McLaughlin: what is wrong with the media?

Mitchel McLaughlin, General Secretary of Sinn Fein, wonders if the media is responsible for the growing cynicism in Northern Irish society with regards to the political process . He questions the assessments being made of the state of mind of the general public, and suggests that the media may effectively be making an ‘editorial decision’ first and then asking people after. In particular he questions the judgement that there is a collective responsibility on all players for make politics work in NI, when, he argues, ‘it is only the DUP which refuses to participate in a fully functioning Assembly’From Mitchel McLaughlin

Is it just me or do others agree that certain sections of the media contribute greatly to the perceived cynicism within our society towards the political process? The general public are variously described as disillusioned, turned off or disinterested in politics in this part of the world. But who makes these assessments? Is it those referred to as the ‘general public’? No, very often it is political commentators, and journalists. Commentators who have the power to influence the mood and opinion of the ‘general public’ in a manner that no other section of society possesses! I would appeal to the more responsible of them to exercise this power in a more positive and factual manner.

For instance, consider the reporting of the political impasse that parties are attempting to map a way out of. Invariably when we listen to the ‘News’ or read a ‘Newspaper’ the situation is described as the responsibility of all the Parties. This is of course not factually correct. Of the four main parties in the Assembly and all of the Independents it is only the DUP that refuse to participate in a fully functioning Assembly on the basis of equality of mandates. What is it in the psyche of political commentators that prevents them from being definitive in informing the ‘general public’ when anyone other than republicans are believed to be responsible? The general response from those in the media when asked this question is “that it is in the interest of balance”. But is it the remit of journalists to distort a particular circumstance in order to spare the sensitivities of particular political parties or opinions? I don’t believe it is. I believe that it is the responsibility of the media to report the news factually and not to dress it up to fit a particular agenda.

For many years republicans because of censorship had to be extra resourceful in order to get our message out and I believe that despite the best efforts of governments and political opponents we were by and large successful in that endeavour. While continuing to engage proactively with all sections of the media we will continue to rely heavily on our own resources to deliver our message to the public. I have no fear of any organ of the media factually reporting and scrutinising the activities of Sinn Féin and its public representatives but I would ask that they apply equal diligence to the affairs of other political parties and politicians in their public activities.

It is not good enough for commentators to regularly misrepresent events by the liberal use of such comments as ‘they’re equally to blame’, ‘both communities’, ‘all parties’ and ‘everybody accepts’. This applies equally to the reporting of acts of political violence or sectarianism as it does to reporting of political issues and is an abdication of responsible journalism and a disservice to the ‘general public’. The media should without fear or favour identify defaulters based on the facts of the situation.

The public expect News organisations to factually and honestly report events as they occur. They expect and accept that politicians will present events in a manner that will project their party in the best possible light. But they do not expect or deserve News organisations that present opinion or allegations as fact in order to satisfy a particular political agenda or bias.

Perhaps if there was less of an obsession within sections of the media with the idea that every report has to be ‘balanced’ and more focus on facts, then maybe a better informed general public would develop a healthier attitude to politics and demand that politicians deliver on what they were elected to do. They would certainly be better equipped to identify those parties and politicians unwilling to deliver on the mandates entrusted to them by the electorate.

  • qubol

    Its true – its quite annoying how we are told that all the parties have to get back to work. Pressure on the DUP to get the assembly up and running again is lessened because the media tend to lump all the parties together and fail to single out the DUP as the principle cause of delay.

  • yes

    Yes, I could see Sinn Feins ireland of equals as more of a dictatorship where all free press is banned and replaced with an phoblacht.

  • Concerned Loyalist

    Mitchell McLauglin should take a long, hard look at himself and ask why people from his own community in Londonderry’s City-side call him the “draft-dodger”, before making flippant comments about the media and the DUP. Do Slugger’s posters believe he is representative of the republican grassroots?

    Perhaps this is why the Provos haven’t taken the staunchly republican Foyle constituency away from the constitutional nationalists of the SDLP…perhaps they are trying to tell you something Mitch?
    SF/IRA politicos could argue that the politics of personality enabled John Hume to stave off the Provos, and I would agree that they had a point, but Mark “Dithering” Durkan makes Reg Empey look fresh, inspired, decisive and dynamic, so there must be other underlying factors at work.

    [CL: You are discussing the man (men) here, rather than the point raised. – moderator. ].

  • Nevin

    Mick,

    Mitchel refers to the political process whereas you attribute ‘peace process’ to him. Is there a form of subtle language conditioning at work?

    It’s a shame that the media doesn’t use a term like parapolitician to describe those who are ‘managed’ by their respective army councils.

    The language of peace has been used as a smokescreen to sanitise the fascist and mafiaist activities of paramilitary organisations.

  • Mick Fealty

    MY mistake Nevin.

  • seabhac siulach

    “It’s a shame that the media doesn’t use a term like parapolitician to describe those who are ‘managed’ by their respective army councils.”

    Are we talking here of Reg Empey??

  • Stephen Copeland

    Concerned Loyalist,

    Your whole 12:35 PM post was a blatant attempt at trolling. I would therefore reply as follows:

  • Pete Baker

    That’s a disingenuous piece by Mitchel, Mick, which, when boiled down, amounts to – “why aren’t you pointing the finger at themmuns more?”

    That aside, either he’s arguing that –

    “I would appeal to the more responsible of them [certain sections of the media] to exercise this power in a more positive and factual manner.”

    Or it’s –

    “I believe that it is the responsibility of the media to report the news factually and not to dress it up to fit a particular agenda.

    It can’t be both.

    Arguably this paragraph is the most revealing –

    The public expect News organisations to factually and honestly report events as they occur. They expect and accept that politicians will present events in a manner that will project their party in the best possible light. But they do not expect or deserve News organisations that present opinion or allegations as fact in order to satisfy a particular political agenda or bias.

    So, just leave the analysis to the political parties? and just report, factually, that analysis?

    As well as patronising the ‘general public’, the implication there, of course, is that when an opinion is presented that a political party, or supporter, disagrees with, it is satisfying “a particular political agenda or bias.” And he accuses the media of contributing to cynicism?

    I would agree though that such phrases as “they’re equally to blame”, “both communities”, “all parties” and “everybody accepts” should never be used [and I’d add “We think”, “The Unionist/Nationalist/Republican[delete as appropriate] community”, “They think”].. but then, to my knowledge, I never use them.

  • DK

    Is this the same Mitchel McLaughlin whose party is presently boycotting the assembly – an assembly that the DUP is presently sitting in?

  • seabhac siulach

    “- an assembly that the DUP is presently sitting in?”

    Way, way off topic…but…

    Yep, they’re sitting there alright…keeping the benches warm. Not much more than that, of course, wouldn’t want actual executive power to back up pointless ‘debates’.
    And, so they leave the true exercise of power to those direct rule ministers, who are doing such a good job of increasing local taxes, etc…
    While the ‘bulk’ of the DUP ‘engages’ with the wood of the benches, the real decisions are being taken elsewhere. And Sinn Fein would want to take part in this debating society-type patomime, why?
    It is part of the DUP’s agenda to have this form of shadow toothless assembly, for whatever reason. Political cowardice? Is hardly in anyones interest (unionist or nationalist) for their unwillingness to engage to be encouraged.

