Back to arguing

After a brief appearance of possible civility: SF and the DUP seem to be back to attacking one another’s position in the executive. The problems of course are lack of trust, fundamentally differing aspirations, the legacy of the past etc, etc. but at the moment they are manifesting as differing views of the nature of the partnership government forced by mandatory coalition.Much as I may personally distrust one party and loathe the other: I can see that both are holding intellectually sound positions. On the DUP side one can justifiably argue that if they cannot reach agreement on a given issue they should set it aside and get on with the rest of government. There are clearly more than enough other issues to be addressed and most of them are pretty uncontroversial and indeed many would help SF’s constituency just as much as the DUP’s.

Equally, however, SF can argue that in a partnership government both partners need to get some of their wish list enacted or at least some compromise on their favourite things. SF are of course getting some of what they want (hands on the levers of power). However, they have built the issues of the ILA, Maze and P&J into massive issues; almost a touch stone of the acceptability of the whole agreement. In addition the arguments about their issues seem to have become dichotomised into absolutes: either policing and justice is devolved or it is not; there either is or is not an Irish Language Act, either the Maze stadium (complete with “shrine”) is built or it is not. Then add in the mutual veto and the zero sum game nature of politics here and the DUP become extremely unlikely to give way.

Even if SF gave a bit and watered down some of their proposals (as they appeared to when Alliance were mooted for P&J) that does not force the DUP to give ground. Equally of course if the DUP were to accept some form of compromise on any of the above issues they would have lost in the dichotomy: there would be an ILA, or a Maze shrine, or devolved policing and justice. The DUP also undoubtedly fear that if any of these issues were allowed in they would be added to by SF in the future: even a weak ILA would become more prominent, the shrine would be talked up endlessly, SF would eventually get some control of P&J. Also of course on any of those issues they would hand the UUP and TUV an enormous stick with which to beat them. As Pete Baker has repeatedly noted SF failed to force the DUP to sign up to giving the ILA, the Maze or a timetable for P&J and the more SF complain about these issues and make them Republican shibboleths, the more the DUP will feel the need to oppose them.

Again a major problem for SF is that they are the ones who want major and controversial change whereas the DUP’s agenda is essentially that of normal boring government. The danger in that is that SF by using their current tactic of blocking everything, look as if they are only interested in issues which are fairly peripheral to the lives of ordinary people, especially in the credit crunch. Exactly what local politicians could do about the credit crunch is in fairness unclear but it makes an easy debating point against them to complain that they will not address bread and butter issues.

The problem centres around a series of essentially unanswerable issues: The parties are trapped in a mandatory coalition and with a mutual veto. They cannot split up and try to form an alternative executive. They cannot overcome the veto. Even when there is another election it is almost certain to return essentially the same situation. A programme for government cannot be agreed after the election during the coalition building phase in the way it would in any other coalition government due to the almost diametrically opposed positions of the parties and the inevitability that they will be in government together.

Even leaving aside the TUVish arguments about “terrorists in government”, the current system seems completely unable to deliver coherent government. The agreements supporters tend to answer this sort of comment by suggesting that any alternative would be worse. The problem with that line of reasoning is that as the whole process continues to look ever more farcical the alternatives will have to keep getting worse in order to keep pace. Otherwise people may decide to try something different. Of course the whole thing may yet be sorted out: this may all be window dressing for a deal already hammered out. That used to be the position I tended to adopt: I am beginning to wonder if that was an error.

  • DC

    ‘to reject compromises “on principle”, to reject the possibility of compromises in general, no matter of what kind, is childishness, which is difficult to ever consider seriously.’

    (Lenin – Left-wing Communism: An infantile disorder)

  • Dave

    “Of course the whole thing may yet be sorted out: this may all be window dressing for a deal already hammered out. That used to be the position I tended to adopt: I am beginning to wonder if that was an error.”

    I don’t think that is an error. SF are only useful to the British government if they can follow directions from that government AND bring their supporters with them. The key direction is that the formerly disenfranchised Shinners are to be integrated into the reform political system in NI. ‘No return to Stormont,’ ‘Not an ounce, not a bullet’ and ‘No support for Her Majesty’s forces of occupation’ etc were all SF mantras aimed at reassuring their supporters that SF were following a British agenda. All opposing positions have been skilfully reversed to the degree that SF supporters celebrated the return to Stormont, approved of decommissioning, and 95% of them gave their support to the police at a special SF Ard Fheis. It is this control over the Shinner sheep that makes the leadership of SF so valuable to their controllers. That leadership can only maintain that level of control if they are seen by the supporters to be advancing the supporter’s interests rather than the interests of the British government. In this context, SF will be directed to support Stormont but will also be given the required licence as to how they go about it. They look like they have autonomy, don’t they? They look like they can take it or leave it, and that is precisely the purpose of this skilful exercise. The problem for the British government is that its intelligence agencies do not control the DUP.

  • Dave

    Typo: …were all SF mantras aimed at reassuring their supporters that SF were [b]not[/b] following a British agenda.

  • turgon for pope

    Poor ol turgie gonna go join the free ppps.

  • steve

    Turgon
    danger in that is that SF by using their current tactic of blocking everything, look as if they are only interested in issues which are fairly peripheral to the lives of ordinary people, especially in the credit crunch.

    I would sugest that you are wrong and these issues are only in the periphery to unionists who are happy with the status quo, nationalists and not just SFers do want movement on these issues and will back SF

    Time onionists accept that there ARE 2 solitudes not 1

  • Driftwood

    Exactly what local politicians could do about the credit crunch is in fairness unclear

    Is that a serious remark Turgon?

    Well, they could ‘nationalise’ the Progressive Building Society in to the ‘Bank of Northern Ireland’ and offer cheap credit to anyone who asked. They could subsidise Tesco etc to offer Bread and Guinness at 20% of the current retail price.
    They could turn a blind eye to fuel laundering and make diesel cheap as chips….
    I’m off to the pub.

  • Anon

    Dave

    You make a very valid point. In my view it is the disenfranchised Shinners that are dictating the pace. This is why hot issues such as Northern Bank, PIRA assets, McCartney, Quinn are ignored by both the government and DUP.

    This is an absolute disgrace. Sinn Fein want their hands on P&J;and will cite recent cases as examples of how republicans back the police – but these are only crimes where members of SF and PIRA are not implicated. What is galling is how the DUP are willing to go along with this. Why are they not pressuring SF on key justice issues? What is their kick back? Is this to save SF from the dienfranchised republicans? Is it government pressure?

    A case against a very senior republican recently collapsed and there wasn’t a whimper form the DUP.

    Whatever the reason the DUP are doing what they accused everyone else of doing – sweeping it all under the carpet.

  • riverlagan

    The phrase coined by the TUV is “Unrepentant terrorists in government”. So unless they repent for their past regressions they will never be fit for government. The fact is, even if the IRA army council stood down, the TUV would then ask Sinn Fein members to apologize – something of which is even more implausible.

  • Bigger Picture

    “Much as I may personally distrust one party and loathe the other”

    But which is which?!?!

  • Turgon

    Oh come on BP you can work that one out.