Sectarian solidarity v New Alliances

Sinn Fein has attacked the SDLP for opposing the new super councils and joining with all the other parties in Northern Ireland to seek changes in the present proposals. Is sectarian solidarity more important than fighting gerrymandering and sectarian headcounting? Or with such multi-party opposition to the proposals and the final decision given back to a devolved Assembly is Sinn Fein worried it will lose a vote so is engendering a sectarian bogeyman to push the SDLP back into line?

  • Aaron McDaid

    Fair deal,
    It sounds to me that you’re presuming that there must be a sectarian angle to this. The two interpretations you give (‘Is sectarian solidarity …’ and ‘engendering a sectarian bogeyman’) each have the word sectarian in them.

    Did you ever consider two further options?
    1) SF actually think 7 councils is the best for everyone.
    or 2) SF are just being selfish about their power in the usual way any political party anywhere in the world is, i.e. at the expense of all other parties regardless of politics or religion.

  • fair_deal

    Aaron

    1. Alex Maskey uses the term ‘unholy’ to describe the alliance of the SDLP/UUP/DUP.
    2. Alex only lists the two Unionist parties and the SDLP as opposing the 7. The opposition of the Alliance party is omitted. So it is presented as SDLP ally with Unionists not SDLP ally with everyone else.
    3. The sectarian and gerrymandering nature of the proposals was a description by a Sinn Fein MLA.

  • Aaron McDaid

    In response to your points, FD:

    1. Fair enough. I too dislike when the word ‘holy’ is thrown about willy nilly. Politicians should know better especially in NI.

    2. The phrase ‘SDLP and everyone else’ may not have been accurate either. What do the UKUP, Greens and Independants and others think? Maybe SF were just choosing the 4 largest parties, which is fair enough as they may be the only ones that count. You too inadvertently did the same when you said that the five largest parties are what count. Why not the 6 largest parties, or 7 …?

    3. Is it sectarian to oppose sectarianism? No. If somebody says something is sectarian, it should be judged on whether it’s accurate or not. But either way it’s not sectarian in itself to make such an observation.

  • fair_deal

    Aaron

    Point 2 – Fair enough on my omission of the UKUP, PUP and Greens etc. The last I heard the UKUP and PUP were opposed to the seven so that makes every recognised party in the Assembly with the exception of SF opposed to it. I doubt if Paul Berry diverges far from DUP thinking on it and I don’t know what the health campaigner thinks. I don’t know about the Greens, as regards independent councillors they don’t have an organised voice to express their opinion.

    Point 3 – Is it sectarian to oppose sectarianism? – No hence the SDLP’s opposition to the sectarian headcount is laudable.

    If somebody says something is sectarian, it should be judged on whether it’s accurate or not. – Apart from SF most concur with Francie Molloy’s observations.

    It is a basic call to sectarian solidarity to say how dare you ally with them’uns against your own.

  • Continental Drifter

    Fair points from Fair Deal.

    SF’s claims to be anti-sectarian are exposed here, even by that “moderate” Maskey fella.

    There is nothing wrong with a Nationalist party happening to agree with two Unionist parties.

    Maskey might have a point about “self-preservation”, mind.

  • lib2016

    The unionist reaction to those of us who point out their sectarianism is to widen the definition of sectarianism so much that it makes the accusation meaningless.

    Various unionists have claimed that all efforts at finding those who should be natural allies are exercises in sectarianism.

    It’s a point of view which has nothing to do with the real world, like the oldstyle unionism from which it springs. So busy denouncing republicans that they forgot to check their own place in the scheme of things.

  • What a bilious little rant. Has Maskey stopped to think that perhaps the reason why all the main parties (save SF) are united against the seven-council model is because it spells bad news for the north? The SDLP conducted its own research and came up with its own conclusions- to suggest that the SDLP ‘formed an alliance’ is not only disingenuous, but downright misleading. Its conclusions were based on fact, not on what other parties were thinking.

