Time to fix this broken shire

The RHI scandal showed the extent of the incompetence at the heart of the Northern Ireland Executive. The cock-up, moreover, was not just the DUP’s. Not one local MLA had the gumption to inspect and raise alarms about a botched and ridiculous scheme that, in the words of John Humphries on Radio 4’s Today programme, was just plain ‘daft’. The entire rag-bag collection of incompetents gave Northern Ireland this scheme with Arlene at its helm.

To go to the polls to give our failed local political parties a renewed mandate would be an insult to the people of Northern Ireland. If the Secretary of State attempts to do this, he’ll be facing a dismal turnout and a real crisis of confidence in our democracy. Because it’s not really a democracy – it’s a sectarian sham-fight designed to restore to shared power people who do not have the capabilities to hold it – based on all the evidence.

The spotlight now falls on James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State. There’s clearly work to be done. First, he needs to bang civil service heads together to attempt to resolve the unmitigated mess that RHI has become. But then he needs to get agreement to change local legislation to bring Northern Ireland into line on same-sex marriage and abortion. He could achieve this through a super-referendum, California-style. And he needs to be seen to be the UK government’s lead negotiator to resolve bilateral matters that will arise in terms of maintaining good trading relationships with the Republic of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU.

What will be required at this critical time, prior to Article 50 being initiated, is a period of caretaker government. Elections may also need to be put on the back burner until the basis and structure of our government can be resolved. But an Executive that is so incapable of governing – and so incompetent in managing taxpayers’ money – is clearly not fit for purpose even if re-elected by a diminishing percentage of the electorate.

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  • Obelisk

    Oh, you mean for the UK government to get involved. That only works if you presume the purpose of Stormont is to actually govern. That is, I contend, a mistake.

    The purpose of Stormont is to provide a facade of governance so the UK government can revert to it’s preferred position in regards to here, pretending we don’t exist. And if the facade cracks as it has done now, the overwhelming priority is to repair it as fast as possible, not resolve any of the foundational issues.

    I don’t know why people are unwilling to accept the truth about the UK government, that they simply don’t care about us, when it is so manifestly obvious.

  • johnny lately

    Did the intellectual bigwigs in Westminster, the ones who ultimately pay the bills, were they all blind to this and is the role of the British government who allowed it all to unfold, is that to be brushed under the carpet.

  • Ciaran74

    Brokenshire will do what he is told. NI may need to go away for a while, a long while. The idea of 2% of the UK’s jurisdictional population getting the same attention as the 100% through Brexit is an easy decision for May. It’s a third rate priority.

    No doubt many in the English Conservative world will advocate ‘let them hang themselves’ but English pragmatism will shelve it to later. There’s too much on in London, never mind Dublin.

    I’ve read a number of times that the DUP have tried to mould local govt in their image, all the whilst believing that a Stormont collapse would materialise close to the end of that process. Far fetched I thought 2-3 years ago but not now. A friend said last night, ‘the DUP will be creaming themselves in the backrooms at the long term thought of very hard borders, direct rule, and the RoI on a different team.’

    Quite.

  • On the fence!

    “To go to the polls to give our failed local political parties a renewed
    mandate would be an insult to the people of Northern Ireland.”

    No, the “people of Northern Ireland” will (most likely) insult themselves by once again voting for them!

  • anon

    “What will be required at this critical time, prior to Article 50 being
    initiated, is a period of caretaker government. Elections may also need
    to be put on the back burner until the basis and structure of our
    government can be resolved. But an Executive that is so incapable of
    governing – and so incompetent in managing taxpayers’ money – is clearly
    not fit for purpose even if re-elected by a diminishing percentage of
    the electorate.”

    In other words, you want to rip up the Good Friday Agreement?

  • LiamÓhÉ

    Listening to Jeffrey Donaldson on RTE1 this morning, I suspect that some unionist politicians, at least, are happy to fall back on direct rule from Brexit Britain with all that it entails for reducing nationalist potential to stymie the effects on cross-border initiatives. This is not a job for a Secretary of State, nor is NI an English Shire to be mended like garden sheds in Sussex.

    Given the state of the British government, an alliance of incompetence and incontinence between unionists and Westminster Brexiteers is the latest ploy to block discussion of 1) Unification, 2) Greenland-type arrangements and parallel discussions with Scotland, and 3) and generally suppress nationalism.

