Alliance Way Forward

I know that David Ford and other serious Alliance politicians read slugger. Hence I do this blog with a bit of trepidation as I may be annihilated by real politicians but it was an interesting intellectual exercise so here goes: The recent discussions about the Alliance Party taking or not taking the Policing and Justice ministry and the anger directed at them by Maurice Hayes has set me thinking about possible ways forward for the Alliance Party. I suspect whatever happens their future is secure but I am unsure whether they can realistically expect significant political growth despite the fact that much of their analysis about the executive strikes a very significant chord with many in Northern Ireland.It is worth a quick look at the history of the Alliance Party on wikipedia (I am sure the likes of Comrade Stalin would provide a much more exhaustive account). Initially Alliance polled about 10% of the vote but in the ensuing years much of that support ebbed away; the 2003 Stormont elections providing a nadir of 3.9% and the 2007 elections a fairly typical 5.2%. One interesting thing which I confess to having forgotten is that despite the tendency of the Alliance vote to centralise around the Greater Belfast “Pale:” they once gained votes and even seats in the grim areas beyond civilisation. Now in such areas people look quizzically when mention is made of Alliance before walking away muttering about odd folk in Belfast.

Alliance are of course somewhat trapped in their current position by both their support base and their political ideology. Their support base is almost as defined as that of the unionist and nationalist parties. It is essentially a liberal within the Pale electorate frequently (possibly unfairly) perceived to be middle class professionals. It has sometimes been assumed that their supporters are predominantly unionists with a small u and possibly mainly Protestant along with a few “Castle Catholics.” That is also probably unfair, however, and in places such as Carrickfergus council Alliance probably offer the only realistic prospect nationalists have of electing candidates who are anything other than unionists. Such a scenario may also pertain within parts of other councils such Bangor or even (outside the Pale) areas of Coleraine.

Alliance’s non sectarian ideological position no matter how lauded by everyone at middle class dinner parties within the Pale (we do not do dinner parties in the Dreary Steeples) has always had the problem that even many of the middle class denizens of the Pale are actually in political terms primarily interested in the constitutional position. As such Alliance’s actual electoral appeal has often had a problem during the troubles. The agreements etc. of course have also had little benefit for Alliance as the constitutional issue has remained centre stage. The d’Hondt system with the two communities’ designations has also been extremely detrimental to Alliance’s position. Alliance has also not helped itself at times: During the initial negotiations leading up to the Belfast Agreement; Alliance, so much the power sharing party, probably found it difficult to overly denounce the compromise finally cobbled together. In fairness they may have done some denouncing but I cannot remember. If a politico like myself cannot remember, that might imply that others in NI would forget such nuances of the Alliance position.

The decision to redesignate itself temporarily as a unionist party also probably did Alliance harm. It may well have been a principled decision to keep power sharing going but it left Alliance open (unfairly in my view) to nationalist charges of being a unionist party and to the wrath of unionists who had become fed up with Trimble’s leadership (to be fair it is unreasonable to castigate Alliance for failing to see the unionist loss of confidence in Trimble; the UUP completely missed it). In addition the shenanigans over Alderdice becoming speaker played badly with at least some Alliance supporting types no matter how honourable and not his fault that was.

Under Alderdice there was a tendency (to my eyes) for Alliance to denounce sectarianism for its immorality and to seem to accuse unionists and nationalists of being sectarian for voting for their respective parties. This apparently rather preachy and possibly self righteous style was very likely to be counter productive especially when the agreement had openly catered for and almost celebrated two opposing communities. Since Alderdice has gone there has seemed to be something of a change of emphasis. David Ford seems to be responsible for this shift in emphasis. Now we are warned of the expense to Northern Ireland of sectarianism and no matter the rights and wrongs of such claims they are likely to be better received than preaching, no matter how well intentioned. It also chimes well with the complaints that the assembly is not working properly and is failing to make decisions. Without wishing to play the man the contrast between Ford’s style and that of The Lord Alderdice is marked; the websites I have linked to above say a great deal.

The current apparent refusal of Alliance to take Policing and Justice is also probably clever politics. Although it may deprive an Alliance spokesperson of a very high profile position it continues the “Assembly is not working and we are the opposition” narrative which they are currently running with. It also avoids trapping Alliance into a position as the thrall of the DUP and SF. Incidentally if Alliance were to go for the ministry I would have thought that Naomi Long would be their best choice (of which more in a moment).

Significant challenges do, however, remain in front of Alliance. They do face a threat from the Green Party which also espouses politics which cut across the usual divisions in Northern Ireland. However, personally I suspect the Greens will be fairly fortunate to hold their MLA next time round. Certainly Alliance have already seen off the challenge from the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition. Other challenges face them that they are still frequently perceived as a small u unionist party. The current attacks by Ford on SF no matter how accurate will tend to enhance rather than diminish that perception. Ford might be wise to launch increasing attacks on the unionist parties or give such a task to another MLA and again Long’s recent denunciation of Iris Robinson was probably a good idea on that score. In addition supporting a few more overtly nationalist things, maybe the Maze stadium or more support for the Irish language might be helpful. If I were Ford I might exile an MLA to the Gaeltacht this summer to learn Irish if none of them can currently speak it properly.

The extent to which Alliance can garner further votes is also unclear. The increasing number of non NI immigrants is an excellent target population for them but in addition they need to gain more unionist and nationalist votes. If the SDLP continues to decline they may make further inroads there but I suspect they have gained about as much as they can and most of any further slippage in the SDLP vote would go to SF. On the other hand a revival of SDLP support might come mainly at SF but also at Alliance’s expense. On the other side, however, the future may be rosier: If the UUP continue to thrash around in circles, Alliance can probably gobble up a few more UUP votes. Even the potential tie up with the Tories might help Alliance as some trendy lefty UUP types (if there are any) might jump ship.

In addition sooner or later Alliance, if they wish to progress, are going to have to make other radical decisions. Soon they are going to have to have the nerve to run two candidates in a single assembly constituency: I would have thought the obvious place to stand would be East Belfast. Long has a high profile in that constituency, was well over the quota last time and would be the obvious place for transfer of SF and SDLP votes. As such I would give her a running mate although that does involve the small risk of a West Tyrone. Very similar logic dictates that they should also run two candidates in North Down and hope to sink the Greens (all is fair in love, war and politics).

