My qualified no: the explanation Part 3

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 third of six parts of an article explaining why.What are my problems with the St Andrews deal? (continued)

Default mechanisms

The complete absence of a mechanism to deal with default is a deep concern. There is nothing in the document about the future of the PIRA or a mechanism to deal if it messes up again. There are two potential solutions to this, neither of which are in the St Andrews Agreement. First, the PIRA formally disbands in accordance with the Green Book. This removes any ambiguity if a PIRA member is caught commiting terrorism or crime, no need for the IMC to make a value judgement on whether a PIRA member engaging in crime is or isn’t doing so for the organisation or to mumble about not enough intelligence to make a determination.

Alternatively, there could be an effective mechanism to isolate a paramilitary linked party from the Executive (more important again as the SAA removes the present unequal punishment of suspension). Sinn Fein object to this as they see it as a ‘Get them’ rule. However, would such a rule also ensure no Third Force, Ulster Resistance or the equivalent of the McCrea/Wright shared platform? Unlikely scenarios but not impossible if dissident attacks grow.

Culture

On parades yet another review is poor delivery and bad politics. The Loyal Orders onside would have made selling any deal that much easier. The counter-argument that republicans would never agree to proposals to Unionist liking doesn’t fly. Senior DUP figures say they were presented with the final document including the Irish Language Act late on and told the Act proposal was non-negotiable. What is good for the goose…

The Irish Language Act also brings into focus two issues. First, cultural concerns were a contributor to disillusionment with the Belfast Agreement and the UUP. Irish culture was given greater prominence, more media inclusion, and extra public investment, not a threatening process in itself. However, the various cultural expressions and interests of the Unionist community were squeezed at the same time – British flags and symbols removed or radically reduced, more restrictions on parades, frustration of any genuine movement for Ulster-Scots (although Laird proved a ‘useful fool’ in that agenda) and the most obvious, the change of name and symbols of the RUC. In the SAA parades gets a review, Ulster-Scots gets nice words but the Irish language gets a specific and non-negotiable commitment. If a strong approach is taken to the Language Act then the SAA will continue that past pattern and another lesson from the UUP‘s era will be ignored.

Fortunately for the DUP, the Irish Language Act proposal has not attracted particular public or media interest yet, despite attempts by the UUP to raise its profile. A culturally ignorant media and unaware public can have its advantages. The nature of the Act will determine how big a problem it will be.

An Act that gives effect to the language rights in international human rights treaties would mean little to the public purse or to those not interested in minority languages. An Act that made the present European Charter Rights legally enforceable would similarly have little impact on the public purse, prove useful to the Irish language community as it would ensure proper implementation of the Charter and still maintain the safeguards within it. If as the SAA implies, an Act will be closer to the RoI and Welsh models then it will become a significant wedge issue between the two main communities here (and possibly between the nationalist community and minority ethnic groups if the Quebec experience is anything to go by). A maximalist Act will costs millions if not tens of millions and the distinct possibility of sections of the public sector staff being required to learn Irish will be the source of serious resentment.

(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.)

  • Carson’s Cat

    F_D
    No-one was claiming there was an exclusion mechanism tied down at this stage – that is all part of the ‘work in progress.

    I’ve clearly heard senior DUP figures stating that if its not settled then things are in a much different light. Apart from the fact that you’re usually well versed on political goings-on it would be tempting to claim that you must have thought the DUP was asking for a final yes/no on the SAA – it was actually asking whether there was the basis to move forward and between now and the end of March to get issues such as the exclusion mechanism finalised.

    If you’re unable to sign up to anything but a finished deal then fair enough but if you’re saying that the SAA as it stood the day they arrived home from Scotland isn’t acceptable well then that is actually current DUP policy. It must be the SAA+work in progress that has to be delivered.

    It would seem that a final document was presented but that doesnt mean that an Irish Language act is delivered in all but name. There are ongoing negotiations and I wouldnt jump up and down and say what will or wont definately happen until the final time comes.

  • Ian

    On default mechanisms (or absence thereof), you missed out a third possible solution – namely that the British Government declares that PIRA, as a disarmed inactive old boys association, is no longer an illegal organisation.

    Also, any exclusion mechanism to oust Sinn Fein would have to be agreed by the SDLP. This has been the case since 1998, which is why no one has come up with one (except the suspension legislation which excludes everybody). If the SDLP refuse to stay in office in SF’s absence then the only option you’re left with is Unionist majority rule. Which is of course not an option at all.

    On the Irish Language Bill, that didn’t appear in the Queens Speech (nor did the promised provision for civil servants from RoI to work in the north, although the latter may form part of the bill that covers the expansion of the NIHRC’s powers). But since the new legislation (apart from the emergency bill to get past 24th Nov) won’t be through both HofP’s and enacted by 26th March, it will fall to the Assembly to agree/amend accordingly as it is a reserved matter.

    Unless of course the DUP are still refusing to share power by that date. So it’s another of Hain’s thumbscrews, alongside abolition of academic selection, etc.

  • Carson’s Cat

    Ian
    “Also, any exclusion mechanism to oust Sinn Fein would have to be agreed by the SDLP. This has been the case since 1998, which is why no one has come up with one (except the suspension legislation which excludes everybody). If the SDLP refuse to stay in office in SF’s absence then the only option you’re left with is Unionist majority rule. Which is of course not an option at all.”

    That was the case with the 1998 exclusion mechanism which patently didnt work – therefore I doubt that any future mechanism would be based on that one. Its obviously something with no easy answer but we will wait and see what develops.