  • The Beach Tree

    Peter

    I entirely accept your point that Mitchell cannot ask for impartiality and positivity in the same breath, it’s clearly inconsistent.

    Without getting into the why’s and wherefore’s of SF in particular, I think it is however fair to question the balance between, and interaction of, news reportage, and editorialising / commentary.

    There is a bigger question here of what is the proper democratic role of the media? Leaving aside the point that people should be free within the limits of defamation to say what they like, is there not a fair point to be made that our current political discourse, both in NI, and generally has gone too far in replacing proper skepticism with cynicism.

    The first questions everything, the second questions nothing. The first brings light, the second only dark.

    To my view, the journos, like everyone else, want to be seen to be wise. And since no one looks for a scapegoat when things are going positively, it only makes sense to make sure most of our resources and protections from being called fools are available when things go badly, hence the rush to be the most pessimistic and cynical rather than the least.

    Better if you like to carry the brolly in sunshine, than be drenched without one in the downpour.

  • DK

    SS,

    Not entirely off topic – the same newspapers he is shouting at to get them to point out the DUP are holding up the process could easily turn round and say “well at least they are in the assembly, you’re boycotting it”.

    Boycotting the assembly, however useless it may be, is not a positive move and will be more easily interpreted as such than semantics about it being a selective boycott depending on bla bla bla. Especially when it is *only* Sinn Fein who are boycotting the assembly.

  • kensei

    “Boycotting the assembly, however useless it may be, is not a positive move ”

    I disagree. It puts the focus on what needs done – electing an executive and avoids giving other parties incentive to drag it out.

    Sitting in a body that can do FA is a negative move.

  • Pete Baker

    Beach

    “There is a bigger question here of what is the proper democratic role of the media?”

    There is, and it’s a discussion that’s been taking place here on Slugger, on and off, for some time.

    “..is there not a fair point to be made that our current political discourse, both in NI, and generally has gone too far in replacing proper skepticism with cynicism.”

    Well, I’d argue that there has been an over-emphasis on the kind of positivity that Mitchel is calling for a return to. My opinion is that Mitchel wouldn’t have written this article at other point over the last 8 years – when that positivity was the general rule in the media.

    The change now is that there is the beginning of questioning of The Process and Mtchel is reacting to that.

    That questioning/scepticism is due, in large part, not simply to the media, but the “constructive ambiguity” which political parties/governments engaged in, and encouraged certain sections of the media to engage in and promote.

    If Mitchel had kept to the points you raise then it might have been a contribution to the wider debate. But he wraps those points around another party political argument and, in doing so, undermines those points. Responsible sections of the media would not simply report that he’s calling for the debate you highlight.. they would analyse his underlying reasons for doing so – presented as opinion, of course.

  • Stephen Copeland

    Boycotting may not be ‘positive’, but then neither is attending, since the Assembly is a toothless waste of time. As time goes on, and as people start to get fed up (again) of their expensive MLAs trooping up to Stormont to produce nothing, then more and more people will start to say that Sinn Féin were right. The risk for the other parties is that the voters might realise that the six month waiting period has been entirely unproductive, and that the (participating) parties were involved in yet another expensdive swindle.

  • Mick Fealty

    One of the things Mitchel is dead right about is the need in some respects, to ditch balance as the defining character of a journalistic merit. But the trouble is that this means that you evitably come into direct conflict with the interest of a given political party.

    That’s as it should be. But it seems to me that this is not always appreciated inside the political parties – and is often (mis)intrepreted as a form of malicious political aggression.

  • Paul UK

    How ironic. For years SF has always tried to spread blame/responsibility around eg “we’re all responsible for decommissioning”. Now they complaining that others are using the same line with regards to power-sharing.

  • fair_deal

    Powell may have talked a lot of nonsense in his time but his attack on the ridiculousness of a politician attacking the media was one of the occasions he got it right. Mitchel should have heeded the advice.

    1. Mitchel is saying “Adopt our narrative now”. Simple Mitchel the media doesn’t sit waiting every morning for a directive from Sinn Fein’s office of how it should spin something nor should it.
    2. He wants the narrative adopted to get put pressure on the DUP and release Sinn Fein from any. So this isn;t some higher concern about the media’s reporting but a whinge. How is the adoption of a party line going to make the media’s narrative “credible” in the eyes of the general public?
    3. On positivity – There has already been criticism of the media adopting too much of a rose-tinted perspective during stages of the peace process. If memory serves this led to a downplaying of sectarian attacks that Sinn Fein attacke the media for themselves. Thus a lack of positivity is a double edged sword.
    4. There is more than issues of the Assembly to be agreed so all parties do have work to do.

  • kensei

    “One of the things Mitchel is dead right about is the need in some respects, to ditch balance as the defining character of a journalistic merit. But the trouble is that this means that you evitably come into direct conflict with the interest of a given political party.”

    I think you are wrong here. A properly balanced and objective view will expose one side if it is unreasonable. The problem comes when journalists mistake not upsetting anyone and throwing in comments like “Well, one side is as bad as the other” as “balance”.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    DK

    “Not entirely off topic – the same newspapers he is shouting at to get them to point out the DUP are holding up the process could easily turn round and say “well at least they are in the assembly, you’re boycotting it”. Boycotting the assembly, however useless it may be, is not a positive move and will be more easily interpreted as such than semantics about it being a selective boycott depending on bla bla bla. Especially when it is *only* Sinn Fein who are boycotting the assembly.”

    Just for the sake of clarity, SF are NOT boycotting the assembly. They are simply abstaining from debating any matters over the which the assembly has no authority. I believe this is the right policy, and I think the SDLP are fools not to do likewise.

    All over the north we have local councils where you hear debates such as “This council calls for the reunification of Ireland” or “this council supports the war on terrorism” and the fuckers are happy to argue for hours over such issues.

    Apparently unionism wants Stormont to turn into something similar.

    SF are right when they say that, with its powers suspended, the only relevant order of business for the assembly should be reaching agreement so that the assembly’s powers can be restored. Until that happens, the Assembly has no role whatsoever in decision-making, and therefore Assembly debates have no relevance to anyone except those who just love to play statesman.

    Fair Deal

    “There is more than issues of the Assembly to be agreed so all parties do have work to do.”

    Yes, but not BY the assembly. The decisions on, for example, water rates or public administration, are being taken elsewhere. The assembly can debate them until the cows come home and it will be of no relevance to the decision-makers at the NIO. The only way the Assembly can make itself relevant is by claiming back the powers that the people apportioned it in 1998.

    Maybe you could explain: what purpose is served by the assembly debating matters over which it has no control?

    To use a theatrical metaphor, don’t you need to get the role first before you can play it?

  • seabhac siulach

    Pete Baker writes

    ” “I would appeal to the more responsible of them [certain sections of the media] to exercise this power in a more positive and factual manner.”

    Or it’s –

    “I believe that it is the responsibility of the media to report the news factually and not to dress it up to fit a particular agenda.”

    It can’t be both.

