DUP dog barks in the middle of the day…

Sherlock Holmes fan Alex Kane examines once again the case of the dog that barked in the night time, or rather, most famously, didn’t… He believes theDUP is deplying the Rev William McCrea to calm the nerves of the party’s hard line followers who, he believes, “are not convinced, because the DUP is now asking them to believe that a bit of tinkering with the Belfast Agreement, that “treacherous and one-way-ticket to a United Ireland,” means that a Unionist utopia is presently under construction (without a provision for republican shrines).”By Alex Kane

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“Yes, to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

So, viewed from that perspective, what are we to make of the curious incident of the Rev William McCrea’s unexpected bark, published in the News Letter on July 18th, when he called upon people to “celebrate our victory over the IRA”? Was it a Road to Damascus moment; was it a mea culpa; was it a statement of the “bleedin’ obvious” for some slow learners in the DUP; was it a rhetorical flourish to justify DUP participation in what appears to be a remarkably cosy relationship with Sinn Fein? Or, to be utterly cynical, was it merely the DUP deploying one of its most hardline figures to flag up an official and ongoing softening-up of their traditional stance on both Sinn Fein and the IRA?

I only ask, because McCrea’s analysis dovetails very neatly into an opinion I have been expressing for a number of years in this column: namely, that Sinn Fein’s day “isn’t coming after all,” that the IRA “didn’t spend thirty-five years on a terror campaign merely to put former and existing members into a partitionist government,” and that the only new danger to the Union will be from “the blindness or stupidity of unionists themselves,”—particularly those who now seek to engage with Sinn Fein’s Unionist Outreach project.

It simply strikes me as very “curious” that the Rev McCrea should choose this moment (no doubt sanctioned by DUP HQ) to agree with the opinions of an unabashed and unapologetic Ulster Unionist. And judging from the letters, texts and e-mails to this newspaper, along with private conversations I have had with DUP members and supporters, I am not the only one who is surprised by this latest manifestation of what can only be described as New DUP. Let’s be honest, short of hoisting the Tricolour outside the First Minister’s home, there’s not much more that the DUP could do to make Sinn Fein feel comfortable!

But when all is said and done, the Rev McCrea is absolutely right; the IRA has been defeated. Let me give you some quotes from the IRA’s General Army Orders. “No member of the IRA may be a member of a political party which recognises the partition institutions of government as sovereign authorities for the Irish people.” “A Volunteer shall not swear or pledge himself/herself in any way to refrain from using arms or other methods of struggle to overthrown British rule in Ireland.” “Participation in Stormont or Westminster and in any other subservient parliament, if any, is strictly prohibited.” “The IRA will…support the establishment of, and uphold, a lawful government in sole and absolute control of the Republic (of all Ireland).”

I don’t actually know why it took the DUP so long to recognise that fact, when it has been palpably apparent since that moment, in 1996, when Sinn Fein joined the Forum and accepted that all future negotiations would involve and require formal changes to the IRA’s constitution and General Army Convention. But as soon as the DUP and Sinn Fein became co-equals in government it was inevitable that the DUP would have to find some means of justifying their new relationship. A bit of bluster from someone like William McCrea must have seemed a good idea at the time; particularly if it could be pulled off when the Assembly was in recess and great swathes of unionism were holidaying abroad!

What has become clear, though, is that elements within the DUP, within the Free Presbyterian Church and within their long-time core vote, are not convinced by news of supposed victories and suspected conversions. They are not convinced, because the DUP in general and Ian Paisley in particular has spent the past thirty-five years telling them that successive British governments were a bunch of spineless softies who did nothing but appease the IRA. And they are not convinced, because the DUP is now asking them to believe that a bit of tinkering with the Belfast Agreement, that “treacherous and one-way-ticket to a United Ireland,” means that a Unionist utopia is presently under construction (without a provision for republican shrines).

It would be wrong, however, to assume that the DUP will nosedive into some sort of internal or electoral meltdown. While they are obviously preparing the ground and flying kites for further shifts of stance, I would be surprised if they didn’t remain a united party. Local media and business consensus is broadly supportive, along with that of national and international opinion. And I don’t detect any great anti-power-sharing rebellion anywhere; not least because most unionists, even if reluctantly, accept that there isn’t a viable or available alternative to the present set-up.