    And as regards this alliance (which only exists in Alex’s mind) being ‘unholy’ simply because parties of various backgrounds are for once in agreement, his comments merely show that his party prefers to let sectarianism trump the needs of the people. I personally would have no problem sharing views with people of different parties on specific issues such as the council plans so long as it benefits the greater good. Their religion or politics matter not an jot to me in such scenarios, and I wouldn’t change my views just because someone like Alex Maskey happens to believe it ‘unholy’.

    I regularly speak to people who are concerned not only by the seven-counil plans, but by the Review of Public Administration generally- people who would be classified as nationalists, unionists, and those who have absolutely no interest in politics whatsoever. They are going through agony at the moment with the state of limbo which surrounds their jobs- they have children to feed and bills to pay, but don’t know whether they will have a job this time next year. Is this what Alex wants to put people through? Amd to what end- to save the British Exchequer a few coppers every year (even though it hasn’t even been proven that savings would even be made post-RPA)?

    Sinn Féin may indeed support the creation of an Ireland of Equals i.e. an Ireland where everyone is equally close to the breadline.

  • jaffa

    Anybody have any idea what the future is for small town and townland government if we take the super-council route? I’m not sure whether to think of these super-councils as first a consolidation of existing boroughs or as a way of bringing geographic and democratic consistency to the existing regional boards – something like the French Departments.

    Perhaps that’s what we should call them rather than pretending they have any historic link to counties.

    To continue the French theme at the local level we might add something like the Marie for local contact witout sacrificing the economies of scale hopefully available from the larger departmental bureaucracy. Scots community councils seem to get quite a lot done with not much more than a statutory right to be consulted and the consequent motivation for local people to get involved.

    Re-open Donaghadee town hall!

  • jaun

    surely the branding of a group with the term secterian can itself be seen as a secterian action when the repeated suggestion of the stigma is being used for the purpose of defamation.

  • Dec

    Has Maskey stopped to think that perhaps the reason why all the main parties (save SF) are united against the seven-council model is because it spells bad news for the north? The SDLP conducted its own research and came up with its own conclusions

    What were the SDLP’s conclusions? You fell short of actually detailing them (which is exactly what Maskey alludes to btw)

    . They are going through agony at the moment with the state of limbo which surrounds their jobs- they have children to feed and bills to pay, but don’t know whether they will have a job this time next year. Is this what Alex wants to put people through? Amd to what end- to save the British Exchequer a few coppers every year

    Is this official SDLP policy (100% subsidization of a bloated and unsustainable public sector and all at the taxpayers expense)?

  • Ballymoney Sham

    In Ballymoney, one of the smallest councils, there are 16 councillors at present. If the 7-council model goes ahead then the area would get around 8-9 Councillors. Big loss? definately not. Theres a lot of councillors that do next to nothing and I think it makes sense to reduce the number of cllrs and make it a full-time job.

    Also because councils tend to be represented at different events & junkets all the time it will obviously save a lot of money to have only 7 councils compared to 26, less opportunities to go on junkets, less useless cllrs and a bigger rates base which is evenly spread out.

    7 is the best option regardless of this ridicolous ‘sectarian’ headcount argument, as the councils are going to be split east/west of the bann regardless of the final number of councils.

  • Nevin

    Perhaps the Super-Seven will go the way of Stormont ie not function. Maybe, in the NI context, small is beautiful …

  • Dec-

    “Is this official SDLP policy (100% subsidization of a bloated and unsustainable public sector and all at the taxpayers expense)?”

    That really is a classic! Ten years ago, the provisional movement was attempting to destroy the UK economy with attacks such as the Canary Wharf bombing- now they seem to be the self-appointed guardians of Her Majesty’s Treasury! How can anyone ever trust anything SF says- they flip flop more than a fish that has been pulled from the river and fed an ecstasy tablet- your views are more Thatcherite than the Tories!

    The NI public sector is indeed too big, thanks in no small part to the fact that private investors had their managers such as Jeffrey Agate targeted for assassination by the IRA, thus making NI none too appealing. The way to solve this problem is not to sack people- it is to invest in infrastructure, education and R&D, and to make NI a more appealing option for foreign companies. If this is done, the direction of labour will inevitably flow towards the new sources of employment which it will create.

