After the killings – the progressive debate

Thanks to Pete for highlighting Robin Wilson’s typically challenging analysis of where we are politically after the murders. Robin joins those who are scathing about most of the political reaction admired so piously in the MSM, arguing that a resort to violence is inherent in the narrative of the Troubles which led to the agreements. In other words, violence paid off to put SF in power; but politics has failed to get them what they want so far, giving plausiblity to a new campaign of violence. Even aside from that, the sectarian carve-up that is the political system itself “ has allowed the conflict to be pursued—albeit for the most part less violently—if anything with more alacrity than before.” So are we all doomed?

No apparently, for three main reasons. First, Robin puts some faith in a view that ethnic conflicts tend to burn themselves out (but why, if the logic that created them has enduring appeal?). Second,. that a scenario of “utter constitutional uncertainty” as in 1972 cannot be envisaged ( good, the settlement has something in its favour then); and three that the demonstrations against the killings will have some effect (although in the era of “utter constitutional uncertainty” the grass roots Peace People movement of the mid 70s created barely a pause in the violence and ended up traduced and partly discredited).

Robin has frequently argued for a different political settlement encouraged by an alternative voting system under a reformed constitution, based on Shared Future principles.

“The way ahead is to transcend these counterposed positions by defining a new, sui generis constitution for Northern Ireland which would satisfy seamlessly concerns for accountability and equality. This would replace the ‘either/or’ antagonism of unionism and nationalism by a ‘both-and’ alternative. Rather than Northern Ireland being of uncertain constitutional location, it would clearly have a federal relationship with the rest of the UK and a confederal relationship with the rest of Ireland.”

I should have thought these are pretty much the elements of what we have now, except for the crucial element of finality. Might not such finality heighten rather than reduce instability? After only two years since the revised agreement at St Andrews, and 11 years after the defining though stuttering GFA, yet another bout of constitutional and political upheaval is in my view undesirable and there is little I can see to suggest that the parties have a real stomach for it, despite Peter Robinson’s hankering after a voluntary coalition. The end of sectarian designations in the Assembly would be ethically desirable and might provide a lever for greater “shared future” change but it is hard to discern the mechanism to bring this about, short of radically different voter behaviour.

Whatever the moral and other flaws in the old military narrative of the Troubles that in Robin’s view provides such encouragement to violence, the past few months have provided some evidence of the system working. The SF identity agenda on which they stalled the Executive was defeated because it inevitably failed to win cross community support – a political victory albeit a negative one for the system I should have thought, and not a defeat, whatever you think of the merits of issues. Through such “groundhog days” a true political equilibrium may be reached. Last week there was Peter Robinson’s intriguing comments at the bottom of the Stormont Castle steps which were at least as significant as Martin McGuinness’s dramatic “traitors ” line: “This is a battle of wills between the political class and the evil gunmen – the political class will win.”

This was an important and wholly unsentimental statement of common interest which ought to give encouragement to a nervous community. The next move by the Executive ought to be to find policy momentum away from what is frankly the comfort zone of condemning violence. The impact of the recession is enough to make the Executive pull together. Let them get on with it, prodded vigorously issue by issue by all people of goodwill. Given the higher costs of sectarian division, the prospect of tighter public spending might even force the future to become genuinely shared.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Brian,

    re. “Robin Wilson’s typically challenging analysis”

    When you use the term ‘challenging’ I was expecting to find perhaps some original thinking or a new angle other than the traditional tribal offerings we have had.

    It was with some disappointment that I then read the article in question and which contains probably it’s key phrase below.

    “paramilitaries-turned-politicians becoming sanctimonious about other paramilitaries who took them at their previous word”

    Could you explain how this might be challenging and Jim Allister’s offerings which contain the same sentiment are not?

    As you have been championing this piece perhaps you could also explain how in the paragraph below he gets from the fact that young Catholics supported the Provos to the suggestion that they will support a new campaign. I see no basis for him to make this prediction other than, presumably his own ideological viewpoint.

    “It is thus unsurprising – though doubtless this will come as a shock to many – to discover that sympathy for the rationales given by paramilitaries for their violence was found by the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey to have nearly doubled between 1998 and 2007. This sentiment was particularly evident among a section of young Catholics, the basis for the re-emergence of a republican challenge. To this new (even if small) cohort, denunciation by the grey-haired Provisionals is water off a duck’s back. ”

    Unless I’m missing something it looks like quite poor ideologically inspired journalism.

