“this will be the case for as long as the new dispensation lasts”

In an article in the Irish News today [no subs req], Patrick Murphy makes some important points about the Northern Ireland Assembly’s compulsory power-sharing system. From the Irish News article.

In the old Stormont, the opposition was ignored. In the new Stormont, the opposition has been abolished. How democratic is a parliament without an opposition? Advocates of the new system argue that it brings political benefits. But does it? It gives constitutional authority to sectarianism and promotes political schizophrenia. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin claim the other is the enemy, within a supposedly partnership government. Do nationalists benefit by having nationalist ministers? For example, would our roads policy be different if Arlene Foster replaced Conor Murphy as regional development minister?

If Murphy’s ministry has benefitted nationalists, then the minister must be acting unfairly – and there is not the slightest evidence that he is. So if his position has not benefitted nationalists and Arlene Foster would do the job with the same degree of competence and fairness, what is the case for compulsory power-shairing? The argument that it offers fairer government is undermined by our mountain of equality legislation. If that legislation is as effective as we are led to believe, there cannot be an abuse of democracy within the law, no matter who holds power.

He goes on to ask a key question

So would an end to compulsory power-sharing be democratic? As usual in this country, it comes down to whether you believe in Protestant democracy or Catholic democracy. Irish history tends to be a rerun of the same events.

Sometimes those events are repeated in reverse. In 1965 some Labour MPs formed the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, a forerunner of the civil rights campaign. Jim Allister might give his campaign that same name.

Demands for democracy here have traditionally come from nationalists. But for the first time in the history of the state, most nationalists will presumably oppose a campaign for a more democratic Stormont. Their reasoning will make interesting reading.

Meanwhile, the International Representative for west Belfast, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, MP, MLA, has set out his reasoning, such as it is, for why he believes that those who “toy with the idea that the system of governance can be changed” are “living in Fantasy Land.”

Because this is a sectarian state and because unionism could not be trusted to govern fairly the outcomes of the Good Friday Agreement and the Saint Andrews Agreement are all-Ireland in nature particularly in their institutions.

There are also many equality and other legal safe guards built into the new political dispensation. These include compulsory power sharing and partnership political arrangements.

Thinking unionism knows that this will be the case for as long as the new dispensation lasts and fair minded unionist MLAs have slowly but surely come to terms with this reality. They fulfil their political duties in a positive way. They also appreciate that these safeguards are to their advantage as the constitutional position changes in the future.

And how are you going to get there, again?

But Adams fails to address the core issue of whether compulsory or voluntary power-sharing is more preferrable and/or more democratic.

To quote again from Patrick Murphy

compulsory power-sharing emerged from secret political negotiations to secure the state’s existence rather than as part of a campaign for democracy. So how democratic is the new system? The short answer is – not very.

And, from what I recall, there wasn’t much reasoning in evidence in the responses to a previous suggestion that we should aspire to remove the “ugly scaffolding”..

Regardless of the actual system of governance in use what is required is a processs of civilisation. [Happy Birthday Michael! – Ed]

But if you don’t trust your compulsory partners in government, and you view the very state itself, which you are helping to govern, as being “sectarian at its core”…

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  • Dave

    “In the old Stormont, the opposition was ignored. In the new Stormont, the opposition has been abolished.”

    More accurately, in the old Stormont, one of NI’s two nations was excluded from government. In the new Stormont, both of NI’s two nations are included in government.

    “How democratic is a parliament without an opposition?”

    Some would argue that consociationalism is the most democratic form of government possible precisely because it unites the majority under a power-sharing banner, whereas majoritarinism is a less democratic form of government precisely because it excludes more democratically elected members of parliament from government than consociationalism. So, the real questions are not if consociationalism is democratic (it is) or whether the lack of an effective opposition is undemocratic (it isn’t), but which form of government is (a) most suited to the applicable circumstances, and (b) which form of government is the most effective.

    “Advocates of the new system argue that it brings political benefits. But does it? It gives constitutional authority to sectarianism and promotes political schizophrenia.”

    I wonder what his definition of sectarianism is? Sectarianism actually means discriminating against a person based on his religion, and thereby depriving him of some legitimate right. Does he have any evidence that the present system does this? Most sensible observers would see that it is designed to do exactly the opposite. The system that he favours, majoritarianism, was designed to give a “constitutional authority to sectarianism.”

    “Both the DUP and Sinn Féin claim the other is the enemy, within a supposedly partnership government.”

    Yup, and neither of them figured that symbiotic political strategy out for themselves. The British government promoted both of those extremes by playing both nations against each other. By giving SF “sweeties” in private side deals, the nationalists saw that the Shinners could deliver more for them than the SDLP and so they voted for the Shinners. The same tactic was used to promote the DUP. This shows that the two nations are still competing with each other, and do not operate as one nation with a mutual interest.