The next issue which Alliance must address is to move outside the comfort zone and make significant inroads into the areas outside the Pale. Although their votes here have tended to be derisory in recent years, as I noted earlier that has not always been the case. If Omagh hospital does close, Kieran Deeny will lose his raison d’etre but Alliance should try to get him to stand for them. He will almost certainly lose his seat but they need high profile candidates out there in the Dreary Steeples.

Of course one of the biggest problems which Alliance face is that the system is stacked against them. Our own rather odd dual democracy leaves them in a political No Man’s Land. Clearly Alliance could expect to gain a much greater profile, importance and quite possibly votes with a change to voluntary coalition. However, therein lies a classic Catch 22: it is the unionist parties which favour an end to mandatory coalition and as such for Alliance to push for that may alarmingly increase the size of that small u unionist in nationalist perceptions of them.

All the above problems and challenges are difficult ones for Alliance to surmount. In the short term I suspect there is a limit to what can be achieved though that would need to include continuing their self appointed opposition role, increasing attacks on the unionist parties and at the next election run two candidates in East Belfast and North Down as a minimum. Again running two candidates in unionist seats, yet it being pointless in nationalist seats is another depiction of the problems they face as the small u unionist party. In the long term they have to hope for a renegotiation of the agreement. In that of course they veer nearer to not a small u unionist party but to a big U sandwiched between a T and a V: not that I expect to see many of my views mirrored by Alliance commentors.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    Turgon,

    I agree with much of your analysis and it will be interesting to see if they take advantage of Wee Reggie’s apparent drift as he searches for a political niche in association with the Neo Cons.

    I suspect that Alliance have had the (to use the shockingly over used term) ‘respect’ of the electorate – although the voters cannot seem to drag themselves away from their tribal loyalties to actually support them in an election in case it benefits the ‘other’ side. Aliance have also enhanced their image of being above the tribalism of Non Iron by duly switching their designation in the Assembly.

    Now I appreciate Alliance think the Assembly needs reform and like the SDLP and UUP they continually complain about the slow progres/deadlock etc between SF and the DUP and seemingly forget the near miracle that has allowed Non Iron to get this far and the fact that SF and the DUP are often to be found in the same room never mind running the assembly in coalition. BUT it is one thing to say you want to reform the Assembly because it does not work properly and quite another to say that you are going to precisely NOTHING when you have a chance to make it work better.

    As someone who thinks that the speedy transfer (cant bring myself to use the “D” word) of Police and Justice is essential to both cement the peace and ensure the continuation of the assembly it was with great shock that I heard the words of Wee Davy Ford when Alliance were once again called upon to do the right thing by Non Iron.

    The majority of people in Non Iron are not in the least bit interested in the arcane rules that govern the assembly but simply want the current good times ( ie people not killing each other ) to continue and those who appear to placing in the obstacles in the way of progress – in this case the Aliance will no longer have the ‘respect’ of the people to go alonside their lack of votes.

  • perry patetic

    “The decision to redesignate itself temporarily as a unionist party also probably did Alliance harm”

    If anything should explode the myth that Alliance’s electorate are “unionist with a small u” it’s the damage that move did. The useful thing is that it showed Alliance where their support base is.

    As you say alliance are dominant (if that isn’t too strong a word) non-unionist party in areas of significant protestant majority. The number of Alliance councillors per constituency seems to rise exponentially as the % of protestants rising linearly. You’ll find six in Bangor (90.26% prod per the 2001 census) and five in Carrick (92.35% prod) falling with prod % until we’re down to one in Banbridge (70.45%). Belfast appears an exception but when Alliance’s seats are zoned the same pattern arises. The only real exception to this pattern is Ballymena (80.92% prod).

    What’s this prove? Perhaps this;

    Prods who don’t cower under the bed clothes at night worrying about the end of the union may have an integrationist or even a nationalist disposition but still may not feel represented by the SDLP. Even though they’re happy with the idea of an all-Island government they may prefer a liberal party formed in the general British/European tradition rather than a party of catholic emancipation, respectable as that position is.

    Catholics/Nationalists who vote for SDLP first find themselves transferring to Alliance in areas of high Protestant/Unionist majority because SDLP candidates tend to drop out first. The reverse may be the case west of the Bann, with Alliance councillors dropping out and their electorate transferral to the SDLP.

    If I’m right then Alliance’s future might be this:

    Accept the nature of the core market. It’s east Ulster and it’s relatively secure/liberal prods and nationalists who have more day to day experience of middle class prods and who will usually offer Alliance their second choice.

    Work to liberalise protestant opinion and win votes from unionists. Concentrate on bread and butter; economic reform and good civic governance. Reassure the unionist prod of your commitment to playing a full part in the UK for so long as people want to maintain the union. Re-brand as the Northern Irish Liberal Democrats and play up links between liberalism in NI and the Westminster Parliament (Paddy Ashdown, Lembit Opik, Kate Hoey…).

    At the same time remind people of the traditions which the Northern Irish Liberal Democrats inherit from the Whigs with regard to Liberty, Democracy and Reform in Ireland including the abolition of tariffs keeping food high and enriching the landowners, opposition to draconian anti-terrorist legislation in the form of the coercion acts, disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, Irish land reform, the extension of the franchise and the driving through of Home Rule (frustrated of course by the Conservative and Unionist Party).

    Remind people that an ex-Alliance leader later served as a Fine Gael MEP, and that the Northern Irish Liberal Democrats see the PD’s as a sister party (for so long as they exist) and also, potentially, Fianna Fail, who claim an aspiration to join the LibDems in the European Liberal Democratic Party. In fact if the SDLP did rebrand as Northern Fianna Fail, a coalition that included Fianna Fail, the northern LibDems, the northern Green Party and an independent would be the mirror of the current Southern government.

    It’s a balancing act but Alliance could or should be concentrating on liberalising east coast protestant/unionist opinion, integrating Antrim and Down towns and communities (especially in Naomi Long’s East Belfast constituency) and proving competence (sort out those Bangor “Lanes” Ian Parsley and Stephen Farry). If they can do that and consistently take votes from the Conservative & Unionist Party and the DUP they can then think about serious efforts to represent people west of the Bann.

