A clear road back to Democracy…”

Frank Millar is no one’s garrulous optimist. But it’s worth looking at his analysis from Saturday before going too far the ‘we don’t really know about this odd couple’ route.

“There are real grounds for thinking that the Rev Ian Paisley might actually agree to form a new power-sharing executive with Sinn Féin by the stipulated March 26 deadline. For those who like to hedge, however, key DUP strategists suggest the safer bet is that ‘the Big Man’ will certainly be installed as First Minister by the end of May.

“The Irish and British governments, like Sinn Féin, will protest that March 26 is non-negotiable – that the DUP either commits to power-sharing by that date or Plan B, and joint British/Irish “stewardship” of Northern Ireland, comes into effect. Moreover, Prime Minister Blair can also argue that Dr Paisley has less cause now to delay.

“The DUP leader’s internal critics failed to openly challenge him during the election, while the anti-agreement campaign threatened on the party’s right imploded. There are no “unpledged” DUP Assembly Members waiting to take their seats at Stormont. And while some of them privately whispered their doubts about the direction in which Dr Paisley was taking the party – or, at least, about the speed with which he was approaching his intended destination – Paisley prevailed, carried on, and has now won a famous victory. Are the doubters really going to rain on his parade?”

“Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, William McCrea and David Simpson have made no secret of their view that the period available between the election and March 26 is unlikely to suffice. Dr Paisley and deputy leader Peter Robinson (who has been long-term the organisational force behind this now-formidable election winning machine) know that no amount of testing will ever satisfy some in their ranks.

“There will come a point of decision when they have to disappoint, and probably lose, some of their hardliners. Before reaching that point, however, they will want to divide and reduce those currently coalescing around the strictest interpretation of party policy. Here the dispositions of Mr Dodds and Mr Campbell, in particular, will be crucial. Dr Paisley and Mr Robinson have no intention of losing either talent, indeed are more likely to think to see both shine again in ministerial office.”

It is what satisfies these two in particular that matters, he argues, but we are not likely to know before 26th March. As a footnote, he adds:

“The Ulster Unionist Party strikes many as just about finished. Its further collapse under Reg Empey will likely reinforce the drive for further realignment and one unionist party – a development which might not even have to await the post-Paisley-era, given his own occupation now of the centre-ground.”

However the fact that the party (unlike its Nationalist counterparts, the SDLP) has two seats on the Executive looks like to stay the executioner’s hand.

Mark Durkan may have cause for some deep regret that his first step in this campaign was to pick a fight with the old RUC Special Branch. For a more convincing note, he might have borrowed from his 2005 conference speech, and pitched this a choice between, “the parties that gave us the worst of our past and the one party that is ready to give us all the best of our future”.

Yet both ‘moderate’ parties seemed strangely reluctant to land a straight blow on their respective rivals, giving the impression that both leaders had their fingers crossed behind their backs, and wishing for the best. The UUP had simply had further to fall, and lucked out on the Ministerial seat tally. With one seat on the Executive, the SDLP will struggle to make any credible claim that they are in a position to help shape that future.

Whether the marriage of Ulster’s ‘Odd Couple’ will work in the long run is quite another matter.

,

  • Nevin

    “Yet both ‘moderate’ parties seemed strangely reluctant to land a straight blow”

    It’s not as if they haven’t had the opportunity, Mick. Did anyone else notice the jovial aside made by Paisley as he was about to enter the count centre, “What are you doing here?”? The person facing him was none other than David McAllister, Moyle DUP councillor. Big Davey was successfully prosecuted for fraud last year yet he remains a DUP councillor. Why did he not suffer the fate of other DUP politicians – and why didn’t the UUP highlight this issue?

  • Nevin

    [Aside] 14th IMC report presented to the governments on Mar 1 – but left to gather dust until today ie after the election.

  • Dougal

    So we are invited to respond to a garrulous, pratingly verbose talker? What do “words” matter eh?

    Surely this is further evidence of your own willingness to allow SDLP bashing on here Mick. “For a more convincing note, he might have borrowed from his 2005 conference speech..” YOU are now giving advice to MARK DURKAN, Mick?

