“a triumph of top-down politics”?

There have already been a few attempts at considering what, if any, lessons there are to be learned from the “indigenous” deal that could be applied elsewhere [Too soon to say? – Ed], but Adrian Hamilton in The Independent does make an important point

The majority of the population certainly wanted peace, but they do not appear to have sought reconciliation. Their demand for an end to civil strife played its part in propelling events. But, in essence, the restoration of power sharing has been a triumph of top-down politics, not bottom-up social change.

It’s an observation with echoes of the “deeply fractured society” that Peter Shirlow described previously, and Eric Waugh’s warning for “the new dual regime”, whilst placing it in an historical context, is worth looking at – although the ‘tops’ already appear to be a little uncertain of their footing. The question to be answered in the time ahead, though, is whether the latest political arrangement can avoid being infected either by the stench of the Faustian pact at the heart of that top-down Process™.. or by the poisonous foundations it’s been placed down on.

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  • protorious

    The top-down element of the current deal does annoy me greatly.

    For someone who remembers, with great frustration, the DUP’s deliberate wrecking of the Good Friday agreement by manipulating the anti-IRA sentiment to further their own political power it is very hard to swallow the idea that the current deal is a moment of grand peace. After all, was it not Paisley who was accusing the UUP of selling out by sitting with nationalists when now he is fully willing to do it?

    But of course he has abandoned this now because Paisley is satisified, not the voter or the people on the street, rather Paisley. The DUP seems to occupy a bizarre world where Paisleys own sense of satisfaction with the peace process defines what is the right thing to do at the time…

    Ah, most of that bitter rambling can probably be ripped apart but I’m going to throw it out there anyway

  • Jeremy

    I would disagree with Adrian Hamilton. I think this process has been charachterised by a slow pace designed to ensure the grass roots of all sections were brought along. Each leadership are very reflective of where the majority of their supporters are at. If you only look at the most obvious markers – segregated communities etc then I think thats a mistake. Social change will happen in ones and twos and its effects will probably take a while to be seen. I do think thought that we have a see-saw effect. The people allow the leadership to make changes and those leadership initaives allow in turn the social dynamic to evolve. One cant move without the other but significant movement in one allows greater change in the other. The DUP/SF have changed the context and its now we’ll hopefully see social change.

  • USA

    Don’t feel bad at all. I think your observations are on the money. To my mind Paisley has become increasingly erratic (if that is possible). Firsthe “flip flopped” on the “terrorists in government” platform. Then some time ago 12 DUP MLA’s made a statement in direct contradiction to Paisley’s position. Paisley then went on to flip flop for two days, telling the public one thing, the governments another with his party members adopting a third.
    More recently Paisley stated clearly that he would not be attending the Pantomime that was the restoration of devolution, and yet on the day pictures showed him happy as a pig in the proverbial.
    Hatter…Mad ?

  • GavBelfast

    Paisley and, by extension, his party, only ever wanted to be Top Dog.

    McGuinness, Adams and Sinn Fein are indulging him, and are probably happy to do so because Paisley and the DUP by their actions (though not theirs alone) since 1998 helped them to become top-dogs (in their community), too.

    That said, I still hope it all works and works well for all of us, though I’ve do doubt that the majority of DUP and SF supporters still hate each other and have contempt for each others views, and that is still probably replicated within the parties, whatever the public shows.

  • merrie

    During the Troubles the Republicans were fighting to get the Brits out and to have a United Ireland.
    The Loyalists were fighting a sectarian war and not to have a United Ireland.

    SF has agreed to have a power sharing government in NI because it is a temporary step towards a United Ireland, and by being part of the government the unionists have to acknowledge their existence as equals. No more DUP politicians deliberately ignoring and turning their backs on them.

    Paisley says he agreed to power-sharing in order to save the Union. The real reason is that the other options on offer were even more dire for unionists. In short, he did not have much choice.

    I don’t know yet how the power-sharing is going to be. Hopefully we won’t have Paisley having hissy fits (as Trimble did), returning to direct rule whenever the DUP felt it was not getting its way.

