“a peculiar species of pseudo-parliamentary government”

The particular, and peculiar, form of government we face, should an Executive actually be formed, has come up for discussion on numerous occasions here on Slugger. In Today’s Belfast Telegraph, as pointed to by commenter parcifal, Eric Waugh points to the elephant in the room. It’s an elephant that even our own Secretary of State for Wales etc, identified previously.. only in Wales, though.. natch.From the Belfast Telegraph

Deepening the chill, of course, is the elephant in the room: the fact that the nationalist parties who would share Government have as their prime aim its destruction! Holding this view is no more remarkable than a similar view held by the SNP in the Edinburgh Parliament and Plaid Cymru in the Cardiff Assembly. The key difference is that neither of these parties is in Government. They are members of the opposition.

Stormont, though, has spawned its own diluted brand of democracy: a peculiar species of pseudo-parliamentary government without an opposition, invented by an obscure Belgian. Having ministers inside Government, privy to all its secrets, those whose wish is to destroy that Government and who, whatever their misdeeds or sheer incompetence, themselves cannot be dismissed by the First Minister has, unsurprisingly, never been tried anywhere else before.

The First Minister does not, as would be normal in a democracy, appoint his ministers, or even have the right to express an opinion to those who do. In fact, his new ministers owe him absolutely nothing. Accordingly, at a stroke, the vital cement has been chipped away which normally secures the structure of Cabinet government. It is going to take a special dedication and a very principled loyalty – by each party – to make this strange construct work.

If that dedication and loyalty is denied, the new experiment will fail. One hopes for success, but the system has loaded the dice heavily the other way.

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  • susan

    In Tuesday’s Telegraph Barry White tackled the exact same so-called “elephant” and came to the opposite conclusion. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he does have the advantage over Waugh of not making every nationalist seeking a place in Government out to be a villian in a James Bond movie:

    “The real question in deciding whether devolution is a viable option is how green are the nationalists? Do they really want to abolish the border tomorrow, or would they be happy to carry on, for the moment, as partners to the unionists?

    My suspicion is that even though Sinn Fein present themselves as an all-Ireland party, they’re not as green as unionists perceive them to be. They’re born-again pragmatists who have learned how to adapt or abandon long-held beliefs, and know that their supporters are primarily interested in a share of power here and now.

    (A party that was sure of its electorate wouldn’t have to point out that the election day coincides with three big European football games. But leaving a Sinn Fein office after a meeting that didn’t involve any mention of Dublin or a united Ireland, I saw huge posters with a reminder for supporters to ‘Vote early, well before watching the football!’)

    Can you imagine true revolutionaries explaining to their children why their cause failed in 2007? “Sorry, but Celtic were losing to Milan, Manchester United were down to Lille and Arsenal looked like being knocked out by PSV.”

    Although there are still a few green-to-the-core republicans, there are far more now who are prepared to let events take their course. They want a taste of governing now, where they and the unionists live, rather than wait for a surrender that might never happen.

    That’s why, in spite of the negativity surrounding this election, I’m reasonably optimistic that it will move the political process on. Ian and Martin may never hit it off, but the younger generation are getting to size each other up and realise they either take on the Labour government together or let Tony and Bertie decide their future.

    That is the worst prospect of all, so I’ll be voting for the politicians who have a real chance of influencing the election outcome, and coming up with the best all-round deal. That takes care of two or three preferences, at best, and I’m stopping there rather than see even a fraction of my vote go to the dinosaurs.”

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/columnists/article2308582.ece

  • middle-class taig

    Errant nonsense. It is simply absurd to say that the nationalist parties want to destroy the government. SF need sound effective northern government to prove themselves possible partners in real government in the south in 2011 or 2015. SDLP need good government in the North to try to out-perform the shinner ministers and win back market share on a technocratic ticket. Plus, who’s to say the northern assembly would not be maintained in a United Ireland?