    What I do find challenging is having to endure this habit of inter-website-back-clapping that seems now to be the rage on Slugger.

  • fin

    “…it would clearly have a federal relationship with the rest of the UK and a confederal relationship with the rest of Ireland.
    I should have thought these are pretty much the elements of what we have now…”

    Possibly, he got this sentence the wrong way around. Confederal relationships tend to be focussed on critical shared areas such as defense and foreign affairs. The relationship north and south is more federal (by the day) focussing on mundane items such as tourism, waterways, food, health (currently there are 3 research projects all looking at shared healthcare), energy (plans for a second electricity inter-connector are underway).

    However even a confederal relationship with the rest of the UK is looking weak, despite reassurances it is highly unlikely that eborders will include NI as its not feasable to monitor its borders so defense for NI will be secondary, in all other critical areas NI does not have an input it is merely included in the overall scheme.

    The north south relationship strengthens day by day despite unionist denials, once an all Ireland infrastructure is in place it will introduce unity through the back door.

  • OC

    Would it be fair to say that Dissident Republicanism vs Provisional Republicanism is similar to Provisional Republicanism vs Official Republicanism of decades past?

    Also, what of Andy Tyrie’s Unilateral Declaration of Independance, with the wholesale adoption of the US Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and other Amendments?

  • Brian Walker

    Sammy, You are far too dismissive of Robin Wilson’s analysis. His critique of the consociational agreement on the grounds that it reinforces division is hardly the same as Jim Allister denouncing SF in government. Robin’s alternative, of a revised federal/confederal structure and an AV voting system requiring support from another section of the community to secure election may be academic, but that is currently Robin’s role.

    You don’t seem to have followed the link in his piece to the 2007 Life and Times Survey, which is hardly “quite poor ideologically inspired journalism.” I quote from Wilson and Wilford’s devolution monitoring report for January 2009 for the Constitution Unit.

    “The legacy of this normative ambivalence (on sympathy for the reasons for continuing violence) is evident in answers to the 2007 NI Life and Times questions about politically-motivated violence. When asked ‘Do you have sympathy with the reasons for violence from loyalist/republican groups even if you don’t condone the violence itself?’, 29 per cent expressed some sympathy vis-à-vis loyalist violence and 30 per cent with regard to its republican counterpart.

    Figure 1: Do you have sympathy with the reasons for violence from loyalist/republican groups even if you don’t condone the violence itself (%)?
    Loyalist Groups Republican groups

    A lot of sympathy 3 5
    A little sympathy 26 25
    No sympathy at all 70 69
    Don’t know 2 2
    Total 100.0 100.0

    Only small minorities expressed ‘a lot of sympathy’ (3 per cent and 5 per cent respectively) and there was the qualifying clause. It is still remarkable, though, given
    violence is so stigmatised in Europe, that such large proportions would be prepared to volunteer ‘sympathy with the reasons for violence’—a question focused essentially on its perceived legitimacy. Still more remarkably, that level of sympathy is nearly twice as high as the last time this question was asked, in 1998.”

    I differ from Robin in that, whereas he argues deterministically that fatal flaws are embedded in the system, I take the more optimistic view that the strains evident in Executives since 1999 are an inevitable part of a process of radical adjustment for all parties. The decommissioning of the IRA allows the system to develop more conventionally, but it will require patience and close scrutiny of a kind that Slugger at its best among others supplies, to become more effective. I know this may be a disappointingly conventional argument and offers no quick fixes for dealing with renewed violence, but too bad.

    fin, I think your view that “even a confederal (sic)relationship with the rest of the UK is looking weak ” is simply bizarre, when half of revenue for NI at least is raised in GB and UK devolution is plainly developing, albeit still with weak central structures. Which is not to say north-south relationships should not develop more quickly.

  • Dublin Voter

    “Would it be fair to say that Dissident Republicanism vs Provisional Republicanism is similar to Provisional Republicanism vs Official Republicanism of decades past?”

    Depends what you mean by similar. IMHO there’s no way that the Dissidents will ever eclipse the Provisionals in the way the Provos managed to eclipse the Officials in the North in the 70s and 80s. The Dissidents are a rump which will be defeated by Irish and British democrats jointly standing firm against them.

  • Jo

    The dissidents may well be a rump, but then so was the IRA as a whole between 1962-69. I would share Robin’s concern about generations growing up with no or little memory of violence and it’s a pity that Ruari O’Bradaigh et al still spread poison to such people. As recent events in south Belfast have shown, even a third level education is not a guarantee of civilised behaviour, respect for the law or for ones neighbours.