    So much for Sinn Féin’s socialist republic…

  • jaffa

    Newfoundland-Labrador has 514,000 and an apparently effective provincial government.

    County Down has 516,000 people.

    Luxembourg has 465,000 and seems to work well as an independent nation.

    Equally Monaco has just 32,000 people and sustains a university. Fermanagh has 55,000.

    Point? Maybe the inefficiency isn’t in the size of the county populations but in the NIO / Stormont bureaucracy sitting on top of them.

  • Dec

    First of all, I’m not a member of SF, let alone the provisionals, so less of the shrill man-playing. Or is anyone who questions the SDLP line automatically a ‘provo’. Nice you come out with the old ‘invest in’ line, because pumping money into ‘infrastructure’ here has worked so well in the past. You still don’t explain why Public Sector jobs should be protected at all costs while the rest of us (Budget and Shorts staff included) are fair game for ‘market forces’.
    Also we’re still waiting to hear exactly why the SDLP are against the 7 county model

  • Crow

    The reality is that the SDLP fears they will be politically eclipsed by the Shinners in the super councils. The unioinist parties, on the other hand, are loathe to see such a huge portion of NI painted green, which some predict under a doomsday scenario might even secede.

    I fail to see how it is really that significntly different from what we have today. Eleven or 42% of the 26 councils are nationalist controlled. Under the seven super councils, 3 are likely to be nationalist controlled also 42%. Only one existing Unionist majority council, Banbridge, will find itself within a nationalist dominated council. Where only nationalist led Down and Moyle councils will find themselves within a unioist council.

  • jaffa

    From my own narrow perspective I think it’s a good thing to mix up our overwhelmingly unionist / alliance North Down & Ards councillors with a bit more nationalist input from the other end of Strangford Lough.

  • kensei

    “The NI public sector is indeed too big, thanks in no small part to the fact that private investors had their managers such as Jeffrey Agate targeted for assassination by the IRA, thus making NI none too appealing. The way to solve this problem is not to sack people- it is to invest in infrastructure, education and R&D, and to make NI a more appealing option for foreign companies. If this is done, the direction of labour will inevitably flow towards the new sources of employment which it will create.”

    Now, I would be on the left of the political spectrum and quite happy to see a solid public sector somewhere around 50-odd percent. But 70+% is insane, and that is the kind of talk people have been spouting here for 20 years. And it hasn’t worked.

    Let’s not kid ourselves. The public sector needs cut down a bit. Sensible reductions like the number of councils, health boards and the like are a good idea and may even improve service in the long run. I would like to see it done in a sensible manner (decent redundancy packages, decent timing, retraining) and the uncertainty is hard for people. But that’s everyone’s fault here, not any one party.

  • Dec-

    Your support of the Maskey line accompanied by inability to understand basic economic concepts kind of gives the game away.

    “Nice you come out with the old ‘invest in’ line, because pumping money into ‘infrastructure’ here has worked so well in the past.”

    Ok, so let me get this straight- you believe that public sector workers should be sacked, and that there should be no investment in infrastructure. Where exactly will that get us? Catch a grip! A Primary 1 child could see this is a recipe for disaster and is not even worth countenance. And I notice you failed to address any of the points I made.

    “You still don’t explain why Public Sector jobs should be protected at all costs.”

    I don’t believe I said that- such an assertion would be ludicrous. Please don’t put words in my mouth. However, I believe that workers should be treated with dignity and respect, and that if public sector employment is to be cut back, there should be adequate effort put into the promotion of other forms of employment (using both fiscal and monetary measures as well as direct investment in the areas I mentioned) to act as a counterbalance both to sustain the economy and to keep these people in some form of comparable work. It is not the fault of workers in the public sector that the economy has been skewed away from private enterprise for many decades.

    As regards the SDLP’s policy on the seven-council model- I would have thought it was pretty obvious that it is based on the fact that while somewhere around 15 councils would provide economies of scale without losing local identity and effectiveness of services or massive numbers of jobs, the seven-council model would be unable to provide adequate local services, would result in widespread job cuts (which would cause a negative ripple effect on the overall economy) and would result in general diseconomies of scale overall.