It will be interesting to see what Jim Allister chooses to do. I would be surprised if he didn’t opt to defend his Euro seat in 2009 as an independent; and there are rumours in the undergrowth that he may try and cobble together a team of candidates for a General Election expected in 2008. But again, I suspect that the days of independent unionists are long gone. Meaning, of course, that the ongoing downward trend of the overall pro-Union vote will continue; an issue that has concerned me for many years, now.

Anyway, back to the Rev McCrea. However he and New DUP Central may try and spin his analysis, the fact remains that he, and they, have radically overhauled their thinking and embraced the political landscape fashioned by the UUP, SDLP and Sinn Fein itself, in 1998. Welcome aboard guys, albeit very belatedly. And how about an equally belated apology to those poor suckers who voted for you in the expectation that you would give them something entirely different? Or maybe, just maybe, an apology to those of us you condemned for predicting that this is exactly what you would do if you got into the driving seat!

First published in the Newsletter on 30th July 2007

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  • unionist

    Absolutely agree with everything that has been written here.

    The DUP’s fundamental change of policy is very stark. They attempted to destroy the Ulster Unionist Party for going into government with Sinn Fein in 1999, they harp on about the UUP selling us down the river etc etc. As soon as they become the number one unionist party (which was always the most important thing to them) they do the same! It very schoolboyish, but it’s worked.

    What angers me as a unionist is the fact that had the DUP supported the UUP from 1996 onwards, the unionist position as a whole would have been far stronger. Instead they disengaged and progressively weakened the UUP from the sidelines, for years. This weaker UUP then made a number of mistakes (like trusting the British government), they were, afterall, trailblazing a very new process.

    It is my very strong opinion that all the DUP have managed to do over the past 11 years is delay political progress and strengthen Sinn Fein (we will ‘smash Sinn Fein), which is certainly very much in their favour….(counter one extreme with another).

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    that the only new danger to the Union will be from “the blindness or stupidity of unionists themselves,”—particularly those who now seek to engage with Sinn Fein’s Unionist Outreach project.

    The unionists who would heed this ‘warning’ from Alex Kane would be the really stupid and blind ones. Perhaps that’s why the likes of Alex Kane are wandering in the desert.

    Not engaging with republicans, when republicans are the largest political movement apart from unionism would be as stupid as republicans not engaging with unionists – even more so. This makes it clear that the lessons of history haven’t been learned by Alex Kane – the years of unionist repression and misrule, 1921-1972, would be repeated again by this false prophet. I have no time for the DUP and Willie McCrea, the man who stands on the back of lorries with loyalist killers and then claims he can’t abide sitting down with ‘terrorists’ (now he thinks the IRA, whose political wing is in government with his colleageus) but the Luddites like Alex Kane and the Ulster Unionist backwards men like David McNarry are true dinosaurs. Now they want to be in opposition and in government at the same time – see BBC story here – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6927017.stm. Headline should read: Dinosaurs to discuss extinction move

  • Ginfizz

    General UUP whinge that we’ve heard ad naseum since the DUP became the largest party. Also it’s fairly defeatist in tone – Unionist turn out is going to contnue to drop….we’re doooomed!

    Nothing new here.

  • DC

    Hear, Hear.

  • Alex. Kane

    Oilibhear,

    Just to clarify one point.

    I have no difficulty in engaging in day-to-day policy/government issues with Sinn Fein. Indeed, I have been advocating it for years.

    But I do have very severe reservations when it comes to formally engaging with Sinn Fein’s “Unionist Outreach” Project. The new, agreed Ireland is here already, endorsed North and South in referenda in May 1998. That’s the new political dispensation in Northern Ireland and I can live with it. I really don’t want to encourage unionists, of any hue, to start talking to Sinn Fein about building some other sort of “agreed Ireland.”