    In both of these sentences, he merely asks for the news to be presented in a factual way. It is a fair point considering the way the DUP, and now the UUP/UVF, are treated with kids gloves. I do not see any logical contradiction between those sentences as a moments thought will make clear. Perhaps the phrase ‘in a more positive and factual manner…’ somehow gives the impression that he wishes the news altered to fit an agenda, when, in fact, I think he merely means that the positive facts of a story should not be hidden behind attempts at balance, often resulting in negative aspects being reported and given a larger importance than they merit, thus masking the main often positive points of any given story. All in the interests of balance.

    Personally, I would say the problem is not one of warping facts in the interests of balance as in the lack of balance in most of the reporting in the first place. For example, there is little balanced reporting in facts or in opinion viz-a-viz decommissioning, i.e., the failure of the UVF/UDA to decommission (or be encouraged to do so by the UUP and others) on the one hand and the actual internationally verified decommissioning of the IRA on the other. It is presented always as only a problem for Sinn Fein, when the heat now should be turned on Unionists for movement on this issue.

    As for

    “The public expect News organisations to factually and honestly report events as they occur. They expect and accept that politicians will present events in a manner that will project their party in the best possible light. But they do not expect or deserve News organisations that present opinion or allegations as fact in order to satisfy a particular political agenda or bias.”

    What is suspicious or questionable about this paragraph? He merely states that the public expect factual news, though they understand that politicians will bend the truth, etc. to boost their own standing, but they do not expect news organisations to present opinion as fact.

    Peter Baker says:
    “So, just leave the analysis to the political parties? and just report, factually, that analysis?”

    Nowhere in that paragraph of McLaughlin’s does he make that point or even hint at that spin that you put on it…
    If read in a fair way what McLaughlin says is perfectly fair (and balanced!).

  • Pete Baker

    If you agree with Mitchel, seabhac siulach.. you agree with Mitchel.

    I’ve explained my points further in earlier comments in the thread.

  • fair_deal

    BP

    Policing isn’t going to be sorted out in the Assembly neither is parades nor ongoing criminality and paramilitarism.

    Sinn Fein demanded any shadow assembly have no powers, now complain it has no powers. Hmmm. As the beggar ascribed to Jesus in the Life of Brian “There’s no pleasing some people”

    It is clear from the motion the SoS set down on the economy he is trying to get the Assembly to debate a Programme for Government so that not only do you have an executive up and running so it has some consensus of what it wants to do. It means any future executive hits the ground running not another period of administrative stasis.

  • kensei

    “Sinn Fein demanded any shadow assembly have no powers, now complain it has no powers.”

    Sinn Fein demanded no Shadow Assembly.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Fair Deal

    Sorry if I’m being repetitive but you didn’t answer my central question: what purpose is served by the assembly debating matters over which it has no control?

  • Nevin

    seabhac siulach

    No. Parapolitician refers to the likes of those in the PUP and SF who are ‘managed’ by their respective ‘army councils’. Reg’s ‘management’ is another matter …

  • Is it just me that finds his criticism all the more cynical given that Sinn Fein has it’s own party paper publishing group.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    FD

    “Policing isn’t going to be sorted out in the Assembly neither is parades nor ongoing criminality and paramilitarism.”

    Not by a shadow assembly they aren’t, that’s for sure. A fully devolved assembly headed by a power-sharing executiver however, MIGHT have a chance. Surely the priority should be on establishing the executive, and therefore taking to ourselves the means by which we can tackle our problems?

    Re policing, there is already cross-party agreement in principle to the devolution of justice powers. Re ongoing criminality and paramilitarism – the IMC will keep an eye on PIRA, as for the others, they represent a challenge for police and, potentially, a new justice minister. They are NOT a reason why Northern Ireland should not have a devolved administration.

    Hoenstly, these seem like issues that can be negotiated, and there doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker in sight. So why aren’t the DUP getting into negotiations about setting this thing up? What are they waiting for?

    “Sinn Fein demanded any shadow assembly have no powers, now complain it has no powers.”

    That is just completely inaccurate. Sinn Fein opposed the setting up of a shadow assembly, arguing that it would settle into being as a toothless talking shop that unionists would use to block and obfuscate and ensure the restoration of devolved powers would never materialise. However, the shadow assembly HAS been set up and SF HAVE taken their seats. There is NO boycott and they DO take part in debates related to the restoration of l egislative powers. However they have refused to participate in debates on issues over which the shadow assembly has no authority, on the grounds that it is a waste of time.

    And aren’t they unarguably right about that?

    Re Programme of Government

    It would be a good idea to establish a programme for government at the earliest possible date, but only after we know there is going to BE a government. Surely we need to reach agreement first on what we’re going to do, and only THEN start worrying about how we’re going to do it?

    What on earth would be the point in a programme for government when it is by no means clear there is going to be a government?

    I would suggest that SF and the DUP spend the next five weeks in intensive round table negotiation and hammer out an agreement ahead of the summer recess. They spend the summer preparing themselves and their people for government, and the period up to November drafting a programme for government. Then the new executive can hit the ground running.

    Can you explain to me why the DUP are presently expending all their energies preventing this from happening? Can you explain to me what the hell are the Paisleyites playing at?

  • fair_deal

    BP

    “Not by a shadow assembly they aren’t, that’s for sure.”

    Policing etc aren’t devolved powers to a FULL assembly either. Powers could be given to the Assembly without an executive as a transitional form to a full Executive but nationalism rejected this.

    “That is just completely inaccurate.”

    Not what senior republicans have said

    On the suggestion a shadow assembly have scrutiny powers

    Example No.1

    “Mr McGuinness said they had told the prime minister that the suggestion of a shadow assembly scrutinised by direct rule ministers was unacceptable to his party.
    “We made it clear scrutiny committees are effectively nothing more than a DUP attempt to restore a unionist domination and that isn’t acceptable.”
    http://212.58.240.36/1/hi/northern_ireland/4872406.stm

    Example No.2

    On the shadow Assembly having the powers to have business other than an executive.

    Gerry Adams

    “Although the two governments have declared that the primary purpose is the appointment of the Executive, this legislation authorises the British Secretary of State to allow other business to be conducted. The Assembly‚s rules have also been changed. Sinn Féin will not acquiesce to this.”

    http://sinnfein.ie/news/detail/14164

    Example No. 3

    Advocating the shadow should be executive only nothing else.

    Gerry Adams

    “The objective, therefore, has to be to get Ian Paisley into the power sharing arrangements on the terms contained in the Agreement,” he said.
    “Until this is achieved the Assembly should have no other role.”

    http://www.iais.org/shtmp.cfm?News_ID=4440

    No powers = All talk.

    The complete opposition to a shadow assembly is curious as Mark Durkan points out Sinn Fein conceded the principle before:

    “A shadow assembly was agreed between the DUP and Sinn Fein in 2004 in the so called comprehensive agreement.”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4884338.stm

    “It would be a good idea to establish a programme for government at the earliest possible date, but only after we know there is going to BE a government.”

    Progress on a programme could contribute to progress on another. Enagament in the Assembly and in the committees could assist the small stes that will be needed to

    “Surely we need to reach agreement first on what we’re going to do, and only THEN start worrying about how we’re going to do it?”

    If you think politics is about who gets what job rather than what is done yes, if you think politics is about policy not perks then no.

