“we should use this moment to start charting a way forward..”

Brian has noted that an alternative mechanism of power-sharing has already been described, but Sinn Féin, apparently, are still furious at SDLP leader Mark Durkan’s argument that the current mechanism isn’t conducive to political evolution here. Meanwhile, Liam Clarke suggests that alternatives may be on the agenda of the current DUP/Sinn Féin talks..

A government just can’t be run like this in the long term. In coalitions all over the world, decisions have to be taken quickly and compromises have to be reached every day of the week. Here, planning and economic issues are either pushed to one side or held back as bargaining chips to be produced at the right psychological moment. Nobody expects the scaffolding to be totally dismantled before the next Assembly election. That is not scheduled until 2011, but the DUP will put this issue on the agenda in the current round of discussions. They and Sinn Fein will also seek financial guarantees from the British government to underpin the transfer of powers.

Alliance’s price for taking the new ministry will also involve the planned decommissioning of the scaffolding. There are differences between the unionist parties, the SDLP and Alliance. For instance, the SDLP wants a Bill of Rights to provide a legal appeal mechanism to protect against abuses of power. They may also argue for a slower and more careful transition than the DUP would like. There will be a complicated trade-off, but if it is to work, any deal will have to be made over the next few weeks. Everyone bar Sinn Fein seem to agree that, while the actual changes won’t happen overnight, we should use this moment to start charting a way forward.

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  • percy

    whilst this may appear to be progressive thinking, aren’t they just fudge-finding, and trying to build reality on top of fantasy.

    North’s been airbrushed out of all things British

    House built on sand don’t last!

  • Dec

    but Sinn Féin, apparently, are still furious at SDLP leader Mark Durkan’s argument that the current mechanism isn’t conducive to political evolution.

    Actually they’re furious, and understandably so, at Durkan’s idiocy in proposing a return to majority-rule and proposing a system that would immediately be abused to sideline the largest nationalist party.

    For instance, the SDLP wants a Bill of Rights to provide a legal appeal mechanism to protect against abuses of power.

    Oh good, us disenfranchised types can use a Bill of Rights(the powers of which no-one can agree on) to scuttle off to the courts with our appeals.

  • Conquistador

    ” a return to majority-rule ”

    Isn’t majority rule what they use in most western democracies?

    Don’t want none of that here

  • Ian

    “A government just can’t be run like this in the long term.”

    SF aren’t arguing that this is a long-term arragement, just a temporary one. As soon as reunification occurs, voluntary coalition can kick in again…

    “Durkan’s idiocy in proposing a return to majority-rule”

    From my reading of what Durkan said, the Irish News got the wrong end of the stick with their claim that he called for an end to mandatory coalition.

    He did suggest an end to designation once the Bill of Rights is in place BUT in the context of d’Hondt remaining in place:

    http://www.sdlp.ie/news_item.php?id=7740

    “Mr Durkan said the protection of minority interests would be enshrined in a Bill of Rights [b]while the d’Hondt system would protect political mandates in any future Executive.[/b]”

  • Henry94

    Conquistador

    Isn’t majority rule what they use in most western democracies?

    Yes, but you get changes of government because there is no inbuilt majority based on non-policy considerations.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    “we should use this moment to start charting a way forward.”

    No. We should wait – until the current series of negotiations is complete before trying to evaluate something before it has bedded in. This is no doubt partly driven by the Alliance who will use this debate to cover their own confusion about their role in Police and Justice.

  • It appalls me that my unionist forebears fail to recognise that they should’ve been making an effort to include people like Mark Durkan in the formative Northern Ireland and making common ground with decent nationalists whilst concentrating their efforts on shutting out people like Dec.

  • Ian

    Notwithstanding my previous post, I would have thought that if the unionist parties want to put changes to Strand One of the Agreement back into the melting pot, then the SDLP shouldn’t be facilitating this without demanding a simultaneous expansion of Strand Two.

    i.e. if nationalists are to agree to change the system at Stormont, then unionists should agree to, say, another six North-South implementation bodies and another six areas of of cooperation under the NSMC. If the Strand Two arrangements are accountable to political unionism as the UUP and DUP argue, then they should have no problem agreeing to such further expansion.

