Exclusion not outside Agreement: Trimble

INTERESTING piece overshadowed by other events from Brian Walker in yesterday’s Tele on the (latest) Ulster Unionist (official) position. Since exclusion from Executive office in the event of a breakdown in trust is written into the Northern Ireland Act, the legal manifestation of the Agreement, UUP leader David Trimble believes that recalling the Assembly in order for the Secretary of State to exclude Sinn Fein would be compatible with the GFA. Arguably, Unionists could say that the Government is in breach of the Agreement by refusing to exclude Sinn Fein, since the Government has stated its belief that the IRA was involved in the Northern Bank raid. Such a move also gets the SDLP off the hook, since they wouldn’t have to vote for exclusion.

Any takers?

Since a temporary exclusion from office was what the IMC recommended (if the Assembly had still been functioning), it will be very interesting to hear what Paul Murphy has to say in the Commons on Monday.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern still opposes exclusion, despite ruling out Sinn Fein in his own coalition government until the issues surrounding the IRA are resolved. Such double standards make you wonder why exclusion was ever written into the Agreement…

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Trimble wrote:

“The government clearly has a duty to act on all the Commission’s recommendations. It also has power both under the Suspension Act and the legislation governing the International Monitoring Commission to enable such action. It would be utterly perverse to use the fact of suspension, itself a consequence of earlier republican wrongdoing, to frustrate a clear recommendation of the Commission and prevent the resumption of the institutions created by the Belfast Agreement 1998.

Government must send out a clear signal that the biggest bank robbery in British history and the political fallout it has caused carry a price for republicans. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said that he will make a statement to the House of Commons next week. That statement should set in motion the procedures under the Agreement of April 2003 and the above-mentioned legislation in fulfilment of the pledges made by the Government.

Recalling the Assembly and excluding Sinn Fein is the entirely the right course of action. This would bolster the democratic parties who feel they are being punished for the actions of others. The Agreement of April 2003 was a joint effort. It has only been objected to then and since by Sinn Fein and the DUP. It ought, therefore, to be the basis for a consensus between the parties responsible for progress over the last number of years. Failure to implement that Agreement, endorsed by the governments and those parties, will be a signal from the Government that it is not yet prepared to defend its own agreements and the democratic process.

Proceeding along these lines would also administer a shock to Sinn Fein which might result in it taking seriously the calls which we have all made repeatedly over the last two and a half years. It would show that we were indeed moving on from the fork in the road, where we have all been marking time since October 2002.”

  • Warm Storage

    Yip, me. With bells on.

  • Alan2

    Whilst parties connected with paramilitary groups should automatically exclude themselves by default it does mean that 25% of the electorate are then unrepresented which does run contrary to the inclusiveness of the agreement even if the said party are responsible for their exclusion. What needs to happen is total transparent and confidence building decommissioning by ALL the paramilitary groupings.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Alan2

    You say that 25% of the electorate should have political representation in an Executive (they would STILL be represented in the Assembly) no matter what their party gets up to.

    The thing is, 100% of everyone has no representation at the moment. ‘Getting away with murder’ never seemed so apt.

    The logic of the process is that all must suffer for the sins of one transgressor.

    Wonderful.

  • rry

    Oh, not again…

    Yes, it’s time for the UUP shoot-themselves-in-the-foot machine to whir into action once more.

    It’d be different if it were the SDLP calling for this – or, better yet, if Bertie was to stand up and call for SF to be excluded “just like they are from my government”.

    But anyone on the unionist side of the fence who pushes for this is just providing ammunition for what will surely become the most egregious bout of SF MOPE-ry ever. And even the most moderate nationalist won’t take kindly to the unionists disenfranchising a quarter of the electorate – “sure, it proves that they never wanted to share power with us in the first place”.

    And really, what does it buy the UUP? A bit of quiet satisfaction about being on the right side of the argument for once, perhaps? But can they not get simply that from watching SF embarrass themselves without needing to push the matter?

    It’s certainly not going to win over many DUP voters, or have any other sort of upside for them.

    All it will be is Yet Another UUP PR Disaster, won’t it?

  • pakman

    Gonzo

    from memory section 30 of the NI Act 1998 allows for exclusion by motion of the Assembly. That motion either comes via 30 members and both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister or from the SoS. In either case there still has to be a vote so I don’t see how using the mechanism of the NI Act will spare stoop blushes.