    “Do nationalists benefit by having nationalist ministers? For example, would our roads policy be different if Arlene Foster replaced Conor Murphy as regional development minister?”

    No, since both nations generally support a policy of keeping the roads nicely tarmaced and of not allowing sewerage to mix with the public water supply, etc, so the problem isn’t with areas of government where the two nations are united on policy but rather on areas where they are divided. The policies of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, for example, are far more contentious and subject to the discretion of relevant minister, so they would be different according to which nation the minister belongs and to the culture he is naturally disposed toward.

    “If Murphy’s ministry has benefitted nationalists, then the minister must be acting unfairly – and there is not the slightest evidence that he is.”

    Ah, so Patrick Murphy sees that politics in NI is a zero-sum game where one nation gains at the expense of the other nation – a ‘benefit’ for nationalists must be ‘unfair’ to unionists, and vice versa. Therein lies his own “political schizophrenia” since he is arguing that the two nations are capable of operating as one nation under a form of government that is designed for one nation (majoritarianism) and should abandon the form of government that is designed for two nations (consociationalism).

    “The argument that it offers fairer government is undermined by our mountain of equality legislation. If that legislation is as effective as we are led to believe, there cannot be an abuse of democracy within the law, no matter who holds power.”

    Then why should anyone be elected to government at all if they have no discretionary power and if all is now decided by quangos and courts? No, nations still have powers to determine their own affairs (admittedly, democracy is very much weakened in its present state but these nations will act to reclaim their sovereign and democratic powers in due course), and so these nations will still use their rights to self-determination to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

    When you have one nation, then you can have one-nation government. Until then, you’re stuck with how best to manage the conflicting demands of two seperate nations who are competing with each other for control of one state.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    I have never believed what we have is democracy for anyone here. A government where is everyone is tied into the government is not government. In NI the only opposition of note is the Alliance party and they are soon to be absorbed as well.

    This means that the only alternative for an opposition is the press and the intelligensia. In NI the press are dependent on the parties for information and interviews and therefore tend to follow the big party lines – Robinson and Mguiness’s letter to the Belfast Tele and Reid, Devenport et alia slavish following of the DUP line in the EU election are indications of what is happening.

    The result is there is no opposition, apart from the intelligensia, to what the executive do and in the current situation this really means the DUP/SF alliance. The leaders of the CBI, NICC Professors etc and some of the posters on Slugger are the de facto opposition but do not get their message out to the public only to small groups of anoraks.

    We need a voluntary coalition where some of the parties can go into a funded opposition. The purpose of this would not be to specifically exclude anyone but to give us good government where the ruling parties are held to account. At the moment the SDLP, UUP and Alliance would make a formidable opposition to the DUP and SF and we might see some policies and direction instead of continual disagreement.

    Will we see it? No, it is not in the interests of the DUP and SF to be left alone in Government together, The DUP could not stand the further fallout in their electorate that it would surely bring and SF do not want to find more ministers that they do not have.

    So don’t hold you breath as long they are in charge the people of NI will not have a proper democracy.

  • Pete Baker

    Dave

    I’m guessing you haven’t access to the full article, but you mis-characterise Partick Murphy’s argument.

    I’ll just pick up on one point.

    “The argument that it offers fairer government is undermined by our mountain of equality legislation. If that legislation is as effective as we are led to believe, there cannot be an abuse of democracy within the law, no matter who holds power.”

    Then why should anyone be elected to government at all if they have no discretionary power and if all is now decided by quangos and courts?

    They have discretionary powers, within legal confines.

    In Ireland those legal confines have always been the Constitution.

    Here there are other confines, which do not yet include a Bill of Rights.

  • guest

    Dave,
    I am for once in complete agreement.
    On the broader level we must ask ourselves if there is a need for an opposition.
    On a more realistic level, we must accept that NI is not an ordianary jurisdiction.There is no “WE”.And there is but “otherness” in it²s place.

  • guest

    Frustated D,
    “So don’t hold you breath as long they are in charge the people of NI will not have a proper democracy”
    Naive.
    Ni is not Democratic in essence.
    you’ve lost that battle.

  • guest

    by hbe way,whos holding their breath?

  • Pete Baker

    Dave [and I’d guess ‘guest’]

    Rhetoric is fine but you ignore the question of how do you get to that constitutional change?

    Waiting for a demographic flip, as Sinn Féin appear to be promoting, is not just unrealistic, it doesn’t actually address the problem.

    There is a ‘we’ within this administration’s sphere of influence – despite the psychotic ramblings of some.

    A process of civilisation is required here.

    That process would benefit from promoting an enhanced democratic administration in Northern Ireland.

    But keeping the current status quo actually retards that process.