    Sammy Wilson’s recent action in banning southern officials from advising his department doesn’t bode well, though.

  • Isn’t majority rule what they use in most western democracies?

    But not all. Some states amend it by guaranteeing disproportionate representation to minority (or not, see below) groups, for example:

    USA: each state gets two seats in the Senate, regardless of size. Thus Rhode Island gets the same level of representation as vastly-larger California.

    Belgium: the federal government must contain an equal number of Flemish and FFrench-speaking ministers, regardless of the fact that the Flemish are 60% of the population.

    Sweden: the cabinet must be ‘gender-balanced’, regardless of the gender balance of the parliament, or the voters choices.

  • Ian

    From the Liam Clarke article:

    “the system of community designation at the Assembly, under which nationalist and unionist blocks have distinct communal rights. The outworking of this system includes the d’Hondt formula for nominating ministers and the requirement that the Executive must be a compulsory coalition of every major party.”

    That’s not true. The system for nominating FM and DFM is an outworking of the designation system, but not the d’Hondt allocation of the other ministers. It would be possible for the Westminster government to be thus established.

  • Ian

    From the Liam Clarke article:

    “the system of community designation at the Assembly, under which nationalist and unionist blocks have distinct communal rights. [b]The outworking of this system[/b] includes the d’Hondt formula for nominating ministers and the requirement that the Executive must be a compulsory coalition of every major party.”

    [b]That[/b]’s not true. The system for nominating FM and DFM is an outworking of the designation system, but the d’Hondt allocation of the other ministers into a mandatory coalition is not. It would be possible for the Westminster government to be thus established.

  • Ian

    sorry about the double post

  • Mick Fealty

    In other words Henry, “we’re all doomed…” ;o)

    Dec,

    “Durkan’s idiocy in proposing a return to majority-rule and proposing a system that would immediately be abused to sideline the largest nationalist party.”

    A quid pro quo perhaps for the largest nationalist party attempting to sideline the next largest from Policing and Justice?

    The first problem is that Sinn Fein and the DUP appear to be proving that the constitutional pessimists had a point. The strong break of the mutual veto was supposed be a safeguard of last resort has been come the weapon of first resort. The result being that they don’t seem to be capable of getting above their own narrow disputes to do anything in government. So questions about whether it is actually fit for purpose are naturally being foregrounded.

    Whilst those two are locked down (and locking out everyone else), it makes sense for Durkan to try start a Nationalist conversation about matters that will undoubtedly be introduced into the negotiations in order to break the log jam. That it may also harden the resolve of the DUP to make things tougher for SF in a way that will hardly cause the SDLP too many sleepless nights.

    This dispute could go on for some time, unless: one, there is a speedy rapprochement with the DUP; or two, Sinn Fein makes good on its threat to pull the whole thing down. If it’s the latter, I am not too sure where or how they would join any new inter party conversation given that what we are seeing here looks like a settling consensus amongst all the others about where that should go.

  • Ian

    “A quid pro quo perhaps for the largest nationalist party attempting to sideline the next largest from Policing and Justice?”

    Under the GFA the maximum number of ministers is ten. How therefore would the SDLP be entitled to a second ministry under the existing system? Even if they were, if d’Hondt were re-run they’d get about 5th choice, P&J;ministry would be long gone. So they’re not being denied their entitlement under d’Hondt, they’d only be entitled if the British government changed the rules to suit them and added an extra ministry on after the rest of the Executive has been established.

  • It is time SF got its members out on the street and reminded London of its mandate, that is if they have any members left who know how to organize the odd demo or occupation.

    By the way, does this mean that Durkin is now a dissident?

  • Greenflag

    PB , A government just can’t be run like this in the long term.