    A much better approach would be to repeal the provisions in relation to d’Hont and sectional labels of MLAs and legislate for an executive to be formed, bound by collective responsibility, if 60% of voting members approved. What you then have is an executive inclusive of parties who can work together – just as in any other democracy where coalitions are necessary. A party would only be excluded from government (not the legislature) if they lack the necessary confidence of their peers.

    Oh, and while we’re at it legislate for a 90 member body for the next assembly elections.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    pakman

    I like your thinking. If you are right in your assessment of the flaw in Trimble’s plan, can someone elaborate?

    McAdam wrote:

    An Assembly vote to exclude would of course fail, blocked by Sinn Fein and unsupported by the SDLP.

    The Government could then move to suspend Sinn Fein for six months or a year, using its own highly contentious powers.

    While Mr Trimble would not be drawn on particular scenarios for what would happen then, it is clear the Assembly could continue to sit for up to six weeks.

    In that event, Mr Trimble and the SDLP leader by law would automatically resume their roles as nominal First and Deputy First Ministers. The way could then be opened for the formation of a temporary Executive, with Sinn Fein excluded.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Why does Typekey always just italicise the first paragraph?! That was all a quote from McAdam’s article.

  • ShayPaul

    Should the UUP be excluded for being involved in criminal activity ?

  • Davros

    Shay- has the UUP been incriminated by the IMC ?
    So fat it seems to be one comedian skating on thin ice.

  • ShayPaul

    Maybe we should ask the IMC to look at his skates ?

  • pakman

    Gonzo

    the last para of your 6.32 isn’t accurate.

    Because the curent (suspended) assembly has never met it has never had a First Minister or Deputy First Minister. If suspension was lifted those positions would have to be filled by the method prescribed by the Act. Section 16 provides for that election to be by a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists. If the posts couldn’t be filled within 6 weeks then according to the Act a new election must be called. That is why, of course, the government took the power to suspend.

  • aquifer

    Pakman Interesting ideas.

    D’Hondt is a disaster, leaving executive appointments in the gift of party hierarchies, and giving groups proportional power ‘as of right’ no matter how they behave or how wacky their politics.

    Everyone in equally all the time defies accountability.

    An executive only needs to include some members from the ‘other’ side to pass a sectarian inclusivity test -27%?, or one or two from each party. We don’t have full NI proportionality in the assembly, how did the government decide it was mandatory for the executive? PIRA army council condition perhaps?

    Let the democrats in the assembly be able to decide to punish SF, DUP, or anyone else by giving them a marginalised position in the executive- if they dare. Imbalances can be corrected either by parties changing policies and friends, or by the electorate next time round. Sounds democratic to me. There could be an outbreak of politics!

    This could be done by the MLAs voting in the executive, maybe by some sort of PRSTV. Parties that would share nominations and preferences, i.e. co-operate, would win out.

    Don’t expect our gutless government to do much though.

    They have not the guts to punish SF, nor to compensate the other parties financially for their exclusion from power by SFPIRA vacillation.

  • pakman

    Aquifer

    without workable exclusion mechanisms d’Hondt is indeed a disaster but one which we cannot blame the government for. The strand one element of the Belfast Agreement was a result of a cave in to SDLP demands for inclusiveness – what is more Hume like than a system of government with a French name giving guaranteed executive power to the IRA/SF?

  • Alan2

    I really think a normal coalition government with various safeguards and say 66% vote required to pass legislation would be a better option.

  • ShayPaul

    Pakman

    D’Hondt is belgian sounding.

  • pakman

    Alan2

    surely not all legislation would require a 2/3 majority? I can see contentious issues where in our society such a weighted majority would be necessary but why should a Bill regulating dog licences require that level of support?

    Could I suggest an alternative? If an executive with an agreed progremme for government was subject to a 60% affirmative vote to be formed then only legislation which fell outside that programme would require a weighted majority and only if a certain proportion of MLAs indicated that a weighted majority would be required.

  • pakman

    ShayPaul

    and what language would M. d’Hondt have been writing in when he devised his system?

  • ShayPaul

    Flemish.

  • pakman

    French.

    Prof. Victor D’Hondt devised his system in the 1870s’ whilst employed at the University of Ghent. That University did not start teaching in Flemish until 1930.

    Anyhow, I said French sounding. You know how any old Euro trash appealed to the Hume stoops.

  • pakman

    oops …

  • willowfield

    D’Hondt should be pronounced as written, i.e. “D’Hondt”, with a silent “h”. Most people mispronounce it, as though it were written “de Hondt”.