“In politics, as elsewhere, timing is all.”

As the News Leter says, “Secretary of State Peter Hain has taken the unusual step of penning an open letter to unionism” Unusual also in that it appears to be an open letter exclusive to the News Letter. I’ve emphasised some of the more interesting lines below, but there are a couple of other references worth picking up on – “the political focus in the Republic will switch elsewhere at the turn of the year” could have been matched with a similar line about the current encumbent of 10 Downing St, and whether there’s a degree of displacement taking place when he refers to “And crucially it [unionism] will get its hands on the levers of power.” only Mr Hain can really know for certain..

From Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Unionism has every right to be confident: confident in its place in the United Kingdom with the principle of consent secured by the Agreement, confident in its culture and confident in its politics and its politicians.
It also needs to be smart.
In politics, as elsewhere, timing is all.
November is the time for unionism to seize the initiative and it will get so much more by engaging and mainstreaming all parties in accountable, democratic politics in the Assembly and the Executive than it will by staying on the sidelines denying itself its rightful role in the Government of Northern Ireland.
And crucially it will get its hands on the levers of power.
I accept that in the past we were over-optimistic about the pace of transition within the republican movement and that led to understandable suspicion on the part of unionists.
That is why we set up the Independent Monitoring Commission.
It is the IMC that tells us that the IRA is living up to its commitments: just read the last Report with an open mind.
Unionism wants to see more movement.
But the real danger for unionism is if what was seen in the past to be justifiable concern and suspicion becomes a paralysing refusal to accept that their opponents are capable of change and are part of the body politic.
There will be a real problem for unionism if the IMC reports in October that the IRA has done what it said it would,
following on from the quietest parades season since the 1960s and where Sinn Fein is seen to be co-operating more with the police at street level and still there is no political settlement.

And the consequences of failure by 24 November will be serious.
I am often told that unionism does not respond to threats.
Quite right.
Neither do I.
But unionism should recognise political reality.
As the Prime Minster said in Armagh in April, having worked with the Irish government and with the parties for nearly 10 years on this, there will be nothing more that the governments can do.
And the political focus in the Republic will switch elsewhere at the turn of the year.
Devolution will go into deep freeze and, frankly, I cannot see the circumstances in which it will be revived in the foreseeable future.
There will be no joint authority with the Irish government but north/south and east/west co-operation will deepen.
Direct Rule will continue.

MLAs will lose their place as representatives of the people and while Ministers will, of course, continue to deal with MPs on constituency matters, the democratic deficit will be massive.
The real loss will not be the salaries and allowances.
It will be the loss of a generation of
local politicians who will be seen by the public to have failed.
I will continue to implement the reform agenda because it is the right way to take Northern Ireland forward.
There is general agreement that issues on the economy, education, infrastructure and administration need to be addressed.
I want them to be addressed by those with a local mandate and they can be.
The next few months will involve difficult decisions for unionism.
It will mean engaging with people with whom most unionists would rather not.
But, as the summer has shown, we are genuinely in a different place.
The prize is that local politicians will be able to decide local matters whether it is on education or rural planning or industrial de-rating or a host of other issues I currently have to deal with.
The future of Northern Ireland will be in local hands and that is as it should be.
Establishing locally accountable, democratic structures of government is not about what I want, or Tony Blair wants or Bertie Ahern wants.
It is about giving the people of Northern Ireland what they want and what they deserve.
And if this opportunity is taken, unionism’s confidence in its politicians will be well rewarded.

, ,

  • unionist

    I suppose from Hain’s perspective its a fair piece.

    But looking at the wider issues,
    he’s dealing now with the dup’s who see an opportunity to finish off the uup by shutting down stormont even for a short while
    they will not respond to the 24th Nov deadline instead prefering to be able to say we stood up to nasty Tony
    the dup believe that Brown is a friend cos he’s a scots prod and he will stand by them when he takes over as Labour party leader
    the dup believe that the next parliament will be hung and they will have some leverage against the government
    and the dup by nature are an opposition party, it is in their nature to sit back and object to whatever is put in front of them. The though of taking responsibilty for decisions on closing schools, hospitals or raising rates scares the s*** out of them

    So really Peter you are missing the point of the exercise, it is not about taking power or responsibility it is about stopping others having any.