  • culligan

    Unbiased and fair imo Turgon.

    Never mind the Gaeltacht – I often wonder if any member of Alliance has ever crossed the border.

    David Ford proves Maggie wasn’t completely wrong. He’s as British as Finchley.

  • perry

    “Never mind the Gaeltacht – I often wonder if any member of Alliance has ever crossed the border.”

    John Cushnahan served as Fine Gael MEP for Munster for 15 years.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I have a feeling that after Peace and Justice is devolved later this year, thus laying to rest the final piece in that particular jigsaw, and with the current credit crunch deepening, that the time might be coming for a party that doesn’t fixate on a line on a map.

    The electorate might regard the Irish language act as important or something to be avoided, but I doubt if it will be seen as being more important than politics that creates prosperity. Education (esp. the 11-plus debate) and health could also be important touchstones.

    In these circumstances, with the constitution more out of the road, Alliance might find its role as opposition mirroring more of the public’s ‘bread and butter’ concerns. The parties that adapt to the politics of the changed, non-constitutional circumstance could potentially grow most.

    The obituary has often been written, but I doubt if Alliance can be completely written off!

  • Another Turgon-the-Wise tour-de-force.

    This is more than “a three-pipe problem”: so it’ll keep until after the CAMRA Beer Festival. For the moment, I tentatively reckon that, for once, Alliance and Ford have the moral, intellectual and political high ground, and are properly staying there.

    Meanwhile, thanks to Turgon and others for exhaustive and provocative analysis and commentary. Well done, chaps.

  • I wonder with Academic Selection have Alliance missed an opportunity to attract more catholic votes. I’m in no doubt that there is a constituency of Catholic voters who wish to retain academic selection.

    They’re extremely unlikely to vote for UUP/DUP but both the SDLP or SF want selection scrapped. It’s a perfect vacuum for the Alliance party, but no, it was not to be.

    I wonder…

  • slug

    You are right: Alliance are 100% against academic selection.

  • Sammy Morse

    Turgon,

    I’ve been to the Connemara Gaeltacht once this year and am about to go back. But my Irish is, to my shame, pretty bad. And surely having a holiday home in the Donegal Gaeltacht is the ultimate Alliance/BT9 status symbol du jour?

    Anyway, great post.

  • fair_deal

    Turgon

    Personally don’t buy into the idea of offering it to Alliance.

    However, the decision may fit with the present Alliance narrative of opposition. Crucially it flies in the face of the narrative they have told since their foundation of moderation, negotiations and compromise.

    Essentially Alliance will not be able to issue a statement calling for other parties to take risks etc again without being made to eat it. It will look like a preacher giving a sermon on adultery the day he was exposed in the Sunday World as a swinger.

    Neither is its opposition narrative untouched, when it complains about stasis in the Executive, the first question/response will be that you are in a position to end it but are too feart.

    I feel “The Emphatic No Man” coming on 😉

    BTW Was there any particualr reason why Naomi wasn’t standing with Ford when he gave his emphatic no?

  • fair_deal

    Correction

    “I feel “The Emphatic No Man” leaflet coming on
    ;-)”

  • Comrade Stalin

    culligan,

    Daft as a brush. Alliance have great cross-border relationships, especially with Fine Gael and the PDs. I like Fine Gael better myself.

    I genuinely believe that one of the great benefits of the political process here has been the improvement in North-South relations. And when I see DUP councillors from Larne visiting Dublin and asking for help to fund improvements to the A8, it almost brings a tear to my eye. That is worth far more, to me, than the stand-off government that we’ve got right now.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Turgon,

    As others have said, well done on that analysis which is pretty objective and reasonable. There are some bits of it that I do not agree with, I’ll get to those in a sec. I must point out here that I’m really a “concerned supporter” of the party, with an opinion or two on things. I’m not an elected representative, nor an officer of the party, and I have no immediate plans to become either of those; for that reason my point of view shouldn’t be considered the definitive position of the party. Sammy Morse or IJP will give you that, and they will do a much better job of it than I ever could, especially if you want straight answers on current policies.

    A thread which I perceive to be running through your contribution is that the idea that there is some commonality between your position on the executive, and that of Alliance. Certainly in my opinion, the days when it would have been right to systematically exclude Sinn Fein from power are over; we must, and indeed we have, move[d] on. Alliance have taken decisions, when it fell to them, on many occasions to support the election of Sinn Fein representatives into positions (such as the Lord Mayor of Belfast) when it felt it was appropriate to do so. I believe they were the right decisions, and while some of the initial electoral pain a few years back may have resulted from them, they were the right thing to do. When loyalist thugs picketed David Alderdice’s house and yelled abuse while he was taking his kids to school (an incident that the unionist politicians stayed silent about) I knew for sure that the decision to support Alex Maskey was the right decision.

    I also believe that it would be Alliance’s position that the system we have now, imperfect such that it is, is preferable to direct rule. Direct rule gives people too many excuses to avoid tough decisions, and continue electing politicians who do nothing except carp about how hard life is; and I believe that this cements our tribal politics here. The real problem up at Stormont right now is the lack of imagination among the political parties. d’Hondt would be less of a problem if the parties up there had the imagination and forethought to come up with, and implement, the radical programme for government that we need here; such a programme would be impervious to attack from the Alliance opposition. Attacking the present executive is like shooting fish in a barrel. So, I believe that Alliance’s primary target is the failure of the parties – less so the system.

    At the same time, the system’s inherent mechanism of guaranteeing power to the more “chunky” parties, and especially it’s tendency to skew representation towards the larger parties and away from the smaller ones (the SDLP and UUP are underrepresented in the executive) means, once again, that the parties are not motivated to present to their electorate a set of policies that they can go to town with. With a majority-weighted coalition based executive, it would not be immediately clear how the government would be constituted following an election, and this would mean that the parties would have to present their best possible message, not only to their electorate but also their prospective coalition partners.

    Right, my hands are sore, so I’m out to do some gardening now while the sun’s out.

