Robinson call will be greeted with suspicion

The BBC is reporting that DUP leader Peter Robinson wants to change the way the Northern Ireland Assembly makes its decisions as soon as possible.

Mr Robinson said ending the veto that parties can exercise is as important as devolving policing and justice powers. The first minister signalled there could be a delay in transferring these powers due to problems around finance. He added there was no need to wait until 2015 to change voting rules and end community designation.

This is a serious proposal from the first minister and as such deserves serious discussion. However many nationalists will be surprised that the party which made such a big deal out of asserting its veto now wants to drop it.

  • Sean

    Connal

    You really believe that is a surprise? For now unioonists have the majority and the dupers can easily expect the other unioonist parties regardless of stripe to row in behind them when making decisions as to do otherwise would leave them vulnerable to lundification

  • kensei

    To sum: DUP wants to replace the veto with weighted majority voting, whereby they hope they can peel enough enough SDLP votes (or even better, don’t need those pesky nationalists at all) to make decisions.

    Hmmmmm. No. Think I’ll hang onto that veto, since even deadlock is preferable to being shat on from a great height. They can fly this kite as many times as they like, but SF would be insane on all levels to consider accepting this request.

    But just in case: what, exactly, are they prepared to give up in return for the Nationalist veto? I don’t give a stuff about “good governance” in an abstract sense here, I’m concerned with getting things I want. Try something substantial here, kids

  • slug

    “what, exactly, are they prepared to give up in return for the Nationalist veto? ”

    The unionist one?

  • igor

    “what, exactly, are they prepared to give up in return for the Nationalist veto? “

    Well we already gave up democracy when we put it in place. Now what more do you want?

  • oldruss

    With 108 members, a simple majority in the Assembly would be 55 votes. In the present Assembly, the DUP have 36 seats; the UUP have 18 seats; and the PUP has 1 seat. That’s a total of 55, exactly the votes required for a simple majority.
    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/members/breakdown.htm

    If a super majority of 65 pc. were required, as I think Robinson is suggesting, that would then mean that 71 votes would be required. If one adds all the non-aligned seats in the present Assembly to the Unionist block, that totals only 65 seats, short of the 65pc super majority.

    I’m not sure how much more efficient that arrangement would be than the present one. I suppose that peeling of some nationalist seats, six (6) to be precise, which would give the Unionist block the required 71, may be Robinson’s aim. Of the 16 SDLP seats, it’s not out of the question that 6 SDLP members could vote with the Unionist majority to reach the 71 seats required for the 65pc super majority. Hardly “cross-community support”

    Robinson’s proposal is worth discussing, but with Unionism’s history, it’s problematic that the nationalist community would be willing to give Unionists the kind of absolute control that they previously had at Stormont.

  • Dec

    Well we already gave up democracy when we put it in place.

    Really? I thought Unionism ‘give up’ Democracy after the 1918 General Election.

    Oldruss

    Whilst your figures are helpful it’s worth also bearing in mind the DUP’s wish to reduce the number of MLAs.

  • kensei

    slug

    The unionist one?

    Unionism isn’t the one worried about abuse of majority ruke. Why should I give up my cast iron guarantee I can stop you forcing things down my throat?

    oldruss

    One wonders what madness would afflict members of the SDLP to go on such a suicide run, but you can’t guarantee anythign with them.

    A quick look at the current US Senate, however, would suggest similar difficulties with supermajorities.

  • oldruss

    If seats were to be reduced in the Assembly, would there be any change to the STV system with multiple members from each electoral district?

    What effect would there be on the make up of the Assembly if it were elected on the first past the post system, as is Westminster?

    In watching the election returns, I have noted that in a number of cases the SF candidate may have a plurality of votes on the first ballot, or at least be in the top three or whatever the number is, that are to be chosen from a given district, but the SF candidate eventually looses out when transfers are factored into the totals.

    Perhaps Robinson needs to explain what his goal is in altering the current system. The existing system was cobbled together to address the historic inequities at Stormont. Any change would necessarily have to take those inequities into account, I would think.

