Holding government to account

RTÉ’s Questions and Answers was in Belfast last night and one of the more interesting questions to be answered was how government would be held to account in the absence of a real opposition [RealPlayer video] within the consociational model that is the Assembly. As you’d expect there was a range of views from the panel, from Ken Bloomfield’s description of a need to be able to “throw the rascals out” to SF’s Mitchel McLaughlin defending, what he described as, the necessarily contrived arrangements whilst allowing for review and improvements. The Irish government Foreign Affairs Minister, Dermot Ahern, expressed a desire for a robust opposition to be part of the structures when things had bedded down and the DUP’s Gregory Campbell had a timeframe of within the lifetime of the next Assembly for that to happen. [I wonder how many would agree with Lord Rooker? – Ed]The Panel were:

Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Gregory Campbell MLA MP, DUP
Mitchell McLoughlin MLA, Sinn Féin
Margaret O’Callaghan, historian
Sir George Quigley, Ulster Bank
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, former head of NI Civil Service

Also worth noting was Dermot Ahern’s reference to the NI parties having been in permanent opposition.

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  • Two Nations

    Do the Others (Alliance et al)even have proposals of how to effectively have a say in the Assembly?

    The Assembly needs the Two Tribes model to work. We cannot rule ourselves by consent, it HAS to be by consensus. We do not have the luxury of using normal democratic mechanisms to rule ourselves. Majority rule is completely unsuitable for NI. Both Tribes need to give their consent, no one Tribe can dominate another. That is the reality of our situation.

    So, taking that onboard how can Others, who put themselves outside the Tribal system, possibly have a say? With Others less than 10% of the vote it is less of a problem, but come the day when Others make up 30% of the vote then we need to develop a mechanism were they can be heard but were we still protect the consensus rule of the Two Tribe system.

  • smcgiff

    Nobody ran the idea of the SDLP and the UUP going into opposition up the flag pole.

    Slugger regular, Michael Shiliday, made an appearance from the audience. Hopefully the guy with him isn’t a slugger regular. He seemed to be having a hard time suppressing giggles when the camera had him in shot. AND that was BEFORE Michael suggested the Irish government should open a rival airport to Derry Airport across the border! 🙂

  • Hmm…

    Does Bloomfield imagine that we’d really have accountable government under simple majority rule? There are downsides to consociationalism, but let’s be realistic about the alternatives. The Westminster model didn’t allow for much rascal expulsion under Stormont Mk.1 after all…

  • Crataegus

    The magnificent 7 of the Alliance party and the lone green ranger are going to have their work cut out. Hopefully they get strong support groups going in their parties. Alliance will be stretched, but good opportunity for both these parties to make their mark.

    Two Nations

    If others gets to 30% we need to fundamentally rewrite the structures. At 10% it is a problem it is saying you don’t count or are of lesser value. That is plain wrong.

  • Greenflag

    ‘The Assembly needs the Two Tribes model to work.’

    Of course . Them and us . Eurasia Oceania make peace/war or is it the other way around ? All Protestants in favour of tribal democracy raise your right arm -All Catholics in favour of tribal democracy raise your left arm.

    George Orwell

    War is peace
    Freedom is slavery
    Ignorance is strength

    Paisley/Adams

    No war is not peace
    Dependency is freedom
    Sectarianism is not ignorance
    The Union is good
    The Union is bad
    Divided we stand
    Together we’ll fall
    Who’ll pick up the bill
    We hope THEY will !

  • ed

    smgiff

    I would have been in stitches listening to Michael Shilliday last night on questions and answers too, I have never heard such nonsense recited in such an arrogant tone. I was embarrassed for him.

  • Michael Shilliday

    That is a thoughtful sentiment ed. Highly constructive.

  • #

    smgiff

    I would have been in stitches listening to Michael Shilliday last night on questions and answers too, I have never heard such nonsense recited in such an arrogant tone. I was embarrassed for him.
    Posted by ed on Mar 27, 2007 @ 05:17 PM

    SMcGiff and Ed, I agree completely

  • mickhall

    “There are downsides to consociationalism”

    Can someone run the last word past me, as I do not have a clue what it means, let alone can I pronounce it.

