My qualified no: the explanation Part 1

On a thread about the DUP St. Andrew’s consultation I mentioned I had submitted a qualified No and was asked why. Here is the first of six parts of an article explaining why.How did I arrive at my decision?

I did not arrive at my negative position from a knee jerk response. My initial impressions were effected by the media emphasis on what the DUP had gained and the body language of the press conference than my quick scanning of the document.

My concerns were not raised either by Jim Allister’s critique or the UUP’s Jekyll and Hyde response to the document. It was reading the St Andrew’s Agreement (SAA) in detail a few more times, asking DUP contacts to flesh out details for me, debate with friends and family and the press coverage of what was and wasn‘t in the side deals/letters.

Why did I submit a ‘qualified’ No?

Simple, there is a section of the Unionist community that would reject any notion of a deal that involves power-sharing with Sinn Fein and will say No to SAA. I do not hold such views. It was the contents and omissions of SAA that led me to opt for a negative response. Neither am I doom laden in my assessment of the document, it has some value for the Unionist position for example the accountability mechanisms.

Living with concerns to get a deal

My objections do not include mandatory coalition, policing and justice powers or the abolition of the 50:50 rule. I agree fully with the criticisms of mandatory coalition and thought it was worth a try to get rid of it. However, it fitted in the category of a hope rather than expectation.

I was actually impressed the DUP had managed to maintain the Comprehensive Agreement timetable for the devolution of policing and justice powers. However, I would hold the minority view (in Unionist circles) that those powers should be devolved speedily (with appropriate safeguards). An incoming Executive will need to tackle the growth in criminal gangs and issues like anti-social behaviour. If a new Executive wants to be seen to tackle such issues then part of that fight will involve legislation. I do not believe waiting for space in the Westminster calendar is responsive enough to address those needs.

I find 50:50 highly objectionable but will live with a guillotine on its use. Also if the employment trends in a number of public bodies continue (plus the Protestant dominated generation that is about to retire from a range of public bodies), it’s not impossible that Unionism will be seeking to use the PSNI precedent in the longer-term.

Also I was not expecting the “perfect” deal, I knew any agreement would involve things I did not like or disagreed with.

(I will be unable to respond to comments because I have important domestic matters to attend on Thursday followed by a romantic week-end. I will reply as best i can upon my return. The remaining pieces are timed to appear at 9.00am and 2.00 pm each day.)

  • Dec

    With another 5 parts to type and a “romantic weekend” ahead, your right hand will be in some state come Monday.

  • darth rumsfeld

    well I may disagree with your route, but I can’t argue with where you’ve ended up FD. Frankly there has been too much defeatism preached to and by Unionists and the sheer poverty of aspiration on the part of the DUP baffles me.

    The very least that should have been banked is the kibosh on the gerrymandering of local councils.

    The trumpeting of hollow concessions like my enforced subsidising the rate payers of Cherry Valley is Trimble spin of the worst sort. It is clear that the DUP have been getting the activists to write stock anti-UUP letters to the BelTel and News letter- again Trimbleism revisited-yet still the overwhelming number of comments from core voters is negative.

    Why? Because Unionist people do not want to share power with Sinn Fein. They do not want Sinn fein to be in the police. Ever. They will spurn the party that collaborates with either in significant numbers.Many will quite happily share power with SDLP. Nobody objects to more RC policemen- though they detest the Patten discrimination that achieves it.
    Of course as the last assembly showed powersharing cannot work. Even Seamus Close concedes this.

    The DUP seem to think they can concede the principle, flog the system till the flaws cause it to break, and then say “Told you so” and ask for weighted majorities and committees- administrative devolution for slow learners perhaps?

    If the disillusionement with the DUP that is there grows then even Bob’s second ragbag of eccentrics could garner 25,000 disillusioned votes. I know that might only translate into a couple of seats but of course it depends on nationalist turnout. Inevitably DUP election literature ( and wasn’t the choice of an election against a referendum revealing about DUP priorities?) will stress the need to stop SF topping the poll. And inevitably that will garner more votes to SF- though I doubt they would be in a position to get First Minister .

    I am able to give my qualified No on the basis that I still think Paisley has enough cunning to slowly strangle St Andrews as long as the Shinners fudge policing. But I remember how the UUP though decommissioning was their guarantee against ever having to make the hard choices, and the Shinners trumped that ace. I can’t believe policing is as hard a leap of faith.

    If I’m wrong, and Paisley turns out to be an old man paralysed by new tactics to which he cannot adapt, undermined by those in the second rank with ambitions on hold,who then retreats to hiding behind claims that we have to play it long so that we don’t get the blame, then I will cast my thoughts back to another leader of Unionism who said the same things about fifteen years ago.

    Younger, more impatient party members sought to cut through this stultifying comfort blanket in a leadership challenge, and I’m sorry to say I didn’t accept there analysis at that time. I rather suspect you would have the greatest possible sympathy with those people who favoured a more pro-active Unionism. I hopw you would concede that the UUP has no monopoly on issuing membership cards to sheep, and that they should not be allowed to dictate on the basis of slavish loyalty to the safe option

  • smcgiff

    The above seems tob only say… I’m predisposed to a no, even though…

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    Why do unionists say no! Why do fools fall in love? Why? Why? Why?

