Farren: not safe in their hands!

Sean Farren believes that Northern Ireland is ill served by the coming to primacy of the two extremes. He argues that the DUP has no consistent record of voluntarily embracing powersharing, and that Sinn Fein is keeping a number of issues in reserve that it can use to continue to destablise future arrangements.

By Sean Farren

Despite the progress both governments say has been made, the prospects for political progress have never been more pessimistic than they are now. The so-called ‘comprehensive’ agreement published by the British and Irish governments has turned out to be anything but comprehensive. The basic reason is to be found in the approaches of the two major parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin,

Neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin is genuinely committed to partnership politics. Instead, both parties are committed to an exclusive approach and are only willing to enter a coalition with the other because no other option is available. If either party could govern on its own each would choose that option.

The absence of a commitment to partnership is demonstrated in different ways by both parties.

The DUP is blunt in its opposition to a genuine partnership. It demonstrates its opposition by refusing to adopt power-sharing in any council where it has a majority. Ballymena and Castlereagh councils are the two prime examples. In each of these two councils a policy of majority rule continues. In both councils motions in favour of power-sharing were recently rejected by the DUP. Indeed was it not for equality legislation outlawing discrimination such councils would also deny grants to organisations like the GAA.

What confidence can be placed in a DUP led administration that it would not try to implement similar policies at a more general level?

Sinn Féin speaks the language of partnership but in practice its main concerns are really with itself. Throughout all of the negotiations before and after the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin has argued more for the interests of the IRA than for anything or anyone else.

Prisoner releases, amnesties for the ‘on-the-runs’ and wiping out the criminal records of former IRA personnel, have all figured higher on Sinn Féin’s agenda than measures to alleviate the pain of victims of violence and measures to promote genuine reconciliation.

So much has Sinn Féin’s eye been on such issues that it has accepted DUP proposals to weaken key parts of the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin has accepted that the DUP have a veto on the appointment of nationalist ministers and on key decisions they would make. Secondly, because the DUP has refused to provide joint leadership with a nationalist deputy first minister, Sinn Féin has also agreed that there should be no joint election to those offices. So at the very heart of the Executive there is to be no acceptance of a partnership between our communities!

Sinn Féin has also accepted that if a party does not vote for the DUP First Minister and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, then its ministerial nominees can be automatically excluded from office. This is undemocratic is contrary to what happened in 1998. Then neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP voted for David Trimble and Séamus Mallon. However, there was no question of their own nominees being excluded from ministerial office.

Sinn Féin has also accepted the DUP’s unwillingness to approve any further development of North-South arrangements until an ‘efficiency’ committee has reported, whenever that might be. Is this not a strange position to be adopted by a party in favour of Irish unity?

These are not insignificant changes to the Good Friday Agreement. That agreement is based on respect for difference as well as respect for party mandates. It gives equal respect and recognition to both the unionist and nationalist traditions and proposes a genuine partnership between the parties representing those traditions.

What the DUP and Sinn Féin offer in the so-called comprehensive agreement is not a genuine partnership of equals but a thinly veiled return to unionist majority rule. If the future is to be based on these proposals, the result will be greater division in a society that can only have a worthwhile future through a genuine partnership between our communities. A speedy return to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement still offers the best way forward.

  • BeanShide

    I think we should sack the lot of them, for they’re getting fat cat wages for behaving like spoilt children, making grand speeches, talking themselves into corners that only a red faced climbdown can get them out of. The only form of stable meantime government is Joint Soveringty, then have a referendum every so often to see if we’re going to flit to Dublin. The money saved could be given to worthy charities or education and health, plus further savings could be had from a reduction in political boredom related depression treatment. Finally, there is no aggreement, that machavellian farce was stillborn on that politically manufactured day of religious significance.

  • cg

    What else could you expect from a defeated stoop?
    His party will be destroyed completely in a few months. The sdlp really do need to get a grip and accept there years of pandering to the British government are over.

  • willowfield

    The SDLP’s “years of pandering to the British government” are over because that function has been taken over by the Provos.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Willowfield: :o)

    So at the very heart of the Executive there is to be no acceptance of a partnership between our communities!