    “I would suggest that SF and the DUP spend the next five weeks in intensive round table negotiation and hammer out an agreement ahead of the summer recess”

    The programme of government has to be agreed between all Executive parties not just SF and the DUP. Also it doesn’t hurt the ideas process to allow Alliance and the few others to contribute either (criticism is good). The Assembly and its committees provide forums for the intense debate you describe but Sinn Fein won’t contribute and attack the SDLP for doing so.

    If the debates and work of committees prove positive it could contribute to preparing the ground for an executive too. However, Sinn Fein have opted for boycott, a risk because if work goes well the other 3 executive parties have the potential to reach policy consensus.

  • Reader

    Billy Pilgrim: However they have refused to participate in debates on issues over which the shadow assembly has no authority, on the grounds that it is a waste of time. And aren’t they unarguably right about that?
    No, because there’s no guarantee that it would be a waste of time. For a start – dialogue is good, right?
    Even for the terminally cynical, there are other reasons. Hain has said that he would pay attention to the decisions of the shadow assembly. Even if you don’t trust him, the NIO and Hain’s team will be wary of putting too much effort into policies that could be immediately undone by an assembly – creating a comprehensive education system, for instance. Far less embarrassing for them to work on policies that will survive devolution, once the assembly puts them on notice…
    Still, the assembly will get through much more business if SF abstain.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    “If you think politics is about who gets what job rather than what is done yes, if you think politics is about policy not perks then no.”

    Er, no FD, and that’s a wilfully mendacious misrepresentation of what I said. (Man, it’s soooo boring when people do that.)

    It’s not about who gets what job, it’s about whether there are even going to be any jobs for anyone to get. It is utterly pointless for the assembly to debate matters of policy while its powers to actually legislate are in suspension. How the hell are they supposed to agree to restore devolution when they’re wasting their time talking about issues that they OUGHT to have control of, but don’t?

    (We have a certain party insisting on debating issues over which the assembly’s authority is suspended, because that same party is blocking the restoration of that authority. Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.)

    “The programme of government has to be agreed between all Executive parties not just SF and the DUP.”

    In theory you’re right. In reality though, SF and the DUP are the only players that matter, and you know it. You’re being wilfully mendacious again. (Yawn)

    “Also it doesn’t hurt the ideas process to allow Alliance and the few others to contribute either (criticism is good). The Assembly and its committees provide forums for the intense debate you describe but Sinn Fein won’t contribute and attack the SDLP for doing so.”

    And there it is. The admission that having little debates and acting the parliamentarians is an end in itself.

    Honestly, do I have to SCREAM this?

    WITHOUT DEVOLVED POWERS, THE ASSEMBLY MIGHT AS WELL NOT EVEN EXIST. WITHOUT DEVOLVED POWERS, IT IS TOYTOWN. IT IS A CAMPUS JAPE. IT IS A PANTOMIME.

    A chance exists for the Assembly to take the powers that the people voted it in 1998. That means there is a chance for the establishment of democratic government in Northern Ireland. What mere matter of policy can take precedence over that?

    “If the debates and work of committees prove positive it could contribute to preparing the ground for an executive too. However, Sinn Fein have opted for boycott, a risk because if work goes well the other 3 executive parties have the potential to reach policy consensus.”

    A policy consensus will be worthless if no-one has any power to exercise. The only way that can happen is by the DUP sitting down with Sinn Fein and hammering out an agreement. Why aren’t the DUP prepared to do that?

    Once again I’ll apologise for being repetitive, and for a third time I’ll ask the question: what purpose is served by the assembly debating matters over which it has no control?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Reader

    “No, because there’s no guarantee that it would be a waste of time. For a start – dialogue is good, right?”

    By God that’s a laugh. So you think the DUP has insisted that a talking shop be set up because they think dialogue is good? Jesus, there are easier ways. They could say: “Good morning Gerry. How’s the family Martin? One lump or two Michelle?”

    But do they do that? Hmmm. The DUP aren’t yet prepared to acknowledge the physical presence of members of SF, much less talk to them. So please, get real. Toytown is all about the DUP avoiding dialogue with SF.

    Think about it: isn’t the refusal to even acknowledge someone’s physical presence basically a denial of their very humanity?

    “Even for the terminally cynical, there are other reasons. Hain has said that he would pay attention to the decisions of the shadow assembly.”

    That’s incredibly weak.

    “Even if you don’t trust him, the NIO and Hain’s team will be wary of putting too much effort into policies that could be immediately undone by an assembly – creating a comprehensive education system, for instance. Far less embarrassing for them to work on policies that will survive devolution, once the assembly puts them on notice…”

    I trust Peter Hain to pursue the interests of the British government here, and those interests do not coincide with those of the people here. As for the suggestion that they fear being embarrassed, all I can say is that you are way off the mark here. All NIO politicians are here on a short-term lease and even that involves jetting in for one day a week to sit in a highly secure office at Stormont. I daresay we have had NIO ministers in the past who never met a single person in their time here other than civil servants and journalists. None of them have any compelling reason to give a damn what people here think of them. Furthermore, virtually nothing they do here is likely to register back across the water. They are beyond worrying about being embarrassed.

    Welcome to colonial rule, Quixote.

    Now, in light of the humiliating situation in which we find ourselves (and make no mistake, Hain’s strategy is one of humiliation), why do you think the DUP are actively conniving to present us as exactly the parochial, provincial, pathetic spongers that the British government takes us for?

    (Or, as the Armagh declaration demonstrated, it’s probably more accurate to say, that the British government takes unionists for?)

  • DK

    “Toytown is all about the DUP avoiding dialogue with SF”. Er, remind me again which party has left “toytown” to avoid dialogue with *all* the other parties.

    It’s always either DUP or SF being the ones seen to be blocking progress. Previously it was the DUP, now it is Sinn Fein’s turn. Doesn’t matter how you spin it, everyone else is in the assembly & Sinn Fein are seen to be boycotting it.

    I understand the official reason why – it has no power and so therefore there is no point being in it. But since when did the pursuit of power be a reason to shut down debate. And what debate is done will be taken into account when the actual power finally does arrive.

    I suspect that the unofficial reason is more to do with electioneering: Sinn Fein can only get votes off the SDLP. So, by boycotting the assembly, they can say to the voters: “Look at the SDLP getting all pally with the DUP and UUP/UVF – you wouldn’t want to vote for them, they’re practically Orange bas.. ahem.. unionists”

  • kensei

    “Even for the terminally cynical, there are other reasons. Hain has said that he would pay attention to the decisions of the shadow assembly.”

    “No powers = All talk.”

    Having powers = no incentive to form an executive. Cosy netherland where the place can be “run”, ie the decisions the Secretary of State denigns to implement slelectively being claimed as “ours”, and blaming the ones you don’t like as being unable to do anything about. Unionists keep those nasty Nationalists out of government, but make themselves feel important. No deal. We have to work with each other, time to face up to it.

    The whole idea of a Shadow Assembly is a sham and a waste of time. The insistence on a Shadow Assembly having no powers is merely to give the idea no cover whatsoever. The ONLY important business is to elect an executive, without that, it’s utterly useless endeavour.

    “It’s always either DUP or SF being the ones seen to be blocking progress. Previously it was the DUP, now it is Sinn Fein’s turn. Doesn’t matter how you spin it, everyone else is in the assembly & Sinn Fein are seen to be boycotting it.”