  • Bushmills

    “he’s dealing now with the dup’s who see an opportunity to finish off the uup by shutting down stormont even for a short while”

    Oh dear, sounds like panic stations at UUP HQ. Don’t worry lads, I’m sure there are lots of jobs in the “voluntary” sector.

  • He’s been fisked on ATW!

  • He’s been fisked on ATW! – DV

    Holy sh*t! A really awful image formed in my mind just there, until I reread that sentence and realised the word was “fisked.”

  • Peking

    David Vance

    “He’s been fisked on ATW”

    Not half as much as you have over on ATW.
    You claimed yesterday that a young girl has been refused leave to join the PSNI because she is a Protestant. In fact, the young lady in question is a Catholic but you didn’t even think to check.
    How’s that for good thorough research, eh?

  • Peking

    BTW
    The Vance boo-boo was posted yesterday under the title Hypocrites…

  • fair_deal

    IF by October the IRA has done all the things that he is claiming (and the Alliance party are right better for him to shut up and let the IMC determine that) then the democratic and moral barriers will have largely been addressed with the exception of IRA disbandment (which is an inevitable consequence of what has happened to date anyway).

    Although another election would be useful as it gives a ‘clean’ mandate to Sinn Fein as well as give any new arrangments legitimacy.

    However, political differences remain to be resolved on so “there will be nothing more that the governments can do.” is a falsehood.

  • Pete Baker

    Can we keep to the topic?

    and avoid playing the man.. not to mention bringing arguments from other blogs onto this one.

    Thanks.

  • dantheman

    To be honest its time somebody seriously put unionists in their place. I don’t through violence, I mean that it must be clearly exlpained to them that they either need to play ball or stop whinging when decisions are taken over their heads.
    He is correct about no joint authority at this time, rather it is time the Irish government began to develop the decent nationalist areas of the 6 counties, ie s down, s armagh, fermanagh, derry & tyrone. The rest can be ignored for the time being as there is enough work to be done in these areas in the meantime.

  • Henry94

    It is an extrodinary thing that the British government are reduced to communicating directly with unionists over the heads of their elected representatives.

    The message as I see it is “don’t say you weren’t warned”

  • dantheman

    To be honest, I reckon the British government would glad to fill a boat up with all of the unionists, float it into the middle of teh irish sea and sink it.

  • John Maynard

    So the Brits aren’t the bad guys – and the republican position is purely sectarian?

  • maura

    ‘So the Brits aren’t the bad guys – and the republican position is purely sectarian? ‘

    Until I started reading and particpating on this blog, I had never realised that opposing Unionism is considered sectarian. Is this a widespread belief? Seriously?

  • Greenflag

    Peter Hain,

    MLAs will lose their place as representatives of the people and while Ministers will, of course, continue to deal with MPs on constituency matters, the democratic deficit will be massive.

    Why such a massive deficit ? Is there a massive democratic deficit in Hartlepool or Finchly or Chelsea whose MP’s get to deal with MInisters on constituency matters?

    Peter the Wolf ?

  • Greenflag

    ‘Unionism has every right to be confident in its politics and its politicians. ‘

    Good jayzus 🙂 More of that jewish chutzpah ?

    And the cock crowed twice .

  • John Maynard

    Opposing unionism, no.
    “Filling a boat with all the unionists, floating it out into the middle of the Irish Sea and sinking it” – yes, I think that is a fairly sectarian sentiment. Or at least not a very constructive sentiment.

  • Paul P

    Lets not forget that a lot of DUP votes are likey borrowed from the garden centres (well it’s hardly from the UUP)and these voters want a deal. Choppy water ahead for Robinsonites I think.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Greenflag

    “Why such a massive deficit? Is there a massive democratic deficit in Hartlepool or Finchly or Chelsea whose MP’s get to deal with MInisters on constituency matters?”

