious media. Nor does it mean an Opposition will change things just by turning up.

    But the Media cannot be in themselves an opposition.

  • Nevin

    “Nesbitt’s move into unofficial opposition was not an overture to moderate nationalists but a pitch to hardline unionists, by embarrassing the DUP for governing with Sinn Féin.” ,, Newton

    Nationalists of all hues seek the termination of NI’s membership of the UK and the formation of a UI so Mike wouldn’t be making such an overture. The UUP is fishing in the unionist and uncommitted pools, not making a pitch to hardline unionists.

    The DUP is handicapped, as is SF, by being shackled together in the Office of the Executive. However, the UUP, much like the SDLP, is handicapped by its lack of resources, personnel and financial, to provide a decent constituency service.

    If the UUP seeks to increase its share of the vote it’s going to have to up its game to the level of that of the DUP and SF. This needs to happen at all levels of governance.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    And the SoS & Charlie Flanagan jointly can also force movement (not necessarily innovation) from their custodian level. Innovation (even of the conservative variety) in terms of private members’ bills is more evident from the unionist benches than from the nationalist – a kind of ‘now that we got power what are we gonna do with it?’

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well nationalists are in the minority, so it’s unlikely many of their PMB’s will pass. Bradley’s Autism bill being one example.

    There are a lot of failed Irish nationalist PMB’s and many of them simply forgotten.

  • Granni Trixie

    ‘Blame the messenger’ is a weak position.

  • Granni Trixie

    You have put your finger on it Mick – turning up to oppose may catch attention as novel for a short while but ultimately it is just not enough. Parties have first to work out what they are about. And act accordingly.