“put aside the myth and deal with the here-and-now realities..”

Alex Kane in The News Letter on the continuing stalemate in the Northern Ireland Executive.

If Sinn Fein were serious about reaching agreement on a range of issues wider than their own personal agenda and cooperating with, rather than facing down, their political opponents, they might discover that it was easier to reach deals on the more controversial matters. Indeed, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that confrontation and crisis are the deliberately chosen features of their present strategy.

He ends by saying [page 2 of 3]

What real purpose, then, is served by the non-meeting of the Executive Committee and the tension-building around a Homecoming Parade? The underlying problem, of course, is that the DUP and Sinn Fein negotiated a carve-up at St Andrews, rather than a mutually advantageous sharing of power. Too many issues were left unresolved: and instead of the language of agreement we have the language of veto and triple locks. Neither of the two main parties can carry the show alone, and neither seems to have the inclination to carry it together.

All of which leaves two possible routes for them; a summit or a snap election (or maybe even both). Yet the very fact that a summit is required is a psychological victory for Sinn Fein. The DUP had us believe that the days of stop-start government were over and that concrete accountability had been placed at the heart of government. But that is clearly not the case. If Sinn Fein gets a summit, it will get concessions. More worryingly, though, there will be no effort to address the structural and institutional faults which led to the summit; which means that there will be more stalling and stalemate further down the line.

An election won’t solve the problem, either. Whilst I think it likely that the DUP would remain the largest unionist party (even though it could lose between five and eight seats to the UUP and TUV), Sinn Fein would probably pick up two or maybe three seats from the SDLP. In other words, there is a chance, albeit a slight one, that Sinn Fein would emerge as the largest party and claim the post of First Minister. That being the case, they need not fear an election. The very fact that, at worst, they would remain the largest party within nationalism means that they would still exercise a veto over the post-election Executive.

Whatever Sinn Fein’s real motives, be it the destruction of the process or cynical, self-serving brinkmanship, it is a particularly dangerous and thoroughly destabilising strategy. I said, above, that there were two possible routes, but there is a third one: Sinn Fein accepts the thrust and spirit of what was agreed in 1998 and 2007, and begins to exercise a less hostile influence at the heart of government.

Given the sheer scale of the problems that Northern Ireland’s economy and people could face in the next few years, it surely makes sense for Sinn Fein to put aside the myth and deal with the here-and-now realities. Their willingness to exploit the downturn for their own self-serving purposes suggests, however, that they remain trapped in the past and wrapped in hypocrisy.

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  • kensei

    Worthless. SF should do what we want. Fantastic. Just copy and paste SF and replace with the DUP. Particularly here:

    : Sinn Fein accepts the thrust and spirit of what was agreed in 1998 and 2007, and begins to exercise a less hostile influence at the heart of government.

    As I said before, problems over devolution of P&J;(and indeed an ILA) were signposted and could have been predicted 2 years ago. Both sides simply ignored what each other were saying, and are now apparently surprised by the results.

    Also, you have a bloody cheek posting that one up Pete, considering you’ve turned this site into Slugger’O’PolicingandfuggingJustice based on the precise detail of what was agreed rather than the “spirit”.

  • George

    I really don’t understand why commentators like Kane are reading more into this than there is. It’s quite simple really.

    Unionism made decommissioning a red flag issue and SF have done the same with policing and justice.

    It was a no-brainer for unionism to wait until its red flag issue was addressed to its satisfaction, and it is now a no-brainer for SF to do the same on policing.

    Both red flag issues are ones that involved great soul searching and compromise by one side but also issues that the British, Irish and American agreed needed to happen.

    And just as SF tried for years not to be nailed down on the issue of decommissioning, with semantic arguments about it not been clearly specified in the agreement, now we have the DUP trotting out the same line on policing and justice.

    The fact that the DUP is committed to devolving policing and justice at some stage is as relevant to the argument as SF saying during the decommissioning standoff that the guns were rusting in the ground and would never be used.

    And as for Kane’s point that there are so many things to be done, the Assembly could have been doing so many constructive things during all those years when it was suspended because of the decommissioning row.

  • Why am I still a UUP voter?

    ‘If Sinn Fein gets a summit, it will get concessions’ – there speaks the voice of the true Trimbleite. Balls, of course, but what else can you expect from a man predicting that we’ll gain seats in any snap election? Evidence proffered? none, for the simple reason that every indicator available says the reverse. Mind you, with Alex’s track record of predicting UUP electoral gains, I suppose it’s at least psychologically interesting – as a measure of, “how long does it take before a crippling, inhibiting trauma wears off?” – to see that he’s actually back in the business of making his crazeee predictions.

  • Dec

    Given the sheer scale of the problems that Northern Ireland’s economy and people could face in the next few years, it surely makes sense for Sinn Fein to put aside the myth and deal with the here-and-now realities.

    Yet another impassioned plea, for the benefit of the masses, for SF to get back to work on something (the Economy) the assembley can’t actually do anything about, and pretending no-one cares about anything other than food on the table: panem et circenses redux.
    It’s not quite up there with Naomi Long’s “we can’t solve the global credit cruch completely” howler, but notable for it’s contempt for the electorate’s intelligence.

    That being said it’s now obvious that if Gary Glitter released a statement criticising SF, Baker would blog it.

  • cynic

    “you’ve turned this site into Slugger’O’PolicingandfuggingJustice based on the precise detail of what was agreed rather than the “spirit”. ”

    Kensei

    Sorry but it’s that old Proddie ethos again. When we look at the detail and see clear committments then (bugger me) we generally expect that people will follow through on them. If they don’t we become a tad suspicious.

    We know you want us to follow the more slippery, Latin, “here’s the big picture, now just lie back, trust us and you wont get pregnant, honest’ type of approach. But that’s against our nature. Bitter experience has taught us that, in dealing with SF its wise to check the calendar, use two condoms, not just one and take the morning after pill just in case.

    And therein lies a problem. For both of us.

    As for the fact that you find all this repetitive in here? I dont blame you…but that’s the political world we live in….. a repetitive, one dimensional, narrow, sectarian gutter in which, sadly, most people are quite comfortable.

  • the future’s bright the future’s orange

    considering that P&J;is holding the entire assembly to ransom i find it appropriate that Pete discusses. Keep up the good work.

  • DC

    Dec, I have supported the need for policing and justice to be devolved; however, my support was based on the notion of transparent debate, persuasion and appeal across the communities as to why it should be devolved.

    The apparent lack of media pre-planning to win the agenda argument of policing by May 08 proves that rather than avert anger leading to hostility Sinn Fein has, perhaps purposely, allowed it to build up. Pete Baker posted a response by McGuinness before the Assembly closed for summer about the moves taken to secure the transfer, and McGuinness clearly stated that no debate had occurred between OFM-dFM (notice the small d). Therefore, no cross-community lobbying or media-chasing to fix a win had taken place. It is ultimately failed leadership qualities in SF and indeed the DUP.

    Doing this bears all the hallmarks of ethnic leadership and falls short of civic leadership – that is persuasion for the wider public good.

    Without a wider debate arguing in favour of police powers the vacuum is filled by non-argument and is linked to manipulation of the core vote, that without appropriate explanation allows old notions of inequality to be used. This feeds into the claims of ethnic self-esteem problems through that prism of perceived ethno-national group inequality.