    I am of the firm opinion that some things are simply wrong. Not only are they wrong but they are can be damaging for society. Democracy “explains” it does not “justify”. If that were the case, slavery might still exist in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

    Because a majority of people voted for the Shinners and /Duppers, it is does not justify you berateing the SDLP/UUP as if it is “a given” that they do not hold the moral high-ground. I accept that in politics this means little if a political party is not in a position to influence social change but sometimes the right moral stance is not always the popular one.

    I agree with Frank, adding that we maybe we should ask ourselves, why should anyone believe that “the parties that gave us the worst of our past” are ready and able to give us “the best of our future”? Have they changed? Have we changed? I don’t think so and time will tell!

    “the parties that gave us the worst of our past and the one party that is ready to give us all the best of our future”.

  • JohnT

    Surely the division in Northern Ireland now is more between moderate people, ie. those who don’t look on everyone primarily as either nationalist/unionist, and those like the DUP and SF who see everything in terms of their own ‘community’ (a word I have come to despise).

    Maybe it is time to think the unthinkable, and propose an moderate merger between the UUP, SDLP and the Alliance. Not possible now, I know, but the first step should be entering the assembly as an opposition. At subsequent elections those parties could propose themselves as an alternative coalition alliance.

    Entering the current coalition will only result in being swamped by the extremists, and giving up the ability to criticise.
    The first step needs to be a conference convened by those parties, to map out a way forward for the moderates. Some way of motivating the 40% who don’t vote is crucial, and this should be looked at.

  • wha’s significant is the DUP website hasn’t had a story since 3/3/07. Are they using silence as a weapon?

  • JohnT

    Silence from the DUP would be very welcome. Can there be a more arrogant bunch?

    Their hypocrisy is staggering, and NI to be led by a fundamentalist christian, with his own church to boot, will make us a laughing stock – if we’re not already of course. The man who will be effectively our prime minister will not believe in evolution, or even line dancing. I don’t know whats worse.

    Actually it might be quite entertaining after all!

  • jaffa

    Would the NI constitution allow the centre to form a coalition and select a First Minister from within that?

    Following JohnT’s proposal could Mark Durkan be first minister of a 40+ seat democratic reform group (as opposed to reactionary DUP and self-declared revolutionary Sinn Fein) with Dr Paisley his Number 2.

    It seems to me that the potential deserters have already deserted the SDLP and UUP and that they don’t need to be afraid of diluting their constitutional purity.

  • gordon in philly

    If the Assembly does get up and running and, God forbid, is actually successful, could very well lead to a ‘natural’ moderation of the electorate.
    Devolved govt is still in the baby steps era so it’s not surprising that the community is sceptical and therefore feel safer voting for the extremes.
    As confidence grows so might the political voice of the moderates, particularly if they are seen to run their departments diligently. Reports of their death might be extremely premature. The UUP, it would seem, need a new leader, preferably a younger more inspirational character than Reg, who seems to symbolize the drop from their once lofty status.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    Dougal,

    That was a quotation from Durkan’s ’05 Conference speech, not Frank Millar.

  • JohnT

    Jaffa: In terms of the GFA, I think all the moderate group would need to declare themselves ‘nationalist’ to do this. Sort of defeats the point. I would prefer to remain in opposition, hoping the slopeheads mess things up sufficiently to wake up the apathetic 40%.

    Of course, constitutionally, if the moderate alliance won the election we couldn’t stop SF/DUP taking their seats in the executive, but I would hope that they would enter opposition anyway. The Queen has the constitutional right to veto bills, but doesn’t do so. I would expect that DUP/SF would feel that they had to enter opposition in that event, as the precedent would have been set.

    The biggest flaw of the GFA has always been that it copperfastens tribalism. If 90 out of 108 MLA’s declared themselves as ‘Other’, the 18 MLA’s left who were declared as ‘Nationalist’, or ‘Unionist’ would form the government. The GFA removes the possibility, or at least the point, of persuasion. Tribalism is the foundation of the agreement. Surely we need a time limit on this arrangement. Minorities have rights, yes, but in a democracy minorities don’t have a right to rule. When either nationalists or unionists are prepared to not be in power, then NI will have grown up.

  • George

    John T,
    “When either nationalists or unionists are prepared to not be in power, then NI will have grown up.”

    That is the day when unionists don’t fear or resent the idea of a united Ireland and nationalists don’t fear or resent the idea of remaining in the United Kingdom.

    A sort of ‘shall I buy a Nissan or a Toyota’ kind of feeling.