    Crow- So the SDLP would oppose seven councils because it would not have control in several, whereas unionists would oppose it despite the fact they would have control in several? You’re pretty much contradicting yourself there. Not everyone is obsessed with Sinn Féin. There are many other issues at stake.

  • kensei

    “Ok, so let me get this straight- you believe that public sector workers should be sacked, and that there should be no investment in infrastructure. Where exactly will that get us? Catch a grip! A Primary 1 child could see this is a recipe for disaster and is not even worth countenance. And I notice you failed to address any of the points I made.”

    The public sector workers should be sacked to provide more money for infrastructure and suitable business incentives.

    “I don’t believe I said that- such an assertion would be ludicrous. Please don’t put words in my mouth. However, I believe that workers should be treated with dignity and respect,”

    Fair enough.

    “and that if public sector employment is to be cut back, there should be adequate effort put into the promotion of other forms of employment (using both fiscal and monetary measures as well as direct investment in the areas I mentioned) to act as a counterbalance both to sustain the economy and to keep these people in some form of comparable work.”

    Fair enough.

    “It is not the fault of workers in the public sector that the economy has been skewed away from private enterprise for many decades.”

    Also true.

    None of that changes the reality taht the jobs need to go.

    “As regards the SDLP’s policy on the seven-council model- I would have thought it was pretty obvious that it is based on the fact that while somewhere around 15 councils would provide economies of scale without losing local identity and effectiveness of services or massive numbers of jobs,”

    The jobs need to go. I debate the need for 15 councils on either “local identity” – how many people really have their identity wrapped in their council? (Places like Newtownabbey? Get real.) and while further economies of scale going to 7 are probably less great, they are there and it cuts down on the number of bloody politicians. Not to mention the Assembly is effectively a glorified council anyway.

    “the seven-council model would be unable to provide adequate local services,”

    Any evidence for this whatsoever? As has already been pointed out, plenty of other places cope with larger catchment areas.

    “would result in widespread job cuts (which would cause a negative ripple effect on the overall economy) and would result in general diseconomies of scale overall. ”

    The point is to cut costs, which unfortunately means cutting jobs. Other places have been through the pain and come out the other side and maybe we need to do it too. I hate sounding like a Thatcherite, but over 70% pubic money dependence is too much, even for a truly mixed economy.

  • jaffa

    “somewhere around 15 councils would provide economies of scale”

    Isn’t that potentially the worst option of all? North Down and Ards are relatively small council areas but even here fairly chunky little towns like Holywood and Donaghadee have very much lost their sense of identity.

    We might be better off with bigger old fashioned County Councils (or these 7 sub-regional department thingies) and a directly elected very local Mayor supported by a residents association of interested people who’d have a right to be consulted (and to make a fuss) on money spent in their area but no discretionary power (and consequent need for attendant bureacracy) of their own.

    The recent referral of the Queen’s parade dedevelopment scheme in Bangor was the result of resident pressure and in spite of the (mainly) self-serving local traders on North Down Borough Council.

  • Kensei-

    With the massive numbers of working-class nationalists employed in the lower levels of the civil service, I am actually glad that Maskey has pushed this up the news agenda. I wonder how these people will feel when the find their P45s, practically signed by Maskey, lying on the hall mat.

  • willowfield

    El Matador

    Where has Maskey called for low-level civil servants to be sacked?

    As regards the thread generally, Fair Deal is spot on. Maskey’s rant is a call to sectarian solidarity. Full marks to the SDLP for stepping out of the sectarian bunker on this one.

  • WF-

    By backing the RPA, this is essentially what he is doing. Even the SF supporters on here admit as much.

  • kensei

    “By backing the RPA, this is essentially what he is doing. Even the SF supporters on here admit as much.”

    Short term pain, long term gain. You are right that it could potentially cost them votes. Unfortunately, if the SDLP do actually push that line, they’ll have to live with the economic consequences of that decision later on. You’d be far wiser arguing for the people involved to be treated fairly.