    Group rights are impossible to theorise and qualify, and therefore, it is becoming apparent that with all the threats Sinn Fein is deploying it would seem an ethno-national strategy. This is to encourage a mobilising of resentment within the community, one community, if that community actually permits itself to believe that there is a ‘group self-esteem’ problem at play here. Or whether that ‘community’ is being manipulated rather than persuased into needing police powers up front. SF needs the powers to be delivered, not those who identify themselves as nationalists. Is it manipulation or persuasion SF is using?

    I now believe this to be ethnic manipulation because of the lack of any accountablity, transparency of debate and lack of persuasive arguments that transcend narrow party demands that would create buy-in across the community to secure the transfer on favourable terms.

    The same applies to the DUP re the no-confidence stance, the biggest sham leadership ever whenever the two joint first ministers haven’t the balls to put themselves to the Assembly for a cross-community vote because they know they wouldn’t get it. So in that case DUP-SF had it removed to suit themselves, pathetic little sneaky cowards.

    Ethnic leadership at its worst. Kid yourself not, both are as bad as each other, interlocked into a rise to power that hopefully sees them both fall out of power as well. Fingers crossed it’s as quick as the rise for they both parties have failed to put people first.

  • fin

    I must say that that is the least anti-republican article I have ever read from Kane,

    I wonder if the groundwork isn’t been laid for a DUP agreement on P&J;, ie SF could gain more from a summit or an election so lets just agreed a date for P&J;and get on with the ‘really’ important things suchas saving the world from financial crisis.

  • The first paragraph of Kane’s article (as reproduced above) applies absolutely equally to the DUP. It is ironic, in a strangely sad way, how both parties have painted themselves into corners which only a compromise can get them out of.

    I remain convinced, however, that compromise is harder for the DUP than for SF. Too many absolutes have been proclaimed by the DUP, and too extreme positions adopted as they overtook the UUP and battled the fantasy enemy that is the TUV. Any compromise whatsoever is going to be a sign of perceived defeat.

    For SF, though, the last 10 years have been a history of compromise, and the party has not raised too many absolute barriers. It also faces less of a threat from the SDLP or the miniscule dissidents.

    I bet SF are rather pleased with this situation. The longer it goes on – knowing that only compromise can end it – the more the DUP must squirm. Poor Robinson – to wait so long to inherit such a bad hand.

  • kensei

    cynic

    Sorry but it’s that old Proddie ethos again. When we look at the detail and see clear committments then (bugger me) we generally expect that people will follow through on them. If they don’t we become a tad suspicious.

    Which sounds all fine and upstanding, unless you’re the cute wee hoor who’s using the letter to wriggle out of things.

    But it also isn’t the point. Alex is arguing that SF go with the “spirit” of the agreements.

    We know you want us to follow the more slippery, Latin, “here’s the big picture, now just lie back, trust us and you wont get pregnant, honest’ type of approach. But that’s against our nature. Bitter experience has taught us that, in dealing with SF its wise to check the calendar, use two condoms, not just one and take the morning after pill just in case.

    No, I am not saying that, and neither is SF. What they are saying is quite simple. This is a red line issue for them, and everything stalls until it gets resolved. What the letter was 18 months ago is irrelevant. They felt they had secured devolution of P&J;, if not at the deadline then quite near it. They made it clear it was a bottom line issue. What now matters is what exactly you are going to do. So you can lie back, spin, shout, squirm, scream, stand on one leg but if you actually want to move forward then you are going to have to deal with it. And they can do that because that is how the Assembly works, in concrete. You may not want to. You may feel it is bullying or unfair or whatever. Fair enough. But suggesting they just capitulate is not a particularly useful suggestion. And at the moment, this si the only game in town.

  • Mick Fealty

    Kensei,

    “As I said before, problems over devolution of P&J;(and indeed an ILA) were signposted and could have been predicted 2 years ago.”

    But it was predicted 2 years ago. By Pete Baker. And you slagged him for it back then, just as you are slagging him for it now.

    Of course, the letter of the law is not the ultimate determining factor in politics: political will is. Thus the St Andrews deal was (apparently) done between two parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – both of which many said could never agree.

    It is becoming clear which of the two parties seems prepared to live with that so-called ‘indigenous deal’, and which one can’t.

    For anyone trying to work out what is actually happening (given the ‘failed’ attempts at spinning it otherwise over the last two years), it is essential to pay attention – as though they were spelt out in BLOCK CAPITALS – to exactly what the letter of the agreement actually was.

    Otherwise it is tantamount to arguing that the spirit of the agreement fully encompasses serial misrepresentation of the letter.

  • Mick Fealty

    Just to add: solving the problem may be your priority, but you cannot expect others to want to resolve it by accepting what they consider to be false TORs.

    DC’s point about transparency point up a problem the DUP will find down the line. What precise metric do you use to measure confidence sufficient to let down the powers over P & J?

    For now, Sinn Fein does not hold sufficient trump cards to allow it to do anything other than suspend the devolved institutions by a dreadfully slow form of political asphyxia.

  • kensei

    Mick

    But it was predicted 2 years ago. By Pete Baker. And you slagged him for it back then, just as you are slagging him for it now.

    I don’t Pete lowered himself anywhere to “future” on the effects of SF not getting what they want, Mick. He simply stated the deadline wasn’t as tight as they presented. Moreover, I did not “slag him off” at the time. I simply said I’d be surprised if SF hadn’t had private assurance or understanding that meant they’d get it. Which there is some indication they had to some degree. When it became clear that they whatever they were, it wasn’t going to be enough, I accepted SF had done a bad job of it.

    And the only thing I “slag” him for now is the clogging of this site with posts on the same topic every 2 minutes, often with no more information than someone said something that someone else had already said. It crowds out potentially more interesting stuff, the weed of the sluggerverse.

    Of course, the letter of the law is not the ultimate determining factor in politics: political will is. Thus the St Andrews deal was (apparently) done between two parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – both of which many said could never agree.

    It is becoming clear which of the two parties seems prepared to live with that so-called ‘indigenous deal’, and which one can’t.

    I’m sorry, Mick, but that is nonsense. Part of that “indigenous deal” was the mutual veto — and it was the DUP that wrote in a lot of the accounting mechanisms that SF can use to frustrate the DUP. The DUP is clearly frustrated by the block SF have placed on the Executive. If the DUP can’t handle it, or move at all, then they are just as guilty as not being able to live with what they signed up to. It’s more subtle, but just as true. And at least SF could say they thought they had what they wanted. The DUP simply thought they’d be the only ones that would use it.

    For anyone trying to work out what is actually happening (given the ‘failed’ attempts at spinning it otherwise over the last two years), it is essential to pay attention – as though they were spelt out in BLOCK CAPITALS – to exactly what the letter of the agreement actually was.

    It is at this point an intellectual pursuit. An agreement has meaning only if it can be enforced. The DUP can enforce the non-deadline at the cost of the Assembly freezing up and perhaps ultimately the destruction of the institutions. The question moves. It is now longer “What then?” but “What now?”. Pete argues on some kind of moral basis that what wasn’t agreed shouldn’t be expected to be enforced. But this isn’t a moral issue, and politics didn’t stop at St Andrews.

    Otherwise it is tantamount to arguing that the spirit of the agreement fully encompasses serial misrepresentation of the letter.

    Now that is some spin. It was clear for anyone with eyeballs that devolution of P&J;was an important part of the deal, and the deadline was met with an expectation that it would be met, or close to. Bertie has said as much. Further, the process has been built on various face saving fudges designed to get us past a block but with an ultimate goal in mind. The “spirit” of the deal was quite clear, and if you want it you need not just to look at the letter but also the context of the time, the Appendices and the rest of the bits.