    Until then I fear we will be continuing as we are with the Ulster Odd Couple.

  • A few year’s ago, I heard a Shinner speaking of… sdlp joining the Soldier of Destiny and UUP joining the Blue Shirts (before McDowell became uber-west brit). The Dupes remaining as they are (but with a smaller presence as the less fundamentalist would join the UUP / FG renamed the Irish Conservatives) and the Shinners becoming the largest party in the 32 county Dail.

    “The Ulster Unionist Party strikes many as just about finished. Its further collapse under Reg Empey will likely reinforce the drive for further realignment and one unionist party…” and …..“Yet both ‘moderate’ parties seemed strangely reluctant to land a straight blow on their respective rivals, giving the impression that both leaders had their fingers crossed behind their backs…”

    this sounds like sour grapes that Millar’s not the leader of the UUPs… will Frank go back to politics and re-join the UUPs and build another challenge for leadership of the UUPs … or has he found his political home as the London correspond in the Irish Thames.

    I think it’s not a bad thing that the dupes are in the Assemb majority… it’s bring their fundamentalism to the fore and drag some of their backwards beliefs out into the open from under the rock where they have been to date. We’ll see is there any leadership / real-world-political-ability in the party when they tackle a large budget (fairly and w/out prejudice) as opposed to just foam-mouth ranting wearing a sash on the back of a lorry.

  • JohnT

    George:

    You’re probably right, but I would suggest that unionists should realise that the union is safe regardless of who is in power, and also that a majority rule system is much more likely to challenge nationalists than unionists. Of course I do hope that we won’t thinking of ourselves as primarily nationalist and unionist for ever.

    I can see the objections from that quarter, but for how long can the misrule of the past be used to hold back the future? All the checks and balances are in place.

    I further believe that all moderates should make as much effort to ‘shelve’ the constitutional issue. The border is settled. Consent is accepted by all. The IRA have effectively been defeated, with SF doing the best spin job ever. In a way, we’re all unionists now! I strongly suspect that most catholics would never vote for a united Ireland. I certainly wouldn’t.

    I would hope that with normal democracy (majority rule) eventually normal left/right politics would develop. Call me a dreamer!

  • George “That is the day when unionists don’t fear or resent the idea of a united Ireland and nationalists don’t fear or resent the idea of remaining in the United Kingdom. …”

    UK: We’ve been there and done that and it was an unmitigated failure with official systematic sectarianism which, nationalists claim, led to the present dysfunctional society that is the Sick Cos.

    32 Cos: if the 26 cos is anything to go by, politically (free elections, no gerrymandering like NI back then), economically (Celtic Tiger) and socially ( Protestant tolerance and inclusions in the RoI), this is the best route.

  • JohnT

    Anonymous:

    Can’t really see that type of realignment happening, as it would require the UUP to accept the whole island of Ireland as their political context, whereas unionists look on the whole UK for this. I do like the idea of the Irish Conservatives though, and maybe the ROI can unite Ireland within the UK?

  • jaffa

    Seems to me that Left / Right politics already has developed but that the usual individual self-preception of having vested interest (and voting conservative) or being dispossessed (and voting socialist) is twisted by the received opinions of unionism and nationalism.

    So protestant socialism is almost unrepresented (apart from Dawn Purvis) as is Catholic conservativism. We have an assembly which is 33% conservative (but all prod DUP), 41% liberal (mixed), 26% socialist (but almost all catholic SF) split. The question is whether the DUP can openly champion catholic capital or Sinn Fein protestant labour. There seems to be an opening for a Northern Irish Labour Party (again) and an all-Ireland Christian Democratic Party.

    It may be unfair to the SDLP to describe them as liberal but it does seem that the more stridently socialist amongst nationalists are now voting SF.

  • jaffa

    anonymous,

    not fair to contrast “gerrymandered Sick cos” with Celtic Tiger. 30-40 year comaprison error.

  • George

    JohnT,
    “but I would suggest that unionists should realise that the union is safe regardless of who is in power.”

    I’m sure unionists would disagree with you on that one. I’m not a unionist and even in my wildest imagination I can’t see Sinn Féin running Northern Ireland as being in the interests of the union. I could be proven wrong though!

    “Of course I do hope that we won’t thinking of ourselves as primarily nationalist and unionist for ever.”