  • Guest

    Pete,
    Nicely put.
    i’ll be just as terse.
    “But keeping the current status quo actually retards that process”
    And we wouldn’t want to retard the process for what reason?
    “A process of civilisation is required here”
    We’ve had that.The dup declared STAA has the end of it.
    “There is a ‘we’ within this administration’s sphere of influence – despite the psychotic ramblings of some”
    oh no there isn’t!!
    dup agreed so in STAA.

  • guest

    Pete,
    “Rhetoric is fine but you ignore the question of how do you get to that constitutional change?””
    And if “we” never get to it?
    What you do not seem to understand is that the BA/STAA may not be about the road to Independent Ireland but more about neutering unionists.

  • Pete Baker

    guest

    “What you do not seem to understand is that the BA/STAA may not be about the road to Independent Ireland but more about neutering unionists.”

    Well that’s a poverty of ambition right there.

    Understandable, though, given the absence of any other road.

    As for

    “A process of civilisation is required here”
    We’ve had that.The dup declared STAA has the end of it.
    “There is a ‘we’ within this administration’s sphere of influence – despite the psychotic ramblings of some”
    oh no there isn’t!!
    dup agreed so in STAA.

    You seem to have missed the [several] point[s].

    Keeping the current status quo actually retards the process [of civilisation].

    If you’d address the issues raised we might be able to have a conversation on the topic.

    Merely blaming the DUP for the sectarian position that the Sinn Féin leadership are now maintaining is, not just weak, it’s disingenuous.

  • guest

    Pete,
    It is a
    fascinating word “disingenuous”.First thing that came to my mind was an anti-engineer then a lazy feck.
    Anyway.
    “Well that’s a poverty of ambition right there”
    How many times has Krakov won when his only tactic was playing for stalemate?
    Most games of his lfe.
    “Understandable, though, given the absence of any other road”
    so dig up your enemies road.See above.
    “Keeping the current status quo actually retards the process [of civilisation].”
    And civilization is?
    British rule, I presume.
    “If you’d address the issues raised we might be able to have a conversation on the topic”
    I did.
    “Merely blaming the DUP for the sectarian position that the Sinn Féin leadership are now maintaining is, not just weak, it’s disingenuous.”
    great word;
    I don’t blame them at all.They did the right thing But had to be made do hte right thing.I simply cited them as the voice of unionism.Do you prefer UUP 98?

  • Brian Walker

    Pete,
    1. I don’t accept that the status quo necessarily or even actually retards the process of reaching enhanced democratic administration. It’s a feature of NI life that we are better at criticism than prescription. Unfortunately perhaps, there is no system which can suddenly create your nirvana. Instead, we are in for a long haul. One key question is: what’s the alternative?

    2.Arend Lijphart, the theoretician of this form of powersharing would concede that it is not ideally democratic or technically effective.

    3. One alternative is straightforward majority rule but with added protocols for cooperation and HR protection. Any takers?

    4. Another is an AV (alternative vote) Assembly mooted by our own Wilford and Wilson which compels a second choice vote, hopefully to strengthen the centre. It tends to collapse and is not favoured by most experts.

    5. A variant of today’s system is the informal powersharing of 1973. With today’s inclusive participation, this might become the voluntary coalition of dreams, with a constitutional requirement for cross community government, a, say, 70% weighted majority for key decisions, an Assembly shorn of designations, perhaps giving Alliance and other minorities leverage to break deadlocks. In practice, would it be so very different from what we’ve got? And what would make it happen, other than a transformation in voting and party behaviour?

    6. My further point I have argued before turns Murphy’s on its head.The system with all its checks and balances, watchdogs and supervisors, allows little room for sectarian victories except by blocking. That’s why blocking plus contests outside the Executive sphere still dominate what passes for politics.

    7. There are signs – inconclusive I admit – of better cooperation ( post- Massareene, post- McDaid after a stumble and now with the UDA/UVF disarmament). The pressures of recession , so far partly deferred will require more effective government through painsharing, some unity in adversity and planning for a better tomorrow. Most political systems turn gratefully to thinking about better tomorrows, if they’re shown how to do it. This is a fruitful line to develop.

    8. The clincher is that if you look at the big picture, none of the main parties have any interest whatever in bringing the whole thing down. What they need is constructive pressure and specific advice to do better. In Churchill’s eloquent phrase, “we keep buggering on” and stop searching for idealised systems that will never happen.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    I’d argue that your point 8 – “What they need is constructive pressure and specific advice to do better.” – identifies why settling for the status quo retards the civilisation process.

    Your point 1

    1. I don’t accept that the status quo necessarily or even actually retards the process of reaching enhanced democratic administration. It’s a feature of NI life that we are better at criticism than prescription. Unfortunately perhaps, there is no system which can suddenly create your nirvana. Instead, we are in for a long haul. One key question is: what’s the alternative?

    The longer we stay where we are..

    We are in it for the long haul.

    Sinn Féin’s stated position is no change other than a paradigm shift.

    What’s needed is a more gradual process.