    The path for such people sucked into dissident activity will lead to jail or the grave – never political power.

  • Rauri

    What I find amazing is the collective “turning a blind eye” to what some may describe as a blatant sectarian slight last week.

    It appears that no DUP minister – apparently 4 were in the country – could spare the time to attend a Catholic police officers funeral. Something that wouldn’t have happened had it been the Presbyterian in Kilkeel!

    It has been suggested that the MP for the area stayed outside the church though this is hard to substantiate. So while we all stare at our navels over the “narrative of the troubles”, the blatant unreconstructed “ultra unionist” is alive and well in our Government and we are worried whether 14 hours was too long for a statement to come out!

    Until we have leaders that act as well as talk this place is screwed.

  • Well said, Rauri.

    In other words, violence paid off to put SF in power; but politics has failed to get them what they want so far, giving plausiblity to a new campaign of violence.

    But there is a hint in what Brian Walker suggests that the violence of the past two weeks was PSF inspired violence and, as a reasonable reader of republican strategy, I think that there may be some truth to that. It’s too early to say for certain.

    But what has happened has allowed Gerry Adams to play the statesman role as he did so efectively during the decommissioning fiasco. Each opportunity provided by the violence, as with a decommissioning event, is therefore an opportunity for him. There is certainly a temptation for him to let the violence flow.

    The reality is that Sinn Fein argue that the dissidents are heavily infiltrated by Special Branch and MI5 but the unknown quantity is how much they are in fact infiltrated by Sinn Fein and PIRA.

    But I think people should be far from sure that the violence of the last two weeks was solely down to dissident strategy.

  • Brian Walker

    John, there is no hint from me of a (Provisional) SF campaign of violence. I have no reason to believe it is other than admitted. Hardly something to ” hint” at anyway. Let those who will speculate; sadly,some of them would be delighted if that were the case. Not me, I don’t see the point of such speculation, without something better to go on.

  • Paddy Matthews

    AV voting system requiring support from another section of the community to secure election

    Why exactly would using the Alternative Vote instead of STV “require support from another section of the community to secure election”?

    I genuinely don’t understand the logic of this argument.

    At best, it’s only going to make a difference in single-seat constituencies where the local minority community make up less than a third of the electorate, and even then only when the gap between the DUP and UUP/SF and SDLP is small enough to be bridged by transfers from the “other side”.

    West of the Bann, most constituencies would be closer to a 50-50 community balance, in which case AV is simply going to equate to a sectarian headcount in order to keep the “other side” out.

    East of the Bann, it would potentially make a difference in only a handful of seats.

    Fionnuala O’Connor in today’s Irish Times argues that:

    Dissident republicans, some unionists and the right-wing English press share a resentment that the Troubles did not end in military victory. A sullen distaste for the powersharing Stormont with its guaranteed place for Irish nationalists and republicans has been the most handsome emotion from the armchair generals of two English newspapers, the Times and the Daily Telegraph.

    I think to that set we can add the names of some self-styled “liberals” and “progressives”, both on Slugger and beyond.

  • Paddy Matthews

    And AV, incidentally, would almost certainly wipe out the Alliance Party, which has far too thinly spread a support base to come anywhere near a seat under that system.

    Northern Ireland is not a f***ed-up place because of weird consociational structures; Northern Ireland requires weird consociational structures because it’s f***ed-up to begin with.

  • Jo

    “a reasonable reader of republican strategy”

    I’m sorry, you’e not.

  • Jo

    Don’t be sorry. Give us a reason for your opinion.

    Brian

    I stand by what I wrote in an attempt to capture the spirit of what you wrote. But I understand you may not be advocating an impression that Sinn Fein is returning to war (by stealth).

  • Jo

    “Northern Ireland requires weird consociational structures because it’s f***ed-up to begin with.

    I agree. Where economic social religious and poitical divisions coincide, there is trouble, or rather, academically interesting trouble. Richard Rose is perhaps the most fortunate academic in that he sureyed here on the cusp of the Troubles, as it were. Its interesting how divided we always were and always wil be…?

