A Pointless £5m Election

Consider this. We have a coalition government that is incompetent and has fallen because it can’t govern. The leadership of both coalition parties (DUP and Sinn Fein) are calling for an Assembly election (that will cost around £5m) just a few months after the last election. The last election had a turnout of less than 55%.  In that election, the DUP secured a ‘mandate’ from just 16% of the electorate; Sinn Fein from just 13%.

The alternative is a UUP/SDLP coalition. Or possibly a UUP/SDLP/Alliance coalition. Or even a UUP/SDLP/Alliance/Green/PBP coalition. For that to happen would require a significant swing to non-DUP/SF candidates.  But, in any case, when we last had a UUP/SDLP coalition it fell apart too.

The reason for this, of course, is that we try to force together (through so-called power-sharing) political positions that have nothing in common – largely because our local political parties are built on sectarianism rather than ideology.

Direct rule, therefore, is a much preferable option because 1) it’s cheaper; 2) it is much more stable and 3) it can allow for much closer alignment of NI law with English law.

The reason Northern Ireland, for example, was the first part of the UK to have civil partnerships was because the Order establishing them was enacted under direct rule in 2004. It’s because we have had devolution (since 2007) that we don’t have same sex marriage legislation. Devolution is also the reason why we don’t have the 1967 Abortion Act – and countless other pieces of legislation since 1967 that would have modernised and normalised this political back-wood.  Direct rule might even give the Shinners the Irish Language Act they so desperately want.

It’s interesting that in William Crawley’s little on-line Twitter poll (see https://twitter.com/williamcrawley/status/818894465997934592) the majority of 695 respondents felt that the direct rule option was the most likely outcome emerging from the current crisis. I’m not sure if this is because respondents were predicting the outcome or engaging in wishful thinking.

Direct rule could easily be democratised to ensure appropriate scrutiny of legislation and referendums to allow for truly participative government.  Democratised direct rule would give Northern Ireland the stability it so desperately needs.  There might even be room for the Irish government to throw in its tuppence worth.

Let’s face it. Devolution based on our aberrant party-political system just doesn’t work. Let’s get over it and just get on with making this place (with the population size of a small city authority area in England) work – with as little fuss as possible.

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  • Bobbell

    In the last 20 years a great many things I’d have thought impossible have happened in Northern Irish politics, but even so I find the idea that the DUP would accept second place far fetched. I think they’d merge with the UUP into a united unionist party or crash the assembly and force direct rule first.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But most of the people over the water don’t get that far as actually meeting enough “real people” from here. When they actually meet the DUP at Westminster they see them as the norm and assume that decent politicians such as Danny Kinahan are really moderate English Conservatives in disguise, and Naomi Long is (forgive the half-pun) is “unrepresentative”, something they have been frequently told by the DUP. Sending boyos from the DUP over to Westminiter en bloc simply does us no favours with real people.

    There used to be a lot more openess to us just before the troubles when the old NILP were a clear voice of sanity here in English political circles and before we were all represented in the media for decades as either bloodthirsty extremists or religious nutters, or any combination of these two tropes.

  • hotdogx

    I’m very worried about SF possibly abandoning the democratic processes. NI could spiral very easily back into violence after all this. In future the border poll should include an opinion for joint authority

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Articles, I’m afraid that I’d always see the demand for representatives as a factor in the infantalisation of our electorate, who, with genuine responsibility only every five years (unless Arlene forces the pace) are inclined to let others simply get on with it and run their lives. I’d no more find that acceptable, than I’d let another person have access to my bank account. The problem of referendums is only as it is because our electorate has not been permitted to develop a genuine political astuteness through, having been smothered in any such possibility by their customary powerlesness. Consider, just as a person bed-ridden by illness finds their musles atropy, so the political sensitivities atrophy with all the real work being carried out in our absence by “our masters”.

    But I’d argue that Five Star do raise the very important issues about accountability and the need for a genuine empowerment of the community. I’d encountered Kropotkin and Emma Goldman back in the 1960s and have simply become more and more convinced of the need for a genuine direct empowerment of the whole community as my hairs grey. But, all respect to you in your excellent suggestions towards somehow getting around the corrupting effect of regular access to patronage by our representative system, especially here.

  • hotdogx

    It’s completely different situation. NI was an artificial state created to prop up colonists and British industries there and divide the Irish against themselves creating weakness. People in Any part of Ireland will always be as British as the want to be but Ireland never will. The British see Ireland this way as the Irish do as everyone does accept unionists.

  • Dan

    Name and shame him!