    In any case, it is still academic. This is and always has been a red line for Republicans. So what now? Appeals to St Andrews don’t really answer it.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Alex clearly has himself in a muddle here – when he refers to SF’s “own personal agenda” – the transfer of Police is Nationalist Irelands and the 2 governments agenda.

    This is just more Ulster Unionist jibber jabber as they hide under the DUP coatails – the Belly Telly survey tells us what the majority of people in Norn Iron want is closer to the SF/SDLP position.

  • Captain Horace Tinklebottom

    “Unionism made decommissioning a red flag issue and SF have done the same with policing and justice.”

    Maybe David was badly advised in that case. Or advised by left-fielders, or just very mistaken, could it be, that SF are badly served in some depts as well?

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken,

    If you are confused as to what Pete actually said, try Googling “On target dates and commitments – or deadlines and conditions”. It should come up with a post from Pete in November 2006, in which he identifies exactly this contradiction without ever committing the ‘foul act’ of futuring.

    And the question is far from academic. Indeed any attempt to try and read current events without taking account of how we got here is bound to be lop sided, partial. As is obvious from this passage from your own post:

    “An agreement has meaning only if it can be enforced. The DUP can enforce the non-deadline at the cost of the Assembly freezing up and perhaps ultimately the destruction of the institutions.” [Emphasis is mine]

    It is up to SF to police its own red lines, not for its opponents to give them a free ride on them. To leave yourself in a position of weakness like that, and then to press ahead with action that only continues to underline that weakness is only piling strategic folly on strategic folly.

    It may be that SF thought they could strike a deal with the DUP ‘sotto voce’ whilst continuing with the sham fight in public. Maybe that will come out in the final denouement.

    The non deadline is part of the Agreement SF signed, whether it contravenes republican red lines or not. It is therefore ‘unenforceable’.

    It was clear for anyone with eyeballs that devolution of P&J;was an important part of the deal, and the deadline was met with an expectation that it would be met, or close to. Bertie has said as much.

    Further, the process has been built on various face saving fudges designed to get us past a block but with an ultimate goal in mind.

    The “spirit” of the deal was quite clear, and if you want it you need not just to look at the letter but also the context of the time, the Appendices and the rest of the bits.

    Here’s where the ‘letter’ is crucial to understanding the ‘spirit’. It wasn’t a deadline. Check out standrewsagreement.org. Everything else that was enforceable is there. May 8th is not. Community confidence, not the date is the key metric.

    Now, you can argue (as Sinn Fein began to after May 8th) that the DUP’s view of that level of confidence is politically motivated.

    And you can legitimately argue that it’s a poor result for an Irish Republican party of SF’s heritage to end up in the invidious position where it cannot move on anything without the say so of the DUP.

    But you cannot turn that timetable into an enforceable deadline. And you cannot (inexpensively) change the terms of a deal that hands the means of thwarting every radical move you want to make to your opponents.

    You have two primary choices, as I see it: wreck the whole thing and hope you can start again; or make a big fat payment up front and take the pain early.

  • doctor

    “But you cannot turn that timetable into an enforceable deadline. And you cannot (inexpensively) change the terms of a deal that hands the means to thwarting every radical move you want to make to your opponents.”

    Except that, as Ken pointed out, it is not a one-way street for the DUP when it comes to being able to thwart their opponents’ moves. The shinners are using that means right now to legally thwart, well, anything from happening. The veto power that the DUP insisted on can be used to either thwart your opponent or, as Sinn Fein is trying, to use it as a sledgehammer to achieve your goals. The reality is they CAN, in effect, turn it into an enforceable deadline, from their perspective at least, to get what they want. Nothing may result, but they are well within their rights to try. For most real-world politicians, policing your own red lines does involve playing hardball with the opposition.

  • George

    Captain,
    Maybe David was badly advised in that case. Or advised by left-fielders, or just very mistaken, could it be, that SF are badly served in some depts as well?

    We can only speculate what would have happened if David hadn’t wobbled or been advised otherwise on that Unionist red flag issue. All that is clear is that the DUP, the party that gave the impression it wouldn’t wobble on the red flag decommisssioning issue, reaped the electoral benefits.

    Are SF being badly served or badly advised in the path they are following?

    While the nationalist community isn’t making clear its support of rejecting getting on with running the Executive while this red flag issue remains unresolved, there is certainly no evidence that Sinn Féin’s position could lose it votes.

    Just like the unionist community was told by its “negotiators” that decommissioning was part of the GFA deal, the nationalist community has been told that the devolution of policing and justice was part of St Andrews.

    Sinn Féin can justify its stance on the doorsteps so has little to fear from elections, in my view. The worst that can happen is the suspension of the Executive and considering northern nationalism has waited nearly 90 years to live in a representative democracy, the prevailing view is that a couple of more years won’t matter.

  • Dave

    [i]Also, you have a bloody cheek posting that one up Pete, considering you’ve turned this site into Slugger’O’PolicingandfuggingJustice based on the precise detail of what was agreed rather than the “spirit” – kensei[/i]

    The ‘spirit’ of what was agreed is in the letter of what was agreed: the DUP would agree to devolution when they felt the time was right. For slow learners, that means that transfer is at their discretion and not the discretion of SF.

    The fact that SF chose to misrepresent the position to their supporters as otherwise does not make it otherwise.

    Indeed, if they had a brain cell between them, those supporters would have realised that trust isn’t a reliable dynamic between two parties who patently do not trust each other. The mutual veto of St Andrews should have given other slow learners a strong clue that lack of trust between the parties was the actual dynamic. That is the actual ‘spirit’ of the agreement.

  • kensei

    Mick

    If you are confused as to what Pete actually said, try Googling “On target dates and commitments – or deadlines and conditions”. It should come up with a post from Pete in November 2006, in which he identifies exactly this contradiction without ever committing the ‘foul act’ of futuring.

    I know precisely what he said. He’s done it enough times. He said it was a date not a commitment. Correct. And that was all of it, at the time. Nowt on SF’s actions or otherwise. The moralising came later.

    And the question is far from academic. Indeed any attempt to try and read current events without taking account of how we got here is bound to be lop sided, partial. As is obvious from this passage from your own post:

    No, it isn’t. How we got here is that SF screwed up their negotiations. That is secondary to he fact they are prepared to freeze the entire system up probably and tear down the institutions over the head of it. That isn’t “partial”, it makes no judgment call, just the apparent facts on the ground at the moment. Citing St Andrews will not solve the problem. The questions that remains to be answered are:

    1. Will the DUP move?
    2. Will SF pull the trigger if they don’t?

    Everything else is indeed academic.

    It is up to SF to police its own red lines, not for its opponents to give them a free ride on them. To leave yourself in a position of weakness like that, and then to press ahead with action that only continues to underline that weakness is only piling strategic folly on strategic folly.

    Now, you’re making a judgment call. Whether it is underlying a weakness or not is in the eye of the beholder. It can just as easily be seen as bringing the DUP to heel and a test of the new structure sin preventing Nationalism being overrun by Unionism. Certainly there is no indication of any particular trouble over SF following the course they have, compared to say, education.

    The non deadline is part of the Agreement SF signed, whether it contravenes republican red lines or not. It is therefore ‘unenforceable’.