  • willowfield

    El Matador

    Where in RPA does it indicate that low-level civil servants will be sacked? (Genuine question).

    Kensei

    Given your crusade to cut the public sector, would you support the axing of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools QUANGO and the merging of schools into a single sector, thus minimising the wastage of public money?

  • J_K

    I have just come across this – after hearing lots and lots about it but I have to say something.

    Why are people worrying about the switch to seven when the big issue should be about what is going to happen to the rates.

    A lot of this from the political parties does looked motivated by self interest and self preservation.

    I did just a quick search of the RPA archive and from the 2005 responses it looks like lots of people outside of the parties back the 7, including:
    INTO (teachers)
    Help the Aged
    CBI
    Institute of Directors
    Friends of the Earth
    NICVA
    Rural Community Network
    NITB
    The Institute of Public Health in Ireland

    Given such a diverse group I suspect that 7 may be right – however what really concerns me is that the SDLP are so opposed to it and seem just lost in the numbers when the really big arguments and battles (identified by this range of organisations is very very different.

  • WF-

    The RPA is essentially about slashing the public sector- ‘streamlining’ to use a euphemism. It has already begun in earnest in areas such as health, with people who were heretofore in pretty secure jobs all vying for very few newly created positions- those who fail to get reappointed are out on the street. Local council workers are in similar quandaries, and it also means that many talented individuals are jumping ship early to avoid being pushed, which will ultimately result in poorer public services. All this while the British Government is about to pour billions into a pointless nuclear weapons system.

    The workers are paying the price a chronic lack of private enterprise, the blame for which lies squarely at the doors of paramilitaries who prevented it and the British Government whose cackhanded approach to infrastructural problems has left us with a public-sector reliant society.

  • willowfield

    El Mat, I take your point about local government workers, but I was really asking about civil servants.

  • kensei

    “Given your crusade to cut the public sector, would you support the axing of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools QUANGO and the merging of schools into a single sector, thus minimising the wastage of public money?”

    Probably happy to get rid of the CCMS and devolve more power to the individual schools under a single umbrella provided they remain Catholic ethos schools. Probably not happy about whatever it is you are proposing.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Jaun

    “surely the branding of a group with the term secterian can itself be seen as a secterian action when the repeated suggestion of the stigma is being used for the purpose of defamation.”

    I think the issue hinges on whether the repeated accusation amounts to defamation or to fair comment. To wrongly accuse someone of being sectarian might be itself a sectarian act. To correctly accuse someone of being sectarian is a different story – though the accuser, correct as he may be, might also have sectarian attitudes.

    Either way the salient question remains: is the accusation a fair one? (It can’t be defamation if it’s accurate.) It certainly can’t simply be said that to accuse someone of sectarianism is in itself sectarian.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Willow

    “Given your crusade to cut the public sector, would you support the axing of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools QUANGO and the merging of schools into a single sector, thus minimising the wastage of public money?”

    Sorry to butt in….

    I think the case for slashing public spending on councils and civil service workers is that they represent an unconscionable waste of money, and that they have a devastating effect on the private sector. (If you want to know how badly unbalanced our economy is, think on this: even our left-leaning parties think a smaller public sector and greater incentives for small businesses and the growing of the private sector would be desirable.)

    Where this differs from the Catholic education sector is that Catholic schools WORK. By and large, the standard of education at places like Dungannon Academy, St Pat’s Armagh, St Malachy’s Belfast, St Columb’s Derry, St Mick’s Enniskillen, St Colman’s Newry etc (and the various primary schools that feed them) is genuinely world class.

    So while on a theoretical level I might agree with you that a fully integrated education sector would be desirable, I can’t look past the fact that you would be talking about shutting down or, at the very least dismantling the generations-old ethics that have sustained, some of the very best schools on the planet. And you would be doing it for ideological reasons.

    So, although I am sympathetic to the ideology, I couldn’t support such a throwing out of the baby along with the bathwater. For one thing, it would most likely mean that my children would not enjoy as good an education as I did.

    How do you sell that?