  • scepticacademic

    And you think ‘Essex man’ has any more affinity with a scouser or scot?

  • ‘White middle aged males’. Go back to you zealot American campus, please.

  • On the fence!

    But is that not just increasingly a “politics” thing generally?

    Firstly, I recently met up with someone now a DUP MLA. I’ve known him a good wee while, nothing to do with politics whatsoever, didn’t even know he was that way inclined. Have known his father and grandfather for many years, again they had no political connections whatsoever. The RHI thing had just broken and as soon as it was even mentioned he just went in to “political” mode, it was like talking to a complete stranger.

    Example two. Mrs OTF was at a funeral down the Glens last summer, the people were rightly to do so there was a sit down meal after, which she was asked to stay for. There was also in attendance a, shall we say, “very well known and prominent” SDLP politician. Now Mrs OTF doesn’t do politics at all, she saw someone who in her words “looked kinda familiar for some reason” but wouldn’t have known who he was until she was told. But irrespective, she thought he was one of the most unpleasant people she’d ever met or in her words “a crabbit aul brute!”

    So there you go! (Notice I gave both sides a dig as well!)

    Sorry, but sadly no solutions how to improve things either.

  • john millar

    “It’s not a referendum on the constitutional question ”

    Where do you live —every election in NI becomes a ” referendum on the constitutional question “

  • scepticacademic

    Please explain what feasible result in the NIA election could lead to a change in the constitutional situation? My reading of the GFA says only by consent via a referendum on both sides of the border.

  • Skibo

    James that will be the true test of how wedded they are to democracy as opposed to Unionist rule.

  • Bobbell

    All our major parties have a vested interest in keeping the constitutional question front and centre at every election, and do so.

  • Skibo

    I agree Bobbell. Whether the rules would allow them to merge after an election to retake the FM position, I am not sure.
    The last dying kicks of Unionist domination will be the return to one party Unionism but I do not believe the electorate will allow it and would see a rise in the Alliance polling under such an arrangement.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Joint authority would be impossible without the Republic having any skin in the game financially. Currently the UK exchequer underwrites the cost of Northern Ireland – something the Irish government could ill-afford. The annual fiscal deficit is above £9Bn. To put that in context the UK government’s contribution to the Irish bailout was around £14Bn. If the Republic picked up half the tab it would be crippling to the Irish economy. The simplest way forward would be for Ireland and the UK to leave the European Union and for the CTA arrangements to be extended allowing free movement and free trade as a bilateral arrangement. Ideally this should also involve tax harmonisation and Ireland adopting the £UK.

    Although I suppose many in the Republic, ironically, would regard that as too great a degradation of Irish sovereignty to countenance.

  • Bobbell

    Surely the fact that Northern Ireland is likely to leave the EU along with the rest of the UK proves that while the Irish government and local politicians may be consulted, it’s the UK government that is ultimately sovereign?

  • Skibo

    John,i would suggest you look into the farm subsidies also. What the EU had proposed for subsidies was parity of payments per area within a country first and then eventually parity of payments per area across the EU.
    The only farmers that have seen a devaluing of their payments are those who were being paid more that £320 per hectare. Anyone below this threshold would have seen an increase.
    Not that it will matter after Brexit as the Tories have no intention of supporting an industry that is loss making without subsidies.

  • Skibo

    But there is an influencing factor by the Irish Government through the British Irish Council. That could be expanded to give joint authority as a the next step on the road to reunification.

  • ted hagan

    I don’t know about the petitions of concern bit. Depends on the subject. SF have lodged petitions of concern with the help of the SDLP in the past.
    Maybe Dup would be able to do the same?

  • Karl

    How much does 18 MLAs salaries expenses and support cost over 3 years – that’ll account for a sizable portion tp offset the costs.

  • On the fence!

    Minister McIlveen stated this week at the Arable Society conference that the current system of farm payments is plainly not working to the benefit of the farming industry (no disagreement from me on that at least!) and they have started looking already at what system they will put in place post-2020.

    Given that an assembly elected in the next few months will in theory be in place beyond that, it would certainly be useful to know the respective parties positions.

  • Your failure to see the point makes the point. Most people from Great Britain just don’t see people from Northern Ireland as really British, in the way that most people from the Republic just don’t see people from Northern Ireland as really Irish. Passport-holders, yes. “But there’s a lot more to it than that.” Who in Britain would vote for either of the Unionist parties, even if they could? How many times in their lives has anyone in Britain ever said the word “Protestant”? If anything, they associate that word, in itself, with the Irish.