    The imponderable questions, the truisms, the axioms of life…..

    One of the reasons is that unionists say no, I think, is that they don’t have things explained to them well enough by their leaders and by their media. And I use ‘their’ advisedly in both cases.

    Leaving aside the concerns of FD, Darth and smcgiff as above mentioned – I understand where they’re coming from but fail to comprehend where they think they’re going.

    My main concern in the St Andrew’s Agreement is the commitment by the British Government to enact an Irish Language Act. I think it’s high time that the minority of the population who speak Irish get legislative protection for their position, language, culture etc.

    In today’s Belfast Telegraph, there’s a full page ad by Pobal which states simply that the undersigned, a small sample of the support for the proposed legislation, support the St Andrew’s commitment by the British in respect of this legislation and, also, the proposals made by Pobal in a draft Irish Language Act published by Pobal last February and endorsed at the time by the former head of the NI Civil Service, Maurice Hayes, as containing ‘reasonable proposals’.

    Despite that ad, the Telegraph and all other organs of the English language media in the north – apart from the Irish News and the Andersonstown News – have ignored the work of Pobal in their onesided coverage of this aspect of the SAA. Not alone is it a sad indictment of these media organs, but it displays their abject unprofessionalism when it comes to informing their readers of what’s happening. The coverage of the BBC, UTV, Newsletter, Mirror, Telegraph and RTE and the Southern English language media has been focused exclusively on unionist discontent, a discontent fuelled mainly by disinformation and ignorance.

    In Lá and other Irish language media, the focus has been on a balanced debate with contributions from Jim Allister and Nelson McCausland and co to voice unionist concerns. This is part of an ongoing conversation that the newspaper is trying to have with unionists – it also has a unionist columnist but that’s beside the point. The English language media in Ireland have failed their public abysmally on this issue (and many other issues) and it’s time to point up their failure. If the St Andrew’s Agreement fails, they should be held partially culpable in its failure because of their shallow, partisan and ignorant coverage of the issues involved.

  • jocky

    DR – “though I doubt they would be in a position to get First Minister”

    Is it not the case that the first minister has to be a unionist as it is the largest designation group within the assembly? ie it must be a unionist as when there are more nationalists there would be a UI?

  • Little Eva

    [Play the ball! – moderator]

  • Richard James

    Unfortunately I cannot see the SAA collapsing on Sinn Fein refusing to support the police.

    SF has already moved the Republican community away from its traditional outright rejection of policing, as they enforce British rule in Ulster, to a conditional position of rejecting the PSNI until more reforms have been implemented and there has been a transfer of policing and justice powers. In this sense the ideological cow over policing has already been slaughtered. And as SF has managed to jump hurdles like decommissioning and the consent principle it is unlikely Adams will fall at this stage.

    What we are likely to see is Adams using difficulties getting support for policing past a SF ard fheis as a means of securing more concessions on policing from the government. The only sanction the DUP can implement in response to concessions is to refuse to form a devolved administration. This puts the blame back in their court as Blair and Hain will claim the concessions were only made so SF would endorse the police just as the DUP wanted.

  • JR

    FD your reasons and brand of thinking are the reason why Unionism hasn’t progressed. By disagreeing with the 50 / 50 recruitment into the police force as one of your main reasons to not agreeing to an overall settlement is worrying. This just stinks of not accepting nationalists as equal citizens.

  • Mick Fealty


    I think you need to go back and re-read that section again. Specifically, what are you contending is flawed in this brand of thinking?

  • Carson’s Cat

    “If the disillusionement with the DUP that is there grows then even Bob’s second ragbag of eccentrics could garner 25,000 disillusioned votes.”

    I see you are using a similar figure to that expressed by Bob himself.

    Lets remember this is the same Bob who predicted he’d get 70,000 votes in Europe. I think the 25,000 figure should be taken in that light.

    Also, if its the position that unionism just wont share power with SF – ever then why have you even been giving qualified support to the DUP over recent months and years? What did you think they meant when they said they would share power with SF “in the right circumstances”. What did you think Ian Paisley meant in 2004 when he talked of having to “bite his lip” but he could go into Government, again in the right circumstances.

    It seems that there are some people who were quite happy to see the DUP saying “we wont allow SF into Government until the circumstances are right”. However they focussed a little too mucn on the “wont let SF into Government” bit and not at all on the “circumstances are right” bit. The DUP have not been saying that they would never share power with SF, well not during any of the last three or four elections anyway.

    Yes of course we’d all happily share power with the SDLP now and leave SF behind – just a shame that we dont have that nice little comfortable option handed to us at the minute. If poverty of aspiration is the problem then maybe that goes on more sides than one.

  • I want to say, ‘girls, let’s not fall out’, but then I also want to say, ‘Peter’s cat?’ There’s probably a Swedish social science term for dilemas like that. But hey, let’s split the difference: Darth is surely right not to want murdering crooks in government, and the DUP are right to face up to the fact that the government doesn’t care about that one little bit. That said, the DUP obviously doesn’t deserve a blank cheque, but at least [grinding metaphor into the ground], it’s a bank that hasn’t actually gone bust. Unlike certain, turtly, turtly broke parties we can all think on.