  • Ian

    Carson,

    No matter what mechanism is conjured up I doubt the SDLP will run with it.

    For example, if Unionists try to exclude SF from the Executive on the basis of their lack of support for the ‘rule of law’, do you think the SDLP will remain in a power-sharing arrangement with Unionists without SF?

    Bearing in mind that after the riots at Whiterock in 2005, the SDLP will take no lessons from Unionists on what constitutes supporting the rule of law. It would be electoral suicide for them to stay in the Executive.

    And if the SDLP refuse to take part, you’re back to majority rule (not an option) or suspension.

  • Ian

    The only way that Unionists MIGHT persuade the SDLP to go along with the exclusion of SF, is if they were to waive their rights to a couple of nominations such that the SDLP end up with about 4 ministries as well as the DFM.

    I doubt Durkan et al would go along with that either, but it might go some way towards persuading nationalists that Unionists do want a Fenian about the place, and it really is only a supposed lack of commitment to peaceful means and the rule of law that is the problem.

    Then again, some members of the DUP wanted to include in the pledge of office, a promise to pro-actively argue the case for the Union (or words to that effect), which would rule out the SDLP as well as Sinn Fein.

  • kensei

    It boils down to all in, or none in. That may be unfair, but it’s the reality.

    Unless there is something incredibly clear cut, the SDLP become a soft target if they remain in the Assembly in the event of an SF suspension. So they either pull out, or get tanked at the next election and don’t have enough support for it to be credible.

    You are also disenfranchising a quarter of the voting populations votes. That should be remembered in all this talk about parties. It is the will of the people you are ultimately suppressing.

  • Ian

    How come comments on this topic aren’t registering on the ‘Latest Comments’ column section of the homepage?

    [Doubtless this post will prove me wrong.]

  • john

    I think your rather spurious objections to the Irish language act give the game away really. The fact that it might cost tens of millions of pounds is hardly a reasonable objection. By that argument you could contend no orange order parades should be allowed because of the security cost. That would be ludicrous. Presumably some taxpayers are members of the loyal orders and are happy for money to be spent on policing parades and cleaning up after them. Equally there will be taxpayers who will be happy for their tax pounds to spent on the promoting of Gaelic. The argument that it would cause division in society, well, I think it could hardly cause more division than political and religious extremists are causing now. Civil servants will not be ‘forced’ to learn Gaelic. Its pure scare mongering to suggest that. I could see that there may be a division of some government department that might be charged with the promotion of Gaelic. I think it would be fair to expect recruits to such a ‘Gaelic department’ to speak the language. Afterall, you wouldn’t hire someone to do a carpenter’s job if they had no experience or skill at carpentry. In addition, there would be nothing to stop any member of society (of any political persuasion) from learning Gaelic to seek employment in such a Gaelic department. I think actually your objection to the language is based on a prejudice against any manifestation of Irishness. The fact that you cite the name change of the RUC as a loss of Britishish actually highlights that even you saw the RUC as a Unionist (British-nationalist) symbol. The police have to belong to everyone, not just one community. They have to be seen to be impartial and so can’t be seen as overtly belonging to one community. They are after all a service. I sure there are many symbols of Britishness in everyday life in Ulster, eg, union flags flying, the queen’s head on money, everyone speaking English. I wonder if the Irish aspect of Ulster is demonstrated as strongly?

  • dantheman

    “I think actually your objection to the language is based on a prejudice against any manifestation of Irishness. The fact that you cite the name change of the RUC as a loss of Britishish actually highlights that even you saw the RUC as a Unionist (British-nationalist) symbol.”

    That pretty much sums up totally childish and irrational fear of a language which, let all remember children, was about before partition, before plantation, before reformation and before St Patrick even brought his Christianity to the island.

  • fair_deal

    Carson’s Cat

    “No-one was claiming there was an exclusion mechanism tied down at this stage”

    1. I never said anyone claimed there was.

    “the SAA as it stood the day they arrived home from Scotland isn’t acceptable well then that is actually current DUP policy.”

    1. I have also been there, bought the T-shirt, as regards promises that are “work in progress” or “issues of concern” will be sorted out. If this time is different, good.

    John

    “I think your rather spurious objections to the Irish language act give the game away really.”

    Yawn. As I make clear in my article it all depends what form the Act takes so I do not have blanket objections.

    “Civil servants will not be ‘forced’ to learn Gaelic. Its pure scare mongering to suggest that.”

    Police officers in Wales receive such training.

    ” I think it would be fair to expect recruits to such a ‘Gaelic department’ to speak the language.”

    Which raises Equality Impact concerns. There is an under-representation of Protestants at entry level positions in the Civil Service (and an under-representation of Catholics at senior level). Gaelic language qualifications are disporoprtionately held by one community so making it a requirement for recruitment to a department could cause skews.

    “The fact that you cite the name change of the RUC as a loss of Britishish actually highlights that even you saw the RUC as a Unionist (British-nationalist) symbol. The police have to belong to everyone, not just one community.”

    1. Interesting. An Irish langauge act could compel Irish to be used in a number of public spheres. Why should a symbol of irish nationalism be allowed in institutions for “everyone, not just one community”.
    2. The point is expressions of Britishness get squeezed Irishness gets more. Why no balance?

    “I sure there are many symbols of Britishness in everyday life in Ulster, eg, union flags flying, the queen’s head on money, everyone speaking English”

    Yes there are, but less than there used to be. There are also plenty of Irish aspects and growing.

  • Truth and Justice

    The UUP support the St Andrews Agreement and are playing games!