    Actually, I think the UK’s antiquated electoral system DOES create a democratic deficit, but that’s another issue.

    Why are those constituencies different from NI ones? Well, the MP for Hartlepool was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland quite recently, and a close adviser to the PM. (Mandelson) The former MP for Chelsea was Defence Secretary and at one time was tipped as a future PM. (Portillo) And as for the good people of Finchley, they sent their MP to Number 10. (Hacksaw)

    So what’s the difference? Well, British voters at least have an opportunity to vote for parties and candidates that have a chance of getting access to the levers of power.

    Whereas NI MPs? The way things are structured, it’s actually impossible for our elected representatives to ever exercise executive power.

    Sounds like a democratic deficit to me.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    John Maynard

    “Filling a boat with all the unionists, floating it out into the middle of the Irish Sea and sinking it” – yes, I think that is a fairly sectarian sentiment. Or at least not a very constructive sentiment.”

    Why have you deliberately misquoted Dan? He is clearly describing what he perceives the position of the British government to be. Maybe he’s reading it wrong, maybe not, but how you extrapolate republican sectarianism from it, I don’t know.

    Actually, neither do you, which is why you’ve done a cut-and-paste job on what he said.

    In my experience, there’s nothing more frustrating and destructive to a debate than intellectual dishonesty – and I’m afraid to say that’s what you’re guilty of.

    Please – enough with the funny buggers!

  • Pete Baker

    Billy P

    “Whereas NI MPs? The way things are structured, it’s actually impossible for our elected representatives to ever exercise executive power.”

    Possibly, but paying attention to the progress of the NI (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill meant that we saw how the way things are structured are due for an overhaul should there be no agreement by the 24 November deadline.

    Not Cabinet positions certainly.. but not quite the democratic deficit that would otherwise have been there.

    The point to note is that, in all the public statements since the April speech by Blair and Ahern, the threat of joint-stewardship has been slowly pulled further and further away from the initial, overly-spun, doom and gloom scenario.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Pete

    “The point to note is that, in all the public statements since the April speech by Blair and Ahern, the threat of joint-stewardship has been slowly pulled further and further away from the initial, overly-spun, doom and gloom scenario.”

    First off, full-blooded joint rule is not a “doom and gloom scenario” as far as nationalists are concerned. I think that’s worth acknowledging – not everything is all about unionism y’know.

    Secondly, you assume that the Armagh declaration was “over-spun”, and that subsequent media briefings have demonstrated a rowing-back from that. But isn’t it more likely to be the other way around – ie that the much-planned joint governmental declaration, made by the two premiers in the symbolic location of Armagh, represented the true position of the two governments, while the things that have been said since represent the “spin”?

    Who knows? Certainly, we’ll see in November. Though I must admit, it feels somewhat strange to see unionists looking to November with such optimism! Never in my lifetime can I ever remember unionists looking to the future with optimism, yet now – facing an Anglo-Irish-Agreement Squared, such an uncharacteristic willingness to grab hold of any positive spin!

    Truth is, it was always going to be inevitable that the two governments would seek to downplay whatever it is that they have in mind. They always have to keep in mind the propensity of the broad unionist community to resort to violence – and I do mean the broad community, not just the loyalist underbelly. Both governments will want to deepen their joint-stewardship as much as they can without bringing unionism onto the streets. No-one doubts unionism’s willingness to bring NI to its knees, and no-one wants to see 1912 / 1921 / 1974 / 1977 / 1985 / 1995 / 1996 / 1997 / 1998 / 1999 (The Drumcree Years) repeated.

    So the governments will get on with implementing their joint agenda – make no mistake, the governments’ interests here are completely compatible, and they are far more committed to their relationship with each other than to either of the warring tribes here – and will say whatever they have to say to keep the genie of unionist violence in the bottle.