  • Interesting analysis, but it leaves me wondering what purpose Alliance ultimately serve. Aren’t they supposed to act as a bridge between the two communities – even their party logo suggests this? If that’s the case then in my view their role should be to take the middle ground and produce compromises / options on issues that the two communities disagree on. Yet when they have a golden opportunity with P&J;, a key issue in normalising things here, they don’t step up and take it on. I think people will not forget this. Politics junkies may fret about pureness or otherwise of the current system, but most people just want the assembly and the executive to get on with it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Aren’t they supposed to act as a bridge between the two communities

    No. Alliance wants to get to the point where we don’t need a bridge. A society divided by walls is still a society divided by walls, even if you put a few doors in it.

    Part of this is the idea that people should be elected to government based on their merits. The present arrangements mean that people are guaranteed a role in government because of what tribe they are. Alliance’s prediction is that this does not encourage people to work together, and from where I’m sitting the prediction pretty much appears to be correct.

    If that’s the case then in my view their role should be to take the middle ground and produce compromises / options on issues that the two communities disagree on.

    Given DUP/SF seem to disagree on pretty much everything, do you therefore mean that Alliance should take over the entire executive ? A one-party permanent dictatorship. I love it. Why didn’t I think of that ??

  • Comrade Stalin

    BTW, a general rule of thumb here is that if you catch yourself saying “the two communities”, then whatever you’re about to say is already wrong. There are far more than two communities here. As well as a very welcome influx of foreign nationals, we’ve got the various shades of nationalist and unionist (which could not possibly be considered two communities even by themselves), and we’ve got a large section of people who cannot stand either. We’ve got Irish people and English people, and the odd Scot here and there.

    I thought the ridiculousness of the situation was highlighted recently when yer wan out of Sinn Fein wanted Polish immigrants not to be counted as “Catholic” for the purposes of fair employment legislation. That’s where this “two communities” mindfuck has taken us, to the idea that immigrants – people who arrive in this country legally looking for work and to better themselves – aren’t entitled to be treated on the same basis as those who live here.

  • “No. Alliance wants to get to the point where we don’t need a bridge.”
    Fine, so what do you propose to do in the meantime? ( And why is there a bridge in your logo 😉 ). We can all wish for a better system but we are where we are.

    “DUP/SF seem to disagree on pretty much everything”
    Welcome to politics. That’s the way it is in most/all countries but the business of government goes on however imperfectly (look at Blair and Brown). DUP/SF managed to agree the make-up of the executive so far and seem to have a agreed that P&J;should go to a compromise candidate. That was your cue! Alliance, stop being so precious and get on with it!

  • Comrade Stalin

    Welcome to politics. That’s the way it is in most/all countries but the business of government goes on however imperfectly (look at Blair and Brown).

    Nonsense. The DUP and SF apparently have not agreed anything at all. They just pretended that they did.

    I cannot see the relevance of the Blair/Brown thing at all. I do not recall either of those two men criticizing the other in public. And they managed to run a coherent and popular government for ten years. All we have had from DUP/SF was a nice press conference in April 2007. They’ve tried to dine out on that ever since without actually doing anything at all except consolidate their own positions.

    Compare to coalition governments around the world. These are parties who differ during the elections, but once the coalition is formed, it’s a united front, and stuff gets done.

    You are welcome to continue to indulge yourself in this “emperor’s new clothes” delusion that we have the makings of a coherent and competent administration here. We don’t. If they put their minds to it, I am sure that the DUP and SF could do it. But right now, they’re not, and the idea that this is somehow Alliance’s fault is insane.

    That was your cue! Alliance, stop being so precious and get on with it!

    I’d remind you that Alliance received no cue, no proposals, no detail on what was envisaged. No party can sign up to a deal that they haven’t seen yet. Furthermore, no party should sign up to a deal that they were not involved in negotiating.

  • IJP

    Personally I’d prefer to wait ’til we receive our “cue” from the electorate, rather than via a sectarian stitch-up which offers us a position to which we’re not democratically entitled.

    The electorate must get what it voted for.

  • Neither is its opposition narrative untouched, when it complains about stasis in the Executive, the first question/response will be that you are in a position to end it but are too feart.

    Nope, we were asked to take a non-cabinet junior ministry in which we would be asked to implement the wishes of OFMDFM without being in a position to influence any real decisions, especially those in relation to the police funding crisis due to hit in 2011. The DUP/SF model of Alliance’s participation in government was pretty clear from the form of negotiations – you know, they got into a huddle with the NIO, and then announced to the press that we were going to take the Justice Ministry without consulting us first. Anyone who enters government on those terms is a mug.

    For Alliance, the biggest problems with the Robinson-McGuinness government are its incoherece and its lack of commitment to building a shared future. As far as the first goes, taking the Justice Ministry would have covered up one of the symptoms of incoherence but not dealt with the underlying causes, or the other symptoms – the crises over the 11-plus, Maze site/national stadium, rural planning, the Irish language, global warming policy, etc., etc. An Alliance Justice Minister – or an SDLP one, for that matter – can do nothing to end the chaos caused by having a government dominated by Venezuela-admiring Marxists and 17th Century Calvinist fascists. Only the electorate can end that, and they can only do it by getting rid of the DUP and SF as the two largest parties at the next election.

    With regards to the lack of commitment to a shared future, neither of the two dominant parties
    nor the NIO seemed to realise this was even an issue for us. Well, it’s kind of what we were formed to address. And I’m afraid building bridges between two political parties is pointless of those two parties use their position in government to thwart the building of a shared society. If you want Alliance in government, you need to start taking the divisions in society seriously. If you spend your time in office denying communal divisions are a problem (hello Martina Anderson) or bashing queers (hello Iris Robinson), then don’t expect the Alliance Party as a partner in government.

    And let’s be honest, half of the people moaning here would be sinking the boot into Alliance for being grasping and unprincipled if we had taken the job. Alliance is ready for government, but Northern Ireland needs a better government than this shower and until it has a chance of getting one, we’ll be holding the government to account from outside, thank you very much, and no pay rise or ministerial car can buy us off.

    BTW Was there any particualr reason why Naomi wasn’t standing with Ford when he gave his emphatic no?