    As for opposition, I have always been in favour of it. I wrote an “Opposition Options” paper in December 1999, in which I argued that accountability (collective and ministerial), democracy, and genuine choice for the electorate were missing from the original Agreement and needed, as soon as possible, to be included. I wanted to see an official, funded, recognised and effective opposition built into the system.

    That remains my view and I hope that the Assembly parties, collectively (and legislative change will require a collective decision) will make the necessary changes before 2011.

    I do agree with you, though, when you say that it would be impossible to be in opposition and in the Executive at the same time. Some people claim that it’s what the DUP did between 1999 and 2003, but that is not the case.

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • DC

    “that the only new danger to the Union will be from “the blindness or stupidity of unionists themselves,”

    The danger to the Union in Unionist terms has already happened and ultimately brought about by dunderheaded Unionists.

    1) The removal of PR shortly after the conception of NI Parliament back in the 20’s.

    2) Internment

    3) Undue hysteria over civil rights, access to housing and voting arrangements.

    4) Triumphalism

    5) Inflated loyalism and Britishness to the point of parody.

    6) Army involvement and more Army involvement.

    7) The Troubles culminating in the signing of the GFA because of Unionist domination and exclusion of non-unionist aligned groups.

    Ergo – “Not engaging with republicans, when republicans are the largest political movement apart from unionism would be as stupid as republicans not engaging with unionists – even more so. This makes it clear that the lessons of history haven’t been learned by Alex Kane – the years of unionist repression and misrule, 1921-1972”

    Correct!

    Finally, the Union has changed and will never be the same again. End of. Therefore, Unionist paties, I feel, can no longer reflect the true political nature of a now transformed political landscape. Neither UUP nor DUP.

    ‘It’s Northern Ireland Jim but not as the Unionists know it.’

  • Alex Kane

    DC:

    I don’t disagree with your contention that Unionism 1921-1972 behaved in enormously insensitive and self-defeating ways.

    Some of us have known, since the days of Sunningdale, that the price for devolution was power-sharing; and I have had no difficulty with that (particularly when I realised that integration was a non-runner).

    And nor have I any difficulty in engaging and co-operating with SF in the “new” NI.

    But I really don’t believe that unionists need to “engage” on the topic of another version of an “agreed Ireland.”

    I have read your web site and know that you come at all of this from an entirely different perspective. If, as you contend, neither the DUP or UUP can “reflect” the new political landscape; then who, in your opinion, can reflect pro-Union opinion?

    Best wishes,

    Alex

  • DC

    2009 Alex, 2009.

  • Alex Kane

    DC,

    I’m not sure what your reply means:

    Euro elections, by any chance?

    Super Council elections?

    General Election?

    Or are you just an old tease!

    Alex.

  • darth rumsfeld

    yes all very well Alex, but two thumping great problems for the UUP before they move into “opposition”.

    Firstly, what’s gonna be the excuse for such a fundamental volte face? McNasty complains about the stitch up excluding your party…er.. totally unlike the stitch up that excluded the DUP in the last executive, or the one that would happen in the unlikely event the UUP were top dogs again.There is no apparent point of principle which could emerge to justify self exclusion, and your voters don’t like it anyway- rememember Molyneaux and Smyth boycotting the 1982 assembly?

    Secondly – it’s not really opposition in any event. Your party support the concept and structures- have done since 1998, in the face of all the criticisms they now adopt and then rejected. The only opposition is to the specific bums on the ministerial seats. The policy differences between the parties on economic issues are miniscule- you have no alternative vision( nor does any of the parties of course- just voter pleasing mush).

    Opposition seeks to replace the government- but the UUP just wants the DUP’s places in government- along with permanent coalition partners SF and their veto. To hear McNasty extolling the possibility of a voluntary coalition in the future is as disingenuous as when Peter Punt does so. Opposition here just means self-exclusion, carping from the sidelines that you could do better if the electorate gave you a chance when..er you walked away from the chamce the electorate gave you in March!