  • Guest

    Brian,
    1)what process?I agree.
    2)Never trust the dutch.
    3) No
    4)Not favoured by anyone;
    5) What we’ve got concentrated;
    6) Vague
    7) They started at 0.maybe have gone to 0.000001
    8) Yep,lets keep on going.Ni can never be democratic.

  • Dave

    “I’m guessing you haven’t access to the full article…”

    That guess is a good one, but “[and I’d guess ‘guest’]” isn’t.

    “…but you mis-characterise Partick Murphy’s argument.”

    On the contrary, I described it accurately. He argues that quangos and courts now guarantee that ministers will not make discretionary judgements that favour one nation over the other. He is wrong. Rights-based legislation does not operate as an alternative to government and does not cover discretionary judgements that a minister will make, for example, in relation to the profoundly important – and politically contentious – matter of culture. Unless Patrick Murphy can show that a unionist minister for Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure will not act to frustrate the promotion of Irish culture (and this might be a tad difficult with Gregory Campbell), then his argument that the nation to which a minister belongs is rendered irrelevant by quangos and courts is badly mistaken. There remain two separate nations and both of them are seeking control of the state as the means by which they “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The promotion of a Rule Britannia culture may suit the British nation, but it doesn’t suit the Irish nation. While the competitive zero-sum dynamics of both nations are circumscribed by the present arrangements, they are not eliminated by them. Therefore, it remains of importance which nation is controlling the state. Pretending that it doesn’t matter if unionist rule is restored at Stormont because of those quangos and courts assumes that unionists would be equally well disposed toward the promotion of Irish culture as they are toward the promotion of British culture. Anyone who beleives that has been chewing too many hallucinogenic peyote roots.

  • Guest

    “I’m guessing you haven’t access to the full article…”

    That guess is a good one, but “[and I’d guess ‘guest’]” isn’t

    I didn’t even respond Dave,not that i don’t like you!!but we are different;lets say.
    by the way Pete,cant you see the IPS?

  • Pete Baker

    At the risk of taking this conversation even further off track..

    Dave, don’t you recognise the role of the Irish Constitution?

  • Nomad

    Perhaps it’s time for an update to the mandatory coalition. The government could be made up of:

    i) the largest nationalist and ii) the largest unionist parties with iii) everyone else in opposition, iv) so long as nationalist and unionist parties are the largest two parties.

    V) In the event that one of the two largest parties is not a constitutionally nationalist/unionist party (ie is the greens, Alliance etc) then Northern Ireland drops the mandatory coalition.

    A more realistic, appropriate and fair solution?

    Thoughts please..

  • Guest

    nomad,
    “i) the largest nationalist and ii) the largest unionist parties with iii) everyone else in opposition, iv) so long as nationalist and unionist parties are the largest two parties”
    And everyone else would be?

  • Nomad

    I considered posting to correct but hoped it was obvious. I mean the one single largest nationalist party (currently SF) and the single largest unionist party (currently DUP).

    I’ll let you work the rest out for yourself- everyone else would be the opposition.

  • Guest

    Nomad,
    not a bad idea in prinicipal.
    it is obvious.
    was just hoping you were not an alliance freak.
    its pretty much what we have.But I dont believe ni is capable of opposition when those in power are already in opposition to the consitutional arrangements.

  • Nomad

    Guest,

    I don’t believe it is obvious or the same as what we have right now. Obviously any mandatory coalition is a similar premise but with a huge opportunity for the parties to alter in policies and votes. It also solves the ‘no opposition’ problem pretty neatly.

  • guest

    ok.
    First of all,whats the “no opposition problem”
    I thought the beauty of my belgian compratiot d’hondt solved all that nonsense.
    secondly,the problem with government agreeing (sf and dup) would be less bizarre and certainly less difficult than opposition agreeing(TUV,UUP and thier CONs,Sdlp,and alliance ) means the opposition would create in itself an opposition and go all unionist on us normal people.Think it through???

  • guest

    “I thought the beauty of my belgian compratiot d’hondt solved all that nonsense”-meself.
    That does sound strange.Not his beauty,ugly for all I know.but you know what i mean

  • Nomad

    I have no idea what you mean.. No opposition is generally regarded a problem, even by those in government, although more often by those outside. And an ‘opposition within the opposition’ is a perfectly normal state of affairs for any form of democracy- competition of ideas and all that. And I haven’t seen a great deal of evidence that SF and DUP are agreeing on policy issues, but perhaps the increased threat by opposing parties might be more persuasive..

    So no.. I don’t know what you mean.

  • Guest

    fine Nomad( I do like your name)
    i’ll spell it out;
    “No opposition is generally regarded a problem”
    By who?
    ” And an ‘opposition within the opposition’ is a perfectly normal state of affairs for any form of democracy- competition of ideas and all that”
    Any form of democracy?NI is not a democracy and never shall be!It has been signed in BA/GFA/STAA.
    “And I haven’t seen a great deal of evidence that SF and DUP are agreeing on policy issues, but perhaps the increased threat by opposing parties might be more persuasive..
    “my point exactly.and the opposition would agree because they agree on what?