    Unless SF force it through by other actions.

    Here’s where the ‘letter’ is crucial to understanding the ‘spirit’. It wasn’t a deadline. Check out standrewsagreement.org. Everything else that was enforceable is there. May 8th is not. Community confidence, not the date is the key metric.

    Oh really Mick? Because I hadn’t noticed that. the ILA certainly hasn’t seemed to be enforceable either. And you can still scream “DEADLINE” all you like, but if SF vetoes progress on this and Nationalism continues to back them, then none of us are going anywhere until its done. Compare decommissioning.

    But you cannot turn that timetable into an enforceable deadline. And you cannot (inexpensively) change the terms of a deal that hands the means of thwarting every radical move you want to make to your opponents.

    Of course you can. You block progress until you get what you want, or close enough. Try to get external pressure to work for you. That is exactly what Unionism did over decommissioning.

    What does “taking the pain” mean here? It means rolling over. Call a spade a spade. It does Nationalism nor SF no good whatsoever. If that’s your options, then the Assembly is as good as blown up.

  • Mick Fealty

    doctor,

    I’ve nothing against that, under the principles of Realpolitik. I’ve pointed out here, and in a recent piece for the House Magazine, that the DUP gifted them SF particular weapon.

    But policing your red lines after you’ve let them lapse is only calling attention to the lapse.

  • Greenflag

    Mick ,

    ‘You have as I see it two primary choices : wreck the whole thing and hope you can start again; or make a big fat payment up front and take the pain early. ‘

    I’d have said HAD two choices – It’s too late now to resurrect the dead . Lazarus cannot be revived now without losing face. As with Sunningdale and other Stormont suspensions the problem is not SF or the DUP- the problem is attempting to make the ‘unworkable’ work on the basis that there is no other solution . There are .

  • doctor

    “But policing your red lines after you’ve let them lapse is only calling attention to the lapse.”

    In the wider world outside of Slugger, I don’t know if that is really a problem. I agree with Ken that this isn’t necessarily causing any problems with the wider nationalist electorate-it’s seen as standing up for the side, regardless of what faults on SF’s part may have led us into this situation.

  • Mick Fealty

    doctor,

    I appreciate there is an important difference. I submit four thoughts for further consideration:

    – one, if Slugger’s readership makes up the hard core of political activists and political insiders cannot come up with an effective counter to this scenario, then the party has a problem, that will eventually transmit itself outwards.

    – two, compare, as Kensei suggests, the difference valances which attach to ‘Decommissioning’ amongst the wider Unionist community on one hand, and those of an Irish Language Act and devolution of policing and justice amongst nationalists?

    – three, P&J matters much more to the activists at the core of the party that draws its strength from people who certainly want a strong nationalist voice, but not necessarily a series of breakdowns.

    – four, the direct comparison with Trimble is that Trimble made an appeal on the basis of a letter which held no currency in the negotiations that followed the Belfast Agreement. The DUP was the wild-card that brought about the completion of that move by careful deployment of its own political capital and (no doubt) some pressure from the British.

    The question I always end up with in these conversations is: where is Sinn Fein going to get sufficient political capital from to make the DUP do what it wants/needs them to make?

    Obama? Brown? BIFFO? Or, as seems likely to me: none of the above? Which makes this mock fight all the more perplexing from a SF point of view. Why pick a fight if you don’t have the means to win it? You’re only going to look good if you get a result.

    And there’s the problem of unstable messaging. This was the party’s position in March: http://url.ie/u8d.

  • Steve

    Mick

    With the current global meltdown it begs the question WHAT INVESTORS?

    Why pick a fight if you don’t have the means to win it? You’re only going to look good if you get a result.

    you obviously have never been in too many playground brouhaha’s
    Sometimes the point to picking a fight whether you can win or not is simply to fight! If you are willing to take your lumps and try to give as good as you get, then by losing you win. Next time the playground bully might not be spoiling for a fight as he didnt like getting as good as he gave

    Besides except for rolling over and playing dead I don’t see how SF loses, SDLP has already played the croppy lay down bit and earned repudiation for itself and more votes for SF

    Of course I could be hugely mistaken as I am only Canadian

  • brian

    You guys don’t get it. Sinn Fein cannot lose. Why? Because they are IN THE RIGHT. All the chatter in the world won’t change the fact that Loyalists and Orange Men are creatures of the past while Sinn Fein is the future. Do any of you really think the the coming depression will not force the re-unification of Ireland? Catch yourselves on. England is broke and capital is flying into dollars as a safe haven. Unemployment in the UK will triple in the next two years and London will become a capital backwater replaced by Hong Kong & Moscow. So who will pay the bills in the north of Ireland when Britain is broke? The USA will step in with billions but only after the Orange men capitulate and join the Republic.

  • michael

    Brian

    LOL

    I think there’s a space free at the Queen’s SU comedy night free if you’re interested!

  • brian

    The facts remain. The North of Ireland produces nothing, creates nothing, and is therefore worth nothing. The brits know this and are trying to get out as fast as they can. They are broke. Prove me wrong, I dare you.

  • George

    Mick,
    The question I always end up with in these conversations is: where is Sinn Fein going to get sufficient political capital from to make the DUP do what it wants/needs them to make?

    You appear to be looking at this from the attitude that it is in SF’s interests to have the Assembly up and running, that it is somehow vital to their electoral progress.

    SF don’t need to make the DUP do anything. That is why this is a no-brainer for them. They just need to keep the optics right for their voter base.

    SF can just as easily dominate northern nationalism with Stormont suspended as with it up and running. In fact, it might be even easier.

    This impasse is getting zero airplay south of the border so it’s not going to affect them there either.

    The British, Irish and American governments have all expressed the belief policing and justice should be devolved so SF can probably survive what pressure they bring to bear on them too.

  • Reader

    George: SF can just as easily dominate northern nationalism with Stormont suspended as with it up and running. In fact, it might be even easier.
    Hardly, since there is no point in continually electing shinners to do nothing, in any forum, anywhere.
    The party *had* hoped to turn their profile in the Assembly and St Andrew’s talks into votes in the 26 counties. That was a disappointment for them – but it could have been worse; they could have gone into that election as complete nobodies. That’s the risk they are running now – a negative feedback loop.

  • George

    Reader,
    Hardly, since there is no point in continually electing shinners to do nothing, in any forum, anywhere.

    Well they seem to have absolutely no problem getting elected to Westminster to do nothing so why not get elected to do nothing at Stormont. Or even better not have Stormont elections at all.

    As I said in my previous post, SF don’t need to have Stormont up and running to remain the dominant electoral force in northern nationalism.

    The party *had* hoped to turn their profile in the Assembly and St Andrew’s talks into votes in the 26 counties. That was a disappointment for them – but it could have been worse; they could have gone into that election as complete nobodies. That’s the risk they are running now – a negative feedback loop.

    Maybe they did hope that (worst fools them) but they learnt the hard way in 2007 that profile alone won’t get you elected to Dáil Éireann (hello Mr McDowell), you have to have policies that people want implemented and you have to have the trust of the electorate.

    Sinn Féin’s progress in the Republic won’t be affected by a suspended or collapsed Stormont caused by the failure of the DUP to name a date for the devolution of policing and justice, it will be affected by what they do south of the border. So far they have been unable to present a coherent platform and have paid the price.

    But four years is a long time and because of our electoral system they are always only one election away from being in a coalition government if the numbers stack up.