  • Greenflag

    Michael Shilliday,

    Were you aware of the giggling gobshite on your right ? Idiocy by association is not usually the most successful way to commence a political career although to judge by recent event s it has’nt harmed NI’s second First Minister in waiting ! Next time you can draw wven more attention by having another giggling gobshite on your left for – well for balance like 🙂

    Mick Hall,

    ‘consociationalism”’

    It’s a word that can mean whatever you want it to mean just like Marxist Leninist Scientific Socialism 🙂 I’ll hazard a guess and suggest that unlike the latter which means mass starvation via deliberate Government policy -consociationism probably means having a two party kleptocracy in which those who are non supporters of either of the two main parties will be fleeced by both simultaneously if not frequently 🙁

  • kokane

    Briliant program with 2 classic unionist comments – one from the floor – that Irish government should build competitor to Derry airport rather than supporting it. Second from Gregory saying that Non Iron needed a separate rugby team and used the beating of Liechtenstein by the football team to back it up. Denial or what?

  • Two Nations

    Greenflag,

    The problem is the Two Tribe democracy that is operation simply reflects our Two Tribe society. That is not going to change, no matter how abhorrent you may find it. We have to deal with the reality of the situation, no point moping from the sidelines. SFDUP is all we got!

    They are more pragmatic than they are given credit for and they have the luxury of not having to deal with hardline snipers. It is in their self-interest to have the assembly work and therefore it will.

    The sectarian element of our Parliament is taken care of. The problem posed by this thread is how we take account of the non-Tribalists.

    I have no idea. Do you? All I do know is that both Tribes need a veto or you have instability. That would then suggest the non-Tribalists cannot have a veto. If both Tribes agree, the non-Tribalists cannot then veto it.

    But then that throws up the argument that unless you are a Prod or a Taig you’re vote does not count. So how do you move away from that? Yet still maintain the necessity of a Tribal veto?

  • kokane

    2 tribe problem solved by horse trading – old oirish tradition – you give me grammar schools and i’ll give you an irish language act – you give me parade and i’ll give you devolution of police and justice

  • JG

    “Second from Gregory saying that Non Iron needed a separate rugby team and used the beating of Liechtenstein by the football team to back it up. Denial or what?”

    Partitionist RFU being advocated?

  • Greenflag

    Two nations’

    ‘We have to deal with the reality of the situation’

    I would never have doubted that from the beginning . Why it took 40 years to deal with it is beyond my limited ken.

    ‘So how do you move away from that? ‘

    You don’t or to be accurate you can’t -well not in an NI 6 county political context given the demographics. Thus my earlier point the good news is etc etc and the bad news is etc etc .

    ‘That is not going to change, no matter how abhorrent you may find it.’

    I don’t find it ‘abhorrent ‘. Backward ? yes – primitive ? of course – an embarassment to the UK -and ROI ? indubitably – but given the local NI political history in the last couple of hundred years -understandable . It’s also sad , tragic , mad and bizarre etc etc but there you are . Humanity is not always rational in these situations . People surrender their judgement to those leaders who are perceived to be best ‘guessers’ of the truth !

    As to it never changing ? Change like it’s excremental equivalent happens . How people cope/adapt to change is however a matter for evolutionary anthropologists and social psychologists . Darwinism tells us that who adapt will survive and proliferate . Those who don’t won’t. It’s called life which I hear is reputedly not fair and despite the wishful thinking of some on all sides -never has been .

    Anyway I’m not convinced by the present media ‘hype’ . I still see a DUP frog with an SF scorpion around it’s neck (or vice versa) trying to cross a very wide river . They have just left the shoreline and we’ll have to wait 6 weeks to see if they’re still afloat.

    ‘But then that throws up the argument that unless you are a Prod or a Taig you’re vote does not count. So how do you move away from that? Yet still maintain the necessity of a Tribal veto? ‘

    Northern Ireland’s eternal Catch 22. Or just another of the long list of self evident ‘contradictions’ within Unionism which an obscure Belgian among others has attempted to cope with by this convoluted D’Hondt mechanism.

    Que sera sera .

  • Greenflag

    kokane,

    Denial or what?

    No – Just last week’s result at Ravenhill in the Magnier’s Cup

    Munster 24 -Ulster 21 .

  • kokane

    Oppositon who needs it with a coalition of Sinn Fein/DUP (it has a nice ring to it ) when you have internal tension to keep both sides on their toes. DUP cant jump ship because of Plan B ( real or imagined) and SF dont want to – if you fight a war and win you get to rule on your own – if you draw you get into a coalition – they got to show something for all that violence. I think this thing has legs.

  • IJP

    Two Nations

    To play the devil’s advocate, I think the problem was overstated, at least in theory.