  • Nomad

    Guest,

    I probably don’t need to point out who thinks lack of opposition is a problem if you read the post and comments above my first contribution..

    NI certainly isn’t a pure democracy.. few states are.. but it a twisted form thereof.

    “my point exactly.and the opposition would agree because they agree on what” An opposition doesn’t have to agree with anyone or anything- that’s the.. beauty. They can talk nonsense if they wish.. what they might wish to do is appeal to the public that they are a viable party for governance. This may or may not correlate to “agreeing” with any other party in government or outside it.

  • Guest

    Nomad,
    do you believe that the TUv,The UUP and thier CONS,the SDLP and the alliance can agree on any subject quicker than sf and dup?
    Fair enough,you claim that they should be left with the right to try no matter the ridiule.
    I agree.and what is stopping them from doing that now?
    if the beauty is the right to talk nonesesne and if the appeal to the public is conveyed by that nonesense then fuck them.

  • Nomad

    Final post. (I’m probably not in your time zone and have better things to do this fine Saturday evening)..

    “I agree.and what is stopping them from doing that now?”

    Almost all of them are currently in government. If it helps consider the setup of ‘the Republic’. There they have voluntary coalition, but otherwise similar and slightly more desirable setup.

  • Guest

    They do not have voluntary coalition.The people vote for them.
    Goodnight to you.Enjoyed.

  • guest

    by the way inverted comas for “the republic” very strange

  • Dave

    “Dave, don’t you recognise the role of the Irish Constitution?” – Pete Baker

    Of course, but I don’t see it as a reason why I should elect members of another nation to run the Irish State. I’d much rather that members of the Irish nation ran the Irish state as this, oddly enough, is more in keeping with Article 1 of the UN’s ICCPR (the cornerstone of international law): “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The state then is the means by which the nation orders its own affairs in accordance with its right to national self-determination. This right of self-determination is defeated if the nation does not control its own state, but delegates control of it to another nation.

    As Article 1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann puts it (and this is where the UN’s Article 1 is derived from): “The Irish nation hereby affirms its inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.” It doesn’t say: “The Irish nation hereby affirms that control of the Irish government is delegated to the Japanese nation because this document offers sufficient guarantees that a foreign nation can govern another nation just as well as that nation can govern itself.”

    You seem to believe that control of the state is (or should be) an irrelevance to the two nations in NI when it is of absolutely critical importance to them. If in transient doubt about how badly nations fare without the protection of a state, they need only look to the (dearly departed) nomadic Roma or to the Palestinians or the Aborigines, et al – and those are just the stateless nations who have survived. They both understand how important it is to their respective nations that members of their own nation should control the state, and that is how they continue to operate. Isn’t that why the unionists insisted on seperating from a proposed Irish state? I seem to recall a big fuss about Home Rule meaning Rome Rule. They wanted a state wherein their nation could govern itself.

    Bunreacht na hÉireann is mainly a set of negative rights (stipulating what government must not do). It does not stop the Irish state from operating as an Irish nation-state, being designed to do – rather obviously – the exact opposite. What your present system in NI is designed to do is stop NI from operating as a nation-state – from being a protestant/unionist/British parliament for a protestant/unionist/British people. You cannot be a nation-state because you have two nations of approximately equal size. As I said “When you have one nation, then you can have one-nation government.” And when you have one nation, then you can have a system that is designed for a nation-state (majoritarinism). Until then, you’re stuck with a system that is designed for a state that has two nations (consociationalism).

    Now, leaving aside the protection of negative rights, there are applicable treaties such as the European Charter on Lesser Used Languages that proffer positive rights (stipulating what government must do), but the Irish language activists (Pobal) haven’t had much luck with those in the face of discretionary powers of government so far, have they? No, because the functions of government are not performed by quangos and courts and are not controlled by rights-based legislation. Government in NI has power and how that power is used still depends on who is using it – a minister’s discretion, his parties policies, etc, are all influenced by which nation he belongs to, so these factors cannot be ameliorated even by a government that is so hamstringed by legislation that everything is effectively predetermined and determined for all time. It isn’t, of course, but the point being that even if such an attempt was made, it can’t control ministerial discretion.

    Part of this control system that Patrick Murphy sees as ameliorating this competition between the two nations is in how the government itself operates (the so-called mutual veto). His problem is that he is arguing that the two nations can be trusted to operate as one nation because of controls that are in place precisely because the two nations cannot be trusted to operate as one nation. Well, if they could, then you wouldn’t need any controls at all. And because they can’t, then the best form of control is already in place: consociationalism.