    More than that, it suppresses any realistic potential for progress and modernity, for prosperity and enlightenment, and is simply a retreat behind the Pale. This is unacceptable for the majority of people in NI, and on the island of Ireland.

  • On the fence!

    Why not!!!!!!

    Plainly it was a con which neither side now sees themselves benefiting from. Arguably it served a purpose at the time, maybe we are now in a better place than where we would have been without it, maybe not, that we will never know.

    Personally I think we need a majority government with an effective opposition, no more mandatory coalitions, no more POC’s. Yes it’s most likely than the first one will be unionist based but I think that could change surprisingly quickly if the opposition parties (SDLP especially) played their hand well.

    Unlikely unfortunately, but the only truly constructive way forward.

  • billodrees

    The way forward has to come from within Ulster. Waiting for solutions to come from England is part of the problem: John Humphries and James Brokencounty are best spectators; they have no real skin in the game.
    Jeff Peel is, however, right in putting Brexit into the frame. Brexit will cost Ulster more a month than RHI will in a year.
    Arlene Fosters and the DUP’s support for Brexit should be made an election issue. The majority voted against Brexit, as in Scotland. Unlike Scotland, however Ulster politicans are not fighting against the madness.
    The SDLP and UUP should push the SNP’s strategy of “Soft Brexit”.

  • woodkerne

    There is no doubting the generally low quality of our political representatives (a symptom of the clientist basis of sectarian politics). It is one of the oddities of elections in NI, nonetheless, that turnout is typically higher than GB norms – and not only because of personation. A further peculiarity of the historic power sharing model of governance is that each Assembly election is in effect fought out amid two electorates – unionist and nationalist. (For notwithstanding the facilities of PR, the percentage of cross-sectarian transfers is negligible.) In this not-so-snap election, a major contributing factor, by all accounts, is the irritation shared by republican, nationalist and catholic voters alike at the flagrantly offensive, ‘not an inch’ disposition of the regime headed by Foster, contrary that is, to the accommodatory settings (or what one may call the spirit) of the power sharing arrangements. Consequently, in an echo of the brexit ‘give us our country back’ campaign, we may expect SF to big-up the ‘no return to the status quo’ motif in order to maximise the high-dudgeon experienced by republican-nationalist-catholic voters in response to the idiocies of the DUP’s default to the tropes of triumphalism. Moreover, vulnerable on their left flank to PBP, SF emphasis upon unionist infraction of the ‘constitutional’ underpinnings of the reformed Stormont, seems a good strategem. All of which is to say, contrary to your correspondent’s view, expect a high turn out on the nationalist side which, in tweedledum fashion, will be the DUP’s best card for scaring out the unionist vote. Regrettably, in the whipped-up atmosphere (add in brexit uncertainties), further expect a squeeze of peripheral parties, such as the Greens. The big question is how far, if at all, unionist voters are prepared to punish the DUP for their cack-handedness by increasing UU’s percentage representation in the next assembly. And as a result, it thus remains feasible (expect the DUP to argue this loudly) that SF may yet emerge as the largest party in the north. Should that happen, one imagines, Martin McGuinness may be cheered in his recovery.

  • Dan

    Careful with that.
    Brexit, escaping the EU, dwarfs in importance the RHI scandal.

  • notimetoshine

    Here I wouldn’t be so sure thinking direct rule would stymie nationalists. For a start the Irish language, gay marriage, cooperation with the south, all are up for grabs under direct rule. Now brexit complicates things surely, but those Westminster politicos and Whitehall mandarins loathe the North and all it’s political peculiarities. Not a huge amount of ideological desire to keep NI ‘british’.

  • anon

    Why not? Because Unionists have a poor track record of governing in the interests of all of the people. Hence the mandatory coalition.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Protestant_Parliament_for_a_Protestant_People

  • anon

    The other possibility is disenchantment leading to suppressed turnout. No doubt the DUP have identified that and will be banging the ‘themmuns’ drum loud and proud during the election campaign.

  • On the fence!

    Obviously you struggle with the concept of looking to the future then?

    But don’t worry, you’re not alone.

    Sadly!

  • LiamÓhÉ

    These measures could be seen as simple normalisations, given that Scotland and Wales have similar language policies in place in line with new European policies. Another thing is I am not sure British Tories have any such desire to lose their Irish foothold, and will use it as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations. Of course, many Labour leaders including the present one and the Lib Dems have generally privately favoured unification, but I am not sure it is the same with the Conservatives and the more turn-back-the-clock wing which is now in power, given the democratic mandate in England and Wales.

