Big changes in the Belfast bear-pit…

BELFAST DUP councillor Elaine McMillen was expected to quit her party to take the UUP whip tonight, although her reasoning – “because the way the party [the DUP] was going to work with Sinn Fein” – seems ludicrous, given that the Ulster Unionists paved the way for Paisley’s party. Did she go? In other City Hall business, Vicky O’Hara reports that Ulster Unionist councillor Davy Browne has suggested a Sinn Fein representative as the next Lord Mayor. Obviously, his own party wants the post in the last quarter of the council’s life, and would presumbly get SF backing, so perhaps this isn’t so much a show of generosity as much as another sectarian carve-up… but I wonder what Ms McMillen thinks of his proposal!

  • Chris Donnelly

    Gonzo

    I think Davy Browne’s statement deserves to be accepted on its own merit. It’s a fairly transparent u-turn on the stated position of all shades of unionism at local government level, which to my mind has never expressed open support for the election of a Sinn Fein councillor to a civic post.

    If it signals a shift in party policy, then that will be interesting, particularly on Councils where the UUP could work with nationalists to out-vote the DUP if and when required to secure a more representative allocation of such posts.

  • ben

    Couldn’t she save herself a stop by going straight to the Tories?

  • pondersomething

    I think Davy Browne’s statement was very positive and hopefully a sign of things to come.

    With Paisley & McGuinness in government up on the hill, there is no reason whatsoever for Unionism not to do business with constitutional republican and nationalist parties such as SF and SDLP.

    The sooner a system of fair and proportional D’Hondt style power-sharing is established at local level the better for minority communities of both stripes across the province.

    Chris – what would be your view on the Students Union at Queen’s adopting a D’Hondt style system, which would help resolve the perception of a ‘cold house’ on the part of many students from the unionist minority on campus?

  • Ginfizz

    Davy Browne’s sole motivation here is self-interest. He and his party were more than happy to exclude the DUP from the Mayoralty during the 2001-2005 council term. As for Elaine McMillen – I suspect the hand of John MacVicar and all those Shankill Mirror types who hate the DUP at play here – let’s hope she manages to get to more council meetings for her new party than for her erstwhile one – seven years and still no maiden speech!

  • Gonzo,

    Why in Gods earth is a deal between 2 opposite parties such as the UUP and SF described by you as a “sectarian carve-up”? Jesus, there will always be some people here that will never ever be satisfied. For years people in the “safe” middle-ground used to lambast the main parties for not getting it together. Now they lambast the same parties for a so-called “sectarian carve-ups”.

    I get the feeling that those within the broad Alliance-esque middle ground need to “move on” perhaps more than some of the parties that they have attacked for many years. Suddenly the middle-ground here has no more “easy targets” to use their well-exercised soundbites on.

    As for the City Council, fair play to them for making progress and breaking down a few barriers.

  • John McIlveen

    Do we know who SF want as Mayor this year?

  • Ginfizz

    John

    Tierna Cunningham or Danny Lavery seem to be the 2 names come up most regularly. Stoker wants it for the UUP. Naomi probably for herself. SDLP obviously don’t get it this year.

  • Uptodate

    Apparently Tierna Cunningham is the new Lord Mayor

  • Ginfizz

    Up

    Doubtful, given the decision wont be made until 1st June, unless Connoly House have a Tardis, I doubt even they know who the new LM is.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    They must have some kind of a Tardis because they’ve been to 2016 and they like it.

  • Ben

    Couldn’t she save herself a stop by going straight to the Tories?

    Yes, the areas she represents are full of natuaral Tories. You know, the Shankill, Glencairn, etc. ::roll::

    pondersomething

    Chris – what would be your view on the Students Union at Queen’s adopting a D’Hondt style system

    In the days when I was involved in QUB politics, I always suggested we should elect all sabbatical posts en bloc by STV, with the poll topper getting first pick, next elected second pick, etc. This is already used by some Students’ Unions (e.g. Cambridge) and unlike d’Hondt can be operated without formal political parties. And it’s more transparent and accountable to the population at large than d’Hondt.

