prospect of co-operation has become less likely

The findings of an investigation into Devolution in the UK – The Impact on Politics, Economy and Society by the Economic and Social Research Council, at a cost of around £5million, into the impact of devolution in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales are being discussed at a seminar in the University of Ulster today. Out of a total of 38 research projects, 17 dealt with the situation in Northern Ireland in some form. The report is being published, but doesn’t appear to be online yet. The press release has some interesting details though.. as does this UTV reportFrom the Univeristy of Ulster press release

The research found that four aspects of the Agreement encouraged, rather than constrained, antagonism between politicians:

The restatement of the consent principle confining constitutional options to the ‘either/or’ choice, to be determined by simple majority plebiscite, thus encouraging a sectarian headcount approach to politics.

The reaffirmation of the single transferable vote for assembly elections which allows and encourages candidates to be elected by mobilizing core votes within a particular community rather than providing incentives for cross-community electoral mobilization.

The requirement that assembly members designate themselves as unionist, nationalist or other thereby consolidating communalist mindsets and preventing any possible realignment along more conventional left-right lines.

The appointment of Ministers one-by-one which encouraged them to think of their departments as individual fiefdoms and worked against joined up government and collective responsibility that might have glued the power-sharing government together and provided a model for wider reconciliation.

The report says that the prospect of politicians to co-operate has become less likely amid the electoral polarization which has seen the DUP and Sinn Fein become the biggest power blocs. But it points out that a survey of DUP voters shows there are signs of movement towards a position favourable for a relaunch of devolution.

Between 1998 and 2003 support for cross-border bodies among those voters increased from 21% to 39%; support for power-sharing doubled from 35% to 71%; support for the Assembly rose from 69% to 73% and belief that DUP party leaders should be willing to compromise increased from 30% to 38%.

The report concluded: “Yet those signs of movement reinforce the point made above; while people in Northern Ireland are favourably disposed to devolution, their political leaders may not be minded to take the steps that would make devolution work.

“They remain bound up in a continuing ‘either/or’ battle about the UK versus a united Ireland. In the present circumstances, in particular in the absence of a commitment to co-operation between Northern Ireland’s two largest parties, DUP and Sinn Fein” that would appear to mean continued direct rule by Westminster”.

The report found that two political shifts are needed to break the current devolution logjam:

a revisiting of the structures set up by the Good Friday Agreement to ensure that institutions encourage conciliatory rather than confrontational political behaviour.

a strong commitment to address the simmer resentments in the wider society which a peace process focused narrowly on the political elites has done little to address – building on the policy framework on community relations, A Shared Future, launched in March 2005.[all emphasis added]

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  • Buckeye Jim

    I’ve read Slugger for quite some time but have yet to post. As an American of Irish descent, I tend to keep an eye on the postings and try to learn and monitor the “angles” of the NI and Irish posters.

    However, I’m shocked no one has commented on this blog. It seems to me there are some significant findings/trends in this study as Pete indicates(e.g. increase in DUP voters willingness to share power). I assume this may be reflective of the influx of more moderate (formerly) UUP voters. But if the DUP wants to maintain their results, won’t they need to address this shift?

    As no one has commented on this blog, am I missing something? Am I see some signficance that isn’t there?

    Buckeye Jim

  • Pete Baker

    Well, I don’t believe you’re seeing something that isn’t there, Jim.. obviously.

    The drift in attitude of DUP voters may, indeed, be due the factor you mention.

    But I was also interested in, what the press release describes as, the four aspects of the Agreement the research found encouraged, rather than constrained, antagonism between politicians.

    And the political shifts they identified as being needed to break the logjam. In particular..

    a revisiting of the structures set up by the Good Friday Agreement to ensure that institutions encourage conciliatory rather than confrontational political behaviour.

    ..and what that might actually mean.

  • Mick Fealty

    We should remember that the researchers only had about 18 months out of the last potential eight years with a government actually sitting. So it’s hard to measure the effect working together on solving actual problems might have had on some of this.

    Antagonisms between politicians are not bad things in themselves. It’s what the whole democratic apparatus is there to facilitate.

    It seems that in the absence of doing meaningful parliamentary work some politicians have resorted to old routines and indulged themselves in a spot of displacement activity – ie goading the opposition.

  • Pete Baker

    “We should remember that the researchers only had about 18 months out of the last potential eight years with a government actually sitting.”

    While that’s true, Mick, none of the 4 aspects of the Agreement identified as encouraging the antagonism between political parties relate to the actual working of the assembly.. they all describe the initial conditions placed on the Assembly.

    The findings of the research projects appear to suggest that it is those initial conditions, rather than the absence of the Assembly, that encouraged the hardening of political stances and the subsequent withdrawal from the Assembly.

    I take the point on antagonism between political parties not necessarily being a bad thing, but the power-sharing arrangements of the Agreement leave little to no room for those antagonisms to ultimately be meaningful in any usual democratic sense.

  • Buckeye Jim

    Pete and Mick,

    Thanks for your comments! Pete, Interesting how different folks hone in on different findings. That’s to be expected, given history. But, as a distant, somewhat uninformed observer, this is one of the few things I’ve seen on Slugger, or anywhere, that has given me hope for progress.