    So just as the Troubles were fought for different, non-parallel, reasons by each side, power-sharing is accepted by them for different reasons.

    Who do you think got the better deal?

  • Hmm…

    Why is it an either/or? As Jeremy notes, the elites largely brought their grassroots with them and, equally, the top-down deal creates the conditions where social change may be possible. In an ideal world things would no doubt be done differently, but the problem of politics, is how to get there from here, i.e. when we can’t choose our starting point.

    I can sympathise with Protorius’ frustration, but I don’t buy the view that Paisley (or others) is solely motivated by the desire for power – I’d imagine his attempts to wreck the agreement were entirely sincere (however misguided) and his change of heart has been the product of a growing realisation that there was no real alternative. Naturally, he believes that he should be the one in the First minister’s seat rather than Reg Empey, but presumably all politicians genuinely believe that they can do a better job than anyone else (even when the others have pinched all their policies). We’ll be a long time waiting if we’re expecting politicians who don’t want more power to come along…

  • English

    Northern Ireland politics is just so boring, after the honeymoon period it will undoubtedly be constant bickering in the Assembly. They must make it work however, and judging by the smiles I think that the politicians will try to do so, either that or Paisley is thinking of his 140K salary! The fact that someone as mad as him can be leading Northern Ireland just about sums up how crazy the place is. Thank God I now live in the Republic, which is socially, culturally and economically streets ahead of the north.

  • Aquifer

    Provisionalism and Paisleyism were two political pyramid selling schemes that were never going to pay out. So they have settled for salaries for sitting in a box marked ‘I promise to behave’.

    They get the payoff, we get the little bit of governance that sits between the welfare state, EU directives, and global capitalism’s passing fancies.

    Better still, we get to see how good or bad the ministers are, and whether any of them were worth one of those thousands of lives.

    And lets never pretend the DUP were lily white, their non-violence was always provisional.

  • The reality for both Paisleyism and republicanism was that they could not expand until they had modified to appeal to the centre, that is, until they had recognised that the majority of people did not buy their analysis, their prescription or their methods. That being the case, the will of the people did impinge strongly on both of them. It wasn’t a popular taste for conflict that changed; that was never hot enough to want war. What changed was the political direction of those crackpots, the republican movement and the dup who had been misreading the popular will for nearly thirty years.
    Another daft analysis is the one that says Blair’s patience triumphed. The DUP and SF triumphed, in that they managed to prolong the peace process until the sectarian tensions they created lifted them to the top of their respective community piles.

    The peace process was the first political context in which sectarianism could produce real political growth.

    SF was able to save its two best cards for Paisley and let Trimble flap in the wind and begging for decommissioning but not even daring to ask for a commitment to policing.
    SF held out for a Unionist partner who could hold the whole unionist community together, Paisley, because no one forced them to settle earlier, for the good of the whole society. Paisley, similarly, was able to agitate and erode the centre, for no other purpose than to occupy it himself.

    Both made an ass of Blair who now tries to pass off their victories as heroic accomplishments of his own!

    But the hollow echo you hear is the death rattle of the ideologies that these power grabbers claimed was their prevailing motivation. We are better off with the extremes coming into the centre, but what about the poor saps who took these people seriously when they said it was entirely different outcomes they were working for?

    And surely the history of the troubles has to be read with the benefit of the understanding that the demogogues were just ordinary old fashioned political dealers under all that bombast?

    And is no one but me feeling queasy at the sight of Martin McGuinness fawning over Paisley like a wee boy hugging his granda’s knee? Had he fought to be loved by a big cuddly prod?

  • merrie

    >> Had he fought to be loved by a big cuddly prod?<< In one sense he did (though the thought of IP being cuddly makes me cringe...). One of the things Republicans wanted was to have unionists accept them as equals, not as beings to be houstrained.

  • Gerry Kelly

    This is a British solution to a British problem. Paisley could have been neutered a long time ago by arresting him, roughing him and his wife up, a spot of shoot to kill and the normal fare the British gave the Catholics. Kincora ando ther scandals his men were involved in should have pulled him down. But he was the Brits’ puppet. The Provos? Look at them now. Bris 1, humanity 0.