  • J D

    I can think of several. None good.

  • scepticacademic

    The original point related to fiscal transfers and common identity didnt it? Who are these Great Britons you speak of? I’ve never met anyone who identifies as such. There is no internal solidarity within GB or even within England. You seem to be seeing things through a ‘chip on the shoulder’ (Northern) Irish perspective. This place isnt as special or ‘odd man out’ within UK as you’d like to think. That’s all I’m saying.

  • J D

    I don’t think England, Wales and Scotland would care. It no longer being their responsibility.

  • Enda

    How about Irish law?

  • Enda

    ‘There might even be room for the Irish government to throw in its tuppence worth.’

    Thanks for the pleasant afterthought. Will you leave me the crusts of that lovely steak sandwich you’re eating!

  • Enda

    Under joint authority would it not be possible for those in the six counties to choose a tax code, UK or Ire. Those that choose Ire, some of their contributions could go towards propping up coffers in Dublin that gets used in helping reduce the bailout tab? I realise that taxation isn’t as black and white as this, but either way Westminster still gets money back through the NI tax payer via Dublin, and some pressure is taken off the southern state for having joint authority.

  • john millar

    “I see, can you explain AME for me perhaps, or tell me what the non-identifiable spending amount is once you stop laughing?”

    Northern Ireland Public Finances 2011-12: Summary Table
    Category £bn
    Expenditure 23.8
    Identifiable (NI Departments) 17.7
    Identifiable (UK Departments) 1.6
    Non-identifiable 3.3
    Accounting adjustments 1.1
    Revenue 14.1
    Deficit 9.6

    NON identifiable are costs which the UK bears ( parliament, queenie, infrastructure etc) which citizens are expected to pay are are allocated on a pro rata basis by population. (Unless you want to suggest that NI people never use/support some of these “facilities”)

    Incidentally— in the same way NI revenue is presumed to be on a similar pro rata basis -though clearly NI – given its dependency culture and low levels of wages and property prices- it is likely to be overstated.

    Even if ALL the “Non identifiable” (hardly fair for all) are excluded a difference of 6.6BN remains

    If you search Slugger you will find the “subvention” debate in detail.

    Still laughing out loud

  • Karl

    Do the profits from companies that operate in NI, take supermarkets as the easiest example, get allocated in what you’ve outlined as NI revenue or UK revenue?

  • Karl

    About the same as what the British government will put into additional NHS funding.
    Having said that, its a lot easier for 27 countries to come by 10 billion than it is for one.

  • john millar

    Yep Corporation tax receipts are allocated pro rata

    Would you like to suggest that NI pays (say)3% of corporation tax receipts?
    (corporation tax is small beer the biggies are VAT Income Tax NICS)

  • Jeffrey Peel

    No because the tax take doesn’t get anywhere close to the cost of running the place. The deficit is North of £9Bn. If the Republic could do something about the gargantuan dependency on the taxpayer I’d be all for it sharing as much authority as it wants.

  • Reader

    Enda: How about Irish law?
    I think the Irish abortion law is worse than the Northern Ireland abortion law, isn’t it?
    I’m afraid I’m more into hoping to please liberals or ‘progressives’.

  • Reader

    Jeffrey Peel: No because the tax take doesn’t get anywhere close to the cost of running the place.
    Enda’s idea could work if each country paid half of the cost of running the place and collected the tax only from its own ‘supporters’. At some point one of the countries would flounce out in a huff and leave forever.

  • Reader

    J D: I can think of several. None good.
    I always assumed it was love and a commitment to the rule of law and a sense of duty.
    However, I think it would be fun to see your theories too.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I’m not sure why we’d want Welsh laws either. I really can’t see what’s wrong with having our own laws.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Are you saying that neither the UK government or the NI Executive will pay subsidies to NI farmers post 2020? If not, then what are you saying?

  • Croiteir

    An the costs of the nuclear subs aren’t part of the costs attributed to us?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’d agree that politicians seemingly need to cut their “reality” to match their ideology! Yes, “political mode”, which with our local colouring travels as poorly as local Tuscan country wine, developing an even stronger vinegar quality sometimes. My point is that a lot of people over the water see the DUP (and others) doing this stridently and think we are inevitably all like that.

    But thanks, great posting!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    He’s a close family friend of my cousins, the ones who live in London, and who suffer me to stay when I need to be in the West End for a few days. If I offend them by outing him I’ll have to either pay for hotel when I visit (a room for a few nights probably costs as much as my house here would fetch) or I’d have to find an all night drinking club in Soho and sleep at one of the tables. I’m too old for Bayswater doorways or Hyde Park nowadays…….