    They have four seats now, if they managed 8 in 2012 (hardly unimaginable if they play their cards right in the recession) and because of the numbers were necessary to remove FF from power after over two decades, hello Mary Lou McDonald Minister for Health.

  • kensei

    Mick

    – two, compare, as Kensei suggests, the difference valances which attach to ‘Decommissioning’ amongst the wider Unionist community on one hand, and those of an Irish Language Act and devolution of policing and justice amongst nationalists?

    With respect, the perceived notions of importance are moot. It matters if and only if it is translated into an electoral change. Otherwise the outcome is the same: a complete block on progress until the other side moves.

    All political capital ultimately stems from the electorate. If there is another election and they are backed strongly, SF get more capital. If it is a red line, rather than a “sham fight” as you put it, then eventually it will need dealt with before progress can be made here. Perhaps it stalls progress for another 5 years. So what? SF are playing a long game and Stormont isn’t the final outcome they are interested in.

    Second the story missed here is the failure of leadership of the DUP — if they are interested in partnership government. They could not have failed to realise in the past year that this was likely to cause a problem. Polls were there showing tacit support for devolution of P&J;. Strong leadership could have sealed the deal, and they could have extracted a price form SF — enough to keep the impression they were wiping the floor with SF. But they freaked out about the TUV on their right, and pulled attitudes precisely the opposite direction.

    Compare and contrast how SF’s move has helped with attitudes to policing. Where do the DUP get the political capital to break the deadlock in their favour, unless there is a hung parliament in the next few years?

  • kensei

    George

    They don’t even need to gain. They could lose 2 seats and still be important enough to extract concessions, if the numbers fell right.

  • Dave

    “But four years is a long time and because of our electoral system they are always only one election away from being in a coalition government if the numbers stack up.” – George

    Well, all of the party leaders emphatically ruled out accepting SF as a coalition partner prior to the last election irrespective of the numbers. What has changed this time? Well, there are still issues related to its links with organised crime, lack of allegiance to the Republic, links to British intelligence services, skeletons in the closet, upsetting relations with Unionists, etc, but the key issue – at least the reason that it was more politically acceptable to proffer in place of the outstanding issues – is that they wouldn’t touch SF as long as it had a paramilitary wing. In that regard, the last report from the IMC may allow them to shift their position if required at the next election. However, I have my doubts that any of the parties would touch the Shinners. It wouldn’t be in the national interest to have a party that was inextricably linked to a campaign of squalid sectarian murder in the Irish government. Every examination of their bloody historical baggage as reported in the international media would inevitably link modern Irish government to it. There are limits to party-political pragmatism, and that’s one of them. Besides, it’s very unlikely that FF will be in a position to form the next government with its traditional partners. FG and Labour (assuming they have another arrangement) are unlikely to need SF’s numbers even if either party would entertain them (Labour don’t want to promote their competition for working class votes and Fine Gael simply detest them).

    “As I said in my previous post, SF don’t need to have Stormont up and running to remain the dominant electoral force in northern nationalism.” – George

    But they do. It is their only long-term platform (and, besides, they don’t actually have any choice in the matter. Despite the current charade designed to create thhe bogus appearence of autonomy, puppets end up where their strings pull them). If Stormont failed because Unionists pull the plug (highly unlikely to happen), then the only connection that northern Irish nationalism will have to the Irish government is via the Irish government’s preferred route, i.e. the SDLP.

  • Mick Fealty

    George:

    “You appear to be looking at this from the attitude that it is in SF’s interests to have the Assembly up and running, that it is somehow vital to their electoral progress.”

    Not at all. But if you are going to go the extra-parliamentary route, you’ll need to continue some forward momentum. You don’t need much to take people with you, but, like riding a bicycle, you do need some otherwise you fall over.

    What’s notable too is that, thus far, the governments seem happy to let us have our little domestic, at least until it topples over. If it does, then we’re into another scenario. And one, where external political capital will matter a great deal more than how many votes you have stacked up in your silos.

    No serious observer doubts SF is playing a long game. But it is foolish to imagine that the DUP is not playing one too. In his interview with me for Total Politics, Robinson noted that he found it difficult to persuade MPs to give up their Westminster mandates in favour of one at Stormont, whilst there was doubt being cast on the future of the devolved institutions.

    As for leadership and the long game, well the DUP have had a great deal of stick from liberal Unionists for being what’s pejoratively known as ‘Ulster Nationalists’. That’s because first and foremost they are focused on opposing Irish Nationalism on whichever ground is chosen: parliamentary or extra-parliamentary. They’re not remotely interested in making East Belfast seem like Finchley.

    In fact, both strands of Unionism are ‘liberal’, but whilst the Ulster Unionists descend from a Liberal Tory line, the DUP emerges from a radical dissenting traditions of Unionism, and are as accustomed to political alienation in a similar way that the SF/IRB/Fenian line of Irish Nationalism has been.

    SF’s mistake has been to treat both strands of Unionism as though they suffered from the same fundamental flaws. And to continue to believe that so long as the home vote was rising or strong they would continue to get help from allies in London, Dublin and Washington.

    The DUP will take the pain of collapse, not least because they have spent the last three and four years cosying up to Gordon. And given his potential need to make up a majority in a tight squeeze they have neutralised his potential to make much trouble for them until the next election. If he wins again, it is likely to be under even tighter conditions than now. And if he doesn’t then Cameron has clearly flagged his intention to get much closer to unionism than any prime Minster since before the establishment of the Northern Irish state.

    IMHO, whilst I am willing to believe SF has a wild card hidden about its person, this is not a good time for any nationalist party to seek a collapse in the devolved institutions.

  • DC

    Brian, the problem with your stance is that the deadlock is being created by ethno-national manipulation, which is quite vacuous.

    Proof of this will be, along your argument, that when Northern Ireland melts away into the new Ireland, the state structure would dissolve leaving nothing of any worth to the Republic. It will be an East Berlin/Germany headache.

    And the reasons? Well, left would be a populace with insufficient skills, training, political and social skills to integrate successfully inside a new Ireland.

    What I am saying is that if there is a grinding of these constructed ethno-national strategies, when the transfer happens there will be no vibrant private sector, no engaged civic society but remaining will be a highly charged political division (this because it has been used to max out the ethnic vote to achieve a crude form of majority ‘consent’).

    There will nothing left in Northern Ireland that will be of any beneficial worth to the republic, especially in terms of social, economic and political capital.

    You will be left with ethno-nationally charged people and John Hume’s saying that ‘you can’t eat a flag’ will be most apt to those in the Republic who must discharge their vote in order to agree to the secession.

  • kensei

    Mick

    The DUP helped out Gordon over 42 days, but he still turned around and called on the DUP to set a deadline for the devolution of powers. Gratitude has a short shelf life. And unless the electoral Math gets really tight, then I can’t see a UK premier willing to risk unraveling the whole thing here. And that is the risk that is being run. It has unknowable but potentially fairly nasty consequences where that kind of power vacuum is created.

    What the Tories say in opposition and what the Tories do in power are also two different things. Cameroon has sought to get close to the Ulster Unionists in order to bring normal politics here, or some such. Can you really see anything like that goal being achieved if they start imposing a Unionist friendly agenda from the top down? Hooking up only makes sense in a scenario where the institutions are stable.