    Buuuuurp! Not only did you miss the penalty, but you’ve managed to blast the ball over the roof of Wembley Stadium. Not even close, sunshine.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    Sammy,

    thats some re-branding exercise by the Allinace – from the party who gave us redesignation and were righlty acclaimed for their flexibility – to the party who want to prove, that the painstakingly put together, and fragile political arrangements of the STA dont work by turning back on efforts to make them work.

    Its a bit like Volkswagen re-branding itself as the company that produces un-reliable cars. As a general rule its not a good idea to ditch your main selling point.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sammy etc.,

    I’ve spent the last couple of days explaining in detail what the Alliance “selling point” is, although Sammy Morse has summed it up a bit more succinctly than I would have dared. The selling point is not to consolidate a duck-tape non-deal between SF and the DUP. That’s what the party is going to going to the electorate with. The party wants a proper coalition between people who accept the need to address the real underlying problems here.

  • fair_deal

    SM

    Thank you for the comprehensive answer to the one point. However, you’ll need something snappier and better than that to get around that question.

    As to your answer:
    “we were asked to take a non-cabinet junior ministry in which we would be asked to implement the wishes of OFMDFM without being in a position to influence any real decisions”

    Easy to present that rejection as an exercise in ego – the job isnt important enough for us.

    Also the party of negotiation, compromise and thinking of the greater good rather than party positions complains about something not being enough for them?

    “For Alliance, the biggest problems with the Robinson-McGuinness government are its incoherece and its lack of commitment to building a shared future.”

    The party that was hammering on the UUP’s door in Castle buildings to demand why they were taking so long to say yes to the Belfast Agreement with a D’Hondt executive and even less controls than St Andrew’s complains about it. Hmmm.

    “Only the electorate can end that, and they can only do it by getting rid of the DUP and SF as the two largest parties at the next election.”

    Blaming the electorate never really flies as an argument. For some curious reason the electorate don’t like being blamed.

    “If you want Alliance in government, you need to start taking the divisions in society seriously.”

    One of the key challenges for a shared future is the issue of safety. People will share facilities when they feel safe and respected. Policing and justice could play a key role in the safety aspect. This ministry would be Alliance’s opportunity to do some work rather than preach.

    “With regards to the lack of commitment to a shared future, neither of the two dominant parties nor the NIO seemed to realise this was even an issue for us.”

    Its working title is Cohesion Sharing and Integration so it is being worked on, it hasn’t been forgotten. Also if Alliance wants to make a last stand for such a meaningless document as A Shared Future then I suggest they are investing their political capital in the wrong area.

    CSI may well be one of the papers being held back for Executive approval, so it is possible what you want could be in the logjam. A logjam Alliance is content to see continue.

    I would suggest that another collapse in local political structures would do little for securing a shared future.

    “Buuuuurp! Not only did you miss the penalty, but you’ve managed to blast the ball over the roof of Wembley Stadium. Not even close, sunshine.”

    Answering no to a question would have been both simpler and less curious an answer.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    OK Comrade Stalin – I will give it one more go to explain.

    It is not logically consistent/doesnot make sense/is silly etc to suggest that Alliance will get involved in negotiations to resolve the current difficulties if as pre-condition they want a change in the arrangements which will lead to further difficulties. Geddit?

    Surely there are some Alliance Party supporters who oppose this new tough-guy-in-the-middle-muddle-poitics?

  • PaddyReilly

    Alliance is ready for government, but Northern Ireland needs a better government than this shower

    Personally I’d prefer to wait ‘til we receive our “cue” from the electorate, rather than via a sectarian stitch-up which offers us a position to which we’re not democratically entitled. The electorate must get what it voted for

    I don’t think there’s much future in holding the province to ransom. Equally, concepts such as the electorate have no validity.

    Someone once asked why the 26 County electorate keeps electing Fianna Fáil. They don’t. It’s just that FF are better at forming coalitions than anyone else.

    In NI, the electorate has neglected to give any single party a majority, so it’s up to the various minority parties to come to an arrangement. Questions such as democratic entitlement don’t come into it. The area was not democratically established, it was artificially created to give a particular faction an artificial majority, which it can no longer be certain of doing.

    Alliance is a rare example of a genuine political party in an environment where most votes were determined by which foot the voter’s grandparents dug with. As such its vote waxes and wanes depending on the political environment and its own policies. Who votes for Alliance?

    1) The “Don’t Hit us, we’re not Revolutionaries” brigade. This faction, to which a good few of my relations belong, are Catholics who live in areas of overwhelming Protestant population, South East Antrim and North East Down in the main, in fairly expensive housing. This lot, though the backbone of the Alliance vote, are not totally to be trusted: if you do hit them, or intimidate them out of their accommodation, they will move elsewhere and vote for the SDLP or worse. Sometimes this happens without any provocation, due, probably to a slight change in the balance of the population: Alliance was once big in Derry, and has recently declined in North Antrim, where SF has risen.

    2) People who are not from NI and not interested in the current sectarian squabble.

    3) Persons in mixed marriages, or of mixed ancestry.

    4) A small number of aristocrats, or people whose wealth is assured. A liberal is a person whose economic interests are not at stake.

    5) The opposite of the first, Protestants whose philosophy may be stated as “Don’t Hit us, we’re not Counter-revolutionaries”. This faction is probably very small, and prone to migrating to the UUP, but there is some hope of growth as the balance of population changes.

    For the rest, Alliance subsists on subsequent preferences. Very few electors actually want Alliance representation, but nearly all would prefer it to one of ‘themmuns’ getting an extra seat.

    So all in all, you must expect that you’re not going to get your cue from the electorate. A sectarian stitch up is all that’s on offer. Of course, in a province which is itself a sectarian stitch up, that’s all that anyone can hope for.

    In any case what the electorate voted for, IIRC, was an assembly which was approx 48% Unionist, 44% Nationalist and 8% unaligned. If this is not what we are getting, then we must blame the people who devised this political system who, to a large extent, were the Alliance Party.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sammy etc,

    It is not logically consistent/doesnot make sense/is silly etc to suggest that Alliance will get involved in negotiations to resolve the current difficulties if as pre-condition they want a change in the arrangements which will lead to further difficulties. Geddit?