    Ginfizz

    I suspect the hand of John MacVicar and all those Shankill Mirror types who hate the DUP at play here

    God, are the DUP still blaming the Shankill Mirror for the loss of Diane Dodds’ seat? For God’s sake, get over it – the Dodds machine failed to deliver in either North or West Belfast.

    Personally, I’d be quite happy with either Tierna or Danny getting the Mayoralty.

  • pondersomething

    Hi Sammy, your idea of STV would work fine either and would have the added benefit, as you say, of helping those of no party.

    I’d be keen to hear from any nationalist or republican student activists reading this thread as to whether they would support such a proportional system of power-distribution in institutions such as Queens SU – as part of a wider settlement dealing with power-sharing on local councils etc.

  • Valenciano

    Pondersomething, what is it about NI and D’Hondt? It’s a terrible system which completely excludes small parties and independents and needs large numbers of elected places (at least 20) in order to be any way effective. Used over the current council term for example it would completely deny the UUP the mayoralty and would lead to a DUP 2, SF 1, SDLP 1 result.

    It’s certainly not a system to be used when you have only 51 councillors and four mayoral positions to be filled. The current system seems to be working fairly well in Belfast although there are legitimate complaints to be made about other councils.

    Sammy “Yes, the areas she represents are full of natuaral Tories. You know, the Shankill, Glencairn, etc. ::roll::”

    Harsh but true. Dorothy Dunlop tried the defect to the Tories trick in Pottinger in the early 90s and it cost her her council seat. Then again, Court is hardly full of natural UUPers either!

  • Ginfizz

    Sammy

    When a seat swings on less than a hundred votes and you have a blatantly-biased local paper criticising the local MLA, totally unfairly, I think it might have a slight impact.

  • Ginfizz

    Pondersomething

    Stalford tried this one in his time and it was killed by the Senate.

  • Ginfizz

    “Court is hardly full of natural UUPers either”

    Tell that to the Shankill Mirror!

  • Ginfizz

    Hmmm. Not biased? D’ya think?

    Never! Never! Never!
    Och alright then

    By John MacVicar
    Monday March 26th will no doubt go down in the annals of history as one of enormous significance for the people of Northern Ireland. The two party leaders certainly caught the press and media on the hop as they were no doubt expecting a long drawn out battle between the two political giants.
    Once thought of as an unimaginable meeting of minds the behind the scenes meeting and subsequent press conference between Paisley and Adams took place in what appeared to be a well choreographed convivial atmosphere. Sitting at a specially constructed diamond shaped table, with no room for any under the table footsie, both leaders read carefully crafted statements with highly charged comments about reconciliation and the enormity of opportunities flowing out of agreements reached.

    Dr. Paisley in concluding his statement said, “We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future…… With hard work and a commitment to succeed I believe we can lay the foundations for a better, peaceful and prosperous future for all our people.” Gerry Adams echoing similar sentiments, said, “We are very conscious of the many people who have suffered. We owe it to them to build the best possible future….. I am pleased to say that collectively we have created the potential to build a new, harmonious and equitable relationship between nationalist and unionist”.

    Of course it was countdown, blast off as the DUP waited for the inevitable fallout from the most dramatic of U turns and it did not take long. By Tuesday afternoon Jim Allister MEP, during his resignation press conference said, “It (Paisley/Adams meeting) made my stomach churn,” adding he had lost the battle with the DUP executive and his conscience would not allow him to remain in the DUP when he totally opposed the path that had been taken, especially now as the party seemed to be abandoning the arguments on policing and disbandment of the Sinn Fein/IRA Army Council.

    Following close on the heels of this came the resignation of a number of high profile councillors opposed to the move and a vitriolic speech by Revd, William McCrea at Westminster in which he said, “Personally as far as I am concerned, Sinn Fein in a government is obnoxious to me. It makes me sick to the bottom of my stomach. I believe that Martin McGuiness was a terrorist. I believe that he was a murderer. I believe that he has blood on his hands.”