    And Robinson’s discomfiture at the blockade of the Assembly is fairly clear. He’s tried threats, he’s tried “calling SF’s bluff” and he’s not getting anywhere. He clearly wnats to get on with things but is caught on his own hook every bit as much as SF are. The DUP might well take the pain, but they’ll pay a price for it. I see no desire for an election that could well produce a TUV MLA or two.

    If the the various stakeholders want to see a settlement that sticks here, then everyone’s red lines have to be dealt with. And as long as SF’s vote remains strong, then they are not powerless.

  • Mick Fealty

    Hi ken,

    Interesting. Couple of things. Cameron wants the UU deal for reasons that are more to do with setting out his party’s union-wide unionist credentials. And when the British PM does something other than ask the DUPs to set a deadline, I’ll believe they are under pressure on this one.

    Secondly, the whole thing is already unravelling, so that bolt has already been shot. The “unknowable but potentially fairly nasty consequences” are already with us. How does it get worse? The IRA goes back to war? On what grounds? Unionists won’t give themselves (or their proxies) oversight over policing?

    Yes, yes, I know that’s ridiculous, but that’s what the threat adds up to this year. In previous years it was (potentially) different.

    And do you really think the TUV will do anything this year if an election is called on the basis that the DUP refused to devolve policing and justice under Sinn Fein’s terms?

    What is emerging from the murk of this crisis is that some parts of the Republican movement may be possessed of a strategic tick which imagines that if you threaten to drive into a vacuum, someone more powerful will intervene and give you an advantage you cannot otherwise achieve by negotiation with your partners in the Stormont administration.

    The image comes to mind of a Sinn Fein driver at the wheel of a bulldozer pushing the Belfast Agreement et al towards a cliff, whilst shouting “stop me someone before it is too late to save our institutions/schools*!”

    The only thing that gives it plausibility is the generally poor opinion that the DUP is held by its unionist rivals and nationalism in general.

    Which begs yet another set of questions. Why are we here in the first place? Is SF under such pressure ‘at home’ that they had no choice but to act as recklessly as they have? Or did they do it voluntarily, thinking that this was the only way to get further gains from what remains of the process?

    * Delete as appropriate…

  • Mick,

    Although P+J is the principal reason given for the impasse at the moment, I think that it is more of a proxy. That proxy could have been something else, less ‘important’, like the ILA or the Maze, but the DUP handily supplied a more ‘bread and butter’ issue to SF to use as its proxy.

    And P+J is a proxy for a whole attitude, for a whole mind-set, that SF is determined to destroy. And it must destroy it if power-sharing is to work. That mind-set has been demonstrated on numerous occasions by many unionists, both senior and junior. It is a mind-set that believes that power-sharing can consist only of nationalism working meekly to administer British rule.

    In order for power-sharing to be real, power must be shared, and that doees not mean that nationalists simply administer a British agenda. It means that nationalists also administer a nationalist agenda. Clear nationalist interests must be seen to be delivered, otherwise power-sharing is an illusion. Until that fact sinks in to the DUP (and the UUP, for that matter), SF cannot let up.

    The unionists are doing their best (helped by the coincidence of the economic crisis) to pretend that the Executive has more important issues to deal with, but we all know that this is laughable.

    If, however, the DUP really did think that the economy needed the Executive to save it, then they too have a choice. They could, with minimal effort, bring about a meeting of the Executive, by simply agreeing a date for devolution of P+J. But they won’t, will they? Because, at the end of the day the ‘economic crisis’ argument is just a trick to lure SF back to heel.

    Neither P+J nor the economy are really the issue. The issue is the unwillingness of the DUP to actually share power.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t for a moment question SF’s internal imperatives (though some clarity on what they actually are would be very useful). What I do question whether they have the means to fulfil those imperatives. Your capacity to deploy coercion is limited by the means at your disposal.

  • George

    Mick,
    your point as to why the DUP can take the pain of a collapse might well be valid (even if I very much doubt if the potential you feel exists for influence at Westminster actually does) but, unfortunately for this Assembly, so can Sinn Féin.

    Indeed, if we had a situation where a partisan British PM named Cameron waded in on the unionist side, this action would push the idea of a functioning devolved parliament further back while SF would maintain its dominant position within northern nationalism.

    And what exactly could Cameron do that would force SF and/or northern nationalism to accept devolution on his or the DUP’s terms?

    More importantly, what would be the consequences of a new British government taking such a path, which, for all intents and purposes, would entail the shredding of the principles laid down in the Downing Street Declaration?

    Dave,
    Well, all of the party leaders emphatically ruled out accepting SF as a coalition partner prior to the last election irrespective of the numbers. What has changed this time?

    It will depend on numbers. After five more years of FF we will have had three decades of almost uninterrupted FF government. If FG and Labour need SF to form a stable government don’t be surprised if they jump at that opportunity. I said a long time ago on here that 2012 would be the time needed for SF to have a chance of being considered a coalition partner and I stick by it. By 2012 we will have the first voters coming on stream who weren’t even born when the first IRA ceasefire was declared. Time moves on. Anyway we’ll see who’s right in time.

  • DC

    Horseman, I agree with you about the mindset needing overcome but if Sinn Fein’s strategy is building up a nationalist identity at an N I State level the tactics inbetween have been particularly dubious, as to benefiting this outcome.

    Take the Mairead Farrell memorial event, take the obfuscation over the Omagh memorial, take wrapping language development around the courts in a criminal justice / enforcement-cum-regulation setting.

    All of these have been particularly difficult to process in getting to that situation, the ethnic concentration of seemingly sizing up proposals which are physcologically, to the wider public’s understanding of the conflict, undeliverable to unionists smacks of retaliation not reconciliation. There is no reason for hosting a Farrell event, neither is there a reason for the courts being taken to task by a commission for failure to provide officials who can speak the language of Irish speakers; same way as there is no reason for saying ‘no confidence’ but the implications are that there are, as it kind of makes sense to unionists and nationalists but only on terms of arrogance and ignorance!

    However, the DUP has done no favours at all and is locked into SF’s mindset of not arguing and using an ethno-national strategy of ‘confidence’ concerns within its own community. One calls Northern Ireland Ulster the other calls it the North neither really correct at civic level where people try to avoid politicisation to gain progress on political, social and economic grounds.

    The end might be nigh, and good riddance if it is. A wasteful bunch of melodramatic politicians beset with flawed self-esteem problems and bent on crying into their cups of tea for sympathy whenever what they really need is a good knock out blow by the electorate for being complete and utter bunch of wasters for blowing 10 good positive years. Great expectations and all that. Blown.

  • Kensei

    Mick

    Interesting. Couple of things. Cameron wants the UU deal for reasons that are more to do with setting out his party’s union-wide unionist credentials…

    Oh Cameroons flirt with Unionism has much much more to do with Scotland. Actually, it has little electorally to do with Scotland, where the Tories are a minority player, and much more to do with what sections of England would like with regards Scotland. But it still only makes sense if you are not going to get caught up in fairly poisonous politics. As shown by avoiding the DUP, he doesn’t want to get caught up in rows over abortion or gay marriage, nevermind arguments on flags or parades or anything else.

    Now Brown’s statement was hardly the strong backing of the DUP position you might expect, was it? Ultimately Brown wants this place sorted and on the back burner more than anything else.

    Secondly, the whole thing is already unravelling, so that bolt has already been shot. The “unknowable but potentially fairly nasty consequences” are already with us. How does it get worse? The IRA goes back to war?