    Reading between the lines (hell, even reading the lines), Waugh’s underlying beef appears to be that unionists don’t get a majority government. Sorry Eric, unionists cocked that one up, and they can never have it again. In fact, you answer your own uestion. The key words Eric uses are “as would be normal in a democracy” – this ain’t really a democracy, not a normal one, anyway, because unionists demonstrated their inability to run the north in a democratic manner. The only way we’ll ever again see a majoritarian cabinet in power over this part of Ireland will be in a United Ireland.

    Those few paragraphs are little more that hysterical fear-rousing of the most recalcitrant kind. Is it just me, am I reading it wrongly (perhaps I still can’t speak unionist fluently), or is the implication that it’s a pity we have to have disloyal nationalists in government?

  • parcifal

    mct
    I’m rather glad you pointed out
    “Those few paragraphs are little more that hysterical fear-rousing of the most recalcitrant kind”, as the article in its fullness reads much better. Reading from the beginning its much more balanced; we may still have an update to correct that added?

  • Niall

    A united Ireland isn’t a viable proposition until the politics in the North have been ‘normalised’. The South won’t be expanding its borders until the North has proved itself no longer a security threat or a financial drain. This will probably take at least one generation.

    The idea that if 51pc of people in Northern Ireland vote tomorrow for a united Ireland that it will happen is ridiculous.

    It probably will be the children of the current administration, who will have hopefully grown up in a functioning society without residual hatred, who will make the decision that a united Ireland is viable and desirable, and on that premise the South will also then vote in favour.

    At present each side in the North doesn’t trust the motives of the other, and consequently doesn’t respect the will of the majority of the population of the other community. Until this polarisation ends, all referenda outcomes on the constitutional position of NI will be argued about inconclusively.

    Who’s to say that if there is a referendum on a united Ireland in the next few years and the majority of NI votes in favour that unionists will accept the outcome if there isn’t majority support in the unionist community? Is it just a simple majority vote, or does it require cross-community support?

    Unionists will argue it requires the latter, and if unity is forced on them against their will they will negotiate for repartition where they can have a unionist-only enclave in the north-east.

    Provided the Northern Assembly works and a united Ireland eventually happens decades down the line, I’d imagine the Northern Assembly will be kept.

  • parcifal

    I think the starting point in the full article, is the tension that exists within both positions within both communities.

    How can Unionism on the one hand join in a power-sharing executive, whilst simultaneouly be full unionists; and on the other hand how can Nationalists be in gov’t whilst simultaneously seeking something different.

    One could argue both sides.
    If successful Nationalists will be able to say, see .. we can work together, so why not try this on the whole Island.
    Unionists can equally claim if joint gov’t is successful; the Union is working, why change it.

    So these are all questions in the run-up to an Assembly to tax souls deeply. But will be much more significant post Assembly.

    For my money the great thing is both sides are going to have to work very hard to fight their corners, whilst maintaining stability, and making NI a success.
    The overall winner may well be the one who tries the hardest and copes best with change.

  • kensei

    “The idea that if 51pc of people in Northern Ireland vote tomorrow for a united Ireland that it will happen is ridiculous.”

    No, it’s the law.

    “Unionists will argue it requires the latter, and if unity is forced on them against their will they will negotiate for repartition where they can have a unionist-only enclave in the north-east.”

    Unionist may argue it, but they’d be wrong. Otherwise scrap the GFA, I want Plan B. I also doubt the orange card would work this time.

  • parcifal

    peteb
    The elephant in the room, is also “How does unionism maintain itself and sell itself in a world that is post IRA.”
    For years Unionism has justified itself in terms of negatives and in opposition to the IRA.
    Now how will it survive standing on its own two feet, not having a bogeyman to attack and rely on for electoral support?

  • Henry94

    Are there any unionists here who accept the consent principle and agree that a majority vote for a united Ireland means it should happen?

  • Niall

    “No, it’s the law.”

    Whose law? What law? There still has to be a vote in the South – there’s no law on a UI in the ROI. And all laws are there to be rewritten. What do you think a referendum on the constitutional position of NI is?