    You’re not offering anything different to the electorate who have looked at 2 defeatist Unionist parties, and concluded one has the more competent micro-managers. What an indictment of the once great UUP that Plug Poots and Arlene Foster are regarded as superior technocrats to your own crop of..er.. talent!!! You can bet the SF strategy is to freeze you out and promote the DUP as the voice of Unionism so long as the current love in remains viable, until the day they decide to bring the house of cards down-delayed indefinitely following the republic’s election debacle

  • graduate

    Interesting piece today in the Newsletter about the so-called “15 committee” who are gearing up to oppose the DUP for abandoning their 36 year-old stance. They’re so sure the electorate will back them that they’re refusing to be named in the media. They’re also forming a new party in September, apparently. Bet the 6 dinosaurs from Ballymena are joining up, though rumour has it that some of the DUP dissidents are having second thoughts.
    Further to Alex’s piece- on this I agree with a lot of what he says and reckon that the public are WAY ahead of some of our politicians. However, if DUP don’t get off their bums and say WHY Assembly is a good thing they will have internal trouble, most ordinary people are willing to give it a go, but many grassroots members and councillors aren’t so happy. There may be trouble ahead because that’s exactly what happenend the UUP, they didin’t sell GFA and were vulnerable to DUP sniping. DUP in a much stronger position and can’t afford to lose it. Unionism has won war, we have to win peace now

  • guillame

    graduate,
    “unionism has won war,we have to win peace now”

    Last time I checked the score was 26-6 for republicanism,and the ruling body is willing to divide those six depending on the scorers passport.

  • Alex Kane

    Darth,

    Yes, I understand what you are saying about opposition and I suspect you may be right about SF being content to “freeze out” the UUP. And, let’s face it, for the opposition option to get off the ground it needs the nod from DUP, SF, UUP, SDLP and Alliance. For differing reasons both the DUP and SF may refuse to endorse it in the near future: although they may find common ground in their unwillingness to throw either the UUP or SDLP a lifeline.

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • I agree with Alex as regards pandering to SF’s agenda. Day to day work within the institutions is very much different from indulging their plans for culturally carving up the province. Of course fetishising difference is much less of a problem for the DUP.

    Opposition is a fair enough idea but it won’t get off the ground. Other parties won’t follow the UUP out of government. Expecting the DUP to be left in a government coalition with SF is simply naïve grasping at straws,

    I would like to know why there is no concerted attack from the UUP leadership regarding the DUP’s recent attacks on HM government and the prime minister of the UK suggesting that they are responsible for Northern Ireland’s economic problems rather than republicans? Similarly comments referring to Mr Brown as “the enemy” and central government ministers as “squatters”. I know “Simply British” left as bad taste in UUP mouths, but surely some kind of attack on the true unionist, rather than Ulster nationalist, credentials of the DUP can be launched?

  • Alex Kane

    Ziznivy,

    As it stands the UUP couldn’t walk out of government and into opposition—for there is no such thing as “an Opposition” under the present set-up. It would require legislative change and all-party agreement and that, in that appalling phrase, would be “an awfully big ask” in the near future.

    That said, it is worth considering.

    Alex.

  • inuit_g

    I think opposition would be a terrible idea in current circumstances – it would be seen as opposing power-sharing itself, not least because many of the people behind it are the hardline rump in our party who have never accepted sharing power with republicans.

    There might be a case of doing something like a joint opposition with the SDLP in 18 months or 2 years or so, so long as it was underpinned by a crystal clear commitment to power-sharing with whoever nationalists vote for, including SF.

    But in current circumstances having spent 10 years campaigning in 1998 (twice), 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007 – ten years of working hard to get the Agreement up and running and our new power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive established –

    where oh where oh where is the sense in turning around and trying to undermine it when we’ve spent 10 years trying to get it set up?

    The Party grassroots simply won’t wear it and I’m sure our Assembly team will be wise enough to shoot this ill-conceived idea down in flames rather than have it go before a full meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council (as one would certainly be called if such a radical break with policy were countenanced)

    Shortcut to political suicide. And the Wrong Thing to Do.

  • slug

    Darth

    “The only opposition is to the specific bums on the ministerial seats. The policy differences between the parties on economic issues are miniscule- you have no alternative vision( nor does any of the parties of course- just voter pleasing mush).”