    Hmmmm… kinda reminds me of when Trimble and Mallon were in charge. It was the most superficial ‘joint’ partnership in the world, ever!

    They couldn’t work together, disliked each other and everyone knows it, yet the SDLP insists on the DUP and SF getting cuddly from the start.

    As for exclusion – it is a self-imposed exclusion the SDLP is referring to. If they don’t want to play, they don’t have to. Simple as that.

    (Not that there is a snowball’s chance in hell of the SDLP walking away, even if they couldn’t stand the other parties’ Executive choices.)

    I really have no idea what the SDLP is up to these days. You can drive a coach and horses through their arguments. Blindfolded.

  • unionist_observer

    ah well, you see while the UUP can fight back against the duppers, the SDLP can’t really do the same against the shinners – shinners have hit squads and ways of dealing with voices they don’t want to hear.

  • peteb

    Back at work I see, Gonzo. 😉

    On your point, As for exclusion – it is a self-imposed exclusion the SDLP is referring to. If they don’t want to play, they don’t have to. Simple as that

    Well that’s not strictly true, is it? As I recall, the published proposals (part of the DUP/Sinn Féin ‘comprehensive’ package) are that anyone, from any party, who does not vote in favour of the nominated Executive, in its entirety, is excluded from subsequently being nominated as a Minister themselves.

    That’s hardly ‘self-imposed exclusion’.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    As we are constantly reminded, you can’t pick another party’s representatives. Why would the SDLP possibly object to ANY DUP or SF Assembly member taking up ANY Executive position?

    And if they did object, would they really walk away? Course not. Hence the ‘self-imposed exclusion’ – there’s simply no good reason for the SDLP to complain.

    I mean if Paisley refused to sit in office because Gerry Kelly was to be minister of justice, we’d never hear the end of it from the SDLP, would we?

    Frankly, if all the parties in the Executive are not prepared to endorse the Executive, it should fail. Let’s see if the SDLP have the balls though. I doubt it.

    I read an interview with Durkan in which he was complaining about the extension of the Assembly designation system (to take effect when candidates announce they are standing for the Assembly, instead of just declaring it when entering Stormont) and thought – Hang on a minute, it was John Hume who insisted on this sectarian system. Now that the DUP are merely taking the SDLP’s idea a step further, what right has Durkan to criticise them?

    I mean, come ON!

    Like I said, I fail to see any logic in the SDLP’s position on a number of issues.

  • J Kelly

    Does anybody listen to the SDLP anymore. For a bit of new years fun how many MP’s will they have come the 6th of May. I would say very slightly one. Eddie Mc Grady. Durkan has no chance in Derry and Newry and Armagh is already gone. The UUP maybe two Martin Smyth and Slyvia Hermon and one of these is all but in the DUP.

  • peteb


    I realise that the Alliance party appear to targetting the SDLP vote on an increasingly regular basis, but let’s try and keep to the realities of what those prosposals contain rather than the party-political argument.

    The proposals still being promoted are that any MLA from any party who does not vote in favour of the nominated executive, in its entirety, will be autmoatically excluded from, subsequently, being nominated as a Minister – that includes those who abstain.

    If you can’t see how that is, in effect, an attempted coercion of elected representatives of all parties to create the false impression of unity within the Assembly, then you’re being blinded by those party-political goggles – I thought Alliance wanted a more democratic system? Those proposals won’t just be for one term.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    [quote]Those proposals won’t just be for one term.[/quote]

    Eh? Don’t we just change the rules when the circumstances change, regardless? And didn’t the election of OFMDFM require parallel consent anyway? If any of the parties in the previous Executive hadn’t voted for both, there would have been no Executive and no OFMDFM. That isn’t a million miles way from what is proposed in the so-called ‘comprehensive agreement’.

    Besides, it would be healthier for democracy if the SDLP did NOT vote for the Executive and helped form a more effective and stronger opposition. Heck, it might even make them look good!

    It’s all academic anyway. The SDLP will cave in, no matter what. I will put money on it, if you care to throw £20 away.