    Meanwhile the border will become less and less meaningful with each month and before you know it, without there being any grand announcements or anything like that, we’ll just wake up ten years from now and recognise as a fact of life that what’s happening in Dublin will simply be more meaningful than what’s happening in Westminster.

  • Pete Baker

    Just a couple of quick points, Billy.

    “not everything is all about unionism y’know.”

    *shakes head*

    Try to view these comments in terms of Hain’s open letter to unionism, eh? Thanks.

    The reference to a doom and gloom scenario isn’t a value judgement from me, it’s a – shall we say – colourful desciption of the presentation of that scenario, by some, to unionists.

    As Hain says in his open letter,

    There will be no joint authority with the Irish government but north/south and east/west co-operation will deepen.
    Direct Rule will continue.

    I’ve been over this before – on areas of common interest, as set out in the GFA, there will be greater co-operation on strategic planning. Meanwhile the structure of the way things work in Westminster will change, quickly, to make them more accountable and democratic – these are all things the government are stating explicitly.

    The over-spun nature of joint-stewardship, as I pointed out in a discussion on a previous thread, was a description used by the Secretary of State Peter Hain in evidence to the NI affairs committee – he actually referred to “unhelpful spin from some elements in Dublin which hyped up the interpretation of ‘joint stewardship’.”[comment 4]

    As I did mention, sometimes it helps to pay attention to what is being said elsewhere. ;o)

  • I think Hain’s letter is fairly to the point, but it still comes across as a bit of a desperate stunt to get to the Unionist voters by going around rather than through their politicians.

    Plus, they’d better have a hell of a consequence planned for Nov 24, because I won’t be putting any money on Paisley playing along with Sinn Fein like a good wee boy. Do you?

    And how much longer can Unionists (read DUP) act the eejit before republican dissidents start to get itchy?

  • Pete Baker

    Thing is Mr Levee, as Hain surmises in his open letter, they haven’t seemed at all keen to put pressure, publicly, on anyone..

    There will be a real problem for unionism if the IMC reports in October that the IRA has done what it said it would,
    following on from the quietest parades season since the 1960s and where Sinn Fein is seen to be co-operating more with the police at street level and still there is no political settlement.

    That emphasised section is what Hain sugggested in his speech at MacGill, a suggestion which Adams described as “patronising republicans”.

    It reminds me of the question I raised previously.

  • John East Belfast

    Billy Pilgrim

    “Meanwhile the border will become less and less meaningful with each month and before you know it, without there being any grand announcements or anything like that, we’ll just wake up ten years from now and recognise as a fact of life that what’s happening in Dublin will simply be more meaningful than what’s happening in Westminster.”

    You talked earlier about your frustration at intellectual dishonesty – what is the above ?

    It is just you flying your kite

    There is no current, past or conceivable evidence that with different laws and fiscal and monetary jurisdictions that the above is even remotely goping to happen.

    If anything the recent withdrawel of paid fees for cross border students would dictate otherwise.

    Therefore you are right lets be honest.

  • Turbo Paul

    Peter Hain may huff and puff and threaten to blow the Unionist house down, but as noted before the Unionist house is solid as concrete, with the Quad lock, and back-tracking on the “Joint authority” already evident.

    I suspect that a deal will be within grasp for Nov 24th, nearly made, may even get there, but if not, plan B will be a more slower process of co-operation, that will be fought every step of the way by Unionists.

    Any vindictive reaction by the Brit govt against Unionists will have to made by new legislation as well as changes in the law.

    Ant future diplomatic two-step between London and Dublin will depend on who is at the helm in both places.

    However, the Brits are trying to be all things to all men, CRJ for instance, which will create many abuses of human rights, cases bought, CRJ disbanded.

    What we need to do is play along with all of the dis-information from now till Nov, tit for tat, then see if a deal is reached.

    I hope that there is one thing that all sides can agree on,
    if there is, or is not a deal, there will not be a return to terrorism, from either side!!