    Switzerland, for example, has no effective opposition. The same four parties have made up the Cabinet since 1959, and even the numbers in the Cabinet have only changed once. Switzerland has its problems, but it’s not exactly struggling as a result!

    The difficulty is much more practical than theoretical. You have a society whose basic problems are caused by a religio-national division governed by parties which form their power bases upon that very division. They know they need to solve the division, but also that it’ll cost them their raison-d’etre.

    But the Opposition will be there alright. Alliance fought a strong campaign to get into the Assembly, and it’ll fight just as hard within it.

    kokane

    You’re not suggesting the southern audience was anything other than bowled over by such inspirational Unionist contributions…?!

    (Gregory: next time use the Spain result as your basis…!)

  • Pete Baker

    IJP

    “But the Opposition will be there alright. Alliance fought a strong campaign to get into the Assembly, and it’ll fight just as hard within it.”

    The point is you’ll be fighting to have a share of the ministerial seats.. among the rest of the Executive parties.

    We’ll still not be able to throw the rascals, whoever they are, out of office.

  • Diluted Orange

    Two Nations

    [i]So, taking that onboard how can Others, who put themselves outside the Tribal system, possibly have a say? With Others less than 10% of the vote it is less of a problem, but come the day when Others make up 30% of the vote then we need to develop a mechanism were they can be heard but were we still protect the consensus rule of the Two Tribe system.[/i]

    How about, in the very unlikely scenario, if and when the Alliance were to become NI’s largest party a power-sharing executive is abandoned and we then exercise majority rule. Thus putting parties who operate on primarily a constitutional, and therefore an inherently sectarian, basis at a disadvantage.

  • IJP

    Pete

    Voluntary coalition is Alliance Party policy. At every policy deadlock (and there’ll be a few) we’ll not be slow to point out why!

    And then, if enough people vote for it, they’ll get it!

    I think that was the key thing about Monday – it wasn’t the end of the process, it was the beginning.

  • Briso

    Posted by Pete Baker on Mar 27, 2007 @ 11:37 PM
    >We’ll still not be able to throw the rascals,
    >whoever they are, out of office.

    Didn’t we throw out the SDLP and UUP?

  • kokane

    IJP, logic, commonsense and economics seem to point towards greater integration between north and south. Sometimes greater integration is driven by the ideology of unification but it is becoming increasinlgy easy to argue in favour of it (more money for the north etc) and increasingly difficult to argue against it. Unionists need to careful to avoid sounding silly and picking beating Spain rather than Liechtenstein as example of Non Iron’s capabilities would have helped defend a difficult position.

  • Brian Boru

    Well by definition the Opposition consists of those parties not in the powersharing executive. The voters can effectively remove a party from govt by denying them the required share of the vote to qualify for a cabinet post.

  • kensei

    “We’ll still not be able to throw the rascals, whoever they are, out of office.”

    Yes we can. If a minimal amount of people or no people vote for SF or the DUP, then neither of them will hold executive position.

    What? That isn’t likely? Well, we had simple majority for 50 years and the governing party didn’t change once. But it was theoretically possible. No one has suggested an alternative that won’t simply result in exclusion of SF and a permanent coalition with maybe just the edges changing.

    In any case, with real voter anger against those parties will have serious impact on them, if not quite squeezing them out. Imagine if SF’s and the SDLP’s position were reversed in the next election.

  • Two Nations

    Kokane,

    I fully agree,good old fashioned horsetrading will make the SFDUP-rule work. However, it is the fact that the Others have nothing to trade that is the problem. They don’t even have a shetland pony.

    IJP

    I am talking about the actual practical problem of how Others can act as an opposition when they have zero power within the Assembly. So it is fine and dandy saying that they fight hard within the Assembly but what does that actually mean? In practical terms.

    The crux is – how can Alliance stop a vote for Alliance being a wasted vote in the current set-up?

  • Hmm…

    mickhall
    Here’s a link to something by Mr Consociationalism:
    http://intl-publius.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/15/2/3

    I kinda like Greenflag’s definition too though, although I know I shouldn’t…

  • Two Nations

    Diluted Orange

    Majority rule will always be an unstable way to run NI. Each Tribe needs to have a veto i.e. consensus rule as opposed to consent rule. Even if there came to a stage were non-Tribal parties were the majority, majority rule can never be exercised, because the history of this island tells us that circumstances (unforeseen events)can change and the population can become tribal again. The consensus principle always needs to be in force, which of course only goes on to reinforce the sectarian nature of our politics.