    I have two remarks:

    1. Having an opposition system would change the way the parties behave. They would then have the freedom to criticise certain policies. So, the way things are now is not a good guide to how they could be with a different system.

    2. Notwithstanding point 1, your quote above is often much the case in a lot of systems. The UK’s Conservative opposition to Labour (and vice versa in the pre-97 period) is (was) more about competence and style of the team of bums on the seats as about the substantive ideas and vision. Same goes for FF and FG down south.

  • confused

    It amazes me as to why Unionists are always on the back foot when the future for them is positive.
    The union is secure and the IRA defeated. Lets concentrate on the daily working of politics.
    Paisley will not always be with us and that gives UU a great opportunity to gain lost ground but they must hold their nerve. At elections they will oppose DUP to bring them to a position where the two parties will eventually merge.
    Robinson and co. will be more accommodating and as soon as we talk with one voice the better.
    There is a huge vote waiting to be brought into the fold when the two wings of unionism act responsibly

  • inuit_g

    “1. Having an opposition system would change the way the parties behave. They would then have the freedom to criticise certain policies.”

    Agree with you on this Slug but the current move isn’t about a philosophical discussion about the merits of opposition, it’s about a hardline rump in the party who still don’t accept SF in govt.

    Again can’t stand the party grassroots standing for this sort of radical break from our Election Manifesto and I hope it gets shot down by the Assembly Group.

    If not, an Ulster Unionist Council meeting would certainly be called and it would be up to the grassroots of the Party to have their view and I doubt they would overturn such a central tenet of our Party’s philosophy since 1998.

  • inuit_g

    lol that should be “cant imagine the party grassroots standing for such a radical break”… !

    long day!

  • steve48

    There only exists one reason for a party to withdraw from the current arrangements at Stormont that being that a party can no longer commit to the policies being delivered by the Executive on a corporate responsibility basis.
    I would be happy for a decision to be taken on this basis but I have no idea what the Assembly group is going to discuss as we haven’t reached that time yet. Irish Language Act from Plug who seems happy with his Gaelic pronunciation now (must be getting lessons) or a sorry but we have to charge you for water, or a we’re gonna close rural schools with less than 104 pupils but open lots of Gaelic ones with 12 pupils all seem to be decisions that if brought for approval to executive should be opposed but you never know with the Dupes these days.

  • jimmyjoe

    Just heard Willie McCrea is in hospital———— he fell from the arch in Magherafelt

  • slug

    The UUP do have a real difficulty at present because a lot of the people that cautiously supported the UUP’s pro-Agreement strategy are likely to think that the DUP is carrying it out only a lot more competently. This may be unfair but that’s politics.

    I am no DUP supporter and I thought highly of Trimble’s basic ideas. But I have to hand it to the DUP – once they took the decision to go for powershairing they have done in a way that inspires confidence.

    At the same time the Alliance party are making a modest revival — their choice of Anna Lo in South Belfast paid off — the centre ground is returning to them.

    Add to this the old, grey, male profile and you are in a real hole.

    I agree that pulling out of the Exec and moving to a more “hardline” unionist position would leave voters confused and alienate a lot of the the folks that stayed with you.

    So perhaps you should look at the DUP’s success and work out how they did it. I’ve been watching the DUP and one thing was clear since about 2002 – they had thought carefully about the position they were in, about the problems Unioinism was in with the GFA, they worked out what they wanted to negotiate, and they developed a clear and consistent set of policies and a clear and consistent analysis to the electorate.

    The message was “a fair deal”. That meant powersharing but on better terms. In 2002 they had started talking about the accountability agenda, and some of this they ultimately negotiated into the StAA.

    Not only have they stuck to this but they have done so in a way that inspires confidence. The message is consistent and they are all on the same sheet.

    That was no accident. It was the result of a lot of careful analysis and management. They must have had a good team of policy people behind the secnes thinking about these issues.

    So this is what the UUP have to do in the years ahead. No short term fix is available. You need a consistent and coherent analysis that sets you apart – an analysis based on the problems facing unionism today.

  • Alex. Kane

    inuit_g:

    I think you have a fair point in terms of the UUP grassroots not understanding it all at this stage.