  • tiny

    Among the ‘unionist’ community there isn’t any apparent hunger for devolution, lack of faith in their politicians probably to blame, as for ‘joint rule’ as Billy P says, it will creep up on the unionists over a period of years, the bad news for the Dupes may be being blamed for higher Council Taxes, loss of the Grammars, Water Charges, this discontent should provide the UUP with sufficient support to survive the coming elections if not to overtake the Dupes.

    In the longer term does a ‘protestant fundamentalist’ party have a future in an increasingly secular society, probably not, the question is can the party post Paisley withstand the forces of change, in the long term the future could lie with the UUP?

  • elvis parker

    Tiny: ‘the long term future could lie with the UUP’ – very funny!

    Notice Hain didnt address the fact that his Party continues to discriminate against people who live in NI.
    Hain – unionists can have unionism as long as its dumb sectarian unionism that ultimately plays into hands of Irish nationalism.

    Message to Hain – wont play your game
    The fight for Equal Citizenship continues

  • slug

    Elvis do you know how those talks between Andy McGivern and Labour are going?

  • German-American

    Going back to henry94’s comments about the UK government “communicating directly with unionists over the heads of their elected representatives”: Perhaps this is a stupid question, but what’s the point of doing that? Supposing that there are in fact unionists who agree with Hain, exactly what does Hain want them to do? There aren’t any elections between now and November 24 at which such unionists could express their displeasure with the DUP in a manner that would actually carry some weight with the party. Is the idea that they’re just supposed to ring up DUP headquarters and give Ian Paisley a piece of their mind?

  • slug

    German-American, politicians constantly communicate directly with people to try to win support for their ideas.

  • German-American

    German-American, politicians constantly communicate directly with people to try to win support for their ideas. Yes, I agree, they do do that, and I don’t fault Hain for promoting his own views; admittedly I was being a tad sarcastic.

    But my question still stands: how is this going to help Hain achieve his goal of a deal by the end of November, given that even if he wins some support among unionists the DUP can and no doubt will ignore that in favor of playing out their own strategy? Unless (as henry94 implies) this is really all about positioning for the post-November scenario and the next round of elections, as the blame game continues…

  • slug

    German-American:

    I would see Hain’s letter as encouraging some discussion amongst unionist people via Northern Ireland’s unionist newspaper, regarding the merits of taking that step in the Autumn. If that persuades some minds, then it strengthens the hand of those in the DUP who want to give a conditional yes on Nov 24 verses those who want to give a conditional no. Its not a black and white yes/no situation.

  • pid

    I tend to agree with BP’s analysis.

    Maybe Pete is taking Hain at his word but I would not trust him if I were a Unionist..

    Men are so false, so insidious, so deceitful and cunning in their wiles, so avid in their own interest, and so oblivious to others’ interests, that you cannot go wrong if you believe little and trust less…GUICCIARDINI (1483-1540)

  • londonderry_loyal

    I have to disagree with Mr Hain, the agreement was the worst thing for unionism, eventhough at the time the UUP brainwashed a small majority into voting for it!!

  • Greenflag

    Billy Pilgrim,

    ‘Whereas NI MPs? The way things are structured, it’s actually impossible for our elected representatives to ever exercise executive power. Sounds like a democratic deficit to me. ‘

    Considering how NI politicians ‘used ‘ whatever power they had 1920 to 1972, and their collective inability to agree on anything for more than a few nano seconds since then, I suggest that NI is better off with a democratic deficit at least until a new generation of politicians ‘evolve’ .

    Ground knucklers one and all. 🙁

  • Billy Pilgrim

    JEB

    “You talked earlier about your frustration at intellectual dishonesty – what is the above?”

    The above is my prediction, based on what I honestly see happening. I may turn out to be wrong – maybe wildly wrong (wouldn’t be the first time) – but I reject your allegation of dishonesty. If it’s nothing else, it’s my honest appraisal.

    “There is no current, past or conceivable evidence that with different laws and fiscal and monetary jurisdictions that the above is even remotely going to happen.”