    If the Others did ever reach a majority then it certainly would raise a few interesting questions. The Others need to show that they can deal with Tribal disputes (marches etc.) in a fair, even handed manner. They also need to have an answer to the big constitutional question. Until they have one they are limiting their vote to the garden centre people and hippies.

    To simplify it –

    Protestants need to know that a vote for Others won’t equal an UI.

    Catholics need to know that a vote for Others won’t mean the status quo and hindrance to their aspirations.

    To square that circle is going to take some real out-of-the-box thinking.

  • Crataegus

    IJP

    They know they need to solve the division, but also that it’ll cost them their raison-d’etre.

    Too true I would put it a little stronger, we have institutionalised sectarianisms. We have made it desirable, we reward those that promote it and penalise those that don’t. We get inclusion by encompassing extreme views but place no responsibility on anyone seeking election to personally have to seek to represent a wider Diaspora.

    How small does the Unionist-Nationalist veto have to get before we can drop it? If Unionists and Nationalists can have their veto why not others?

    As for opposition, and the ability to oust a party from power completely; it is a valuable to have an effective opposition and if one party drops in popularity then it is useful that they see themselves as being potentially relegated to opposition. It clarifies minds. In our system they may lose a ministry and everyone trundles along as before.

    Also when I vote I like to know what I am voting for, now when we go out to vote we know that what we will get is more spam. I can see the day coming when the number bothering to vote drops significantly.

  • Aldamir

    Two Nations,

    “Each Tribe needs to have a veto i.e. consensus rule as opposed to consent rule.”

    It depends. Each Tribe is entitled to protection of its fundamental interests, but I do not think that it is entitled to protection of its preferences.

    To think of an example, if a particular piece of legislation is supported by, say 45% of unionists, 100% of nationalists and 100% of others, and this all adds up to more than 50% of the population of Northern Ireland, is it really the case that the unionist community’s fundamental interests are at stake? After all, why would 45% vote for it if they were?

    The mutual communal veto is not a consensus building measure, it is an entrenchment of communalism at the heart of all government decisions.

    In my opinion each Tribe is entitled to constitutional entrenchment of their fundamental interests, such as cultural or educational rights, but they should not be entitled to veto all government decisions.

    There are structural ways in which fundamental interests could be protected without giving veto powers on all decisions. I would suggest a reduction of the size of the Assembly, with the creation of a Senate. The Assembly would operate on a simple majority basis, but the Senate would have the communal voting rolls, with communal veto powers, but these could be overridden by a large enough majority (eg 75%) of the Assembly. The petition of concern powers held by the current Assembly would be held by the Senate. The Senate could have some input into the selection of the executive (for example an executive needs either 50% of the Assembly + all communities in favour or 75% of the Assembly). That is just an outline suggestion, I’m sure there are all sorts of other structures available.

  • IJP

    kokane

    But also, concern about obviously beneficiary cross-border cooperation only indicates self-doubt about one’s “British” identity.

    Cross-border cooperation is a daily matter right across the continent. It doesn’t negate anyone’s national identity.

    If Unionists were to show enthusiasm about obviously beneficial links (rail, air, energy, tourism etc), they might be surprised how positive the reaction would be.

  • IJP

    Two Nations

    In just the same way as the Tories at Westminster or Fine Gael in Dáil Éireann.

    You argue your case (including on committee), you make amendments to legislation (e.g. David Ford’s on protection of the Irish Hare), and you make your case to the electorate exposing government failings (including within the system – all parties accept the current system, precisely as is, is not permanent).

  • kokane

    IJP, it must also be recognised that cross border cooperation may lead to cross border immigration – south down being a prime contender. Hence the resisitance to the proposed bridge across carlingford lough. Unionist may genuinely have reason to worry in some instances but need to be careful in how they express this.

  • Crataegus

    Kokane

    Cross border immigration can be two ways and anyway the greatest immigration is from places like Brazil and Eastern Europe.

    Please let us cooperate positively with good will where it will be to the advantage of all and issues relating to immigration are at best secondary.

    Perhaps Unionists just need to be a bit more confident in themselves?

  • kokane

    Crataegus, immigration maybe a 2 way process – but on the northern side of the border the loss of a seat to one sectarian block may mean they loose control over a ministry. I am simply pointing out that this knowledge could be a genuine basis for fear amongst the unionist community. It is also a fear difficult to speak about without being accused of being inward looking , racist etc.