  • fin

    Maybe its an indication that the DUP fancy their chances in strong arming the SDLP and UUP, into working to their agenda, and that the difficulties that they have had with SF are an indication of the weakness of the DUP after the Euro elections.

  • Reader

    kensei: Why should I give up my cast iron guarantee I can stop you forcing things down my throat?
    Yeah, like the end of academic selection and the building of the Bobby Bowl. Actual politics would be a big step to take, and will have to wait for a bit of community confidence.

  • slug

    “Unionism isn’t the one worried about abuse of majority rule. Why should I give up my cast iron guarantee I can stop you forcing things down my throat?”

    I would not be so sure about that. It was that unionist veto over expansion of north south bodies, over legislation, and over ministerial freedom that Unionism has been using to sell the present arrangements.

    As to why you shoud give up a nationalist veto, because it might allow some bargaining rather than stalemate, and it takes away a sectarianism imposed on the structures that most liberal-minded people have a distaste for-implicitly it weighs some peoples votes more important than others (the Alliance and Greens losing out in particular).

    I don’t think a 65% rule with voluntary coalition would actually be a cake walk for unionists-it could be more challenging (for unionists) than mandatory coalition, but ultimately a better form of government. The nationalist party/parties joining the Government would presumably negotiate their terms. That negotiation situation I think could result in more changes being brought about than mandatory coalition. I would imagine those negotiations could be very protracted-so a 65% rule is no guarantee of stable government.

  • Reader

    fin: Maybe its an indication that the DUP fancy their chances in strong arming the SDLP and UUP, into working to their agenda
    That’s the wrong sort of cynicism. The DUP may well see it would be mutually advantageous to make deals with the SDLP. That does depend on an environment where tribal solidarity is less important than a bit of change/progress.
    Are you ready for that?

  • slug

    Presumably the voluntary coalition would permit SDLP/SF to try to form coalitions with the UUP. This would in turn prevent the DUP asking for too much if it negotiates with SDLP. So there are all kinds of possibilities. Essentially it would make it less important for a party to be “top dog” in terms of its own designation because having a majority of the designation becomes unimportant in itself. That makes all votes in the Assembly equally relevant. I can’t see it particularly makes things better for unionists but it seems (to me) better because it does not relegate parties like Alliance and Green to second class status-which is good for the centre ground and good in terms of allowing a way for politics to evolve.

  • igor

    Everyone has a veto so nothing gets done or agreed. Unionists are generally quite happy with statis. Its largely Gerry that has the wish list – from the Maze Shrine to Glorify Murderers and Child Killers to the destruction of the Grammar Schools, etc, etc.

    Look around. None of it is happening and none of it will be. The SF social agenda is neutered. It’s all as likely as a ‘United Ireland in my lifetime’

  • borderline

    Peter Pence has learned from his days of demanding the repeal of Articles 2 and 3. He paid dear for these worthless claims.

    So now the Shinners want devolution of P&J.

    And Pete has stuck a price tag on it which is the Nationalist veto.

    Now if Unionists showed any evidence that they wouldn’t return to bigoted majority rule, the Shinners might play ball.

    An ILA would be a start.

  • Teechar

    The reaction of Republicans to this DUP proposal speaks volumes. So much for unionists lacking confidence. It appears that the unionists are happy to go for a system where a weighted majority would need to be fought for to get things going.

    Meanwhile the Republicans are running scared of real politics and need to hold onto their sectarian tribal fiefdom like a child and its comfort blanket.

    Then again I suspect most people knew a long time ago that the Republicans really don’t do democracy.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Teechar

    ..or perhaps republicans- and nationalists in general- have looked to how unionist parties baulk at the prospect of introducing power-sharing in local government councils with unionist majorities and have concluded we’re much better off in the present system.

    Or maybe they look to the first 50 years of ‘democracy’ in our wee state…

  • Teechar

    I wonder how many of the unionists in the assembly served in the Stormont government prior to 1970?

    If the past is what the future is to be based on I’ll expect unionists to avoid working with Republicans, who, less than twenty years ago supported their murder.