    I think this will continue until there is no point in having the difference. They are competing political ideologies, both very much alive so they will remain with us until one is either “defeated” or irrelevant.

    “I can see the objections from that quarter, but for how long can the misrule of the past be used to hold back the future? All the checks and balances are in place.”

    We are not in an ideal world here. Personally, I think the two governments/communities (take your pick) have put Northern Ireland into a clever holding pattern.

    “I further believe that all moderates should make as much effort to ‘shelve’ the constitutional issue. The border is settled. Consent is accepted by all.”

    The constitutional situation hasn’t been settled, it has been clarified. There is a huge difference.

    For the first time in my lifetime there is a conduit through which people can work for unification on this island without risking an outbreak or increase in armed insurrection, bombing and murder.

    We have only just got this and you want to shelve it already? I have to disagree there. For the first time in a generation people in Ireland can have a rational discussion on Northern Ireland and partition.

    How it might work, never could, shouldn’t, hell no, etc. Not many have happened yet but give it time.

    “In a way, we’re all unionists now! I strongly suspect that most catholics would never vote for a united Ireland. I certainly wouldn’t.”

    Those in favour of unification rather than continued partition of the island would say the battle of minds begins with you John T.

    “I would hope that with normal democracy (majority rule) eventually normal left/right politics would develop. Call me a dreamer!”

    Time will tell if you are. But we are still waiting for that full break down south, 85 years after our civil war.

    Anonymous,
    in the long run it’s a question of which ideology and system can best deliver for Northern Ireland and its citizens.

  • Mick Fealty

    Annon,

    You’ve conflated Millar’s words and mine and conspired to make Frank the would-be leader of the UUs. It must be in the way I have written it, because you are the second person to make a similar type of mistake.

    I’ll see if I cannot tidy up the typography/sintax. In the meantime, I’d be grateful if you would try to resist the temptation to play the man!!

  • Dougal

    “That was a quotation from Durkan’s ‘05 Conference speech, not Frank Millar.”

    I know. I was there.

    And Mick, uses it to advise Mark Durkan! My point exactly. It serves no purpose to reiterate what Frank Millar has said, suffice to say that I agree with his analysis.

    Following on from this, and to adapt the citation of Mark Durkan used by Mick, I believe it is worth questioning whether or not it is justified to place our faith in the “the parties that gave us the worst of our past” I see confusion here on my part (though I am happy to hold my hand up if I’m wrong!) It would appear hat the Duppers have problems of their own?

  • JohnT “…as it would require the UUP to accept the whole island of Ireland as their political context … I do like the idea of the Irish Conservatives though, and maybe the ROI can unite Ireland within the UK? “
    I consider an United Irel as inevitable and the most sensible future and this is the basis for the mergers. Many consider FG & PDs to be conservatives already. FG previously had a debate about re joining the Commonwelth until they realized that the electorate considered this ridiculous.

    George “…in the long run it’s a question of which ideology and system can best deliver for Northern Ireland and its citizens. “

    Agreed and as per my three example I think the 26Cos gives the best in comparison to within UK.

    jaffa “…not fair to contrast “gerrymandered Sick cos” with Celtic Tiger. 30-40 year comaprison error”.

    I think the error is on your part… I compare ROI’s free elections to the old gerrymandering in NI while I list the ROI’s Celtic Tiger under ‘economically’ as there’s nothing comparable in the Sick Cos.

    Mick Fealty “You’ve conflated Millar’s words and mine and conspired to make Frank the would-be leader of the UUs. “

    Not quite… as a footnote he (F. Millar) wrote…”UUP’s in sh1te and Reggie’s to blame”. I then posted about his previous leadership aims etc in comparison to his present comfortable (likeminded) employment, no?
    Altho, my apologies for the error, I now see that YOU posted that Reg had his fingers crossed. Therefore I’m sorry for playing Fealty and not the ball.

  • Nevin

    “I’ll see if I cannot tidy up the typography/sintax

    Would this ‘sintax’ be a DUP Minister of Finance and Personnel wheeze, Mick? ;>)

  • páid

    I don’t buy this SF/DUP are extremist, SDLP/UUP are moderate line.

    I remember Paisley marching up hills with his 3rd force whilst the ‘republican movement’ did most of their moving on moonless nights.

    We’re all moderates now.

  • Memory Man

    “We’re all moderates now.”

    Yeah, right!

    You wish.