  • ulsterfan

    Rauri

    Your remarks about Unionist politicians not attending the funeral of Const Carroll presumably on the grounds that the service was held in a Chapel reminds me of De Valera standing outside the gates of St Patrick’s Cathedrral in Dublin while a State funeral was being held for Ireland’s one and only Protestant President.
    The Irish Taoiseach was forbidden to attend by the teaching of his Church.
    We all have a lot to learn

  • memory

    ” His critique of the consociational agreement ”

    Funny I remember it when RW was recommending such very arrangements.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Brian,

    I obviously missed the bit where it states that the survey relates to trouble in the future rather than trouble in the past.

    He does try to speak out of both sides of his mouth at the same time – he states the conditions for war are different and therefore there wont be a return to war but still says SF are hypocritical in condemning those who now want to return to war.

    What is probably most annoying about British and usually Tory (I dont know what this chap is) commentators is that rather than calling for the full implementation of the GFA/STA they start to jibber jabber about changing it – and do this maninly from a Unionist standpoint and often because they havent fully come to terms with the Political/Peace Process. This article looks like a variation on that theme.

  • Jo

    Robin Wilson is from NI. He isn’t a Tory. I am surprised at the attacks on his analysis but then again why should I as David Vance is accepted here as a bona fide commentator whereas intellectuals are far and few between, Brian being one.

  • Brian Walker

    Paddy, I last drew attention to the Wilson/Wilford arguments for AV or AV plus last September. I quote from their paper The Trouble with Northern Ireland: the Belfast Agreement and Democratic Governance” ( 2006)

    http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/docs/wilfordwilson06.pdf

    “Application instead of a majoritarian system like the alternative vote would require candidates to secure, after transfers,the support of over 50 per cent of electors in their constituency.
    This would stimulate candidates of all parties to make conciliatory and civic-minded appeals, as long as constituencies are heterogeneous. Accepting there is a trade-off between the
    goals of interethnic conciliation and proportional representation would suggest a top-up of seats allocated to parties to
    introduce a degree of proportionality. This ‘AV+’ system was recommended for Westminster by the review of ‘first past the post’ conducted by the late Lord Jenkins.
    Alternatively, if it was felt to be illegitimate to consider any such trade-off, the additional member system would offer another approach which, like AV+, would sustain the idea of
    linking some representatives to a constituency base (unlike a list electoral system). The moderating effects of AMS in heterogeneous
    constituency contests—where it would encourage
    tactical voting for moderates across the communal divide— would however be entirely offset by the proportionality associated with the second, party vote, as long as parties ensured their supporters stuck with them on the latter vote, even at the
    expense of ‘ticket-splitting’. AMS has been advocated by electoral reformers in the republic, notably with the endorsement of Noel Dempsey, to foster a less clientelistic political culture
    than that encouraged by STV. North and south, this encourages localistic competition, through the interaction between constituency representatives—including from the same
    party—rather than a focus on policy matters and the broader public good.”

    Sammy, your assessment of Wilson is wrong ( see link above).

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Jo,

    Is he a Unionist?

  • Jo

    Sammy

    Perhaps Robin will respond. I merely draw out the point that there are degrees of engagement here and some people are more subtle than others yet are accepted, however crass their analysis.

    There is no ongoing or buildable suppolirt for a sustained campaign here, the water is too shallow. Relics from the poast like O’Bradaigh and Vance serve to show that there is encouragement to kill each other in the future, if we want. I suspect, like Robin, that we don’t want.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Brian,

    There are 3 plausible explanations why someone might want to change something before it has actually been implemented fully 1) They dont like it 2) They dont thing it will work or 3) they are paid or otherwise motivated to speculate about alternatives.

    Trying to separate the arguements of convienece from the ideological positions from the academic pursuit from the genuine concerns is extrmely trickey – we have had the Allinace party talking in tongues, the UU and the Tories talking like the TUV and various Unionist commentators all looking to the feck with the GFA/STA before it has actually arrived.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    ArchiePurple

    You are a great man for strident views – whats your view of the Orange Order?

  • fin

    Brian,
    George Orwell said no politican goal/objective is ever fully achieved, its the political direction thats important.

    As you rightly say devolution is progessing in all parts of the UK, however in NI there is the added dimension of north south bodies an entity that exists in no other part in such a manner as in NI.

    To say that 50% of NI’s cash comes from GB is a pointless statement, the essense is the fact that outside of politics GB is divesting itself of responsibility of NI’s infrastructure and politics. In X years time when there exists a single infrastructure for the island, GB’s cash will relate to a political relationship only. At that time the union will be so weakened as to make a united Ireland only a small push away. I imagine this will be achieved with minimum paper assurances for unionists and a final payoff from GB, with the US and EU adding to the pot. If 10billion euro in todays money (for example) was presented to unionism and the rest of Ireland as the potential payoff for a united Ireland, well, it would be hard to argue against it.

