“the way to deal with that was to put in place a process that would build community confidence..”

The News Letter notes the statement by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland [pdf file] Shaun Woodward, MP, in the House of Commons yesterday on the new Process™ – “..the events of this week mark the maturing of democracy in Northern Ireland”. But, in the Irish Times, Frank Millar spotted the caveat,

Strangford MP Iris Robinson asked Mr Woodward if he would agree that Northern Ireland’s “transition to democracy” would only be complete “when government moves from a mandatory to a voluntary coalition”. Mr Woodward said he was “tempted to say we should walk before we can run”.

The full question and answer quoted

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): Everyone welcomes the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland, but does the Secretary of State agree with me that the real transition to full democratic progress will come only when the Assembly coalition moves from being a mandatory one to being a voluntary one, with parties having the same objectives?

Mr. Woodward: I am tempted to say that we should learn to walk before we run, but if the hon. Lady’s ambition is to reach that destination sooner rather than later, and if she believes that that will succeed, we really have made terrific progress in Northern Ireland.

And there was also a note of caution expressed in one question and answer yesterday.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the astute way in which he supported the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in reaching this important agreement—a relief to me, as I promised to be the last direct rule Secretary of State. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the process will take time? It was never envisaged that there would be a big bang devolution of policing and justice, but that it would be phased. That will now occur speedily, and relatively soon there will be progress towards that objective.

Mr. Woodward: Once more, I take an opportunity to place on record not only our thanks, but, I think, the thanks of all politicians in Northern Ireland for the work of my right hon. Friend. He helped to steer the parties to the St. Andrews agreement, which allowed the two Governments to provide and reach a framework within which the institutions could be restored. On the basis of that agreement, it was possible yesterday to produce the historic agreement by the First and Deputy First Ministers that will allow devolution to be completed. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise, however, the need for all of us to continue to support the Government in Northern Ireland in whatever way we can. Even if there are setbacks in the months to come, we remain resolved, and the Prime Minister remains resolved, to provide every help we can to ensure the completion of devolution. [added emphasis]

And on that new Process™

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I join the Secretary of State in welcoming the positive turn of events this week that will see the Executive meet again after 22 weeks. Does he agree that it was no active leadership that prevented the Executive from meeting during that time of pain for the economy, public services and the voluntary sector, and is he confident that there will be no slippage or slipperiness in the process outlined by the First and Deputy First Ministers and that a time scale is envisaged if not actually expressed?

Mr. Woodward: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to enabling the First and Deputy First Ministers to reach agreement yesterday on finding a way forward on the devolution of policing and justice. In relation to timetables and dates, I caution him and other hon. Members that the agreement reached yesterday by the First and Deputy First Ministers was carefully put together to recognise the respective positions of both parties and to recognise that the way to deal with that was to put in place a process that would build community confidence. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the words used yesterday by both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister—they both want devolution without undue delay. [added emphasis]

As I suggested, back to St Andrews..

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  • Modernist

    No-one picking up on auld Iris’s statement about the voluntary coalition thing. A step backwards I would think. Would any right minded socially liberal person want a party with anti gay sectarian and insane religious attitudes to have free reign of the place. Itd be a mistake to give unionists the run of the place on their own….they haven’t exactly proven their democratic principles over the years..Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party and Ulster Resistance tar the UUP and DUP respectively. The only voluntary coalition I could consciensiously support would be one of the SDLP and Alliance. I doubt people on the ground are ready for that change yet… maybe theyll never be ready either way. Itd be far easier just to repartition the place just leave NI as North armagh,North Down and Atrim bar the North of Antrim like shbould have been done in the 20’s

  • ??

    they haven’t exactly proven their democratic principles over the years..Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party and Ulster Resistance tar the UUP and DUP respectively. ………………..

    amazingly no mention of sinn feins butchering of innocent men, women and children

  • @Modernist: supporting a voluntary coalition between SDLP and Alliance is your prerogative. But coalitions are formed by the parties, usually without a pre-election pact, i.e. unholy alliances can occur afterwards.

    Question is whether the NI electorate would (a) support a cross-community voluntary coalition, e.g. Sinn Fein-DUP or even SDLP-UUP, and (b) punish such parties for failing collective responsibilities.

    Sadly, the answer today is “no” to both.

    I support the ideal, but until voters are agnostic (or at least, not hostile) to (1) multiple variants of pacts and (2) elect reps on ability not identity, then I see mandatory coalitions for a while.

  • Dec

    but does the Secretary of State agree with me that the real transition to full democratic progress will come only when the Assembly coalition moves from being a mandatory one to being a voluntary one, with parties having the same objectives?

    Pretty unlikely when Unionists view the arrangements as a permanent solution and Nationalists as a transitional settlement.

  • Trent

    @Modernist

    No-one picking up on auld Iris’s statement about the voluntary coalition thing. A step backwards I would think. Would any right minded socially liberal person want a party with anti gay sectarian and insane religious attitudes to have free reign of the place. Itd be a mistake to give unionists the run of the place on their own….they haven’t exactly proven their democratic principles over the years..

    You don’t seem to understand what democracy is. Democracy means that if socially liberal candidates get the votes then we get socially liberal policies and if socially conservative candidates get the votes then we get socially conservative policies. As for your reason for not wanting the abolition of mandatory coalition it is simply not a legitimate one. It only amounts to “I don’t like themmuns” and a bit of bigotry.

    The real reason for consociational government cannot be “themmuns are bigots”. The real reason is that Northern Ireland is the intersection of two nations, with two national identities, each with a rightful separate degree of sovereignty of their own and therefore a natural right to veto that to which they do not consent. This should apply equally in a united Ireland as in a United Kingdom. It was the “solution” to our problem. Therefore to abolish it on the grounds that we should have “normal government” strikes at the heart of the agreement. We are not normal. We will never be normal. By all means lets aim to be a Belgium or a Switzerland at peace with itself, but consociational government is necessary and always should be. It is not something to “grow out of” either with NI in the UK or in any future united Ireland scenario.

  • ggn

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/sdlp-outlines-plans-to-protect-irish-language-14069405.html

    The game is afoot.

    It is amazing how the SDLP have taken this bold action and being ignored by all an sundry, not what people what to hear.

  • Mick Fealty

    #??,

    Really? The Secretary of State is the NIO line. I rest my case.

    Sammy,

    “…his re-writing of the text on the IMC issue – or is that another example of his fine work?”

    It was indeed. A very fine piece of concise ‘fisking’ in fact.

    Okay, the anti Pete stuff is coming off; back to porridge lads…

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Mick, your probably safe enough with that sort of approach – as long as there is no serious competition.