    I guess my point is that progressives, pro-Europeans, and nationalists will have little say over the fundamentals of economic and foreign policy. Instead, that will be the Irish government, but it will have to be in the context of EU27 talks with the UK without bilateral discussions. I suspect many British nationalists will not entertain notions of washing their hands of NI’s unionist majority, if they feel a significant part of it is willing to entertain the current isolationist and British nationalist drive.

  • anon

    Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. What I struggle with is your ill-thought-out reasoning. Replacing a scandal-magnet DUP in a mandatory coalition with a scandal-magnet DUP in a perpetual, sectarian-headcount, majority administration will achieve what exactly?

  • anon

    They aren’t parents and the local politicians shouldn’t be absolved of blame like naughty children.

  • Croiteir

    Why not admit that the region was always an affront to democracy and it will never function as one. Start from there and work forward.

  • On the fence!

    You see you are just typical. You are so entrenched in sectarian thinking that you just can’t see beyond it.

    I’m a prod, I’m also what many would refer to as a “religious nutter” being against same sex marriage, etc. Yet I’d vote SDLP long before I could ever bring myself to put the pencil anywhere near a DUP candidate.

    Now I’m probably not typical but to stick with a system of governance which encourages sectarianism (in fact, is actually based on it!) is not going to get us anywhere.

    Open the other eye man!

  • anon

    I just live in the real world – the one where a lot of people are still stuck in sectarian thinking. Besides, the GFA was the cornerstone of securing peace and is a lot more than just a mandatory coalition – if you rip it up, with it goes the principle of consent and the majority backing in a referendum of the people of NI and Ireland for the current constitutional settlement – something which seems to be lost on some Unionists and the DUP in particular.

  • notimetoshine

    Well you make a good point t about British Nationalists, but what I would say is the Tory party is far less unionist and far less engaged with the North than previously though there are complicating factors.

    I am just dreading these brexit negotiations I truly am. Dublin is really going to have to pull it’s finger out now, to ensure the Irish case is heard.

  • notimetoshine

    It’s also just a healthy case of schadenfreude on my part. There is something about the image of the Queen’s government implementing all these heinous policies, while her loyal DUP subjects choke on their rage that is just a wonderful political image to me.

  • Ciaran74

    We’ll be talking about how the Brexit effects are settling down in 20 years Dan, just in time to write the last RHI cheque……

  • johnny lately

    Who’s absolving local politicians from blame and lets not forget Arlene Foster and two other members of the DUP are Privy council members.

  • Madra Uisce

    If it aint broke dont fix it. Sectarianism works, the DUP are not the largest party by accident.

  • Madra Uisce

    Unionists cannont be trusted with a majority government due to their inbuilt bigotry, im afraid those days are never coming back.

  • Madra Uisce

    And yet you seem to think that a majority government containing the same sectarian nutters rather than a mandatory coalition is somehow a better idea

  • Roger

    Should IRL undo its Belfast Agreement constitutional amendments if the arrangements are dropped?

  • Madra Uisce

    Interesting point Rodger I seem to remember something about Art 2&3 reverting if the GFA was scrapped,I could be wrong though.

  • lizmcneill

    And the right of residents of NI to claim either (or both) British or Irish citizenship. Toss the GFA, and what’s to stop the UK from one day handing NI over if it suits them, with no provision for British citizenship for Unionist grandchildren?

  • Fear Éireannach

    The UUP opposed Brexit and identified it as a threat to peace. They then voted against NI having any special status and voted for Brexit in Westminster. It is hard to see how they are honourable partners for the SDLP with this carryon.

  • J D

    Yes. Great idea. Let’s overturn democracy and spurn elections. How terrible that the people rule themselves.

    Please clear off to the 16th century with your outdated, retrograde and frankly fascist suggestions.

  • J D

    Would need a constitutional amendment and referendum. Not going to happen regardless of the date of the GFA, the politicians in the south don’t have the balls to poke the UK in the eye over it.

  • J D

    Yeah but long, long before that the six counties will have been safely returned to the EU fold and Ireland re-united.

    RHI will be terminated upon re-unification 🙂

  • Would a hard border and direct rule not trigger more calls for a border poll. Would Westminster deny one if they think they could get rid of NI?

  • anon

    How ironic that Jeff was in favour of ‘taking back control’ earlier in the year.