    I find it bizarre that you can’t see why it would be difficult to see how even a confederal (sic all you like son) between NI and the rest of the UK is difficult

  • Paddy Matthews

    This would stimulate candidates of all parties to make conciliatory and civic-minded appeals, as long as constituencies are heterogeneous.

    A load of male bovine excrement, frankly.

    Pious, sincerely-held, well-intentioned male bovine excrement, no doubt, but male bovine excrement nonetheless.

    a) Most constituencies actually aren’t heterogeneous.

    b) Even in those that are (Fermanagh anyone?), the majoritarian instinct to ensure that your representative – who will have a monopoly on representation – will belong to your tribe and not the other will win out over any amount of pious aspirations from academic idealists.

    c) Single-seat constituencies under either FPTP or AV – because they allow 50.1% of the votes to get 100% of the representation – are much easier to gerrymander effectively than multi-seat PR constituencies.

    I repeat – Northern Ireland needs these weird consociational arrangements that Messrs. Wilford, Wilson, etc. so dislike because they are necessary in order to reflect the reality that it’s a f***ed-up entity where you have two political families who distrust each other’s intentions.

    Changing the arrangements – even assuming that you could get the necessary agreement to do it – would not change that underlying reality.

    If Northern Ireland was a normally functioning society, then any set of arrangements – even the pre-1968 Westminster imitation – would work. But it’s not.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    “As you rightly say devolution is progessing in all parts of the UK”

    Well not in the biggest bit – England.

    Talk of ‘devolution’ is a comfort blanket for Unionists – the reasons for the settlement GFA/STA in Norn Iron has feck all to do with the reasons for devolution in Scotland and Wales and would have been come about irrespective of what happened elsewhere.

  • fin

    Sammy, Devolution is happening in the English bit, but people aren’t all that interested, the power of the mayor of London been an example. Also Council -through council tax – are responsible for raisong their own revenue to a large extent.

    “comfort blanket” I agree, but posibly for different reasons, unionist politicans have little to cling too and devolution is one item they trumpet for no reason, mainly as it covers the slow march towards a UI. But something like P&J scares the life out of them.

    Independence for wales, scotland, cornwall or whereever would feel very weird for everyone in GB, however, noone would blink if NI disappeared from the UK, in fact, most people in GB would probably be happy to see a UI and take credit for getting the warring micks to be friends again.

  • T.R.O.H.V.M

    No dout archie, members and supporters of the KKK think its a great organisation too.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    ArchiePurple

    What do you think the Orange Order has to offer Catholics?

  • barnshee

    ” when there exists a single infrastructure for the island, GB’s ”

    Whistling in the dark old lad–there is no prospect of a single currency let alone single “infrastructure” whatever that means?
    – will however be delighted to rip you off for road improvements etc keep the cash coming-toodle pip

  • barnshee

    “What do you think the Orange Order has to offer Catholics?”

    Absolutely nothing– the OO celebrates the survival of the reformed faith in hostile roman catholic Ireland– still holds to the same faith that forebears were martyred for espousing– indeed nothing has changed -still under attack by hostle roman catholic ireland

    The OO has no need to offer anything to roman catholics equally it wants nothing from them.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    barnshee

    What do you think the Orange Order has to offer women?

  • T.R.O.H.V.M

    ‘the OO celebrates the survival of the reformed faith in hostile roman catholic Ireland’

    I wonder why anyone in Ireland would be hostile to the refprmed faith….sure they only ever used peaceful means to subdue…i mean pacify…i mean colonize…i mean visit….i mean holiday…in Ireland. The british crown was nothing but sweetness and light to the irish !!!!!

  • barnshee

    ” wonder why anyone in Ireland would be hostile to the refprmed faith….sure they only ever used peaceful means to subdue…i mean pacify…i mean colonize…i mean visit….i mean holiday…in Ireland. The british crown was nothing but sweetness and light to the irish !!!!! ”

    What has this got to do with the OO — also check you view of history- a bogman INVITED the brits in to get one over his rival bogmen. The the stupid idiots then took the part of
    1 Spain
    2 France
    3 The Stuarts
    against England

    Picking the losing side in each case– they them whinge endlessly because a larger better organised unit shits all over them

    “What do you think the Orange Order has to offer women”

    Dunno— ask the orange women who appear on parades