    I’m not trying to be obtuse, but I’m still not getting it. I’m not advocating a change in the arrangements which will lead to further difficulties. That’s your assumption.

  • Comrade Stalin

    fair_deal:

    Also the party of negotiation, compromise and thinking of the greater good rather than party positions complains about something not being enough for them?

    One or two problems there off the top of my head. Negotation ? There was no negotation, the NIO and DUP/SF presented Alliance with a fait accompli. Compromise ? I see no compromise being proposed here; this is a means to an end for the DUP/SF to consolidate their power and marginalize their electoral rivals. And by rejecting these half-baked proposals, yes, Alliance is thinking of the greater good, which will not be served by propping up this daft executive.

    So as far as I can see, Alliance’s approach of using negotiation to secure compromise and working toward the greater good is not in any immediate jeopardy to anyone with an objective view of the situation.

    The party that was hammering on the UUP’s door in Castle buildings to demand why they were taking so long to say yes to the Belfast Agreement with a D’Hondt executive and even less controls than St Andrew’s complains about it. Hmmm.

    The situation then was completely different, the UUP dwadled over a facile and hypocritical obsession concerning Sinn Fein.

    Blaming the electorate never really flies as an argument. For some curious reason the electorate don’t like being blamed.

    It remains the case that there are problems with impose an Alliance ministry on an electorate which did not vote for one.

    One of the key challenges for a shared future is the issue of safety. People will share facilities when they feel safe and respected. Policing and justice could play a key role in the safety aspect. This ministry would be Alliance’s opportunity to do some work rather than preach.

    Is it not already clear by now that the ministry would have been under the control of OFMDFM, and that the minister’s hands would be tied ?

    CSI may well be one of the papers being held back for Executive approval, so it is possible what you want could be in the logjam. A logjam Alliance is content to see continue.

    The logjam is not of Alliance’s making. Why should Alliance work to protect the larger parties from their own mismanagement and failings in negotiation ?

    Your contribution has shades of Bolshevism in it. Alliance will not play ball, Alliance dare to highlight that the failings in the implementation of The Plan are due to failings in The Party. Therefore Alliance are counter-revolutionary saboteurs who wish to block progress.

    Let me sum it up once again. The logjam is the fault of the DUP and SF. If they cannot resolve it, then the electorate need to ask them why. Two things can happen; either the DUP and SF will wise up and fix it; or they will be voted out. I don’t personally mind either way, but if it gets fixed, Alliance can’t take the credit; and if it all fails, Alliance can’t take the blame.

  • fair_deal

    CS

    “Negotation ? There was no negotation, the NIO and DUP/SF presented Alliance with a fait accompli.”

    St Andrews was a negotiation. It was also an instrumental deal ie things left to be resolved later. The OFM/DFM letter also has not finished the negotiations by any means it has referred it to the Review Committee.

    A “fait accompli” hardly when it significantly coincides with Alliance’s wishes. “no compromise” when it is offering Alliance a good chunk of what it advocates.

    “Alliance proposes that criminal justice and policing functions, when devolved, are places within a single dedicated Department as part of an Executive working to collective responsibility.”

    “The situation then was completely different”

    It’s all about keeping the process going

    “an Alliance ministry on an electorate which did not vote for one”

    They didn’t vote for any particular party to get the ministry.

    “Alliance can’t take the credit; and if it all fails, Alliance can’t take the blame.”

    Please please leave us out of serious politics so we can preach from the sidelines. Alliance doesn’t work – No risks for peace 😉

    “The logjam is not of Alliance’s making. Why should Alliance work to protect the larger parties from their own mismanagement and failings in negotiation ?”

    Substitute any other party’s name and think about that statement. No to negotiation. No to compromise. No to the greater good. It’s all about Alliance’s.

    BTW Don’t take this too seriously. I am not a fan of the Alliance ministry idea. However, Alliance as a party have always had a far too easy life in terms of scrutiny so can’t resist now that they have got themselves in a tight spot. Plus the degree of hypocrisy they are displaying is amusing.

  • Marmaduke

    “serious Alliance politicians”

    Now there’s an oxymoron

  • Belfast Gonzo

    FD

    Hmmm… Alliance being lectured by a DUP supporter for hypocrisy? You should try looking at the DUP press archive!

    Anyway, when was the last time a party made a big sacrifice for no advantage, for the sake of a deal it probably wasn’t much of a party to, to be treated like a second-class minister, with no guarantees that you would be given a reasonable opportunity to advance your agenda?

    Would the DUP go for it? Never, never, never, I would speculate, although they have been known for doing U-turns…!

    As for preaching from the sidelines, the DUP (and others, to be honest) have borrowed plenty of sermons from Alliance over the years. Just because they’re the nice guys of politics, I just wouldn’t expect to get bailed out by them every time – Ford may be liberal, but he can be a hardline moderate.

    And if you think Alliance is feeling pressure, wait til you see the DUP squirm in the autumn.

    ;o)

  • fair_deal

    BG

    “You should try looking at the DUP press archive!”

    LOL The DUP moved, shock horror. What just like Alliance was preaching at them and all other parties to do but now refuse to do likewise because it is absolutely all that they want? Unless of course this is just a negotating position in which case they seem to be adopting the DUP approach 😉

    I have not got DUP tattooed on my forehead. Forutnately I don’t subscribe to party hackery as I show by having no dificulty in criticising the party I am a member of as exemplified by the fact I disagree with this notion of an Alliance minister.

    However, Alliance were supposed to be the “nice guys of politics” showing us poor mortals how politics should be done. Instead when asked to do exactly what they preached to everyone else they go scurrying from the light and displaying all the characteristics they have sepent decades criticising.

    “when was the last time a party made a big sacrifice for no advantage”

    A ministry with a significant budget and key policy area is “no advantage”. Hmmm

    “for the sake of a deal it probably wasn’t much of a party to, to be treated like a second-class minister, with no guarantees that you would be given a reasonable opportunity to advance your agenda”

    It’s not enough and ego arguments again. It is partially what Alliance wanted as shown above. No compromise from Alliance? A ministry gives an opportunity to advance an agenda, the policing and justice one especially so. It’s what you do with it as much as anything else but Alliance seem too feart to try.