    I’ve been saying that for ages -but we may need to redefine ‘long term ‘ In NI 1916 and 1920 were just yesterday and 1690 just a few months back 🙁 NI politics seems to be eternally stuck in back to the future via the past imperfect mode 🙁

    Conquistador ,

    ‘Isn’t majority rule what they use in most western democracies? ‘

    They tried it for 50 years in NI (1920 -1972) which is a good part of the reason as to why a large section of the population do not want to revisit it . What they have now is as good as it gets IMO . Can both sides make it work – Of course not . That’s why it was set up like that 🙁

  • Mick Fealty

    You get my point though Ian? It’s no part of SF’s obligation to look out for the SDLP, nor is it the SDLP’s to look out for SF.

  • StarHound

    A more pressing issue for the SDLP is that this statement by Durkan is causing dropped jaws not only in Sinn Féin but in previously more SDLP friendly areas like South Belfast and Derry – the two areas I talked to people about it anyway – people who would normally be more inclined towards the SDLP.

    There is a lot of wishful thinking around voluntary coalition from the ‘Why can’t it be like all the time?’ brigade. The fact that many SDLP voters don’t want it speaks volumes about the state of the SDLP under Durkan’s intermittent and detached leadership.

  • perry

    Little incremental suggestions;

    1) Include the FM and DFM roles in the allocation alongside 10 executive Departments

    2) Let parties form post-election coalitions to bring forward (and occaisionally increase) their choices.

    If the middle parties pooled their 44 seats this would give them first, second, fourth, seventh and tenth choices from the departments so you might have a DUP FM, SF DFM, UUP Finance Minister, SDLP P&J;Minister etc.

    Bigger suggestion

    3) Allow Stormont the option of adopting making legislation by majority rule in a combined North-South Assembly.

    Cut the number of MLA’s to 72 to make the North and South elector/representative ratios more equivalent and;

    4) Elect the 18 MP’s in the same round as we elect the assembly using AV so that the person who collects most transfers (and eventually goes over 51%) is the MP (with the three runners up joining them in 4 seat Stormont constituencies). This might encourage a bit more cross-community thinking at stormont election time and if MP’s knew the Stormont election was effectively a westminster by-election that might concentrate minds.

  • Dec

    “A quid pro quo perhaps for the largest nationalist party attempting to sideline the next largest from Policing and Justice?”

    Let’s see how that plays with the nationalist electorate, shall we?

    appalls me that my unionist forebears fail to recognise that they should’ve been making an effort to include people like Mark Durkan in the formative Northern Ireland and making common ground with decent nationalists whilst concentrating their efforts on shutting out people like Dec.

    Interesting that you think Unionists can shut people out of society by right. You should include that in your musings on Britishness.

  • perry

    The all-Island assembly idea would give us majority rule if the deal was that a bill passed by majority in the assembly could then be brought forward to for approval by simple majority in an all-Ireland session.

    So if (for example) the 44 not Shinner/not DUP seats in the current set-up were 55 (or 37 in a 72 seat Stormont) we could have majority rule in Stormont. The assembly could vote to bring a bill to the all-Island assembly provided the bill commanded an all-Island assembly majority.

    The DUP couldn’t complain about the majority rule in Stormont. The Shinners couldn’t complain about majority rule on the Island. Administrative positions would still be allocated by D’Hondt and if there wasn’t a majority in Stormont that could command the support of the majority of legislators on the Island we’d have the status quo.

    No need to drop designations.

  • Mick Fealty

    Dec,

    That could be a fair way off, so I’m not sure an election in 2010 would provide a meaningful test: not least since the SDLP remain on a downward trajectory. That is one reason why they should be looking to take calculated risks.

    In the interim – given that the status quo is failing the parties’ promises of last March – how do you test this move for political sanity?

  • DC

    “I would have thought that if the unionist parties want to put changes to Strand One of the Agreement back into the melting pot, then the SDLP shouldn’t be facilitating this without demanding a simultaneous expansion of Strand Two.”

    Well that’s very interesting too, as for example the implementation bodies’ work will need to be reviewed and plans ‘agreed’ – by whom? That’s right the MLAs and parties at the Assembly.