    Oh, and if you want “to create the false impression of unity within the Assembly”, where were you when Trimble and Mallon were in charge?

    And I note you have nothing to say on the designations complaint by the SDLP too…


  • peteb

    I’m glad to see you’ve stopped claiming it would a ‘self-imposed exclusion’, Gonzo. That at least is a start.

    I happen to agree that it would be healthier for democracy if the SDLP.. and the UUP and the Alliance party all excluded themselves from the Executive and abandoned us to the two parties who a very slight majority of the public appear to think can ‘do business together’.

    As for the reasons for the introduction of the coercion, staying on the topic of my original post, IMO, it’s a sop to spare SF’s blushes after the statements last year by mitchel McLauglin about ‘no heartache’, followed by other statements saying, ‘we won’t let that happen’.. and, again IMO, it’s aimed at those ambitious DUP MLAs.. but what do I know?

    What it definitely is, though, is an attempt at coercion in what was previously a free vote.

    BTW.. have you be taking debating tips from Willow? No offence meant to either of youse 😉

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Whatever happened to their ‘Minister Watch’, when after the suspension of devolution they were going to scrutinise the English Ministers and their hangers on? At the time the Stoops indicated that they would let the Ministers away with nothing.
    Damned by their own inaction.

  • cg

    J Kelly
    They won’t even have McGrady as Catriona will win South Down.
    Sinn Féin will have at least 7 MP’s by June.

  • Davros

    Shouldn’t that be Caitríona ?

  • cg

    LOL good one Davros

  • Keith M

    It beats me how anyone could possibly take the SDLP seriously anymore. They have acted as political bodyguards for SF/IRA while the latter destroyed the 1998 agreement through their inaction on decommissioning. It was only when Trimble made a belated and weak-kneed attempt to stand up to SF/IRA that the SDLP found a voice, and Mallon resigned, thereby helping to destoyed the agreement even faster.

    Now when SF/IRA have walked all over them at the polls they “sudddenly” discover that the republicans have been putting their own party interests first. “No shit, Sherlock!”. Meanwhile there’s talk of them doing an electoral pact with SF/IRA on FS-T/Foyle and N+S Belfast!

    The SDLP are the political version of the xmas tree; they’ve served their purpose, and are begining to look more lifeless by the day, and come May they’ll be pulp.

  • Pat Mc Larnon


    What is the source of your information that the SDLP are seeking a pact with SF?

  • Davros

    cg – I was given a bollocking by a SF supporter for not doing the decent thing and spelling her name right 😉

  • D’Oracle

    I think Farren is right ; the DUP have not been negotiating in good faith even if their public spin is improving. SF have but have had to back off when it became clear the DUPPERS were just in open-probing mode looking out for weaknesses.

    Where I hope -for all our sakes – that time proves Farren wrong is that at some point the DUPPERS may come to feel an obligation to get real and , at that time, the Shinners still have a political margin to manoeuvre to a deal. That may not be possible indefinitely so some serious pessimism has to be kept on standby.

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    Keith, I’m very suspicious of your claims about a pact. Presuming you’re talking about the upcoming Westminster, what’s the point in a nationalist pact of any kind in N Belfast ? It was a stupid idea when SF claimed it could work, and that hasn’t changed. The constituency is a natural DUP seat, the UUP do not have a chance in hell. The only way a nationalist could win in North Belfast would be for two unionists to run and split the vote right down the middle – that won’t happen. Besides do SF really want Gerry Kelly standing aside for Alban ? No chance.

    To Farren’s general point, unfortunately the model that he is now opposing (the two biggest parties get together and lock everyone else out) is the one that his party endorsed when it was the largest nationalist party. The players have changed, but the failed tribal model has not, and that is what will need to change if we are going to go forward.

    What we really need is all-party talks to sort this thing out.

  • cg

    When I see Caitríona next I will apologise personally but I don’t think she will be too offended.

  • Davros

    When I see Caitríona next

    That’s some kind of varaition on name-dropping, but I don’t have a name for it 😉

  • cg

    It’s not name dropping just merely a statement of fact after you scolded me for spelling her name wrongly.