    There is also a dash of misrepresentation these are pretty basic proposals with plenty of meat to go on them so to present all these issues as final is mistaken.

    “you see the DUP squirm in the autumn.”

    It knows its price and they will likely get most of it. They have already ensured SF don’t get it.

    On the broader front this displays the problem with the insistence on ‘instrumental’ deals they always end up as bumpy rides.

  • IJP

    Fair Deal

    It’s all about keeping the process going

    A process which has come to a stage where the electorate must get what it voted for.

    It understood ministries would be allocated by d’Hondt.

    Not enough people voted for Alliance on that basis. Not blaming them, just suggesting they should get what they voted for.

    I don’t like the system, but we all knew the rules.

    I’m a democrat, are you?

  • fair_deal

    IJP

    “A process which has come to a stage where the electorate must get what it voted for. It understood ministries would be allocated by d’Hondt.”

    Wrong. There were no firm proposals put to the electorate about when or how devolution of policing and justice would take place. It was one of the outstanding issues of St Andrews as Pete Baker has detailed on a significant number of threads. To claim otherwise is foolish in the extreme.

    “I’m a democrat, are you?”

    ROFLMAO. You really are scraping the bottom of the barrel. By all means say no to this (I hope you do) but the mealy-mouthed excuses offered so far just don’t hold water.

  • perry

    Good for you Ian.

    What if United Community were a single bloc though?

    That’d give you 9 points (or whatever they’re called) in the next round and the SDLP 8 (16/2).

    If Mr Deeney and Mr Wilson are up for it aren’t you entitled?

    It’d be on the basis of voluntary coalition too, which is nice.

  • perry

    Are you saying FD that there should be different procedures for allocating different ministries?

    Is that a fair deal?

  • Conquistador

    Interesting assessment of the Alliance here, although people from the enthusiastic fence sitting part of the spectrum seem under the illusion that the only way their vote can go is up. Not true.

    The Alliance, if they are standing to oppose a ‘divided society’ are dependent on that very thing for existance. In other words they need sectarianism to be here so they can oppose it. So are they even relevant in the modern caring,sharing, handholding-across-the-religious divide Northern ireland?

    What’s more the greens are here to challange them. And outpoll the Alliance in County Armagh and South Down. Perhaps the Greens are more palaable fence sitters to the nationalists and would be better placed to set up in the West.

    The Alliance already do stand 2 candidates in East Antrim, although that might just be a Larne Carrick faction thing. They did however have their best result here in 1998 and would have elected both if they’d balanced a little better and stayed ahead of Danny O’Connor (whose fluke voctory was a combination of unionist and alliance ineptitude). They did used to put up multiple candidates in North Down where they did badly, and East belfast in 1998 when they didn’t do much better. Seamus Close topped the poll in 1998 in Lagan Valley but they’ve been dwindling there ever since, and even suffered a loss in the vate last time round. As politics here becomes more polarised in Lagan Valley people might leave the fluffy allaince on the shelf, although boundary changes are likely to shaft SF so that might be delayed.

    In South Antrim there was a unionist fiasco. Mitchell will hold on but Ford and Burns ain’t both getting in, and my guess is he could lose Catholic support as they try to look after their own (Burns) and unionist support as they feel cheated out of a 4th seat they deserve. Nationalists will get elected in East Antrim and Strangford which could be detrimental to the Alliance there.

    West of the Bann is interesting. I assume they aren’t standing in Enniskillen, which is more or less admitting they don’t really exist in this part of NI, as opposed to the enthusiasm displayed in Banbridge. They currently have one councillor in Coleraine, but his constituency (skerries) is largely East Bann and probably contains as much of County Antrim as it does Londonderry. But they probably have 1-2000 votes in East Londonderry.

    Although West Tyrone is probably their best bet. Deeney probably has a personal vote of around 2000 which would stick with him in yellow, and the Alliance used to have a foothold here. They had a councillor in omagh town until 2001 who polled 829 votes in the tight 1997 Westminster election and over 1000 in the 1998 assembly contest. Unionists have just over 2 quotas so more votes might be on the cards there, and
    it would be just about possible for Deeny to hold on as Allaince and against the DLP but it would be tight at best. The stoops are unlikely to throw away another assembly seat unnecessarily, and Deeney did flirt with them in 2005.

  • fair_deal

    Perry

    “Are you saying FD that there should be different procedures for allocating different ministries? Is that a fair deal?”

    There already are different procedures for different ministries. The appointment of FM and DFM follow different procedures to the rest of the Executive.

  • Conquistador

    “Are you saying FD that there should be different procedures for allocating different ministries?

    Is that a fair deal? ”

    Perry there already are. The FM and DFM and their juniors are not dished out by d’hont but are rather elected by and are accountable to the assembly.

    The 10 other departments are allocated by d’hont and are wholly unnaccountable.

    I don’t think there’s a precent for the Justice Minister, so either method could be used. It seems they’ve opted for the former, presumably because it’s such a sensitive issue.

  • PaddyReilly

    Danny O’Connor (whose fluke victory was a combination of unionist and alliance ineptitude)

    Fluke victory or fluke defeat? East Antrim is believed to have a Catholic community population of 15.75%. It definitely has a Nationalist first preference vote of nearly 10%. This is quite sufficient for an SDLP candidate to make the quota of 14.29% on subsequent counts or at the very least, trail in last without a quota. In this case, however, SF insisted on standing to pick up its extra 1000 votes and thus relegated the SDLP candidate. As the constituency boundaries have now expanded into the Glens, the Nationalist percentage population has now increased sufficiently to make O’Connor’s return in the next election a near certainty. What is more this will probably be at the expense of a Unionist, not Alliance.

    Hopefully by that time he will have learnt to leave spaces after full-stops.

    Actually the story about the Alliance vote declining is apocryphal. There has been a slight decline in their first-preference vote in some areas, but they held up in all other preferences, and so lost no seats. Nothing much really happens in Norn Iron: Nationalists and Unionists are stuck in their sectarian ghettos and Alliance wallahs in their non-sectarian ghetto.

  • DC

    Of course you could be highly speculative here and suggest that questions must hang in the air when one looks at the demise of Catholics who have moved into Alliance at leadership level.