    My own view is that the Assembly would have to take a decision before 2011 to build-in a formal Opposition in time for the next Assembly. It’s certainly an option worth considering, but it will require very careful consideration.

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • DC

    Of course we can all blame the SDLP for the lack of an opposition – Hume was adamant about voting arrangements and other in built protections run via d’Hondt thus ruling out a liberal democratic form of governance.

    However, the SDLP didn’t seem to put up much of a fight when SF and DUP moved to remove the cross-community voting requirment for FM – DFM.

    So maybe progress can be made after all.

  • Turgon

    slug,

    An interesting analysis but do you really think there is much of a way back for the UUP.

    I remember thinking they were doomed before the last general election when several nice middle class girls at work who knew little of my politics openly said thay were going to vote DUP.

    The UUP have little in the way of different and distinctive policies and their leadership is weak and riven with internal rivalry..

    I suspect the UUP will hang on for quite a while but progressively become more irrelevant. They are already essentially irrelevant west of the Bann.

  • Sean

    Turgon

    From what I have seen in Canadian politics if a basically irrelevant party can hold on long enough and with some bad steps by their opposition, they can become relevant again.

    Thats probably the UUP’s best hope

  • Turgon

    Sean,

    Interesting point and I see where you are comming from. I do not know but was the Canadian Conseratives not the only centre right party so eventually peple came back round to them. Here I do not see what the UUP stand for that the DUP do not. Yes there are minor things which excite the political anoraks but not most people.

    I think your idea may well be their best hope but I think they are clutching at straws.

  • pia lugum

    It would appear to me that the UUP have too large a ratio of parasites over politicians at present to inspire any sizeable public confidence in their ability either to rule or to oppose at Stormont.

    Turgon says that the UUP are largely irrelevant west of the Bann – This is very correct. The party over here has completely discarded its traditional supporters to keep a clutch of worse than useless MLA’s and a small pack of generally pathetically inept councillors in healthy pay-packets. Even the scandalous attempt at over-claiming expenses at Magherafelt Council was hushed up by the Trimble-led party in the wider interest of air-brushing the local veneer of Mercedes Benz respectability!

    I fear that the UUP have to slug it out to the finish internally between the current ruling occupants of Cunningham house before the rest of its house of cards can be cleaned up. The DUP therefore have the field wide open for a useful amount of time to clean up their own precarious act and pull the McCrea’s etc. back into line.

    Perhaps the reward of the Culture ministry to young Ian McCrea MLA while Plug is expelled into the soft green mist of an Irish Gaelic sunset around the Maze would help……

  • vizier

    DC said at #25 –
    However, the SDLP didn’t seem to put up much of a fight when SF and DUP moved to remove the cross-community voting requirment for FM – DFM.

    I remember stuff in the press from St Andrew’s about the SDLP having agreed this with the DUP. Only Alliance seemed to object, saying it totally removed the cross-community support for the FM and DFM elected together. Perhaps somoene can find the references.

  • doire protastunach

    Are you joking Pia Lugum. Baby McCrea as a minister! Who would he allow into his office! After all he will not let anyone even have tea in his DC Chairmans Office in Cookstown. What chance would you have of a meeting with him as a minister if you were of a green hue.

  • Sean

    Interesting point and I see where you are comming from. I do not know but was the Canadian Conseratives not the only centre right party so eventually peple came back round to them

    No technically there was a second more right then centre party that started out as a regional party but went mostly national. They were rabidly anti quebec so of course they didnt really organize there. They were however associated with the right wing white supremacist religious nuts so there vote was limited in that way again

    Eventually the two Centre right parties merged and moved more to the centre, much to the chagrin of the right-right wing nuts.

    they enjoyed some more but limited electoral success but what really propelled them back into the picture was the major scandals and miscues by the ruling centre left party. The scandals werent anything that major just the classic mistakes of a party too long in power and the seeming drift to the belief in their own infalibility

    Sort of the same thing thats going on in the american republican party.