  • aquifer

    Until the SDLP come out and repeatedly condemn the IRA campaign as a failure that deepened division and destroyed the futures of many young people in nationalist areas, and repeat this until they hear it coming back at them (Hume stylie) they are doomed, and rightly so. They must condemn the IRA as cheats and murderers, or pack up and let a real labour party in. Their soggy nationalism is crass.

  • IJP

    What we really need is all-party talks to sort this thing out.


    The December document was sent to only two parties – an outrage if ever there was one.

    All-party peace talks now!

  • Keith M

    Roger, my information on a SDLP/SF pact comes from a former SDLP worker now based in Dublin. It was based on an assumption that SF/IRA would decommission all its weapons (even on its own terms) in time for the May election.

    Your opinion on North Belfast doesn’t stand up to the facts. In the 1997 election the DUP gained 40.8% of the vote. The combined nationalist vote was 46.2%. That was when the UUP ran a fatally flawed candidate like Walker. The UUP should be able to field a better candidate this time out (let’s be honest, they couldn’t do worse than Walker, surely?). If tyou look at the 2002 Assembly election the DUP scored 34.2% versus a combined nationalist vote of 43.8%. If the UUP put forward a candidate (as is their intention) and there is a nationalist voting pact, then there is every possibility of the nationalist (probably Gerry Kelly) winning.

    South Belfast is far more open, given that I don’t believe that anyone knows Smyth’s intentions for sure.

  • willowfield

    All-party peace talks now!

    If the talks are to be about peace, the only parties that need attend would be Provisional SF, PUP, UPRG, Republican SF, IRSP, 32CSC.

  • cg

    I would find it very hard to believe that Sinn Féin would do a pact with the sdlp. I don’t believe the majority of people would want it.

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    cg, I agree though Sinn Fein pushed the concept of a nationalist electoral pact hard only a few years ago (certainly in 1997 and 2001 for the Westminster elections).

    Keith, fair point, I stand corrected on the numbers (you mean 2001 rather than 1997 though). We really start getting into speculation here. A spectacular UUP performance might see them get 20%, putting the DUP on 33%, if half of the SDLP’s votes went to SF it would clinch it. Things might get more interesting if the PUP or other independent unionists ran. Comparing 2003 assembly to 2001 it looks like the small unionists distributed their votes relatively evenly between the UUP and DUP.

    I consider it unlikely however, given that (a) the UUP don’t have a spectacular candidate to run in the constituency; when Cobain ran in the assembly election it wasn’t clear that he had any more support than Walker did in ’01. I doubt someone like him is going to cut it any more convincingly in a Westminster poll (UUP N Belfast is dead as a dodo anyway) (b) any possibility of a SF win in the seat is likely to galvanize the unionists, probably resulting in any independent unionists standing down and recommending transfers to the DUP; and lastly (c) there’s no way in hell SF and the SDLP are going to have a pact.

  • Christopher Stalford


    “shinners have hit squads and ways of dealing with voices they don’t want to hear.”

    What’s their trick for silencing such voices? Inviting them out boozing in Temple Bar? It’s clearly worked on you.

  • Christopher Stalford

    I think the SDLP is in real danger of dropping off the political map.

    I think Chris Gaskin is wrong about South Down – McGrady will hold, but I wouldn’t put any money on Durkan to hold Foyle, if the Provos bring McGuinness back and parachute The Draft-dodger into Mid Ulster, they may topple the SDLP in their spiritual heartland.

    As for Newry and Armagh – it’s in the bag for SF.

    I have no sympathy for the SDLP – they gentrified the Provos and made them respectable, now they have no purpose anymore.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I’m glad to see you’ve stopped claiming it would a ‘self-imposed exclusion’, Gonzo. That at least is a start.

    Fine. Now you tell me who would be imposing any potential exclusion.