    So what now? With the full weight of both the British and Irish governments behind the DUP/Sinn Fein government in waiting, procedures are now beginning to fall into place. We can expect to see nominations for ministerial posts being confirmed by the end of this week in advance of May 8th when Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness will take their respective offices as First and Deputy First Ministers. It has recently emerged that Paisley and McGuinness jointly drafted a letter to Peter Hain effectively giving him notice to quit from his baronial office at Stormont Castle.

    So what was the reaction of people on the Shankill? Bewilderment probably sums up the feeling of most; some are resigned to the fact of devolved government involving Paisley and Sinn Fein. A lack of understanding, a frustration about not being told what was happening to the fact that some felt duped into voting for the DUP thinking they were going to keep Sinn Fein out of government. One long standing DUP voter said, “On Monday (March 26th) the DUP joined hands with an unrepentant terrorist organisation and has agreed to work with people they have always said were members of the IRA Army Council.”

    Once the media hyped euphoria abates and there is some sobering reflection on the future people will begin questioning positions on issues like water charges, educational under achievement, academic selection, major infrastructural deficiencies, investment in long term jobs, an overstretched and unerfunded Health Service and empty desks in our crumbling schools, just to mention a few. On top of all these questions no doubt some will ask the question, why could this not have happened in 1974 under Brian Faulkner’s watch and potentially saved thousands of innocent lives?

  • OK, Ginfizz, it’s not exactly the Protestant Telegraph but local papers tend, you know, to criticise local politicians (the A’town News excepted). That’s their job.

    The fact is the Dodds family failed to deliver. There are ways of getting your vote out and blaring flute music from a truck is not one of the more effective ones. Diane lost because she hadn’t developed the sort of infrastructure she needed to get her vote out, while SF on the other side of the peaceline did.

    Nigel failed to deliver three seats in North Belfast – his vote was down and the vote mangement was absolutely awful. In a way that was entirely predictable given that Nigel took the entire Shore Road from Tiger’s Bay to Rathcoole. Not clever. You can’t blame all of this on the Shankill Mirror or John ‘loadsavotes’ MacVicar. You seem to ascribe almost magical powers to a tuppence-ha’penny local rag editor!

    As for Elaine McMillen, she has just said goodbye to her political career, not that she had much of a one to begin with!

  • Ginfizz

    Sammy

    Yes I understand that local rags should criticise local cllrs, but in this case it was unmerited, vicious criticism because the ppl writing the paper don’t like a certain political party.

  • Ziznivy

    “because the way the party [the DUP] was going to work with Sinn Fein”

    Maybe it was the dishonesty and hypocrisy she objected to?

  • Michael Shilliday

    Pondersomething,

    I think that Sammy’s idea for QUB came up again this year. It’s not quite the worst idea in the history of ideas, but Baldrick would be proud anyway. It wouldn’t increase interest in the elections, it would largely destroy accountability and it would totally destroy any kind of shared future ideas in the SRC and elections.

  • I think that Sammy’s idea for QUB came up again this year. It’s not quite the worst idea in the history of ideas, but Baldrick would be proud anyway.

    Oh, you are such a wit, Michael!

    it would largely destroy accountability and it would totally destroy any kind of shared future ideas in the SRC and elections.

    A system where people are openly and democratically elected would destroy accountability, but a Stormont-style ‘shared future’ where parties would cut deals behind closed doors would be? Just explain to me how that’s supposed to work?

  • Michael Shilliday

    So someone really wants to be VP Education and has all the skills availaible, yet can’t pitch a campaign at it as they have no guarentee at all that even if they win they’re get the post they want? Removing the rights of the student electorate to match a person with a portfolio is just wrong. Also, nothing was cut up between people this year, all four parties stood candidates in at least one of the elections, and some had more candidates that others, but there was no carve up.

  • pondersomething

    It wouldn’t increase interest in the elections, it would largely destroy accountability and it would totally destroy any kind of shared future ideas in the SRC and elections.

    Ummmm… “Power Sharing Destroys Shared Future” ???

    Care to expand on your thinking here Michael?

  • pondersomething

    So someone really wants to be VP Education and has all the skills availaible, yet can’t pitch a campaign at it as they have no guarentee at all that even if they win they’re get the post they want? Removing the rights of the student electorate to match a person with a portfolio is just wrong.