  • J D

    Unionists have *always* been at war with Eurasia!

  • Ciaran74

    I think there is a serious risk that people living in the north could feel hemmed in unnecessarily very quickly if the border is tangible and with checks, whether physical or virtual. Couple that other deal deficit sentiment, the rising cost of Brexit living and the DUP telling everyone their talking shite, and yes, you’ve got the right mix.

    However if they find gas off Rathlin or Rockall Whitehall will stick cotton wool in their ears.

  • Ciaran74

    That’s one suggestion the accounts committee could chew on but the reality is RHI is set in commercial stone no matter the DUP say. The dogs know there are years of legality ahead of us.

  • On the fence!

    Give the people a system of governance based on sectarianism and they’ll vote on a sectarian basis, there’s little option. Give them a system where a vote REALLY matters and at least there’s some chance it’ll change things. Force them to vote for people who they know will make decisions that actually affect their everyday lives here and see how it works out.

    Could it be any worse????,

    Bear in mind that there actually AREN’T enough “sectarian nutters” of one persuasion or the other to form a majority coalition anyhow so that idea doesn’t float from the word go.

    Besides, how anyone can defend what we have now is truly beyond me to comprehend.

  • On the fence!

    I take it you simply can’t see the sheer hypocrisy of that statement?

  • On the fence!

    “if you rip it up, with it goes the principle of consent”

    So what????? The shinners have rode roughshod over the “principle of consent” regarding remaining in the UK since the day and hour they got in to power anyhow.

    You’ll need to do a lot better than that to re-sell* me the GFA.

    * – Just to clarify, I actually DID vote for it in the first instance.

  • anon

    The shinners have rode roughshod over the “principle of consent”
    regarding remaining in the UK since the day and hour they got in to
    power anyhow.

    Care to elaborate? The furthest they have gone is to ask for a border poll, which involves obtaining consent.

    Without the principle of consent, the Irish Government can resurrect their claim to sovereignty over NI, miltant republicans can attempt to justify a military campaign and the UK Government can decide that the Union no longer works for them. But I’m sure those are trivial issues which can easily be resolved in no time at all, without a return to eejits blowing stuff up and shooting people.

  • J D

    Not if Northern Ireland ceases to exist. Go head, let the RHI criminals sue in court for their danegeld, please out yourselves!

  • On the fence!

    Care to elaborate?

    Well actually acknowledging the existence of the place and referring to it by it’s name would be a start.

    “Pedantic!” I hear you cry, but I disagree. Seemingly minor details like that, to me, demonstrate a much greater hostility towards someone like me who considers myself a proud Northern Irishman, rather than unionist.

    Now you see the SDLP, in my view they do it properly. They still maintain a desire to see Ireland united as a political aspiration, which is fine, but they simultaneously acknowledge the existence of Northern Ireland as it presently is and work towards the betterment of it and all who live within it as it stands.

    Or are you suggesting they would abandon that stance if there were no GFA?

    I would suggest that the “principle of consent” is something that would have to apply in practicality anyhow, whether enshrined in the GFA or not.

  • anon

    Irritating though I’m sure that is to you, it’s not exactly riding roughshod over the principle of consent. It’s not really any different from Unionists referring to Northern Ireland as ‘Ulster’.

  • On the fence!

    Yes it is, referring to Northern Ireland as “Ulster” is either stupidity or ignorance, depending on how harsh you want to be.

    Whereas the shinners know EXACTLY the point they’re making!

  • anon

    I think you know that simply isn’t true. Ulster is common parlance in the PUL community.

  • On the fence!

    Ireland and the UK are both civilised countries, I doubt either of them at any time would entertain moves to change the present situation with strong indication that a majority in the north would find it acceptable.

    As above, I believe the “principle of consent” applies on a practical basis anyhow.

  • anon

    You are a very optimistic gentleman or lady.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    But it’s not democracy in the true sense – it’s merely a mathematical exercise in power sharing. And the power “sharing” never works because the political parties that are supposed to share power can never achieve consensus. We have democratic elections but the outcome is perpetual stalemate.

  • On the fence!

    Actually it’s not!

    It used to be but not anymore. It’s now used primarily in either rugby circles (quite correctly) or “kick the pope” marching band circles.

    Maybe some of us actually are a wee bit more intelligent than nationalists like to think!

  • On the fence!

    I hope and strive for the best, while expect and prepare for the worst.

