Time to open up the middle ground

Still two weeks to go before polling and some are already ruminating over the likely result. Not least of these is Tom McGurk who argues that whatever the outcome of the election turns out to be, it’s about time that the two ‘centre ground’ parties started talking:

…the time has come for at least the two parties to open a conversation with each other. All of this of course opens up unimaginable new political ground given the North’s political history but what cannot be denied now is that they have a mutual need for survival and a mutual interest in maintaining a political middle ground. Certainly what they cannot do is to continue to stare into the headlights and somehow think that the political haemorrhage they are currently suffering from is not going to continue. Not for the first time has a political crisis thrown up the reality that the time has come to either radically change or slowly disappear.

  • George T

    ‘Centre ground’ parties do not exist in Ulster (including Alliance)

  • Mick

    In what sense do they ‘not exist’ George?

  • beano @ Everything Ulster

    The Alliance aren’t centre ground? I suppose it’s all just a big conspiracy by the big dirty unionists to trick innocent irish catholics into accepting the Union? Even if the Alliance were unionists, what on earth makes you think they’re not centre ground?

  • J Kelly

    If this thread is going have any life could someone define what is the centre. If the debate is about the union versus a united Ireland then it will be hard to find the centre. The SDLP are in their words not mine 100% for a united Ireland and the Alliance and the UU are for maintaining the union.

  • queens_unionist

    the alliance are …
    whatever the UUP ask them to be when needed it seems?

  • beano @ Everything Ulster

    and that argument would be based on…. ?

  • Jimmy Sands

    The middle ground presumably would be to express no preference but to accept the principle of consent.

    It’s not rocket science.

  • queens_unionist

    and that argument would be based on…. ?

    i refer you to a vote which happened in the Assembly a few years back in which the alliance were asked to designate themselves in order to ‘help the UUP’s positon’ or should i say save!
    read your recent history beano and take a look at your atlas

  • beano @ Everything Ulster

    The Alliance’s aim was to keep the assembly and the good friday agreement up and running. The fact that this goal was one they shared with the UUP and SDLP is neither here nor there.

    I assure you I try my best to keep abreast with recent history, and usually from some more reliable sources than the DUP handbook.

  • J Kelly

    Jimmy how would that work say when Mark Durkan or David Trimble would be facing Noel Thompson in the run up to an election they would get slaughtered. As I wrote that I realised what I was saying they are getting slaughtered anyway.

  • queens_unionist

    “I assure you I try my best to keep abreast with recent history”


  • Jimmy Sands


    I’m not sure what point you’re making. Neither the SDLP nor the UUP would be “centrist” on the constitutional issue. Each advocates a desired outcome. There is a middle position, but neither of these parties takes it. With these parties the better term might be “moderate”.

  • queens_unionist

    surely there can be no middle ground in NI politics.
    Either things remain…Direct rule [or an assembly]..in which case we are still in the union,
    or htings change ie United ireland?
    altough thinkin while writing…joint rule may be centerist??

  • Keith M

    The political landscape of Northern Ireland doesn’t have a centre. As long as the “national question” dominates politics in Northern Ireland that will remain the case. Is there any party which says “we favour maintaining the union as long as that is the desire of the people, but we would favour a “united Ireland” if a majority favoured that option”?

    “Moderate” doesn’t describe the UUP or SDLP either and both an unequivical their support for their desired option. If you’re looking for a word to describe these two parties, I’d suggest you wait for 6th of May, when you can choose between “redundant” and “obsolete”.

    I do believe that a re-alignment would be a good idea in Northern Ireland politics. The DUP could be the party of Unionism, SF/IRA the party which wanted a Socialist Republic and a third party which was genuinely centrist as I define that above.

  • IJP

    It’s about (in reality) who you seek to represent.

    Whether or not it succeeds, Alliance seeks to represent everyone – it follows that its candidates are Protestant, Catholic, pro-British, pro-Irish, both, neither, this year it even has a Spaniard standing in Larne!

    The SDLP in reality seeks only to represent ‘Nationalists’ (in practice nearly the same as ‘Catholics’ from which its candidates are almost exclusively drawn). Ulster Unionists seek to represent ‘Unionists’ (in practice nearly the same as ‘Protestants’ from which its candidates are also almost exclusively drawn). The SDLP and Ulster Unionists see these as two ‘blocs’, Alliance while recognizing there is a religio-national divide, sees only one ‘bloc’, namely the people of NI taken as a whole.

    We should put an end to this foolish notion that the SDLP or Ulster Unionists even could be ‘Centre Ground’.