    That is actually a reasonable argument against it – but surely part of the problem in Queen’s is you could have a really dedicated skilled Unionist candidate standing and he’s almost always doomed to defeat, faced as he is by the inbuilt nationalist/republican majority in the electorate?

    (And ditto say with nationalists standing in majority unionist electorates)

  • Michael Shilliday

    So because Unionists aren’t doing so well we’ll change the rules? That’s not a particularly good argument. Unionist representation will increase at QUB in the next few years, and not by altering the system.

  • fair_deal

    SM

    The reasons for failure in West and North are fundamentally different.

    In West

    The fundamental reason for the loss of the West seat was not working the registers. When 55% of those your constituency service have helped can’t vote much of your work will go unrewarded.

    As regards the Shankill Mirror, it is the main means of communication in Loyalist West Belfast Blaming it for defeat is too strong but criticising for not helping turnout even discouraging it, is legtimate.

    The edition before the election had a front page editorial that was so depressing it should have been sponsored by Stena and apart from the ads you would have been barely been aware there was an election on. Granted it looks worse when contrasted with the Andytown News which reminded its West Belfast readership in big bold letters that Every Vote is Vital – its front page was basically a repetition of SF’s voter mobilisation posters.

    Criticism in a local paper is fine but the cyncial adoption of a damn you if you do and damn you if you don’t editorial stance is petty.

    In North

    In North Belfast it was not as simple as the register although it is an issue that still needs to be addressed.
    1. The calculation was the Dodds name was needed to attract in that extra few percent that would guarantee the third seat particualrly as they lacked an identifiable Rathcoole candidate. It simply didn’t work. It wasn’t greed rather but considered to have a greater chance of success than a strict vote management approach (which I personally would have went with). The figures from the last two Assembly elections make the position clear. Dodds can mobilise the extra voters out at a Westminster election but can’t carry it over to an Assembly election (similarly for the DUP in East Belfast).
    2. It was the first time serious vote management was tried in North. It takes time to educate voters and the disparate nature of North belfast does not ease the education process. The 2nd and 3rd candidates both fell short of their minimum target of votes – one hit 85% of the projected target the second hit 75% so the education was not entirely successful. At these success rates a strict three way split would not have guaranteed success. Dodds would probably have been just short or shy of a quota, and a large enough gap between the 2nd and 3rd candidate for Cobain to slip in.
    3. The lack of a geographical spread of candidates didn’t help.
    4. In terms of organisation the constituency was essential in two tight races, trying to win a seat in North and keep the seat in West. Things got spread too thinly.
    5. The usual problem of the DUP not attracting transfers doesn’t aid the cause either.

  • pondersomething

    So because Unionists aren’t doing so well we’ll change the rules?

    If you go up the thread you’ll see that’s not where I was coming from at all. I was supporting the UUP decision to back Sinn Fein for Belfast Lord Mayor, and expressing the hope that this might lead to a system of power-sharing rolled out across local government around the province.

    I chose Queen’s SU as an example of somewhere where there is actually an entrenched power-structure the other way – i.e. republicans and nationalists almost always win the key contests for the simple reason that republicans and nationalists constitute the majority of the student electorate.

    I wished to challenge young SF and SDLP people as to whether – alongside their justified call for power-sharing in places like Ballymena east of the Bann, they might be willing to countenance it in one of their own bastions – i.e. QUB SU.

    It is not about one side merely “not happening to do well” at any particular election. This is what politics may look like elsewhere, but not here with our entrenched divide, where by far the single greatest determinant of whether you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B is whether you belong to Tribe A or Tribe B.

    Yet to see a nationalist on this thread respond to the idea of power-sharing in student unions and i’d be interested to read what they might think.

  • IJP

    pondersomething makes a reasonable point.

    The nature of sectarian politics is that the sectional parties seek gains for their own side. That those countenancing “majority rule” are being “fair” when its in their own side’s interests, yet “anti-equality” when it’s in the other side’s, is pretty standard practice.