    What usually happens is somewhere between the two. Thus while disappointed that you didn’t get the best outcome, you are relieved that it’s not as bad as it could have been!

  • anon

    Oh, right. When did it change? Was there a changeover date announced?

  • On the fence!

    More of a gradual “wising up” I think.

    It missed some admittedly, but they all hang out at some big fancy house somewhere and we seldom see or meet them much anyway so it’s grand.

  • J D

    And?

    Your argument is take power and volition from the people. That is fascism/dictatorship/tyranny/monarchy – take your pick they are all essentially the same thing.

    Then again, we know Unionism doesn’t like democracy because the numbers are about to vote Northern Ireland out of existence so of COURSE you lot have to part ways with the “principle of consent”.

    Say goodbye to the UK and hello to re-unification 🙂

  • mac tire

    “The shinners have rode roughshod over the “principle of consent” regarding remaining in the UK since the day and hour they got in…”

    They have every right to lobby to leave the UK. It’s a legitimate aspiration. In fact, it’s one of the foundations of who they are. Why should this be changed?

    And despite this position, it could be argued that over recent years SF have tried more to make this place work than the likes of the DUP, who supposedly care about it.

    …”acknowledging the existence of the place and referring to it by it’s name would be a start.”

    The principle of consent has absolutely nothing to do with how people refer to Northern Ireland. (There, I’m a SF supporter and I have referred to NI).

    Most SDLP members I know and many supporters use north of Ireland.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Nope. I made clear that certain decisions could be taken by the electorate via popular vote. This is a tiny place – the size of a typical county council area in England. Why have all the pomp and departmental nonsense of a parliament when most decisions could be taken quickly and easily via e-referendums? The current party political and legislative system clearly doesn’t work.

  • Hugh Davison

    As in: ‘Royal Ulster Constabulary’, ‘Ulster Defence Regiment’ etc.?

  • lizmcneill

    But if you’re ditching the GFA, what is the basis for the principle of consent?

  • J D

    Why?
    Because Unionism, that is why.
    They can’t be trusted not to institute a rancid, sectarian apartheid state.
    Again.
    That’s why.

  • ted hagan

    Indeed, but nationalists are never bigots, surely?

  • Jeffrey Peel

    I don’t trust any version of sectarian party…Unionist or Nationalist. You’ve obviously chosen your tribe.

  • J D

    Classic deflection.

    The reason we have the GFA and the Assembly is because Unionism cannot be trusted with majority rule.

    Now you don’t want to hear that truth. I know. So deflection.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    I’d agree. Unionism is not an ideology – it’s a euphemism for Protestantism.

  • J D

    I’ll remember that whenever you use the term Unionism in future. What other words do you have secret alternative meanings for?

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Please do. ‘Secret alternative meanings?’ Goodness. Bizarre.

  • woodkerne

    Indeed they will. My sincere hope in the election(s) ahead is that the DUP are punished by losing share of the unionist vote for the embarassment their uber-parochialism and cack-handed mismanagement has caused as well as being penalised by rebound effect – in the form of consolidated support for Sinn Fein – resulting from catholic ire in response to the crass triumphalist behaviour of Foster’s band of sectarian warriors.

  • lizmcneill

    Scotland get Sturgeon fighting for Scotland’s interests against Brexit. We get Arlene. It’s enough to make you weep.

  • Madra Uisce

    Calling the DUP bigots is not hypocrisy it is a statement of fact . Why the hell do you think we have a mandatory coalition, and where have you been for the last forty years.

  • Madra Uisce

    Of course Nationalists can be bigots but have a look at the contrast between Nationalist run councils and those run by unionists over the last thirty years or so and get back to me.

  • Roger

    You’re wrong. Any change would require more referendums. So highly unlikely there’ll be any change. So to be honest, I knew the answer to my own question.

    It points to the fact the British nationalist side keep that ‘concession’ whatever happens. The Belfast Agreement saw British nationalists truly run rings around Irish nationalist side. As the last 10 years in particular have shown. Current debacle illustrates it vividly.

  • Kenneth Armstrong

    You have overlooked the fact that it is SF who have decided to walk away. If any of the events you predict happen then SF will be the chief cause. The RHI matter could have been sorted by a few weeks of serious discussions.

  • Kenneth Armstrong

    Instead of all the finger pointing and back stabbing that is going on, the politicians should be allowed space to sort out a solution. Enquiries are only about aportioning blame and don’t actually solve anything.