  • willowfield

    KENSEI

    Probably happy to get rid of the CCMS and devolve more power to the individual schools under a single umbrella provided they remain Catholic ethos schools. Probably not happy about whatever it is you are proposing.

    So your crusade to cut the public sector comes to a halt as soon as it encounters state-funded Roman Catholic schools?

    Doesn’t make much economic sense to have two schools in a small town, does it, but your happy to have a bloated education sector despite opposing bloated sectors in all other areas of the public sector.

    BILLY PILGRIM

    “Given your crusade to cut the public sector, would you support the axing of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools QUANGO and the merging of schools into a single sector, thus minimising the wastage of public money?”

    I think the case for slashing public spending on councils and civil service workers is that they represent an unconscionable waste of money, and that they have a devastating effect on the private sector. … Where this differs from the Catholic education sector is that Catholic schools WORK.

    Non-Catholic schools WORK, too. So why support the waste of money involved in having two sectarian schools (one de jure sectarian, the other de facto)?

    By and large, the standard of education at places like Dungannon Academy, St Pat’s Armagh, St Malachy’s Belfast, St Columb’s Derry, St Mick’s Enniskillen, St Colman’s Newry etc (and the various primary schools that feed them) is genuinely world class.

    By and large, the standard of education at places like the Royal School, Dungannon, the Royal School, Armagh, Methodist College, Belfast, Foyle & Londonderry College, Portora Royal School, Belfast Royal Academy (and the various primary schools that feed them) is genuinely world class.

    So while on a theoretical level I might agree with you that a fully integrated education sector would be desirable, I can’t look past the fact that you would be talking about shutting down or, at the very least dismantling the generations-old ethics that have sustained, some of the very best schools on the planet. And you would be doing it for ideological reasons.

    I’m not sure how that would be the case. No doubt the schools that you mention would continue to exist: they would merely be required to submit to control and management by the WHOLE community and to cease (in effect) excluding children whose parents don’t submit to Roman Catholicism. If the schools are so good, let them be open to all children.

    Nonetheless, do I take it from your argument that you would be content to shut down or dismantle failing Roman Catholic schools?

    So, although I am sympathetic to the ideology, I couldn’t support such a throwing out of the baby along with the bathwater. For one thing, it would most likely mean that my children would not enjoy as good an education as I did. How do you sell that?

    See above. No baby need be thrown out with the bathwater.
    Posted by Billy Pilgrim on Dec 05, 2006 @ 12:38 PM

  • circles

    J_K – excellent post providing those “non-political” parties – pity everyone has choosed to ignore it so far – too busy grinding axes to worry about what anybody else might say.
    What do you make of that El Mat – they all provie sympathisers?

  • circles

    chosen!!!!!
    Sorry about that 🙁

  • Circles-

    “What do you make of that El Mat – they all provie sympathisers?”

    Huh? Where did that come from? Unlike Maskey, who describes anyone who shares a similar view on this issue which differs from SF’s as an ‘unholy alliance’, I have no problem with people sharing views with SF on this (although I’d like to see the evidence of these organisations supporting the RPA).

    WF-

    “El Mat, I take your point about local government workers, but I was really asking about civil servants.”

    I mentioned health workers as an example. It is probably better if I refer you to the NIPSA webpage on the RPA:

    http://tinyurl.com/yll5ua

    It’s quite clear from what they say that the British Government is riding roughshod over the rights of workers and their unions when it comes to the implementation of the RPA.

  • kensei

    “So your crusade to cut the public sector comes to a halt as soon as it encounters state-funded Roman Catholic schools?”

    Actually try reading what I said instead of going on a transferable rant.

    “Doesn’t make much economic sense to have two schools in a small town, does it, but your happy to have a bloated education sector despite opposing bloated sectors in all other areas of the public sector.”

    Actually, from a purely educational point of view, small class sizes are better.

  • Reader

    kensei: Actually, from a purely educational point of view, small class sizes are better.
    Of course, and one-on-one tuition better still. But who will pay?

  • willowfield

    KENSEI

    Actually, from a purely educational point of view, small class sizes are better.

    You can still have small class sizes in a single, bigger school, and save public money.