  • Dave

    [b]Continued[/b]

    Stormont wasn’t actually intended to make you all rich and prosperous – or civilised. The strategy was to provide a political alternative to violence in the pursuit of constitutional goals and to keep the thugs off the streets and focused on ‘home rule’ rather than direct rule. Obviously, you can’t provide a political alternative if you omit the little matter of a local parliament, can you? And besides, who would elect thugs and bigots if you actually intended to have great statesmen and empire-builders? If you want to improve parliament, then you’ll just have to elect a higher calibre of people and focus on the little matter of economic policies. I don’t see how an opposition is going to achieve that. Anyway, why does nobody talk about benchmarking its performance if everybody is so keen on improving its performance? Patrick Murphy hasn’t shown that it is underperforming. That’s odd, since it is central to his claim that there is a better method of delivery. Perhaps, like me, he just doesn’t like having the Shinners in any government but won’t say it?

  • Frustrated Democrat

    It is disappointing to see that there are those who see Goverment as a means of doing nothing and neutralising terrorists.

    We should have higher aspirations than having 70,000 too many civil servants and a subvention of £8 billion per annum.

    We need a government that takes decisions and at least tries to talk about things other than Ulster Scots and Irish languages and one that does not place our children in an impossible position re transferring to secondary education.

    If we had an opposition (alternative government)then those in power would be much better in at least attempting to change the situation we find ourselves in or be voted out.

    We really need to get the focus on the UK v UI to be relegated to something that can be dusted down and re-examined in 10 years when a lot of the other problems have been dealt with. However the priorities of the SDLP and SF mean this cannot happen regardless of how futile it currently is and a voluntary coalition with a paid opposition is not therefore an option.

  • Brian Walker

    I’d just like to nail this two nations thing. I’m certain it overstates the differences. The obsession with founding myths and basic texts mirrors Paisleyite biblical fundamentalism and shies away from contemporary analysis – what about life NOW? There have always been numerous points of contact between the two sides and lots of shared experiences. Try two tests: whom does a Prod or a Mick more resemble: each other or a Cork person? Whom does a Brit looking on think they most resemble: himself or each other? Many commenters on Slugger who enjoy history over-exalt the politics of identity to the exclusion of almost everything else. On its own, this search for stability through the prism of the past is doomed to failure. Without taking due account of changing lives, it may breed pessimism, cynicism and helplessness and may have more to do with the characteristics of bloggers than anything else, who sometimes sound like a school of medieval alchemists arguing about how to squeeze blood out of a stone. Just a touch self-indulgent maybe.. no great harm done unless you take it too seriously? But why not set history in its own context guys, and give the future a chance? There’s a universe of ideas and experience out there that isn’t contained in Bunreacht na hÉireann or the 1st Book of Kings..Sad to say, much of it in C20 passed Ireland by and must now be rediscovered.

  • “there is not the slightest evidence that he is”

    What research is Patrick Murphy commenting on?

    “the same degree of competence and fairness”

    How does their competence or lack of it compare with ministers in, say, Edinburgh and Cardiff? Just exactly how many muppets are there in these devolved institutions? In the words of a friend of mine, some of them couldn’t even be trusted to run a bath.

    On the theme of fairness do our ministers (and senior civil servants) treat all citizens the same when it comes to breaches of the law or do they make exceptions? Just how much sleaze is there floating around in our little cess-pit compared with other regions in these two islands?

    “Sometimes those events are repeated in reverse. In 1965 some Labour MPs formed the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, a forerunner of the civil rights campaign. Jim Allister might give his campaign that same name.”

    As Jim hasn’t why is Patrick trotting out such gibberish?

    “But Adams fails to address the core issue”

    I’d label it a core issue for democracy and governance, Pete. Another core issue is the presence of parapoliticians in government. For me, it debases civilisation; it’s a retrograde step.

    I’ve had an opportunity to blog on the actions of ministers from several parties (and senior civil servants) and I’ve been struck by the apparent lack of accountability in the governance system. The committees seem to be little more that droves of donkeys whereas what we need are nests of hornets 🙂

  • Guest

    Brian,
    Fukuyama nonsense.What you mean is why won’t they accept British rule

  • Guest

    fd,
    “We should have higher aspirations than having 70,000 too many civil servants and a subvention of £8 billion per annum.”

    Aspirations involve unity of identity.Ni cannot have aspirations as it is not united and never will be.

  • “whom does a Prod or a Mick more resemble: each other or a Cork person?”

    Aren’t there Prods and Micks in Cork (and Glasgow), Brian? You seem to be confusing alleged religious affiliations and constitutional aspirations.

    “I’d just like to nail this two nations thing” … “numerous points of contact between the two sides”

    How can you nail it if you operate it?

    “a Brit looking on .. much of it in C20 passed Ireland by” [BW] and “Irish history tends to be a rerun of the same events.” [PM]

    The ‘island of Ireland’ context doesn’t accommodate the two opposing constitutional aspirations, the unionist and the nationalist mindsets.