    And I’d miss the political and arts gossip in London! By the way, my old friend the late Victor Spinetti had nothing but high prase for us all in the north, for Belfast and its hinterland. He particularly enjoyed his stints in Panto at the Grand Opera House in his declining years, and I miss the free seats he always set aside for me and mine. I’ll have to remind the redoubtable George O’Dowd of the time we were in a Punk Panto together………….

  • john millar

    Yep- they are in there in the non identifiable- if you like just look at the directly identifiable costs versus revenus still laughing out loud

  • hotdogx

    JP, if we are operating jointly on this then the bill is 4.5b and then less when all the doubling of services is done away with.
    Dublin would legislate for the north in agreement with Britain

  • john millar

    Subsidies per acre are away down The come from the EC The EC plans further reductions

    The UK will pay what it will pay who knows what?

  • NotNowJohnny

    I’m not sure that you understood there was a question here. You claimed that farm subsidies are on their way out in the next one or two years. Are you now claming that you don’t actually know whether there will be subsidies paid in Northern Ireland post 2020 and that in fact they may not be on their way out?

  • Croiteir

    so I was right then

  • hovetwo

    Rather than a 50:50 split of deficit financing under Joint Authority, why not have an equal allocation per head of population between RoI and U.K. ? RoI pays slightly north of £600m to cover their per capita share of the NI deficit, the same as every man, woman and child in the U.K. NI gets a stable partnership and ROI has another rationale for preserving soft Brexit status in NI…..

  • Croiteir

    I don’t think that the boy George needs any education of the ways o the native.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You’d be surprised!

  • john millar

    “Are you now claming that you don’t actually know whether there will be subsidies paid in Northern Ireland post 2020 and that in fact they may not be on their way out?”

    It is EC policy to reduce/amend farm support

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11216061

    Its my direct experience that the Single Farm payment has reduced dramatically over past years
    (The UK has agreed to maintain EC levels until 2019)

    After that its in the lap of the gods

    “Rural Affairs Secretary Lesley Griffiths said that the devolved administrations would have to decide whether to create a UK-wide subsidy system with Westminster”

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/business/farming/politicians-disagree-over-future-farming-12239560

    “The issue adds to the problems facing Andrea Leadsom, the surprise appointment to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), as she struggles with the looming end of EU farming subsidies. Farmers and conservationists are tussling over what form any new subsidy should take, while the new secretary of state will have to explain her views on subsidies having previously rejected them.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/15/brexit-wont-free-uk-from-paying-for-botched-eu-farming-subsidies-warn-audit-office

  • john millar

    Still laughing out loud

  • john millar

    “Not that it will matter after Brexit as the Tories have no intention of supporting an industry that is loss making without subsidies.”
    I think that was the point I was trying (and failing) to make

  • john millar

    “You refer to direct rule being cheaper than Stormont. The non-democracy of locked-in Unionist rule from 1922 caused You refer to direct rule being cheaper than Stormont. The non-democracy of locked-in Unionist rule from 1922 caused misery, emigration and deaths. Not Cheap.. Not Cheap.”

    During that period the population of the Republic of Ireland FELL by 150000 +
    N Ireland`s population INCREASED by 100000+

    Now again exactly who caused and where were ” misery, emigration and deaths.”

  • Croiteir

    I would as I am very friendly with his cousin, small world

  • Croiteir

    little amuses the innocent

  • Enda

    I think the majority of people on the island would disagree with you on that law however, so implementing certain laws from across the water clearly isn’t in the interest of the people, no matter how progressive those laws may seem.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It certainly is a small world! George had little or no interest in Ireland when I knew him in the “Culture Club” period, and, previously, as one of “the Two Georges” in Punk circles. But I havn’t seen him for some years although he might just remember me as the dashing Anglo-Irishman in evening wear who showed him how to tie a bow tie, when I was doing an MC loosly based on Joel Gray in “Cabaret” in the same performance at the Charles Peguy Centre. He kept making me endless cups of tea………

  • Enda

    Surely some of that 9bn shortfall is partially due to the amount of public sector work that get subsidized by Westminster. Would joint authority not help promote a rise in private sector jobs by bringing the islands two economies closer together?

  • NotNowJohnny

    Well that’s cleared that up then. I’m now even bemused at what your original pont was.

  • John Collins

    Well the overall population of what is now the ROI fell by about 3 1/2 million between 1841 and 1911- a bit more than your 150,000.