  • Christopher Stalford

    Re. Nationalist Voting Pact in North Belfast

    The UUP will run Fraud Cobain (you know he who lost his council seat in 2001 and scraped home in 2003 with DUP transfers). Given the choice between Cobain and Dodds, I think the Unionist vote will split at a ratio of about 4/5:1 in favour of Nigel.

    This will put him in around 42-46% of the vote. More than enough to get the job done.

    As for South Belfast: pick a card, any card….

  • cg

    Firstly I believe South Down will be the hardest to win but it’s were we received the biggest surge last time and things have improved since then.

    Also Christopher, stop attacking Rebecca for having a beer with Republicans until you ask some of your boys at Queens what they have been up to in your absence.
    There is nothing dirty with having a drink with someone with opposite viewpoints than you. It doesn’t diminish the fact that you are still a Unionist or Republican after it.

  • peteb

    Gonzo, as I understand it, the proposals are that anyone voting against the nominated Executive will not be subsequently eligible as a nominee themselves.. So, I’d assume then that, if nominated by their party, technically, the Speaker would disqualify them based on the, amended, standing orders(?)

  • Pat Mc Larnon


    your source for the pact seems very dubious and seems to be the opinion of one ex worker. No one near the leadership of the SDLP has ever advocated such a solution.
    As a North Belfast nationalist I would welcome such a pact as indeed would most of the nationalists in the constituency. Dodds is a horrible representative and his manipulation at Holy Cross and the interfaces proved to many the true nature of the inherent sectarianism at the heart of the DUP.

  • Belfast Gonzo


    I think this is a matter of personal interpretation…!

    Since the standing orders don’t exist yet, I quit!

  • peteb


    It’s just a simple matter of definitions.. the proposals being promoted will make the exclusions I’m discussing automatic – that means they are not ‘self-imposed’.

  • Davros

    Dodds is a horrible representative and his manipulation at Holy Cross and the interfaces proved to many the true nature of the inherent sectarianism at the heart of the DUP.

    could you enlarge on this pat ? Not having a dig, interested.

  • Pat Mc Larnon


    the PUP tried to take a hold of the original protest when it first began and Billy Hutchinson seemed amenable to getting things resolved very quickly. But as the protest intensified he admitted that the PUP were being out manoeuvred in Glenbryn by DUPer Mark Coulter.
    As events unfolded he was challenged on the PUP position, especially as he had admitted that the pictures made Unionists look bad. Despite this he said that the PUP were hanging in there because the protest was popular within the local Unionist community.
    Hutchinson was well aware that once the bullets were flying it would be people close to him who would be in the front line while those who fomented the trouble would take themselves off.

    It was also the case at Limestone Rd (the most volatile area) where the DUP constantly blamed nationalists alone for the violence despite all and sundry saying both sides were (to varying extents) to blame.

    I could go on and mention the violence in E Belfast one day during which a funeral was attacked. Roads were blocked and loyalists entered Rupert Stanley to ascertain who were the Catholic pupils. All the while Sammy Wilson stood talking to loyalist paramilitaries on the Newtownards Rd.

  • cg

    After May the sdlp won’t have to worry about exclusion self-imposed or otherwise because they won’t exist. It will probably be Finna Fail worrying about it.

  • Davros

    Pat, I was interested in your claims about Nigel Dodds. What was HIS role in Holy Cross and why do you say he is a “horrible representative” ? Is he not a good constituency MP ?

    cg- any chance of your thoughts on the SF position on demilitarizing all of the EU as voiced by Mary Lou ?

  • cg

    A demilitarized EU was taken the wrong way by you it doesn’t mean no armies. Just not militarized countries like we have at the moment. That would be my understanding but I must confess that I am not totally up to speed on all our EU policy as I find the EU to a certain extent boring.

  • Davros

    I find the EU to a certain extent boring.

    LOL , well that’s blunt and honest!
    Are we talking about a single European army then ?

  • Pat Mc Larnon


    missed this thread, I have heard that he is an excellent constituency MP.

    Mary Lous’ pronouncements on European demilitarisation are idiotic.

  • Davros

    Pat, what surprised me is that she’s following on words of Bairbre de Brún, one of SF’s most skilled politicians.