    Oh, that may be the opinion now, but in 6 months time when they are still talking about things they don’t have any control over a more cynical view might set in. Besides, the SDLP is already being castigated for having no principles. You are seeing things from a Unionist perspective. A lot of Nationalists are pissed we are still playing these games, and demonstarting that displeasure will go down quite well.

    Besides, I don’t see how yoou can blame SF for anything in a place where nothing actually gets done.

  • Ian

    If the last Assembly is anything to go by, why should Sinn Fein turn up to a Toytown Assembly only to be shouted down by a supposedly ‘housetrained’ Unionist clique?

    DK: “Er, remind me again which party has left “toytown” to avoid dialogue with *all* the other parties.”

    SF isn’t avoiding dialogue with any party. Toytown Assembly proceedings isn’t dialogue. (The only reason the SDLP is taking part is that they wany to save the bacon of a few of their councillors by persuading Hain to rethink the 7-council model for local government.)

    It’s clear that the only way forward is for the DUP and SF to sit down together and hammer out a deal. SF aren’t the ones stopping that – the DUP are, despite the last IMC report giving a much cleaner bill of health to PIRA than it does to the UVF.

    The DUP’s continued refusal to talk to SF is even more unsustainable now than it ever was if they still remain in ANY kind of dialogue with the UUP/UVF.

    Maybe Reg Empey realises this and that is the real reason why they took Ervine on board – to force the necessary direct negotiations between the two major parties, in order to introduce some faint prospect of progress. (Although I suspect that analysis makes an over-optimistic assumption about the level of strategic thinking in the Empey camp.)

    However, the UUP’s experience of negotiating the Good Friday Agreement did show how indirect talks can lead to misunderstandings further down the line. (Ditto the Leeds Castle talks.) It is therefore the case that the DUP would be advised to hammer out a deal with Sinn Fein DIRECTLY if they wish to maximise the chance that an eventual deal doesn’t fall apart in acrimony.

  • fair_deal

    The era of big jumps in the process are over. For example, even the comprehensive agreement was talking of 3-6 month run into a full executive.

    Even if the DUP ignored the lessons of Trimble’s mistakes, the Northern Bank and McCartney mess made them even more wary.

    Furthermore, the decision by the republican movement to decommission in the manner it chose was a missed opportunity and the snub it represented was going to have a political response too. If the IRA would not decomission in a way to maximise confidence then the Unionist community is in no rush to address nationalist demands.

    BP

    “How the hell are they supposed to agree to restore devolution when they’re wasting their time talking about issues that they OUGHT to have control of, but don’t?”

    1. The business committee is looking at those issues so it isn’t being ignored.
    2. Intensive talks have already been announced by the two governments for later in the year so again the issue is not being ignored.
    3. I believe you are making the mistake that they have to be mutually exclusive and consecutive processes. I believe they can be complimentary and concurrent.
    4. “Making the cake bigger” is good for a negotiation so broadening the discussion can help i.e. movement on a reform/change of the structures in return for a shift in policy.
    5. The Unionist community bought out of devloution the last time because the UUP didn’t seem to have the first clue what it wanted to do with it. Having a clear programme will help any any restoration to be sold to that community.

    “In theory you’re right”

    1. No in practice I am right. If Ervine’s move is deemed legal and d’hondt ran successfully you would have half an executive of UUP and SDLP. Hard to develop a programme if half the cabinet disagree. Would you be advocating politics of exclusion? 😉

    “A chance exists for the Assembly to take the powers that the people voted it in 1998.”

    This is 2006 and politics have changed.

    “what purpose is served by the assembly debating matters over which it has no control?”

    So it knows what it wants to do when it gets control rather than a yet another period of government stasis.

    “The admission that having little debates ”

    What was that you said about misrepresenting? You want intense engagement. The Assembly provides a clear opportunity for it. Sinn Fein refuse to participate.

    “isn’t the refusal to even acknowledge someone’s physical presence basically a denial of their very humanity?”

    No. At various stages in many negotiations people refuse to engage directly. Does a trade union not belive management is a human being when the refuse to talk to them?

    Also some Sinn Fein MLAs have been actively involved or ordered many inhumane acts.

    Kensei

    “Having powers = no incentive to form an executive”

    Giving it some powers enables it to have other powers remaining as a carrot for a full restoration.

    “Unionists keep those nasty Nationalists out of government, but make themselves feel important.”

    Your analysis is based on sectarian suspicion, not unsurprising considering our history and present relationships, them’uns don’t want us into power. However, I genuinely think the DUP wants to see a return to fully-fledged devolution with an Executive so the game you imagine them playing is not their ultimate aim.

    “The ONLY important business is to elect an executive”

    The only important business to you is to elect an executive some of us think policy and relationships have to be developed for an executive to succeed this time.

  • kensei

    “Giving it some powers enables it to have other powers remaining as a carrot for a full restoration.”

    It really doesn’t. The carrot is power. Giving some power just makes the carrot smaller. Give people to November and they will wait until November. It’s a pointless charade.

    “Your analysis is based on sectarian suspicion, not unsurprising considering our history and present relationships, them’uns don’t want us into power.”

    I’m not sure it is down to sectarian suspicion. It’s more down to the track record and the make up of the DUP’s electorate, a large wing of which would not contenance power sharing with SF at any cost. It’s in the DUP’s interests to spin this out as long as possible.

    “However, I genuinely think the DUP wants to see a return to fully-fledged devolution with an Executive so the game you imagine them playing is not their ultimate aim.”

    Great. They can have it next Tuesday. So the DUP is either: spinning the process out as long as possible with no intention of forming the executive, or spinning the proces sout as long as possible for some narrow electoral advantage.

    Somewhat surpisingly, as a Nationalist neither really interests me.

    “The only important business to you is to elect an executive some of us think policy and relationships have to be developed for an executive to succeed this time. ”

    We’ve had what, 3 years for policy proposals? Relationships will not and cannot develop until the Executive is in place, because there absolutely no incentive for them to. It’s another excuse in an endless line of excuses.

  • Stephen Copeland

    fair_deal,

    Your post was a long one, and usefully indicative of (I presume) some main strands of unionist thinking. Not an optimistic post, I might add, but that is par for the course.

    I was struck by the slightly discordant note at the end: “I genuinely think the DUP wants to see a return to fully-fledged devolution with an Executive“. This contradicts, in spirit if not in word, the impression I had gotten from some of your other points, but more importantly it begs some questions:

    1. Where is the evidence of such a wish to return to an Executive, especially knowing that they will have to interact with SF in order to get it?. Stalling on the formation of the Executive is contradictory if such an Executive is their real wish.

    2. Why is the DUP stalling now, if it wants an executive, and knows that it will have to deal with SF to get it? Why not move straight into the Executive – nothing substantial is going to change in terms of the political basics between now and ‘E-Day’, but the voters aare going to get even more pissed off.

    3. On a more general level, does it not seem that the DUP have painted themselves into a corner? I cannot see any way through the conundrums for them, without having to publicly back-track on many of their previous promises, principles and stated goals.

  • fair_deal

    The fixation on an executive is I believe unwise.

    kensei

    “Giving some power just makes the carrot smaller.”

    It is still a carrot.