    Or in other words, if you don’t have the necessary pair to politically defend your corner at least have them to admit that and not trot out the old ‘we wus awful discriminated agin’ mantra.

  • Chris Donnelly

    I wonder how many of the unionists in the assembly served in the Stormont government prior to 1970?

    teeachar
    Read my post again: never mind the first 50 years of the state, plenty of the current crop of unionist MLAs serve on majority unionist councils that have gloated in their resistance to the type of proportionality in the allocation of civic posts that have been adopted by councils with a nationalist majority.

    Oh, and regaring the ‘necessary pair,’ that sounds like frustration at not being allowed to return to the good ol’ days of unionist rule.

    This speech was about appealing to the unionist heartlands, suggesting that a better system- in which the Sinners were marginalised- could be on the horizon, one in which just a handful of watery SDLP types could be bought off to support a unionist-led administration.

    Perhaps Peter is buoyed by the recent embittered soundings of the South Belfast MP, who once was famously suspended from his own party for taking crumbs from the beleagured unionist council bloc in Belfast as they desperately sought to fight off the advance of a truly shared city beyond their control.

    It’s quite clearly a non-starter, but I’ve no doubt many will delude themselves into believing that there are legs to this one.

  • Joe

    Robbo says
    [i]As a moral and practical matter, community designation is fundamentally flawed.[/i]

    Easy fix, just rename it “constitutional preference”, because that’s what it really means anyway.

  • Guest

    Igor-“veryone has a veto so nothing gets done or agreed. Unionists are generally quite happy with statis. Its largely Gerry that has the wish list – from the Maze Shrine to Glorify Murderers and Child Killers to the destruction of the Grammar Schools, etc, etc.

    Look around. None of it is happening and none of it will be. The SF social agenda is neutered. It’s all as likely as a ‘United Ireland in my lifetime’ ”

    And yet it is unionists who are trying to undo what they negotiated at st.Andrews?Go figure.

  • Teechar

    So politicians when they get the chance will push their own agenda? Now there’s a surprise; anyone remember the previous Sinn Fein Education Minister and the abolition of the 11+?

    The Assembly is not a local council and Robinson is suggesting a system whereby a percentage of cross-community support would be required to enable legislation. Sinn Fein as the other major player could also employ the same tactics to advance its agenda.

    It would be about negotiation and compromise. For example who is to say that a vote supported by Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and even a small number of unionists would not allow an ILA to be passed?

    If those who vote with the ‘other side’ in the Assembly on issues do not gain favour with their constituents then they will get voted out at elections; viola democracy.

    Try to avoid the default response of dipping into the Republicans’ Big Bag of Woes about themuns. Things need to develop.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Teechar

    Negotiation and compromise lie at the heart of the current system, which puts the two communities on an equal footing.

    Robinson’s proposal involves skewing the balance decisively in favour of unionism, from whom a considerably larger number of dissenting representatives would be required to vote outside of the unionist bloc for any legislation to be approved than would be the reciprocal case for nationalists.

    The development that needs to occur is a desire to seek compromise and negotiate on that basis- this proposal indicates that, far from recognising that fact, the leading voice within unionism would prefer to change the rules.

  • kensei

    I would not be so sure about that. It was that unionist veto over expansion of north south bodies, over legislation, and over ministerial freedom that Unionism has been using to sell the present arrangements.

    Which would still remain as and until Unionism loses another few votes, and even then the Alliance wouldn’t want to get hammered in its Unionist heartlands.

    As to why you shoud give up a nationalist veto, because it might allow some bargaining rather than stalemate, and it takes away a sectarianism imposed on the structures that most liberal-minded people have a distaste for-implicitly it weighs some peoples votes more important than others (the Alliance and Greens losing out in particular).

    In a weighted majority the vote sof the Alliance and Greens become disproportionately powerful. Massively so. I have no desire to turn the Assembly into Belfast City Council and have those little bollocks dictating terms.