  • Oh and remember, every time agreement-sceptical unionists fall out, S King springs back to life, so let’s not.

  • Carson’s Cat

    “Oh and remember, every time agreement-sceptical unionists fall out, S King springs back to life, so let’s not”

    Fair point well made.

    My main issue was that I felt Darth was pointing out the possibility of a voluntary coalition with the SDLP as if it was some brainwave which had never crossed the minds of the DUP. He also seemed to think it was somehow achievable at this time. Its clearly neither.

    I dont see anyone who is particularly enthused about the idea of SF in Government, but if they have to be there then it comes back to those circumstances at which point it is acceptable (rather than possibly desirable). Those have to be a clear end to IRA activities and allied with that an actual demonstration of change through clear and demonstrable support for policing.

    I dont remember the DUP asking for a blank cheque – a referendum on the SAA might have delivered that – after all a 71% figure (just for example) would have been easily achievable. This way its clear and simple on the unionist side to see just how much support the DUP gets and also those like Bob get.

    Finally a question to the qualified no people – is the no getting stronger or weaker in light of developments such as today’s legislation? Surely its impossible for things like this to have no effect on your decision….

  • As an anti-Belfast Agreement/Turtle-destroying-the-UUP sort of Unionist, I’m delighted that there’s going to be an election. And I’m happy to trust the majority in that new assembly, which is why it’s relatively simple to know who to vote for.

  • lib2016


    ‘….when there are more nationalists there would be a UI.’

    There will be at least one parliamentary session (4/5 years) while the Constitution of a UI is debated and the wording of a referendum agreed.

    As far as the Irish are concerned they will try to keep things low key and matter of fact. I’ll repeat a point I have made in the past – reunification will be as exciting as the coming together of the Benelux countries.

  • ian


    “Is it not the case that the first minister has to be a unionist as it is the largest designation group within the assembly? ie it must be a unionist as when there are more nationalists there would be a UI?”

    It is within the realms of possibility that if there’s a split in the Unionist vote (perhaps due to a good showing by an anti-agreement party led by Bob McCartney and some disgruntled DUP drop-outs), combined with an exceptional turnout for Sinn Fein, then it could indeed be the case that SF are the largest party in the Assembly whilst Unionist MLA’s outnumber Nationalist ones (i.e ‘Unionist’ remains the largest designation).

    Whilst I am probably falling foul of Mick Fealty’s ‘plausible reality’ criterion in suggesting such a scenario, the NIO have seen fit to include a clause (Clause 8(1)) in the new legislation to cover the eventuality. To quote from the Explanatory notes:

    “New section 16C(6) deals with the arrangements that apply if the largest party
    within the largest designation is not the largest party within the Assembly. In such
    circumstances, the responsibility for nominating the First Minister falls to the largest
    party within the Assembly, with the largest party in the largest designation then
    nominating the deputy First Minister.”

    Which means Martin McGuinness could end up as First Minister to Deputy First Minister Paisley. That would probably finish the old boy off.

  • Ian

    And to follow on from my previous post, the geniuses in the DUP appear to have negotiated the potential scenario of FM McGuinness/DFM Paisley into existence!

    The 1998 Act implementing the GFA simply says that the FM and DFM shall be jointly approved by a majority of Unionist MLAs and a majority of Nationalist MLAs.

    Under that system Unionists could have made the case that, if there are more Unionist MLAs overall, then the First Minister should be a Unionist – regardless of which individual party has the most MLAs. The 1998 Act is ambiguous on that point so it could have been up for debate during the statutory six-week nomination period.

    But in order to save face (by avoiding having to directly vote in a Shinner as Deputy First Minister), the DUP have ended up with a new clause which clarifies the situation by stating that the nominee of the largest Assembly party gets to be First Minister.

    If the largest party happens to be Sinn Fein, then the wriggle room that was there under the GFA was negotiated away at St Andrews.

  • heck

    carsons cat

    “I dont see anyone who is particularly enthused about the idea of SF in Government” ?????

    I think there is at least 45% of the population who would accept it to get a devolved government.

    Or do nationalists not count?

  • Cahal

    Well spotted Ian. Can’t imagine Paisley entering Stormont as MMG’s side kick though.

  • dub


    the above posts make for extremely depressing reading… you all seem to be saying that you are against the inevitable but you realise that it is inevitable but lets just play games as long as possible to put it off….

    talk about talking yourself into a position of powerlessness and depression…

  • fair_deal


    The other five parts were already written. As regards romance don’t judge the rest of us by your own low standards.


    “By disagreeing with the 50 / 50 recruitment into the police force as one of your main reasons to not agreeing to an overall settlement is worrying. This just stinks of not accepting nationalists as equal citizens. ”

    1. 50/50 is a breach of equal treatment so your “equal citrizens” stuff is nonsense.
    2. Read what I said again. I did not reject SAA over 50/50