    There’s an obvious example of Unionists imposing “majority rule”. The Derry name change debate is a classic example of Nationalists trying to impose “majority rule”.

    Another way in which those who promote sectional politics are in fact the same, regardless of whence they come.

  • Michael S

    So someone really wants to be VP Education and has all the skills availaible, yet can’t pitch a campaign at it as they have no guarentee at all that even if they win they’re get the post they want?

    If they top the poll they get their pick of portfolios.

    Duh!

    Removing the rights of the student electorate to match a person with a portfolio is just wrong.

    Removing the rights of significant minorities of the student electorate – like, you know, Unionists; or capitalists; or members of the Drama Society – to be represented in the Exeuctive is equally ‘wrong’. No electoral system is perfect, all seek to balance conflicting rights and wrongs. In my view electing the Exec en bloc is much more democratic than either domination by one section of the community or deals carved up behind closed doors.

    Also, nothing was cut up between people this year, all four parties stood candidates in at least one of the elections, and some had more candidates that others, but there was no carve up.

    I never suggested there was – but what exactly did you mean by ‘shared future’ ideas?

    pondersomething

    Some Unionist candidates do manage to break through just by being better at their job. Mark McLean did it in my day. But it’s sadly rare. SU politics ought to be more about electing the best person for the job, but it isn’t.

    FD

    Of course Dodds was always going to outpoll the other candidates even in an even split, which makes the decision to go for an uneven split in his favour even less explicable.

    In East, Robinson delivered a third seat, which in the end was quite narrowly won ahead of Michael Copeland, only because his vote balancing was better than in North. Dodds didn’t deliver the goods in North despite a credible ticket with Humphrey and McCausland. Here’s a thought – the Shinners don’t go for an even five-way split in West Belfast; Adams (I think) only gets Whiterock ward. But then, you know all that anyway. Some of your colleagues in the DUP obviously don’t. There are Dodds votes and there are DUP votes just as there are Adams votes and SF votes. You ought to be able to take this into account.

    I accept Rathcoole and the surrounding estates are rather odd – other than Mark Langhammer they haven’t produced a politician of any significance in my memory. Unless you count Tommy Kirkham, which I don’t.

  • fair_deal

    SM

    “There are Dodds votes and there are DUP votes”

    I think the strong correlation between the DUP’s Local Government and Assembly elections undermine the argument for a Dodds factor in these elections. The numbers suggest it is primarily a Westminster vote.

  • The bulk of the difference is made up by ‘Other Unionist’ voters – why can Dodds get their vote in a Westminster election but the DUP not even get their transfers in Assembly elections?

  • fair_deal

    SM

    Yes it is and if the DUP find the answer to that they will have three full quotas. There seems to be something of a dual mindset among Unionist voters of who they support going to Westminster and how they act for ‘local’ elections whether council or assembly. Part of the answer is probably the difference in systems FPP v STV and unlike Westminster it isn’t a clear-cut DUP v SF battle.

    There was also a bit of McCord effect in this election – not a large one but with tight margins here enough.

  • qubveteran

    Sammy

    Unfortunately, unionists being capable has nothing to do with them being elected to the Student Union Executive. I’m not denying McLean’s clear ability but he got in because he got on with and had the support of the nationalist clique and had isolated himself from the unionist representatives at the time. There are many other examples of able unionists who were as capable, if not more so, than their nationalist opponents but the system excluded them – Nigel Hamilton for example gained the most first preference votes when he ran for President but was excluded from the Executive.

    This row has gone on for years and the proposal of some form of sharing out the Exec posts is not new. In the elections of 1999, unionists took a conscious decision to run for all five Exec posts (the first time this had been done in years)in order to exploit the hypocrisy of nationalists who were fully supportive of d’hondt to share out roles in the Assembly and councils but would not countenance any variation of it for QUB SU. There were two unionists in the top five highest vote scorers after the elections for all five Exec elections were concluded but an Executive of five nationalist/ republicans was rturned. Almost ten years later nothing has changed and it really is time, particularly in the light of the political context, that the Student Union resolved the problem.