    The IRA is not going back to war but a political vacuum will create space for dissidents. Without consequential stuff to argue over, tensions over parades may go back up. Attitudes harden and the view the other side is untrustworthy spins off. And we are no where near those nasty consequences yet, Mick. No policeman has been shot, for a start. There have not even been small bombs. It is sheer hubris to believe that we have solved all the problems of violence forever here, and if SF don’t go back to war then that’s it, there is no other danger.

    Yes, yes, I know that’s ridiculous,…

    You are making the judgment call it is ridiculous. That isn’t your call to make. It is the Nationalists electorate. Personally, it’s not simply a matter of P&J;, though that is very important for a number of reasons. It’s setting down a marker that you aren’t going to get walked over. It’s an important line to draw.

    And do you really think the TUV will do anything this year…

    “Under SF terms”? That’s your words. They’;ve refused to devolve it under any terms at all not because of anything to do with “community confidence” but because of narrow electoral reasons. I would expect the TUV to select its battles, but if a political party is serious then the chance to gain seats is too much to pass up.

    What is emerging from the murk of this crisis….

    The DUP rave St Andrews and that will do for them. Dance to our tune and maybe, possibly, if your good and Jim Allister says its ok, we’ll throw you a bone. They are not intereste din resolving it. At this level, the DUP hold overwhelming force. But they are deploying conventional arms when both sides have nuclear weapons.

    You are the one focused on outside force. If that comes, great. But this isn’t fundamentally about getting the Brits to sort it out. It’s about forcing the DUP to realise that the mutual veto works both ways. That if they can certain nuke everything on the Nationalist checklist, but there will be consequences to those actions. You are berating them for using the tools they have at their disposal in order to apply leverage. If there was something that the DUP wanted they could simply sit on that. But right this second there isn’t, and SF feel P&J;can’t wait. So they could go with this course.

    I would imagine SF would move a bit on timing and form of P&J;, given they have already done a bit of that. But they ain’t going to do whatever the DUP says.

    Which begs yet another set of questions. Why are we here in the first place?…

    I have no doubt they could have spun it out for a while without too much trouble from home. But as I tried to point out every time Pete suggests this is simply because the base is agitated, it’s more than that. The Leadership is driving this as much as the base, because they consider it important. A red line, you know.

    The way our system is set is that is either party has issues they are prepared to tear down the Assembly over, then the other side has to deal with it or let it fall. Unionism didn’t get everything it wanted on decomissioning, but it was dealt with. Perhaps Unionism is content to let the thing fall. But as long as SF can live with it too, then that’s the bottom line choice.

    I doubt it really is a red line issue for the DUP. They’ve concede the principle already. They’ve got agreement on the form they were after. It is mostly down to protecting their right and appearing tough. Why are they allowing collapse over it?

  • DC

    *psychologically – correction

  • Mick

    George and ken,

    “And what exactly could Cameron do that would force SF and/or northern nationalism to accept devolution on his or the DUP’s terms?”

    Nothing. That’s what’s daft about this whole ‘caper’. Westminster can do nothing. And, in fact, Unionists don’t need them to do anything. Sinn Fein does. I’m not in least saying Unionists will or even have the capacity to lean on Cameron, just that SF can’t.

    It’s not ‘either’ party that is threatening to tear down the system. It is just Sinn Fein.

  • It’s not ‘either’ party that is threatening to tear down the system. It is just Sinn Fein.

    I disagree. The ‘system’ is power-sharing. Shared pain, shared gain. A party that refuses to share the gain is ‘tearing down the system’.

  • DC

    Horseman, your argument is fine but for the exception that Sinn Fein appears to be wanting it for ethnic-group consolidation only. This lacks appeal to Unionism whereas if Sinn Fein had real leadership they would dress it up as civic and ethnic demands.

    But SF’s vision restricts it from going into the positive as it can’t because everything North is horrible isn’t it?

    Okay St Andrews is in favour of SF’s demands, very true perhaps just the timing.

    But we can all make demands but demanding needs there to be motivation. Sinn Fein have come unstuck and threatening the the withdrawal of the Executive business while worrying is still not as bad as threatening along party lines alone that they need quicker progress.

    After decades of everyone bending to Sinn Fein’s wishes to deliver the ‘peace process’ surely the stance of wiping out the Assembly is utterly exclusivist and devisive?

  • Kensei

    Mick

    What’s the Tories policy towards NI going to be? What’s their ultimate goal? How does Cameroon respond to a more serious breakdown?Not saying any of those answers favour SF, simply that it is more complicated than you lay out.

    It’s not ‘either’ party that is threatening to tear down the system. It is just Sinn Fein.

    Because the DUP is abusing the system. SF might be the one that is pulling the trigger, but the situation did not occur in isolation.

  • Mick

    Ken,

    Where is the pressure to change coming from, if not externally?

    You say it is abusing the system. But how? Remember SF were co-authors of this ‘indigenous deal’?

    What has become clear is that the system SF negotiated eight years on from the Belfast Agreement at St Andrews is one in which executive powersharing is permissive of Nationalist politics only when the DUP agree to it.

    I can’t see how any nationalist would be crazy about that (although it is, strictly speaking, power sharing). Yet last year Gerry said no one should interfere with it. This year he’s threatening to turf it off the edge of a cliff if he can’t get it changed.

    Which must lead the DUP to consider the possibility that if they make a concession this year, it will be something else next year. In which case the wisest course may be just to let him get on with it.

  • Kensei

    Mick

    Where is the pressure to change coming from, if not externally?

    If the DUP want devolved government, then they have to move. The pressure generates internally. I’m sure movement could be done in some face saving and mutually agreeable way.

    You reckon that governance is not important enough to them to shift. I’m not certain, Robinson is clearly irked by this, but you could well be right. Then you would need some kind of external pressure. But I’m not convinced if it does collapse, things will run all Unionism’s way forever, either. There would need to be something done — so councils might be strengthened for a start.

    You say it is abusing the system. But how?

    Because the system relies on a certain amount of acquiescence. The system is effectively the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the single go version of that game, the best strategy is to always cheat. That’s what the DUP is doing. Kill P&J;, kill the ILA, kill the Maze. Play multiple times, and the best strategy is tit-for-tat with forgiveness. So if the DUP just throws out everything Nationalism wants without question (then crows about it, to boot), the tit will inevitably be hit with tat. Which is exactly where we are.

    Remember SF were co-authors of this ‘indigenous deal’?

    If we have to construct a precise legal formula to ensure everyone stays reasonable we are doomed to fail forever. People don’t run like that, businesses don’t run like that and governments certainly can’t. There can be arguments, but there has to be some give, and some room to move. You cannot build that in. Easily at least.

    What has become clear is that the system SF negotiated eight years on from the Belfast Agreement at St Andrews is one in which executive powersharing is permissive of Nationalist politics only when the DUP agree to it.

    And Unionist politics is permissive only when Nationalism agrees. What else was there? The best we got was “Nothing happens without our say so2. That is a powerful tool to force change. It’ll not get everything, but it causes an equilibrium. If thepenny hasn’t dropped with Unionism, then it is not our fault.

    The alternative would have been to hold out for some transfer of sovereignty to the Republic. Very hard to get, but maybe possible. I have some sympathy with that view. But given the road we did go down – more to do with the SDLP than SF, remember, then this is the bets we get.

    I can’t see how any nationalist would be crazy about that (although it is, strictly speaking, power sharing). Yet last year Gerry said no one should interfere with it. This year he’s threatening to turf it off the edge of a cliff if he can’t get it changed.