  • kensei

    If Murphy’s ministry has benefitted nationalists, then the minister must be acting unfairly – and there is not the slightest evidence that he is. So if his position has not benefitted nationalists and Arlene Foster would do the job with the same degree of competence and fairness, what is the case for compulsory power-shairing? The argument that it offers fairer government is undermined by our mountain of equality legislation. If that legislation is as effective as we are led to believe, there cannot be an abuse of democracy within the law, no matter who holds power.

    This is extraordinary – it assumes that on a left / right and authoritarian / liberal spectrum that the Nationalist and Unionist communities are the same – and there is little evidence to suggest that is the case. If we had majoritarianism and SF/SDLP had have been in power, then nationalism could have rammed home removal of selection at 11, for example.

    Second, suppose we had up/down majoritarianism and the DUP are in power. Equality legislation does not prevent them from say, directing money away from Irish and towards Ulster Scots. Or towards the Orange Order and away from the GAA. Or maybe banning activities on a Sunday. Indeed the DUP has tried to do as much of this within the current Assembly anyway. And, crucially, even if there is a valid reason to do it, simply doing so will create bad feeling and acid corrosion.

    Third, at the council level there is still ample evidence of behaviour that would not go down well in government. By both sides, though I’d venture Unionism is a little worse on this point.

    Fourth – does Nationalism trust British courts to such an extent this argument flies? Probably not, no.

    You cannot have majoritarian government while people continue to vote on tribal lines. It cannot be done. Whast is produced is a nonsense. And the UUP and SDLP are not “centre” parties. They are different tribal parties. To do otherwise results in these options:

    1. Permanent coalition. Possible as the centre is very small.
    2. Yo-yo government. Unionists come in, do everything one way, nationalist come in and do it different. Repeat. There is plenty which both sides would do that the other finds intolerable.
    3. Places extraordinary power in very small middle ground parties that are capable of tipping the balance to make coalitions. This is appalling, and certainly not “democratic”.

    Rhetoric is fine but you ignore the question of how do you get to that constitutional change?

    You convince people that they’d be better off under a United Ireland, have a referendum and get a 50%+1 vote. It is not complicated. Perhaps the options for doing that in the current arrangements for doing that, people will consider other options. But not before, you know, they have any traction whatsoever.

    The veto is an absolute guarantee that either side can block something they find intolerable. The behaviour of the DUP in government so far hardly engenders trust. Exactly what are you offering that is worth that guarantee, except vague notions about better government and more “democracy” that is worth it? Especially considering at this point that is highly likely nationalism would be the big losers. Answer: nothing.

  • “have a referendum and get a 50%+1 vote. It is not complicated.”

    In theory, kensei. However, it merely switches one slim majority for another; it doesn’t accommodate the two constitutional aspirations. Also, we have to navigate the 1916 anniversary in 2016; the 1966 one left us on the rocks for more than a generation.

  • Guest

    “I’d just like to nail this two nations thing”-mark
    Failed.
    it’s the essence of the problem that is ni and cannot be nailed.It probably is a nail, if truth be told and heard.

  • kensei

    Nevin

    In theory, kensei. However, it merely switches one slim majority for another; it doesn’t accommodate the two constitutional aspirations. Also, we have to navigate the 1916 anniversary in 2016; the 1966 one left us on the rocks for more than a generation.

    No, Nevin, in actuality. People can continue to have whatever constitutional aspirations they wish, as long as they are within the law. If they want change, they need to engineer it through suitable processes. In all likelihood though, a United Ireland is unlikely to be reversed; it is hardly possible to pull out those areas West of the Bann with huge Nationalist majorities into a state they don’t want to be, regardless of how the East of the Bann votes., And inertia is the most powerful force in the universe. If it occured on even on a slim vote, assuming we got through the period that followed, it’d rapidally gain ground.

  • Kensei, the actuality IMO is more likely to be civil war. The 50%+1 arrangement leaves us at the mercy of the extremists. The law has been pretty impotent when it came to protecting the weak and the vulnerable.

  • kensei

    Nevin

    Kensei, the actuality IMO is more likely to be civil war. The 50%+1 arrangement leaves us at the mercy of the extremists. The law has been pretty impotent when it came to protecting the weak and the vulnerable.

    The vast majority of Unionists on here keep telling me that they will respect the 50%+1; so much so they would be waving Tricolours and the rest and I should be doing the mirror image while the six counties remain in the UK. I can only take them at face value.

    Second, Unionism never backed down in the face of violence. I don’t see why Nationalism should be expected to do any different.

    I do agree the impotence / incompetence / who knows of the police is quite astonishing. On a taxi home on Friday night, I witnessed close to a full scale riot in the Oldpark. The thing is that there is a large time before a United Ireland becomes a serious possibility. It is important to use this time to change expectations of policing. Hopefully devolution of P&J will start the process of facilitating that,

    BTW, I expect Nationalism would have some sympathy with merging strands 2 and 3. Future pain is easier to take than current pain. But Unionism simply won’t but it, and it’s there you would need ot convince.