  • It has been quite fascinating over the past week to observe that the people who are seemingly most uncomfortable at this deal are the so-called “middle-ground” of NI society. ie those people who, for years, were able to comfortably sit back and lambast the “extremes” on either side and their failure to compromise for the good of our society.

    Now that this has finally happened, this “middle-ground” seem totally lost and directionless. For years the “extremes” allowed the cenrre-ground to never have to state what they actually believed in. Rather the “extremes” allowed these people to hide away behind soundbites and facile condemnations of various “extremist” actions.

    I do not believe that SF or the DUP have weakened in any way on their core beliefs. (and why should they?). They have simply done a deal which suits them both at this juncture in time.

    The DUP believe that this is the best way of securing the Union. SF regard this as a significant stepping stone on the way to securing some form of Irish unity. They will continue to greatly improve their electoral mandate in The South and to attempt to secure power on both sides of the Border, thus greatly enhancing the prospects of some form of Irish Unity at some time in the future).

    The middle-ground’s fundamental problem is their refusal to accept that both Unionism and Nationalism are legitimate aspirations which parties are fully entitled to pursue in a democracy. This was,after all, the basic principle of The Good Friday Agreement. It is not the so-called “extremes” who have been left behind in the new political climate, rather it is the so-called centreist fence-sitters who have been left isolated and without any tangible means of expressing their identity and political convictions (whatever those happen to be…).

  • GavBelfast

    Macswiney, that’s a mixture of Year-Zero mentality, confused thinking and just plain tripe.

    “They have simply done a deal which suits them both at this juncture in time.” I will agree with you on that.

    And what about everyone else, including well over 1/3 of the adult population who don’t vote? SF and the DUP have over 3/5 of the seats, but barely 1/3 in total of eligible voters elected them.

    An awful lot of people have viewed this week’s events, and indeed a lot of what has happened since St Andrews with astonishment, but the same people now just want them all to get on with it – honouring their pledge of office.

    Meanwhile, alleged DUP and SF supporters still populate the phone-ins, letters columns and occasionally these pages to show that they feel that their parties have signed-up to completely different things, and the views these supporters espouse still indicate hatred and contempt for the other. That would vindicate the Top-Down theory (and the DUP’s pre-election position was absolutely ambiguous anyway).

    It was plainly all to get to be Top Dog, and power dividing, not power sharing.

    Incidentally, McGimspey, Empey and Ritchie must feel like the other woman in the Cabinet, though any sympathy for their position is tempered by their refusal to go into Opposition, they can’t have it both ways.

  • lib2016


    Isn’t it fun to watch the self described ‘moderates’ get all hot and bothered because peace breaks out? Even funnier to see others complain because we may actually have peaceful disagreements – what on earth do they think real politics are about?

    Politics isn’t supposed to be about reaching some boring concensus but about settling genuine disagreements. That’s whats wrong with politics in Britain and elsewhere and why people are turning off democratic methods. It’s a dangerous misunderstanding to think we all have to reach the same conclusion on every subject.

  • merrie

    lib2016: >> It’s a dangerous misunderstanding to think we all have to reach the same conclusion on every subject<< If you are living in NI you are in the right place for disagreements on nearly all subjects.

  • lib2016

    Wouldn’t argue with that!

  • Smithsonian

    lib2016 & merrie
    Do you have a sense of irony?
    It’s a dangerous misunderstanding to think we all have to reach the same conclusion on every subject What do you disagree on? Happy trolling!


  • merrie

    Relevant article in today’s London Telegraph by Jenny McCartney “Not everyone in Belfast is laughing”:


  • merrie

    And another link, this time a really thoughtful article from The Canberra Times (in Australia in case you don’t know…):


    Link thanks to nuzhound.

  • I Wonder

    Typical sour bilious Telegraph right wing begrudgery.

    Had it been Maggie wot dun it, the tone might have been somewhat different…?