    Sean Neeson – spat out; Seamus Close – ridiculed; Eileen Bell in the end loathed; Kieran McCarthy pays his wife double rental values, etc! Not even an apology from McCarthy for that, badly handled in the media but Alliance wants to make savings elsewhere in NI, try looking closer to home!

  • perry

    “Perhaps the Greens are more palatable fence sitters to the nationalists and would be better placed to set up in the West.”

    Good point

    Bob Wilson was am Alliance candidate and his wife Anne an Alliance North Down mayor. The Greens are an Alliance diffusion brand.

    FD

    There already are different procedures for different ministries. The appointment of FM and DFM follow different procedures to the rest of the Executive.

    Good point too

    It may look like an assembly vote but really it’s the support of the two biggest parties in each camp so it might as well be by d’hondt. I think this was a stitch-up to give the moderates an extra say when the SDLP thought they’d stay the biggest party. Change it to part of the d’hondt round and the two senior ministries (Finance and Justice?) would go have gone to an SDLP/Alliance coalition (if one was formed to get a first pick perhaps) and the Tories (can we call them Tories yet?).

    That’d make for a wider distribution of power. Perhaps a subject for discussion.

  • perry

    Bob Wilson was am Alliance candidate

    I think I meant to say an Alliance councillor.

  • Conquistador

    I think you both meant to say Brian Wilson

  • perry

    “I think you both meant to say Brian Wilson”

    Bloody hell you’re right.

    Sorry Brian!

  • Conquistador

    Fluke victory or fluke defeat? East Antrim is believed to have a Catholic community population of 15.75%. It definitely has a Nationalist first preference vote of nearly 10%.

    Well if he stood 3 times and was elected only once that seems fluke. You do make the mistake of believing Catholic and nationalist are interchangeable. Here definitely not, may cathlics have voted allaince as the only non-u alternative.

    I said threre will be a nationalist victory this time, which might take a few votes away from Neeson.

    “As the constituency boundaries have now expanded into the Glens, the Nationalist percentage population has now increased sufficiently to make O’Connor’s return in the next election a near certainty. What is more this will probably be at the expense of a Unionist, not Alliance.”

    Actually it will be at the expense of Declan O’loan, as these glen catholics have to come from somewhere, and their removal costs the SDLP from North Antrim

  • Conquistador

    “What if United Community were a single bloc though?

    That’d give you 9 points (or whatever they’re called) in the next round and the SDLP 8 (16/2).

    If Mr Deeney and Mr Wilson are up for it aren’t you entitled?

    It’d be on the basis of voluntary coalition too, which is nice. ”

    The precedent here is the UUP/PUP fiasco, when speaker Eileen bell ruled that such an Assembly group would not qualify as it wasn’t a registered political party with HQ etc.

  • perry

    Thanks Conquistador.

    Well that needs changing too. How are we going to encourage cross-community coalition if being part of one doesn’t get you an earlier grab at the ministries?

    Silly old independent Eileen bell not thinking of her party’s interests.

  • perry

    “as it wasn’t a registered political party with HQ etc.”

    I wonder can coalitions be registered as “parties” Euro-style?

  • PaddyReilly

    You do make the mistake of believing Catholic and nationalist are interchangeable

    I most certainly do not. Did I not immediately proceed to quote the Nationalist vote, which was 5% less that the catholic percentage? However, with multi choice voting, I suspect nearly all Catholics vote for a Nationalist party somewhere on their list of their preferences.

    Actually it will be at the expense of Declan O’loan, as these glen catholics have to come from somewhere, and their removal costs the SDLP from North Antrim

    Possibly, though not necessarily. It all depends whether the SDLP try to field two candidates or one. There is a fair amount of migration from West Belfast to Ballymena and Ballycastle these days.

  • Mr E. Mann

    >Anyone who enters government on those
    >terms is a mug.

    But what about someone who does so after extracting from the major parties what the political market can bear? Sinn Fein/DUP are in a tight spot, why should you not set your price and take it? Think about what it might be worth to the major parties. An Alliance signature initiative on integrated schools? SF and DUP refrain from running in certain constituencies where you have a shot?

  • Conquistador

    Ahh paddy but the implication is that with 15.75% or whatever catholic they are entitled to an SDLP MLA, however only 10% actually vote nationalist and that is not the case, Danny in 1998 was therefore a fluke.

    “Possibly, though not necessarily. It all depends whether the SDLP try to field two candidates or one. There is a fair amount of migration from West Belfast to Ballymena and Ballycastle these days. ”

    Clutch to that straw if you must, but West Belfast is hardly a bastion of SDLP strength, and with the housing market like so there will be minimal migration across the UK as a whole. The people of the Falls road will have their wallets to worry about ahead of Declan O’loan (or Orla Black’s) political career

  • PaddyReilly

    Conquistador

    The implication is that with 15.75% or whatever catholic they are entitled to an SDLP MLA, however only 10% actually vote nationalist and that is not the case

    10% is not the Nationalist vote, it is the Nationalist 1st preference vote. The SDLP (but not SF, which is transfer repellent) would then proceed to pick up sufficient transfers from other parties (Alliance surplus etc) to give them a running chance.

    I never said anything about entitlement. I deal only in probability.

    Clutch to that straw if you must, but West Belfast is hardly a bastion of SDLP strength

    True, but SF voters do transfer to SDLP ones. You seem not to have taken on board the fact of the transferrable vote (in all but Westminster elections). But of course a straw is all that is needed. The current Nationalist vote is 15.9 (SF) + 12.2 (SDLP) = 28.1%. The transfer to the Glens would reduce this by 2.7% = approx 1250 votes. As the combined SDLP vote of 5410 exceeds Deirdre Nelson’s vote of 2740 by 2660, it follows that Declan could still win without any reinforcements from elsewhere. The SDLP also got 428 transfers from the Alliance candidate and 296 from the Independents and smaller numbers from the eliminated Unionist candidates. The side that fields the least candidates will win.

    We also have to factor in a higher Protestant death rate. The constituency may have lost 2.7% of its Nationalist voters, but it would not be unusual for it to have recovered 2.5% within five years. So no change is a strong possibility.