    So, if this use of a seemingly continual group ‘right’ veto still continues before the actual ‘responsibility’ to approach matters in a business like way and with a certain dignity and transparency as to what is being discussed and when, it must be assumed that there will only be gridlock on agreement with the North South stuff too and most certainly any expansion of that agenda.

    One thing that, as I’ve said before, freaks the old sectarian minded parties out is quick change in thinking aligned with a grasping of public mood, I think Durkan and Co have given a taste of people’s frustrations. And I think, as Mick has stated too, there is a feeling and an undercurrent willing this along which is probably putting big pressure on SF to ensure that they make the SDLP come out second best in terms of a crude intra-communal battle.

    At the end of the day and end of the mandate, it’s about delivery, and so far it has been 3 issues and none have been settled with any appropriate explanation or detailed reasons. One, policing remains to even be debated and pretty much same with education where Sinn Fein want a world class education system not just a few world class schools but the Unionist want a bit of that system maintained as it produces thoses schools, neither can agree or is it being openly debated in a non-contentious way…

    So, that has been the result of one year’s worth of work in a system that has actually been known to us and the MLAs for easily over 10 years now, if not before.

    Clearly you either adapt to fit or there will be changes to adapt the political system, but the DUP and SF must be feeling the heat as the speed by which they responded in propaganda terms alone means they reached for the communal response rather than the well-considered response, which proves a point about new alternatives to partnerships being needed, fast.

  • Dec

    Mick

    There’s clearly a very thin line between calculated risks and political suicide (and I’m thinking of Durkan here rather than the SDLP).

    As for testing for political sanity, the sudden sight of old enemies turning into new friends is usually a bit of a giveaway.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m genuinely interested in this. As you say, “the sudden sight of old enemies turning into new friends is usually a bit of a giveaway.” Does that mean that SF were damaged by the Chuckle Brothers routine? Or does that come down to other factors?

  • billieJoe-remarkable

    Hmmmm.

    I said some weeks ago that Feeney “hates” the SDLP. The political know-it-alls on here said I was wrong and one pointed out that he was actually a former councillor for said party (and by implication still loyal to them). I guess that debate has been ended.

    You’re welcome.

  • Dec

    Mick

    I believe (and frankly it’s obvious) that SF’s credibility has been severely damaged by the entire Stormont saga due to Unionism’s default blocking of their agenda (to a background of sectarian cackling – McNarry on the Irish language, Morrow on the GAA, Poots on everything).
    I don’t think anyone had any doubt that the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ was anything other than one of life’s strange mysteries – much in the same way Mandela personally prefered Botha to De Clerk (no direct analogy intended) and was never intended to outlast that particular arrangement. (Incidentally, I don’t believe McGuinness was the only SF MLA, Paisley Sr enjoyed a friendly rapport with.) Mark Durkan unilaterally attempting to turn the clock back 40 years (beyond Sunningdale) is another thing altogether.

  • Mick Fealty

    Dec,

    One of your strengths as a commenter is that you don’t mince your words, for anyone. But you have given an answer to a different question from the one that was posed.

    Now “the sudden sight of old enemies turning into new friends is usually a bit of a giveaway”, becomes “one of life’s strange mysteries”. It’s either a give away, or it’s not.

  • “You get my point though Ian? It’s no part of SF’s obligation to look out for the SDLP, nor is it the SDLP’s to look out for SF.”

    Mick,

    There was I thinking they were both part of a pan nationalist plot, sorry front.

  • The Raven

    Wow. This is deep stuff. All predicated on some hissy fits in Stormont.

    Meanwhile, back in the reality that is life on the ground:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7607353.stm

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7608401.stm

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7605600.stm

    …and that’s just today. Wonder when we’re going to get some work out of these people…?

  • Greenflag

    The Raven,

    Wonder when we’re going to get some work out of these people…?

    When you stop paying them 🙂

    Otherwise hang on till Tibb’s Eve 🙂

    And if you’re askin when is Tibb’s Eve it’s neither ‘ neither before Christmas nor after.

    As to ‘deep stuff’
    The rut goes very deep in NI politics which is why anybody who falls in can’t get out 🙂

    Great effort though by Mick & Co to elevate the tone and for a brief second or two nearly knocked me of my skeptical stool .