    “Unionist may argue it, but they’d be wrong.”

    So what if they’re wrong; that doesn’t mean they won’t get what they want. Nationalists have thought unionists have been wrong for centuries – that’s hardly the issue.

    What do you mean by “Plan B”? Joint authority? That would amount to British authority with nominal Irish participation.

  • Reader

    Henry94: Are there any unionists here who accept the consent principle and agree that a majority vote for a united Ireland means it should happen?
    I do. To at least the same extent that you would accept a majority vote to remain within the UK.
    Neither outcome is the end of history, nor the end of politics.

  • George

    Niall,
    this is about the British and Irish people and the relationship between everyone on these islands not just unionists.

    The constitutional situation has been agreed by the British and Irish peoples and their respective governments in an international agreement.

    If there is a majority in favour of unification, the elected British government simply have to past the necessary legislation at Westminster to cede Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic.

    The people of the Irish Republic simply have to agree in a referendum that the Irish state should encompass the whole island.

    No laws have to be rewritten immediately. It would simply be a case of incorporating the relevent ones and imposing the rest.

    Personally I think we would see a Hong Kong style situation where withdrawal would happen over a period of say five years to minimise the threat of violence from terrorists unwilling to accept the democratic will of the Irish people.

    That new MI5 building could come in useful as a headquarters to fight any terrorist threat.

  • T.Ruth

    I hope the people with the elephant in the room have read what happens in Galway in such cases.
    The mind boggles.
    T.Ruth.

  • Niall

    “this is about the British and Irish people and the relationship between everyone on these islands not just unionists.”

    Bollocks! The North as it stands is of no consequence to most people in Great Britain or the ROI. They have great relationships already. Its the Ulster contingent that brings out the divisions. Your statement sounds like something Mary McAleese’s speechwriter would come up with.

    We can all pretend it’s part of a wider issue to undermine the unionist position all we like, but ultimately its about the communities in NI coming together; everything else is incidental.

    “If there is a majority in favour of unification, the elected British government simply have to past the necessary legislation at Westminster to cede Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic.
    The people of the Irish Republic simply have to agree in a referendum that the Irish state should encompass the whole island.”

    “Simply”? Like the peace process so far has been a walk in the park. The DUP and SF haven’t even sat down in government together eight years on from the Good Friday Agreement.

  • kensei

    “Whose law? What law? There still has to be a vote in the South – there’s no law on a UI in the ROI. And all laws are there to be rewritten. What do you think a referendum on the constitutional position of NI is?”

    GFA is international treaty enshrined by both states. It’s not impossible that the South could reject unity, but unlikely, given current opinion polls on the matter and the fact there is not likely to be a major party campaigning against it.

    “What do you mean by “Plan B”? Joint authority? That would amount to British authority with nominal Irish participation. ”

    I mean that if the principle of consent does not apply, I want Joint Authority, because in a free vote a majority of nationalists would vote for independence. It is perfectly symmetrical argument.

    Everyone has accepted the threat of violence is not enough to change matters; hence the principle of consent – 50%+1.

    I don’t think the Orange card would be successful this time. If a referendum gives a result for a United Ireland, the British government is highly unlikely to back them up with the threat of violence; moreover the British public almost certainly won’t. Much different from 1921.

  • Henry94

    I wonder is it certain that Martin McGuinness will be the Sinn Fein choice for FM or DFM.

    It would be a great opprtunity to advace the cause of gender equality. Caitríona Ruane would be well capable of doing the job in partnership with Dr Paisley.

  • Niall

    “GFA is international treaty enshrined by both states.”

    I do believe it has already been rewritten, hence the St Andrews Agreement.

    I don’t think people in the South would vote against unity, but only on condition that it doesn’t affect them in any substantial way. Southerners’ idea of a united Ireland is the tricolour flying in Belfast when they go up for a day’s shopping. I don’t think any serious thought has been paid to the consequences of gangpressing 800,000 involuntary recruits into the body politic of the ROI.