    Alliance is the only ‘Centre Ground’ Assembly party.

  • NewYorker

    Why can’t the political parties agree to postpone the United Ireland issue for a period of ten years? It is preventing full discussion on other important issues. And, in a practical sense, what does it really mean in people’s individual lives. If the issue were settled one way or another tomorrow, how would it impact your individual life? Not much, I suspect.

  • Jimmy Sands


    The issue has been parked. Sadly that does not prevent all four main parties defining themselves in relation to a question which in this context is entirely moot. It’s no longer even about the constitutional question, but rather a matter of tribal identification.

  • Gonzo

    The SDLP and UUP couldn’t actually govern together, so the idea of an even cosier relationship seems ludicrous.

  • scarlet

    we favour maintaining the union as long as that is the desire of the people, but we would favour a “united Ireland” if a majority favoured that option”?

    I think that may be the position of the Greens?

  • peter

    What total nonsense. The SDLP recently produced a united Ireland rubbish document. How could any Unionist have anything to do with nonsense like that.

    The SDLP are responsible for the dire straights they find themselves in.They brought SF in to the political process then were the main architects of an agreement that was so sectarian in outlook. It cemented the difference.The UUPS demise was their own fault also.

    Trimble listened to the like of Adams and was in fact led a merry dance by him. Rather than stand up and say no disarmament. He became a laughing stock.

  • Jim Bob

    It’s not about obscure and nebulous concepts like “the centre ground”.

    That doesn’t mean anything beyond the pundits page.

    It’s about people having to work together in their own interests.

  • Jimmy Sands


    The position surely is that this question is now reserved to a plebiscite. All parties subscribe to this. It follows logically that elected representatives’ preferences are of no greater relevance than their favourite colour or hat size. They have agreed that they will not decide the question.

  • scarlet

    Am I the only one that finds the Alliance position patronising? We are not them or them, with their odd views about Nationality. We the Alliance are above all those unclean thoughts and yet all the time we take a position that is distinctly Unionist.
    Someone please tell me the difference between the Alliance and the UUP these days. Perhaps Alliance are the party for Unionists with a sense of guilt, or a troubled conscience? The sort of people who know they should be doing something but are not quite sure what. Where are their strongholds, West Tyrone or Foyle no of course not its East Antrim and North Down. At least I will say this for the Unionists some of them do try to vote outside the tribe even if they don’t quite have it right. There is no equivalent body on the Nationalist side.

  • barney


    Why can’t the NI parties drop any pretence of being a legitimate element of the United Kingdom, say forever? The question, like your own, kind of answers itself. Pass the port old chum.

  • IJP


    There is a lot ‘Realist’ about the Alliance position.

    There is nothing ‘Unionist’ about it.

    The Union is a fact. There is nothing biased or patronizing about accepting facts.

    Alliance wants to get on with it. None of the others does. Another fact.

  • IJP


    Because NI is an entirely legitimate part of the UK, whether we like it or not. Another fact.

    NY‘s position in fact makes perfect sense. Again, not Unionist, just Realist.

  • Keith M

    NewYorker : “Why can’t the political parties agree to postpone the United Ireland issue for a period of ten years? It is preventing full discussion on other important issues.” I agree, but I think the period should be longer than 10 years. There should be a referendum asap, and the gap between the pro-union majority and those who favour a “united Ireland” should determine the “parking period”. If the split is 60/40 (a 20% gap) then the question should be off the table for 20 years. If it’s 65/35 it should be 30 years etc.

  • NewYorker

    Then why not have the referendum on May 5th since people are going to the polls on that day, it may even increase the turnout. The United Ireland issue is strangling everything else in your politics. Vote yes or no on the issue and move on from there. You’re in a state of political paralysis on this and consideration of other important and immediate issues is suffering. If you don’t do something about the United Ireland issue, you’ll have direct rule for eternity. Get to it on May 5th and be done with it.

  • Scarlet


    In case I have got this wrong could you just confirm the Alliance position. Is it we are part of the United Kingdom, that’s a fact. (grin and bear it sort of thing or if Unionist rejoice) Pretty stark if you are a nationalist.

    There are other facts like most people in the United Kingdom would be glad to be rid of the place or a large minority do not particularly want the link. So is Alliance selecting facts that suit their position? Tough mate the Union is a fact of life.

    The Alliance position is to support the status quo and that is a default Unionist position. Nothing wrong with that but trying to dress it up as something different is what is wrong.

    I am sorry if I personally find the Alliance attitude patronising, “we are not them or them we are somehow better” There is nothing wrong with people having Nationalist or Unionist aspirations. It is an honest position