    I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. We already have Peter Hain talking about an all-Ireland economy. We already have a joint PSNI/Gardai policing protocol. We already have increased spending on infrastructure in the west that dovetails with southern transport strategies (a 180 degree shift from previous transport strategies here). I’d predict an effective merger between ARA and CAB within the next couple of years. I’d predict a deepening co-operation on transport strategies, with upgraded road links to Fermanagh, Tyrone, Donegal and Derry. Who knows, things like rail to the northwest, or investment in port facilities in Derry might become runners? I’d predict joint planning of things like hospitals – for example you’d have Cavan General and Sligo General serving south and west Fermanagh respectively, thus destroying the case for the closure of Omagh – a decision that made sense only if NI was treated as an island. Longer-term, education might be the next step, with school curricula and examinations being brought into line. It will probably start with universities – look out for expanded university facilities in Derry, partly paid for by Dublin, in order to serve students in Donegal.

    All of these examples would simply be good practice, and logical responses to the realities of geography. Like it or not, when it comes to building an economy, or the delivery of public services, people in Derry and Donegal, or Fermanagh and Leitrim, or Armagh and Monaghan, or Newry and Dundalk, DO have a commonality of interest that is greater than the one they have with people in Cheltenham or Norwich or Dundee or Swansea. Because however strong your cultural attachment or political will, when you’re trying to build a road, or provide healthcare to a community, or transport goods and services, the physical barrier of the Irish Sea DOES matter. If they’re building a motorway in Ayrshire, it DOES NOT essentially matter to people in NI, but if they’re building one from Dublin to Ravensdale (as they have done) it makes a HUGE difference to the north.

    The years pass and the more egregious absurdities of the border are rolled back. Fast forward a decade or so.

    You want to talk about infrastructure. You want to talk about healthcare. You want to talk about government spending. You want to talk about organised crime in border areas. Where are these issues to be most meaningfully dealt with? At committee level in Westminster or at Cabinet level in Dublin?

    These are all issues that will inform government policy for decades to come, and will be national issues long after we’re all dead and gone. Why? Because it’s simply logical that they would be.

    And so we arrive at the destination I sketched earlier, where we see a methodical and incremental build-up of initiatives that even unionists will find hard to argue with. The years pass and each little blow of common sense leads inexorably to a position where the interests of people in Northern Ireland are simply more meaningfully addressed in Dublin, and Dublin will become the destination for pragmatists of all stripes.

    And I suppose the question then will be: what will the unionist objection be? No to better roads? No to higher educational achievement? No to giving police the means to more effectively tackle organised crime? No to direct access to the decision-making process? No to economic reinvigoration of the northwest?

    I think the governments are working towards this outcome. It is manifestly in their long-term strategic interests to do so, and the Armagh Declaration certainly seemed to point towards such a strategy.

    And yes, I suppose I am flying my kite, but I suppose we’ll see.

    Greenflag

    “Considering how NI politicians ‘used ‘ whatever power they had 1920 to 1972, and their collective inability to agree on anything for more than a few nano seconds since then, I suggest that NI is better off with a democratic deficit at least until a new generation of politicians ‘evolve’.”

    Ah but that’s another question altogether!

  • aquifer

    Fail in November and SF gets to say NI is a failed entity, and Ian Paisley gets to say he stopped SF and then later accuse the British of a sell out.

    No return to Stormont then.

    These guys will be much happier in supercouncils, with the nationalist ones co-operating seamlessly across the ‘frontier’, and the Unionists wallowing in would be paranoia. i.e. They would like to think that everybody is against them, but with no power and no forseeable political future nobody will pay them any attention.

  • tiny

    Tiny: ‘the long term future could lie with the UUP’ – very funny!
    Posted by elvis parker

    elvis, labour under Foot were un-electable, they came back, the Tories under IDS were un-electable, now they appear to be in front, in the long term the UUP can bounce back, as I said above, in a ever more secular NI the DUP post Paisley will have to change and drop the Free P baggage, I have my doubts they will survive the process as the largest unionist party, as for Billy Pilgrims views, spot on!