    “as a Nationalist neither really interests me.”

    Fine.

    “3 years for policy proposals?”

    To be accurate we have had 2.5 years since the DUP became the main party of Unionism. We had one year of talks that almost produced a deal before the Northern Bank’s vaults distracted republicans. We then had 9 months waiting while the republican movement worked out how it dug itself out of the Northern Bank + McCartney hole. A missed opprtunity on decommissioning and now a new opportunity for engagement that Sinn Fein is partially boycotting. Throughout that time no forum was in operation for all parties to discuss policy proposals.

    “”Relationships will not and cannot develop until the Executive is in place”

    Relationships can develop in a myriad of ways. You are continuing the zero-sum thinking Sinn Fein have approached to the new Assembly and it is not fruitful to the ultimate aim everyone wants.

    SC

    “This contradicts, in spirit if not in word, the impression I had gotten from some of your other points”

    The aim is the where. My comments concern the how.

    The goal across the main parties is the same. The debate is about how many changes to the agreement and timing. The DUP do wish to make a deal they just want more for doing so than the UUP ever asked for. We are aguing about the detail of a deal not the principle of one.

    The republican position of today is essential trying to get back to a pre-Dec 04 position. Essentially they are saying forget the changes they agreed to in Dec 04 you got all the guns (honest, guv) now have an executive. The DUP sought imporvements/changes in December 04 and they still do today.

    “1. Where is the evidence of such a wish to return to an Executive, especially knowing that they will have to interact with SF in order to get it?.”

    Do they? It was almost pulled off in December 04 without it. Also the shadow assembly provides a means of interaction but Sinn Fein are largely boycotting it.

    “Why not move straight into the Executive – nothing substantial is going to change in terms of the political basics between now and ‘E-Day’, but the voters aare going to get even more pissed off.”

    1. Simple the DUP wants lessons learnt from past failures. If it is to bite the bullet of shairng power with republicans it wants a sustainable executive. It’s not going to make that move for a return to yo-yo governance. We will see how substantial the changes are before we get to E-day.
    2. It is using the time to feel out republicans to see if the shifts are genuine and will be sustained.

    “but the voters are going to get even more pissed off.”

    I haven’t picked up any great public groundswell. If you ask people the simple question do you want an executive? you will get significant support however when you raise detail then it becomes much more disparate.

    “3. On a more general level, does it not seem that the DUP have painted themselves into a corner?”

    The DUP were explicit and careful about what they told the electorate about how they would assess any new arrangements. To date the DUP has managed its constituency well and delivered highly effective campaigns plus it has the strong card of the Paisley brand.

  • briso

    FD, what changes to the agreement do the DUP want?

  • Stephen Copeland

    briso,

    Good luck with your question! I have asked fair_deal on several occasions to explain what exactly is the ‘fair deal’ he appears to want, but so far without any answer. It seems he can answer semi-authoritatively of the DUP’s behalf when he wants, but not when the questions get specific.

    Nonetheless I’ll try again: Fair_deal, what does the DUP want that is different to the GFA? And how is it goig to persuade nationalists to ditch the GFA in favour of the DUP’s ideal? If nationalists do ditch the GFA, this must mean that the ‘fair deal’ is better for nationalism than the GFA – how can the DUP square this?

  • kensei

    “The fixation on an executive is I believe unwise.”

    I know. If only all those governments across the world didn’t bother with Executive power, we might get something done.

    1-0 me.

    “It is still a carrot.”

    Yeah, but you appear to have missed the thread of the argument, there.

    2-0 me.

    “Fine.”

    You understand the principles of power sharing, right?

    3-0 me.

    The rest is too complicated for me to go into right now. Will go into it later.

  • fair_deal

    briso/sc

    Take a gander at their various policy documents, manifestos and the Comprehensive Agreement. It is primarily around accountability and collectivity of the executive and a rejigging of East-West mechanisms.

    “If nationalists do ditch the GFA, this must mean that the ‘fair deal’ is better for nationalism than the GFA – how can the DUP square this? ”

    The fair deal is better for nationalism because it and all its insitutions (including the cross-border bodies) will work something the GFA never managed.

    kensei

    Self-assessment is very sad.

    “I know.”

    So we agree on something. There are isues beyond an executive by addressing them all it makes an executive more likely and more likely to succeed. Thus a fixation on a executive I believe is unwise and missing opportunities

    “you appear to have missed the thread of the argument”

    You said no incentive for an executive existed if the shadow had powers. I disagreed saying full powers did not have to be given leaving an incentive. You abandoned the claim of no incentive to argue it was an insufficient incentive. My response was no matter your impression of the sufficiency it was still an incentive to Unionists to move to a full executive.

    “the principles of power sharing”

    If a negative approach is what you wish to adopt that is your perojative hence my acceptance of it.

  • kensei

    “Self-assessment is very sad.”

    Being totally wrong is worse.

    “So we agree on something.”

    Er, is your sarcasm detectory broke?

    “There are isues beyond an executive by addressing them all it makes an executive more likely and more likely to succeed. Thus a fixation on a executive I believe is unwise and missing opportunities”

    All of the issues could be better resolved if people were working in an executive. Of course, you disagree, it suits your political ends.

    “You said no incentive for an executive existed if the shadow had powers. I disagreed saying full powers did not have to be given leaving an incentive. You abandoned the claim of no incentive to argue it was an insufficient incentive. My response was no matter your impression of the sufficiency it was still an incentive to Unionists to move to a full executive.”

    No, my arguemnt is that the same incentive, but worse, is pointless. A lot like a Shadow Assembly. And I’m not entirely convinced that Shadow Assemby + some power is worse for Unionists than a fiull executive, as I have already said.

    “If a negative approach is what you wish to adopt that is your perojative hence my acceptance of it.”

    As I have already stated, a Shaow Assembly is a negative approach. Nationalism wants the most positive approach of all – a full executive. Just doing what Unionism wants may be positive for you, but it doesn’t really work for me. Petulance is not quite the same as acceptance.

  • Stephen Copeland

    Fair_deal,

    Take a gander at their various policy documents, manifestos and the Comprehensive Agreement. It is primarily around accountability and collectivity of the executive and a rejigging of East-West mechanisms.

    Their documents are vezry heavy on graphics, pictures, slogans and unattainable promises. But very poor on specific suggestions or proposals. So I’m none the wiser. Also, am I missing something – where was the Comprehensive Agreement published? I cannot find it.

    The fair deal is better for nationalism because it and all its insitutions (including the cross-border bodies) will work something the GFA never managed.

    Sorry, but this really won’t wash. A DUP-inspired ‘deal’ is never going to be better for nationalism than either the GFA, Direct Rule (morphing into JA … ), or Plan B. The plan seems to be that by stalling on the GFA they can ‘persuade’ nationalism to settle for something less … they must take nationalists for fools. It isn’t going to happen, so I suggest that the DUP needs to think up a new plan, or else admit that their in a hole of their own digging. I can now understand why you have been so reticent to discuss this issue.

  • fair_deal

    Successful operation is more not less.You are getting caught in a zero-sum mindset if the DUP like it then you can’t.

  • briso

    I’m open minded FD. Maybe I would like, if I only knew what it was. What’s on offer? Oh, when you get a moment, post up the link to the comprehensive agreement.