  • jimmyjoe

    Pia Lugum
    You appear to be making a serious allegation about fraud in Magherafelt council.This could only have involved Cllrs Shields or Junkin or both.Why was this not brought to the attention of the government auditors?
    Baby “lundy” McCrea as a minister youve got to be joking.The only way this will happen is if he gets a paper doctride from the USA just like his dad Lundy McCrea and then become a minister in the Free p,s and share a pulpit with Marty McGuinness.

  • inuit_g

    “inuit_g:

    I think you have a fair point in terms of the UUP grassroots not understanding it all at this stage.

    My own view is that the Assembly would have to take a decision before 2011 to build-in a formal Opposition in time for the next Assembly. It’s certainly an option worth considering, but it will require very careful consideration.”

    I would certainly agree with this Alex – over the longer run the current “all-party” system is really a recipe for stagnation and even corruption – it would lead to an unhealthy uncompetitive political culture.

    Part of the problem for those of us who would like to see a better system is that too often, when unionists talk about alternatives they mean it as code for getting rid of power-sharing, or as code for excluding SF.

    So (given that nationalists have a veto on any change) the onus is really upon us to convince people of the merits to switching to a system which would have both a govt and an opposition, whilst retaining the principle of Power-Sharing.

    The best idea I’ve heard would be that any govt would need to have a majority of both nationalist and unionist MLAs supporting it but wouldn’t need to include all parties – i.e. retaining power-sharing but freeing up space for opposition.

    So the govt would be formed by the two parties which commanded a majority within the nationalist and unionist traditions respectively – i.e. DUP and SF currently.

    I think it will take some time to move to such a system and I think the current rather knee-jerk move to shift the UUP into ‘opposition’ is more motivated out of dislike for SF in govt rather than out of higher-minded philosophical concerns about the quality in government.

    Bluntly, there are some people in the party who want us to be in opposition so they can stick the finger up at the DUPs Willie Frazer style and gulder on about terrorists in government etc etc.

    That is why whilst I agree with you on the case for opposition I also think we need a good solid year or two of bedding down the institutions and proving our power-sharing moderate credentials to all those voters (30,000 or so) we lost to APNI and the Greens.

    After that we should look towards working with the SDLP towards formulating a joint opposition strategy and a really viable alternative to DUP-SF hegemony.

    But the current proposal would alienate our pro-agreement grassroots and would in fact result in the DUP being closer to moderate ‘Middle Ulster’ opinion than us – which would be an absolute disaster for the Party.

  • pia lugum

    Jimmyjoe
    “You appear to be making a serious allegation about fraud in Magherafelt council.This could only have involved Cllrs Shields or Junkin or both.Why was this not brought to the attention of the government auditors?”

    The main point I was making was the disappointing incompetance of the UUP in the west of the province as far as Assembly reps are concerned. Mid-Ulster is the ultimate primary example. Even with the new Baby Lundy representing DUP hopes, it still appears that the UUP regime under Billy the Buffoon is unwilling or unable to rise to the standard set by former members. They are not unlike rabbits caught in headlights – ie they don’t know whether to stand fast or to turn about face and hop it!

    On the messy side of the over claiming of expenses at Magherafelt it is my belief that the UUP’s skin was ultimately saved by Sinn Fein who naturally refused to have the RUC brought in to investigate. This was obviously a tremendous relief to the UUP who had enough bother defending the GFM at the time. They suddenly (after some six weeks and some pressure from HQ) decided to re-submit an amended claim which let them off the hook and probably a spell in the clink. But local party workers were understandably affronted. Junkin was thrown out of the party by the Armstrongs on the pretence that he was not towing the party line. Shields and Crawford, along with the Overend and Armstrong clans, spent the next campaign blaming all their woes on him. Perhaps the PSNI should be brought in to clear up this attempted abuse of public money and isolate the culprit(s) in a demonstration of political transparency.
    On your other point of Baby Lundy not being fit for a ministry, I would contend, much as I dislike his impudence and his paramilitary leanings, he is every bit as able as Plug Poots or Mrs Gildernew. Sure the civil servants do the work and even write the speeches. All Baby would have to do would be to smile and remember not throw the dummy out of the pram!