  • Guest

    Kensei,
    We are at least 3 to 4 generations away from that problem.They’ll probably put up a fight but thats life.
    What i find interesting about the unionist view of Ireland is that they seem to generally admit that a united Republic of 32 counties/ireland of ireland etc is enevitable and yet proudly declare that we’ll have to wait generations.As if a few hundred years is going to put us off!

  • Kensei, I suspect that unionists who signed up to the Agreement believed that the 50%+1 protected NI’s position in the UK and nationalists, that a UI was just around the corner – in relative historical terms. I haven’t found unionists or nationalists rushing to embrace my proposals 🙂

    It might be revealing to look at police resources in Belfast at the week-end and their deployment.

    Statistics show that the PSNI currently has a surfeit of senior officers and a deficit of about 500 constables. Things are unlikely to improve for front-line policing when they prune the full-time reserve.

    Statistics might also show that there are just as many brownie points for apprehending a speeding motorist as a recreational rioter.

    Recent news reports have referred to police officers ‘liaising’ with ‘community representatives’. Perhaps the officers were waiting to liaise and the community representatives were too busy rioting 😉

  • Eunice

    First, on the issue of opposition, I think theoretically there can be good governance and democracy that does not necessarily demand opposition. More important, I think, is accountability and transparency.

    On the rest of it: I wonder – and I’m really asking here, I don’t know – how invested is the average person in the ongoing ethnic entrepreneurship at Stormont? Shouldn’t effective and efficient government take precedence over the old tribal lines? The nationalists and unionists in government find the need to politicize everything from language to sports to policing and justice. But does it really need to be a winner-loser scenario? I understand that I sound astoundingly naive right now, but I honestly don’t see why someone learning Irish is devastating to another learning Ulster Scots. Give them both equal funding and cultural protection and be done with it. What’s the difficulty? (Again, actually asking here.)

    The point of consociationalism was to reduce ethnic violence. It was never going to be the most efficient or ‘democratic’ form of government. Peace was the pressing issue, and I think on that front power-sharing has generally been a success. But I’ve always seen consociationalism as a stepping stone, not a permanent solution. With consociationalism, it is impossible to have any other identity but the old tribal lines, and in the long-term that is obviously detrimental to any nation. Grassroots linkages, cross-community support…all old news, but really crucial things for the future. Maybe someday, generations down the line, the nationalists will get their 50%+1 and the unionists will indeed wave a tricolour along with the rest of them. Maybe not. But as Pete Baker has rightly said, waiting on a demographic flip is absolutely no solution. The dreamers and idealists can look to the future, and perhaps make it happen. In the present however, what seems much more important is the organic, peaceful, gradual construction of a new Northern Irish identity that doesn’t allow for the ineffective sectarian bullshit in government. Parades and painted kerbstones are not going to create jobs or bring down crime. Politics and life has too-long been framed in terms of ethnicity and religion; it’s really time for a new frame of mind.

    It shouldn’t be enough that nationalism or unionism leads to a ticket to government. Parties should be required to draw cross-community and multi-district support as advocated by some political scientist that I can’t remember (sorry, I’ll try to look it up). This means running on platforms that don’t rely on flags. As for democracy – well, once you leave power-sharing I suppose you will always have a tyranny of the majority. But if the majority isn’t based on ascriptive characteristics, then the opposition can generate healthy, constructive debate instead of old, useless divisions. And maybe we can work from there.

    And then we can all get together and sing kumbayaa. I know, I know how I sound but I think it needs to be said once in a while.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Eunice: “First, on the issue of opposition, I think theoretically there can be good governance and democracy that does not necessarily demand opposition. More important, I think, is accountability and transparency.”

    It is an opposition that gives accountability and transparency teeth. Without opposition, you have to depend upon the ethics and morals of politicians to address matters of corruption, peculation and other internal misdeeds. By making government cooperative, rather than oppositional, you diminish one of the few practical reasons for a politician to stand against corruption.

  • Reader

    Guest: What i find interesting about the unionist view of Ireland is that they seem to generally admit that a united Republic of 32 counties/ireland of ireland etc is enevitable and yet proudly declare that we’ll have to wait generations.
    You can’t even discuss the topic with any unionist who won’t handle it at least as a hypothesis. So what does such a conversation look like to you? By all means filter out the “never” boys from your observations.
    Guest: …and yet proudly declare that we’ll have to wait generations.As if a few hundred years is going to put us off!
    Do you really think that your G-Grandchildren are going to think exactly as you do – or that mine will think like me? I care about NI, and I won’t see a United Ireland. If my G-Grandchildren still care, they won’t see one either. And why should I care more about the situation in the future than they will?