  • fair_deal
  • briso

    Grazie.

  • question

    To those that say the ATN group is a Sinn Fein front, does the same apply to the Alpha Newspaper Group?

  • Reader

    Billy Pilgrim: Think about it: isn’t the refusal to even acknowledge someone’s physical presence basically a denial of their very humanity?
    No. That’s a leap of logic and the use of emotive – and loaded – language. Or does SF think that British Royalty is (in)(sub)(non)human too? Maybe there can be other pre-conditions to courtesy…

  • Billy Pilgrim

    FD

    “The business committee is looking at those issues so it isn’t being ignored.”

    The business committee can “look” at whatever it wants, but none of it means anything without access to powers. The business committee might as well debate the US federal deficit. As things stand, they have as much control over that as over the NI economy.

    “Intensive talks have already been announced by the two governments for later in the year so again the issue is not being ignored.”

    Why wait? Why not get into negotiations now? What’s the hold-up?

    “I believe you are making the mistake that they have to be mutually exclusive and consecutive processes. I believe they can be complimentary and concurrent.”

    That argument might hold more water if the toytown debates were running concurrently with intensive negotiations between the DUP and SF. However, we still have a situation where DUPers will stand out in the rain rather than share a goddamn BC van with SFers, much less exchange a few words with them, much less negotiate. And we’re supposed to believe the DUP are up for sharing power with people they won’t share physical space or words with?

    Why on earth would ANYONE believe that?

    “Making the cake bigger” is good for a negotiation so broadening the discussion can help i.e. movement on a reform/change of the structures in return for a shift in policy.”

    That’s a cliché, nothing more meaningful than that. Yawn.

    “The Unionist community bought out of devolution the last time because the UUP didn’t seem to have the first clue what it wanted to do with it. Having a clear programme will help any restoration to be sold to that community.”

    Oh really? I thought the unionist community lost its nerve last time because the Provos screwed Trimble on decommissioning. Certainly that’s what DUP and UUP said at the time. Every night for years we turned on BBC or UTV and that was the message. Also, the first executive DID agree a programme of government. Jesus, are you seriously trying to suggest the executive collapsed on matters of POLICY?

    You can’t possibly believe that to be true, so I can only speculate as to why you would, apparently, be so dishonest. Yawn.

    “No in practice I am right. If Ervine’s move is deemed legal and d’hondt ran successfully you would have half an executive of UUP and SDLP. Hard to develop a programme if half the cabinet disagree. Would you be advocating politics of exclusion? ;)”

    I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about here, or where you’re getting this bizarre tangent from, but I won’t follow you down that cul de sac.

    I make the point again that the last executive was able to agree a programme of government.

    Even for all that, I would get back to my earlier point: policy differences are inevitable, but should any policy difference be a reason to NOT HAVE democratic governance here? Democratic government is all about working with disagreements.

    “This is 2006 and politics have changed.”

    An empty rhetorical gesture. The Good Friday Agreement is an international treaty, an Act of the Oireachtas and an Act of Parliament. That hasn’t changed, and it takes more than a DUP election victory to change that.

    “What purpose is served by the assembly debating matters over which it has no control?” So it knows what it wants to do when it gets control rather than a yet another period of government stasis.

    This assumes that there is going to be a government, which is a huge assumption. What about my proposal? Negotiate an agreement now, make an unbreakable commitment to enter government in the autumn, and spend the interim preparing for government.

    If ones takes your position at face value, then why isn’t this happening? Why aren’t the DUP even talking to SF?

    “You want intense engagement. The Assembly provides a clear opportunity for it. Sinn Fein refuse to participate.”

    No it doesn’t. “Intense engagement” is only possible where there is something at stake. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING is at stake in the Toytown debates. Therefore it’s not “intense engagement”. It’s not really even engagement. Engagement involves DUP and SF sitting down and talking to each other. Why aren’t the DUP prepared to even exchange words with SF? This position is an ongoing outrage.

    “No. At various stages in many negotiations people refuse to engage directly. Does a trade union not believe management is a human being when the refuse to talk to them?”

    Oh for Christ’s sake. I’m not even going to field that one. I wish you wouldn’t treat me like a halfwit. (Yawns long and loud.)

    “Also some Sinn Fein MLAs have been actively involved or ordered many inhumane acts.”

    Er, not to be patronising here, but “human” and “humane” are two different words meaning two different things.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Reader

    “No. That’s a leap of logic and the use of emotive – and loaded – language. Or does SF think that British Royalty is (in)(sub)(non)human too? Maybe there can be other pre-conditions to courtesy…”

    First off, what SF think and what I think are two different things. I’m not SFer. Never voted for them.

    I despise monarchy but I think SF’s position re. the British royal family is insulting and idiotic and an ongoing outrage. I think they need to acknowledge that, whatever they think, the royal family is important to many of their fellow Irishmen and women. They are entitled to criticise, but it’s incumbent on them to do so carefully and respectfully. That they do not do this is both wrong, and forehead-slappingly stupid.

    Their position re. the Royal family is essentially an insult to the entire unionist community. Equally, the DUP refusal to talk to SF is an insult to the entire nationalist community. The difference is though, the latter actually prevents the establishment of democratic government here.

    PS Fair Deal

    “It’s still a carrot.”

    Weakest response EVER.

  • fair_deal

    BP

    “The business committee can “look” at whatever it wants”

    Err this is part of the shadow assembly that Sinn Fein is not boycotting as they believe it is doing relevant and effective work.

    “That’s a cliché,”

    Cliche’s can be right. A negotiation is going on if you think applying negotiation theory (using a cliche or not) is unwise, fine. I disagree.

    “Why not get into negotiations now? What’s the hold-up?”

    That’s what the business committee and shadow assembly can do right now if people participate. Sinn Fein want d’hondt run first before the intensive talks.

    “I thought the unionist community”

    I was insufficiently clear. I should have said one of the reasons. Soundbytes on news programmes do not allow for a full analysis and the issue of the moment tends to predominate what politicians say. There wasn’t a single reason for disaffection but a range.

    “DID agree a programme of government”

    And a very poor piece of work it was too. Better to utilise the present opportunity to make a good one for all concerned. Also one that the Civil Service gets less chance to get its dead hand upon.

    ” are you seriously trying to suggest the executive collapsed on matters of POLICY?”

    Stormontgate was the direct cause of the last collapse. Issues of policy and the Unionist community’s belief that devolution hadn’t delivered was a contributor to the sapping of support.

    “The Good Friday Agreement is an international treaty, an Act of the Oireachtas and an Act of Parliament. That hasn’t changed, and it takes more than a DUP election victory to change that.”

    Treaties and acts can be changed and what drives changes in them is politics.

    “What about my proposal? Negotiate an agreement now, make an unbreakable commitment to enter government in the autumn, and spend the interim preparing for government.”

    Negotiating agreements take time thus your timeline is difficult. Also the DUP is not the only party taking its time for example SF seems to want more time on policing.

    As I said before small steps will get us to the same place and make it more sustainable. You believe in bigger steps. You also advocate a consecutive process while i prefer a concurrent one. On those I think we should agree to disagree.

    “if the toytown debates were running concurrently with intensive negotiations between the DUP and SF”

    Again there is more to this process than this SF and the DUP and an agreement almost happened without direct engagement you call for.