    Which must lead the DUP to consider the possibility that if they make a concession this year, it will be something else next year. In which case the wisest course may be just to let him get on with it.

    That is true enough. But SF have to have some give too. P&J;is a fairly clear red line. It has always been significant, it was highlighted extensively, the context of St Andrews was fairly clear, the principle is already conceded and SF have done a generally decent job of living on their commitments on Policing. And the DUP needs to demonstrate that it won’t just nuke everything. And this a constitutional rather than policy thing.

    If it was say, the 11+, it’d be different and I’d be minded to say the DUP would be right not to give in or it would be something else next. But we need to reach some kind of equilibrium. And at the moment, it looks to me that it’s the DUP who have it out of whack at the moment.

  • Mick

    ken,

    I’ve got to leave it at that. I’m under the kosh elsewhere. You should a post on some your thoughts arising from this conversation though.

    Last thought. Tit for tat is exactly what it is. it would be good to ask people to draw out what they think the sequencing around this collapsing deal was. What was a tit, and what was a tat? (no sniggering at the back!!).

  • frustrated democrat

    Like most people P&J;is very low on my agenda, having it here is symbolic as it won’t actually have any major impact on people’s lives.

    We need health, jobs and education sorted out as top priorities when those have been dealt with then maybe the politicians should think about moving on to P&J;and other less relevant topics.

    I for one didn’t vote for politicians to serve their own narrow agendas and not those of the people of Northern Ireland – the sooner this shower get back to work the better.

  • frustrated democrat

    We need health, jobs and education sorted out as top priorities …

    We’ve always needed those, but that has never stopped the political system from dealing with other issues. The idea that politicians just wouldn’t find the time to deal with culture, sport, policing, etc, because they’re too busy solving the economic crisis or reforming education is, frankly, nonsense. That’s why we have ministers for different things. Gregory Campbell is not too busy saving the world right now, so while others are, couldn’t he be writing up his ‘strategy’ for the Irish language?

    The Executive has no power at all over the economic storms battering us, but quite a lot of scope to create a more equal society. So why doesn’t it start doing what it can do, instead of pretending that it can do what it cannot.

  • DC

    Separate but equal!

  • Kensei

    Mick

    I should be working :). I have a few things I’d like to write up but no time, most of it seems to be spent in IKEA at the moment.

    frustrated

    Excellent. I presume you mean that you’d be very happy for the DUP to just allow the transfer of the “very low on your agenda” P&J;powers so we can just get on with things? I mean, it’s not like it really matters or anything.

  • Mick

    Ken,

    Quick thought: if you tighten every component on a bicycle and then ride it over rough ground, not only will you feel every bump in the road, but the frame will break apart.

    Somehow the rider either has to loosen the joints or only take the bike on a smooth road.

    The St Andrews Agreement is a tightening of what was an already a very tight top down mechanism. It’s now being ridden (possibly to destruction) directly over the most (rather than least) difficult terrain.

    In the meantime, the dirty washing is beginning to show up on Minister’s in trays. This could run and run…

  • Mick,

    … if you tighten every component on a bicycle and then ride it over rough ground, not only will you feel every bump in the road, but the frame will break apart.

    Well, you’ve given me a laugh anyway. You’re clearly not a cyclist, or even a mechanic!

    Loose nuts and bolts will disconnect far faster than well tightened ones (especially if the latter have those clever anti-loosening nuts). And most decent bikes now have shock-absorbers.

    I’d hate to cycle a ”Fealty-brand’ loosely attached bike over a rough road, worrying about when the chain will come off, or the front wheel, or a pedal, or the handlebars …

  • doctor

    The real problem is that this bike is a two-seater with the cyclists sitting in opposite directions. Maybe its time to start thinking about buying a whole new bike?

  • Mick

    Touche Horse.

    But at least I knew what I meant.

  • Billy

    George

    I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote.

    The parallel is exact – the DUP refused to play their part until the IRA had decommissioned and now Sinn Fein are doing the same re P&J;.

    While the DUP don’t have a lot of support outside NI, most people (including myself) wanted decommissioning so the DUP tactics were not overly criticised.

    In this case, most people (including the UK, US + Irish govts) want P&J;devolved. They believe that it is part of the “spirit” of the agreement in the same way that decommissioning was NOT agreed and guaranteed in the GFA but was part of the “spirit” of the agreement.

    As far as I can see, most people outside Unionist circles believe that the DUP are being intransigent and blocking progress. The only criticism of Sinn Fein that I have seen is coming from Unionists.

    The DUP are to an extent hoisted by their own petard because Sinn Fein are simply reacting to the P&J;issue in the same way that the DUP reacted to decommissioning.

    The DUP have painted themselves into a corner by their total negative response – any sort of compromise will be seen as a climbdown by them.

    Mick

    Listening to you and Pete, one would think that there was massive support for the DUP at Westminster (and beyond) and everyone was blaming Sinn Fein.

    Your whole analysis is based on a presumption that Sinn Fein are being seen as the bad guys and the DUP as the intelligent, even-handed (LOL) reasonable good guys.

    Of course this is simply not the case.

    For obvious reasons, there is very little interest. However, as far as I can tell, the majority of people who are interested either blame both sides equally or the DUP mainly.

    Dodds tried to get the SoS to blame Sinn Fein last week which he pointedly DID NOT DO. Also, I can’t see how Gordon Brown’s recent Stormont speech could be interpreted as anything other than a push at the DUP.

    If you are aware of some massive groundswell of covert DUP support outside NI, please do tell although I doubt it.

    So what if Sinn Fein’s only tactic is to force the assembly to fade away and gradually fail? – it’s a tactic that has been used many times by Unionists. I don’t think they’ll get much sympathy for all their whinging.

    The DUP can whinge on and on about no formal transition date for P&J;- the same way they whinged on and on about another non-formal (non agreed) date – decommissioning.

    You see – you can’t have it both ways and that is blatently what the DUP are trying to do.

    The simple truth is that, if the assembly fails, NI will go back to Direct Rule with increasing input from Dublin. As I have said before, given the activities of Campbell, Wilson, Foster, Robinson etc – I really don’t see how Nationalists will be any worse off.

    For all their whinging, the DUP (and Unionism in general) long ago lost the PR battle beyond the 6 counties.

    The UK govt cannot and will not force P&J;through. However, despite Robinson’s ridiculous remarks, nor can they force Sinn Fein to attend Executive meetings or do anything else.

    There is no prospect of the assembly proceeding and bypassing Sinn Fein – neither the UK govt nor the SDLP would be foolish enough to contemplate that. Beyond NI, it would simply be a PR disaster.

    I don’t expect P&J;to be devolved anytime soon – however the only way that the assembly will continue is if there is some sort of compromise – i.e. a timetable.

    The trouble is that the DUP have played this so badly that even that will be seen as a climbdown by them and a victory for Sinn Fein.

    I’m not a Sinn Fein supporter (I particularly have no time for their “policy” on education). However, the overwhelming majority of Nationalists that I know agree with Sinn Fein’s current stance.

    The DUPs crocodile tears fool no-one – these tactics are right out of their handbook.

    The assembly will only work based on compromise and mutual respect – to date the DUP have shown very little of the former and none of the latter.

    If they’re not up to it, better to find out now and scrap the whole waste of time and money.

    Alternatively, they can move (belatedly) into the real world and start making things work.

    It’s entirely up to them.