    Apart from potential security and economic drawbacks, will a united Ireland still fly the tricolour and have The Soldier’s Song as its anthem? Will we have to rewrite the history books to downplay the negative aspects of colonisation so as not to upset our Protestant citizens? Will Ulster-Scots be our third official language?

  • kensei

    “I do believe it has already been rewritten, hence the St Andrews Agreement.”

    Rewritten? Perhaps in the sense of “changed the words while retaining more or less the same meaning”.

    In the South, the changes affecting the constitution. Anything that affects that requires a referendum.

    “Apart from potential security and economic drawbacks, will a united Ireland still fly the tricolour and have The Soldier’s Song as its anthem? Will we have to rewrite the history books to downplay the negative aspects of colonisation so as not to upset our Protestant citizens? Will Ulster-Scots be our third official language?”

    Strictly speaking, questions for negotiations post referendum result. I’m sure parties would have positions on it on a referendum campaign.

  • lib2016

    The Canadians and the Australians left the Empire and gave up the right to British citizenship and passports in 1949 yet all the constitutional ramifications haven’t been worked out yet, nearly sixty years later.

    The British Army is in the process of leaving and the idea that the bases in the West or in South Armagh could be rebuilt and occupied is already history.

    Reunification will be a decade long process accompanied by excruciating boredom and the referendum recognising that it has already happened will IMHO excite no interest whatsoever unless it is linked to something interesting like which football team we should all support.

    Given unionist efficiency in dismantling their accepted Scots/Irish identity and replacing it with a laughably exclusive Ulster/Scots version we won’t have to worry about that but if anyone refuses to accept the damage done to the tongue of Rabbie Burns it’s only necessary to utter the magic words ‘Lord Livid’.

    BTW: The GFA allowed for minor adjustments….like the St. Andrews Agreement.

  • George

    Niall,
    you are scaremongering a bit I feel.

    If a majority vote for unification in both jurisdictions it will happen. If they don’t, it won’t.

    That’s democracy and what the people of this island agreed in a free vote would happen. It seems a perfectly fair arrangement.

    Things are tough enough as it is in Northern Ireland and mnobody is saying things will be easy in such an eventuality that it unifies with the Irish Republic but we will just have to cross all those bridges when we come to them.

    That’s what sovereign peoples living in free democracies do.

  • Niall

    Scaremongering’s a bit extreme. I’m just questioning whether its in anybody’s interest to rush into a united Ireland before normality reigns in Northern Ireland, regardless of the demographics of it.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Plus, who’s to say the northern assembly would not be maintained in a United Ireland? ‘

    The Irish Taxpayer. We can’t afford that kind of shite . The English have to endure it. We don’t and would’nt . The whole thing is a shambles form end to end 🙁

    A system devised by an obscure Belgian ? I thought all Belgians were obscure !

  • another_pleb

    “Having ministers inside Government, privy to all its secrets, those whose wish is to destroy that Government and who, whatever their misdeeds or sheer incompetence, themselves cannot be dismissed by the First Minister has, unsurprisingly, never been tried anywhere else before.”

    I thought the columnist was talking about the DUP.

    Personally, I dread the thought of a UI. Imagine having to work for a living? Scary thought.

  • Cahal

    ….” points to the elephant in the room”…..

    I thought he was talking about the thousands of illegally held weapons and rounds of ammunition on the unionist side. Makes it quite hard to trust your partners in government when they have the backing of a well armed private army.

    We all know who the vast majority of armed terrorists/drug dealers will be voting for and it isn’t SF.

  • Cahal

    Perhaps SF’s new election slogan should be

    “No guns no government”

  • Rory

    The analysis and resultant prognosis therefrom provided by the school of such as Eric Waugh et al might better be classified as the dinasour in the room such is its dependence on yearning for the return of those prehistoric dynasties of past aeons. They should try Steven Spielberg as this pitch is unlikely to find an audience here willing enough to suspend such disbelief as to be frightened of the return of old dead monsters.