    “much less exchange a few words with them, much less negotiate.”

    They will exchange words in a shadow assembly, in the committees and they will participate along with Sinn Fein in the planned intensive talks.

    If you went by republican stereotypes of the DUP the process would have completely collapsed by now. The DUP response to Michael McIlveen’s murder would have been radically different if they had behaved to the republican stereotype. These things may not be sufficient for nationalists to abandon the stereotype but it should be sufficient to start questioning it.

    “This assumes that there is going to be a government, which is a huge assumption.”

    Better to operate under the positive assumption than enage in a will they won’t circular debate.

    “policy differences are inevitable, but should any policy difference be a reason to NOT HAVE democratic governance here? Democratic government is all about working with disagreements.”

    I am not expecting a policy nirvana but would an executive agreed and a good programme agreed not be a very good start for another attempt at powersharing.

    “not to be patronising here,”

    Also some Sinn Fein MLAs have been actively involved or ordered many inhuman acts.

    “I’m not even going to field that one”

    Sinn Fein’s refusal for years to engage with the police.

    “I wish you wouldn’t treat me like a halfwit”

    The person adopting condescension is yourself – yawns spelling etc.

    “Weakest response EVER.”

    An incentive is an incentive. Kensei and you dismiss it but I think it has genuine value.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    FD

    “And a very poor piece of work it was too. Better to utilise the present opportunity to make a good one for all concerned. Also one that the Civil Service gets less chance to get its dead hand upon.”

    I make the point again that a programme for government is only of use to a government. Without a government it’s pointless. We don’t yet have agreement that there must be a government. Without that, what’s the point? It’s like arguing over the architecture of the new Maze stadium, before it’s even agreed that it’s going to be built.

    “Treaties and acts can be changed and what drives changes in them is politics.”

    Do you really think that what the DUP is doing, refusing to even exchange WORDS with the largest nationalist party, can seriously be described as “politics”? How can they justify this ongoing outrage?

    “Negotiating agreements take time thus your timeline is difficult.”

    It’s made especially difficult by the DUP’s refusal to even exchange WORDS with the only people they can conclude an agreement with. How can the DUP justify this ongoing abdication of responsibility, this ongoing insult to the nationalist community, this ongoing outrage?

    “Also the DUP is not the only party taking its time for example SF seems to want more time on policing.”

    You may be right, but how on earth could the DUP possibly know that? They won’t even share a room with SF. How can they make assumptions about where SF is at?

    “As I said before small steps will get us to the same place and make it more sustainable. You believe in bigger steps. You also advocate a consecutive process while I prefer a concurrent one. On those I think we should agree to disagree.”

    But you don’t favour a “concurrent” process. The DUP still aren’t talking to SF. Those negotiations have not yet begun, and it’s by no means clear that they will. Let’s not muddy the waters here, and suggest that the only disagreement is over timetable. There has been NO DUP commitment in principle to a power-sharing executive with SF. Without that, there really is no substantive reason to accept the DUP’s bona fides. The DUP has no credibility on this issue. What are they going to do about it?

    “They will exchange words in a shadow assembly, in the committees and they will participate along with Sinn Fein in the planned intensive talks.”

    Why won’t they talk to SF face-to-face? What is their justification for this two-fingered salute to the nationalist community, this ongoing outrage?

    “If you went by republican stereotypes of the DUP the process would have completely collapsed by now.”

    But the Armagh declaration changed everything for unionism. The DUP sat on their hands for eighteen months, and showed no sign of changing that strategy. Even IRA decommissioning prompted no response from the DUP, other than crazy conspiracy theories about how it was all a con. The process was going nowhere until the two governments came together and waved a huge stick at unionism. Otherwise the process would still be stuck in stasis. Let’s be clear here – republicans and the two governments have breathed life into the process over the last year. The DUP have done nothing yet. They have started to SAY one or two interesting things, but the onus is on them to demonstrate that this isn’t the same old DUP. The ONLY way to do that is to enter a power-sharing executive. Nothing less will suffice, and the two governments demonstrated in Armagh that they agree.

    “The DUP response to Michael McIlveen’s murder would have been radically different if they had behaved to the republican stereotype. These things may not be sufficient for nationalists to abandon the stereotype but it should be sufficient to start questioning it.”

    If Paisley hadn’t snubbed the funeral, maybe, but he did, so better luck next time.

  • fair_deal

    BP

    A lot of this comes down to “I don’t believe you” but here goes.

    ” We don’t yet have agreement that there must be a government.”

    Not strictly true. All the parties are committed to a restoration of an executive although the detail isn’t agreed. As the principle is established it can enable work on other matters to begin.

    “refusing to even exchange WORDS”

    They will exchange words in the debating chamber and committees of the shadow Assembly but Sinn Fein won’t turn up for most of that.

    As regards bi-lateral talks, they continue this policy because they told their electorate they would hold to it until the issues of the IRA were dealt with. This no doubt causes understandable frustration among nationalists. However, think creatively, keeping their commitments develops a trust with the electorate which enables the party to sell an agreement better.

    “But you don’t favour a “concurrent” process”

    I favour an all-party concurrent process.

    “NO DUP commitment in principle to a power-sharing executive with SF.”

    The DUP’s stated position is they will share power with other democratic parties. The recent signs on Sinn Fein becoming such are positive. Also timing in a negotiation is important, the era of Unionism giving up its strong cards early on in an negotiation are gone.

    “but how on earth could the DUP possibly know that?”

    NI is a very small place.

    “What are they going to do about it?”

    Contribute positively in the shadow assembly
    Contribute positively to the intensive negotiations
    A process of engagement with the SDLP and other nationalists in the Assembly, Councils, in other bodies and generally
    Not behave to the nationalist stereotype so that more question it.

    “waved a huge stick”

    What huge stick? The one that Hain has been rowing back from ever since? The Plan B will not be great for Unionism neither will it be apocalypse now.

    Also SF in the past has criticised southern parties for their disinterest in unity and All-Ireland bodies. Ahern stressed how all parties would be excluded in the Plan B. So it won’t be some nirvana for nationalism either.

    The stick was more in the imagination of nationalism. It was to a large degree spin by Dublin to help northern nationalism have something to cover the fact the governments had moved closer to the DUP’s position about the next stage in the process than SF’s and the SDLP’s.

    Also since the DUP became the largest party they have put forward a series of proposals.

    “republicans and the two governments have breathed life into the process over the last year.”

    If the IRA had not created the mammoth hole then no one would have had to wait 9 months for them to start filling it in.

    As regards a slow timetable, the IRA were told publicly by Unionists that if they did decommissioning in a particular way it would not inspire the confidence for quick movement. They did it their way and thus we all live with the political consequence of it. Maybe they didn’t believe the DUP would stick to their word on that and that the DUP would cave under pressure. A significant misjudgement if they did.

    Again the governments next move in the process was to adopt a watered down form of the DUP’s shadow Assembly idea.

    “The ONLY way”

    Doing exactly what SF tells them to do is really going to make the DUP a credible force to sell the new deal.

    “snubbed the funeral”

    The DUP didn’t snub the funeral it was officially represented at it and have given the family support throughout the tragedy.