    Unionism wants this because the dynamics at the moment fundamentally favours it – as Chris accurately points out. Fine. You want it? Put up something worth having. There are a number of things on structures, symbols and status of the Republic that might tempt Nationalism. Chances of that? Zip not least because Allister would eviscarate the DUp form the right.

    But guess what? Nationalism has no need and no reason to give up its veto. When you eventually tire yourself out thrashing, perhaps you will wise up and start proposing workable deals

  • Ian

    There’s a simple way of ending the anomaly where non-designated MLA have second-class status.

    Instead of requiring a majority of Unionist and a majority of Nationalist votes, simply switch it round so that a majority of the non-Unionist MLAs and a majority of non-Nationalist MLAs is required for cross-community consent.

    That way, the Alliance and Green votes actually count twice, which makes up for the last few years where their votes have been effectively irrelevant in cross-community votes.

    If that in itself seems unfair, then tweak the system so that when calculating the number of ‘non-Unionists’, the non-designated MLAs are assigned half a vote each, ditto when tallying up the ‘non-Nationalists’.

    Philosophically, it might grate with Alliance that this system would treat them as being ‘half-Unionist, half-Nationalist’, rather than being neither as they like to think of themselves, but surely that’s better than their vote being treated as irrelevant?

  • Reader

    Chris Donnelly: Robinson’s proposal involves skewing the balance decisively in favour of unionism, from whom a considerably larger number of dissenting representatives would be required to vote outside of the unionist bloc for any legislation to be approved than would be the reciprocal case for nationalists.
    But aren’t you expecting Nationalists to outnumber unionists in the Assembly next time round? Or aren’t some members of your party expecting that? Wouldn’t that completely change your argument?

  • oldruss

    Reader,
    I’m just a Yank, but from this side of the pond it appears that the size of the unionist block and the size of the nationalist block is pretty static. Any changes in particular party numbers comes at the expense of a party from the same side of the aisle, i.e. UUP/Consv. gains at DUP expense.

    That the nationalist parties (SF and SDLP) have a veto is a safety net to prevent a return to the kind of unionist domination under which nationalists suffered when Stormont was controlled solely by Unionists.

    What did you expect from the GFA and St. Andrews? Having been on the short end of the stick ever since 1921, weren’t nationalists in the six counties entitled at least to parity with Unionists, who, let us not forget, dominated the six counties with their British allies for 80 odd years?

  • Reader

    oldruss: Having been on the short end of the stick ever since 1921, weren’t nationalists in the six counties entitled at least to parity with Unionists, who, let us not forget, dominated the six counties with their British allies for 80 odd years?
    The proposals still leave a nationalist veto, just that it isn’t held exclusively by SF

  • kensei

    Reader

    But aren’t you expecting Nationalists to outnumber unionists in the Assembly next time round? Or aren’t some members of your party expecting that? Wouldn’t that completely change your argument?

    Bird in hand. I think it is somewhat premature to prejudge future dynamics, no?

  • otto

    Obvious point re petitions of concern. It takes 30 MLA’s to lodge one. There’s only 28 Sinn Fein MLA’s. Legislation which has the unanimous support of the SDLP can’t be brought down by SF objection. The only party with a unilateral veto is the DUP. Generous of them to offer to give this up. Maybe they know no-one’s taking them seriously.

  • kensei

    otto

    Obvious point re petitions of concern. It takes 30 MLA’s to lodge one. There’s only 28 Sinn Fein MLA’s. Legislation which has the unanimous support of the SDLP can’t be brought down by SF objection. The only party with a unilateral veto is the DUP. Generous of them to offer to give this up. Maybe they know no-one’s taking them seriously.

    Maybe they know that

    1. The chances of them retain this afetr the next election are slim
    2. SF might do after the next election.

  • Ian

    Reader:

    “But aren’t you expecting Nationalists to outnumber unionists in the Assembly next time round? Or aren’t some members of your party expecting that? Wouldn’t that completely change your argument?”

    The point at which the nationalist block in total exceeds the unionist block is the point at which a referendum on Irish Unity comes into prospect, rendering Stormont less relevant…