  • DC

    Alliance for Choice spokesperson Barbara Muldoon said the current [abortion] legislation was outdated.

    “Northern Ireland is already 41 years behind England, Scotland and Wales,” she said.

    Yes, politically, mentally and emotionally.

    I swear it, after this year’s underperformance largely driven by neurotic reasons than rational choices, the biggest victims of the Troubles would appear to be our politicians.

  • Dec

    Mick

    I accept the point (and I view the current arrangements as a failed experiment, which, in retrospect, would tie in with your point) however McGuinness’ love-in didn’t extend beyond Ian Paisley much less out last him. In the aftermath of Mark Durkan’s speech you couldn’t beat Unionists of him with a big stick. Hence, on this occasion I don’t need to wait 2+ years to discover it’s a huge mistake.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Its got to be the tirdest old refrain whingeing about lazy politicians – thank your lucky stars you dont have the bunch from down south the most corrupt feckers in Western Europe – the Norn Ironers are currently negotiating extrmely delicate issues for both sides and one wrong step could be the end of their party – as per the UU.

    The DUP and SF should be commended for their efforts and the muddled feckers of the middle should be taking one up the political jacksie for all their sideline sniping which is transparently inspired by sour grapes that their days in the limelight have passed.

  • DC

    Oh yes Sammy, we want more – more of what’s going…but there’s isn’t anything!!!

    More, applause, more…

  • The Raven

    Sammy, I don’t normally disagree with you, but on this occasion….

    This morning, I was trapped in my car, and had the misfortune to catch Sir Reg on Nolan.

    Reginald was making an awful lot of sense, and much of what he was saying was being backed up by real people on the outside by text or phone-in, who are facing real hardships.

    It must stick in their craw when matters such as fuel poverty are being pushed down the agenda by this fit-and-start of an administration. Reggie was very straight on this – we mightn’t be able to do much, but let’s get on and do what we can. I don’t think I can disagree with that, even if his party is “old hat”.

    As for “its got to be the tirdest old refrain whingeing about lazy politicians” – I don’t think there’s anything in my post that infers laziness – but it does infer underperformance.

    Sammy, I’m dealing on a daily basis with elderly people who are faced with a very real “heat or eat” issue. It puts all of the above into a very real perspective. Perhaps a “wrong step” which “could be the end of their party” is what’s needed to get things moving.

  • DC

    Raven – agree. Big on ideology but no big ideas.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Raven,

    its just bad timing I’m afraid. The people have voted for 2 parties that are miles apart on the constitutional issue and they have to sort out the very delicate issues (particulalry Police and Justice) or there will be no Stormo and a possible unravelling of the Peace Process.

    Wee Reggie is a political opportunist – he has added to the delay by trying to make life difficult for the DUP by forcing a by-election and jabbering on Police and Justice.

  • The Raven

    Is there any politician who isn’t an opportunist….?

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    The Raven,

    Political Opportunists.

    Trimble could have been accused of doing the right thing for Norn Iron irrespective of the outcome for himself or his party.

    ..and El Gordo is probably the opposite of an opportunist.

  • The Raven

    Sammy, I wouldn’t disagree. But I stand by what I wrote earlier, which frankly, to one in four households at the minute is much more important than what our politicians “think” are the “real” issues at hand.

  • Danny O’Connor

    An end to designation will not alter the reality that there will still be Nationalists and Unionists,Ministerial positions will still be allocated on party strength.
    What this does open up is the whole issue of one part holding up progress.
    Gerry and Martin gave the DUP a veto at ST Andrews-which is now being used to stop an Irish Language act, the Maze project ,devolution of P&J;.
    Moving to a weighted majority would undo the triple lock that meant that the DUP as the majority Unionist party could block anything.
    If people are wanting to blame anyone for the current failure to deliver ,at a time when people are becoming more cash strapped, the executive hasn’t bothered to meet for months.
    SF have got the huffs because the DUP are using the veto that they gave them.

  • Chris Donnelly