Allister, Robinson, literature, tactics and strategy

Jim Allister continues to pound away restlessly at the DUP and Peter Robinson. The man whom Robinson himself brought back into the political fray has become his bête noire. The tale brings up three literary possibilities each with a different ending. Robinson may be Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel who created the destructive Golem of Prague but was eventually able to stop it by removing the Golem’s clay tablet. Alternatively he may be Jonathan Harker who eventually destroyed Dracula or he may be Victor Frankenstein who failed and had his self created nemesis outlive him. Allister’s latest attack on Peter Robinson is interesting in shedding a little more light on the St. Andrew’s Agreement and the machinations surrounding it. It again shows Peter Robinson’s tactical prowess but maybe his strategic inadequacies and inability to think of quite possible “What if….” scenarios.

Allister states that the changes to the original Belfast Agreement which made the First minister come from the largest party rather than the largest tradition were agreed at proximity talks in London in the aftermath of St Andrews at which potentially dissenting DUP voices (including at the time Allister himself) were not invited. This of course is the change which could easily allow Sinn Fein to take the First Minister’s post at the next election. Allister pointed out the dangers at the time but none of the DUP MPs in Westminster voted against that change.Allister claims that this was a deliberate policy by Peter Robinson to ensure a perpetual blackmail of the unionist electorate to always keep the DUP vote up in order to keep a unionist first minister. Of course after the European elections this looks less likely and the DUP may have shot their bolt on the issue. The First and Deputy First Ministers are of course actually coequal but there could be significant embarrassment for the DUP in having McGuinness as First Minister. In addition there is also the irony that under the old system any TUV representatives elected to the next assembly would have had to support the DUP to block a SF First Minister. As such the DUP would have been able to usefully blackmail the TUV. Now there would be nothing the TUV or any other unionist could do if SF are the largest single party.

Again Robinson seems to have gone for a short term advantage and created a long term problem. Just like what he did when he thought it would be a great idea to bring Allister back into the political fray to prevent Willie McCrea from being the DUP’s European candidate. Like all the above literary works this is a story about someone who thought he had come upon a great idea only to have its outworking threaten to destroy him: short term tactics versus long term strategy.

  • Thereyouarenow

    Shock horror Unionist do not want one of them First.

  • pedant

    Only a small detail but the basis for JA’s comments contained in his press release is factually inaccurate. A cursory examination of the various documents referred to in the original press release would reveal this.

    But why let the facts get in the way …

    I will give a prize to the person who can identify the most factual inaccuracies in the press release.

    No prizes for the addition of an apostrophe in St Andrews by Turgon. A perfecty understandable error given that around half the media make the same error.

  • aquifer

    ‘the changes to the original Belfast Agreement which made the First minister come from the largest party rather than the largest tradition’

    The first minister must always be a Prod?

    I don’t remember that bit. Where’s my copy?

    It sounds too sectarian to be really british.

    Does anyone else think that Jim Allister looks like Arthur Scargill?

    In the 70s and 80s there were a whole procession of hardline proddie irritants, but I’m damned if I can remember their names. If Jim doesn’t fix the proddie parliament for a proddie people we will forget him as well.

  • How about replacing the current Stormont with a democratic parliament for a democratic people.

  • lula

    Turgon, thanks for this. That change was always puzzling to me. It makes more sense now, even if extremely short-sighted.

    “How about replacing the current Stormont with a democratic parliament for a democratic people.”

    … you mean like the one that existed 1921-72?

    The OED lists “control of a group by the majority of its members” as only the third definition of democracy, whereas the primary definition of democratic is listed as being “favouring or characterised by social equality; egalitarian”.

  • boss hogg

    I always thought Allister only left the DUP over timing and, I watched him going into and out of ST Andrews with the rest of the DUP its funny how he didnt have a problem then but he does now?

  • aquifer

    The media make it look as if this intra-ethnic outbidding could go somewhere. They feel themselves obliged to interview elected representatives without saying ‘would you catch yourself on’, or ‘no English squaddie is going to die to make you first minister’ or ‘When did you decide to set the Continuity IRA up for a new campaign of bombing and shooting’ ‘You lost the Belfast Agreement vote majority rules get over it’

  • observer

    As one who observed (in person) the machinations at St Andrews and subsequently, Jim Allister is correct.

    THe msate negotiators sold out their position and principles for the glory of office. Dr Paisley startled by the lights and the glamour, pressurised by the position seekers opted for the St Anderws Agreement much against his instincts but instincts aren’t worth much when you are up against hte combined might of the 3 Govs and them whispering glory in your ear.

    As for the place seekers, Robinson, Donaldson and the clutch of well paid, well placed advisors the Agreement was glory on a plate and they grabbed it. Seeking later to blackmail the unionist electoate by agreeing the new First Minister arrangements.

    In this case ir wasn’t power that corrupted it was the smell of power

  • Mason Powell

    The change in the basis for selecting the First Minister was clearly accepted by the DUP because they thought it would allow them to “frighten the children” come election-time and guarantee their return as largest party.

    The European Election results show that the “children” have grown up, so that many will no longer trust the DUP and will not vote for them. It is therefore fortunate that Jim Allister has provided an alternative home for that substantial voting bloc.

    If the next Assembly election produces results broadly in line with the Euro-results, the DUP will NOT be the largest party, although the appearance of the TUV will mean that the overall Unionist vote will hold up and there will be a majority of Unionist Assembly-members.

    The result will be rather similar to previous elections in the Republic which left Fianna Fail as the largest party but well short of the number of seats to form an administration. In those examples, democracy naturally decreed that the largest party went into opposition and the majority coalition of smaller parties formed the government. Ah yes, democracy….

    But of course that’s NOT what would happen here. Thanks to the DUP’s ham-fisted efforts, the tail would wag the dog, with a self-confessed unrepentant IRA commander becoming First Minister of Northern Ireland, having acquired perhaps 25% support in the election. That’s democracy??

    Of course, such an obviously skewed and undemocratic system will only operate if the DUP allow it to operate.

    I’m tempted (by watching how deeply the DUP shove their snouts into the trough) to conclude that they will stomach absolutely anything to cling onto their ministerial posts, their chauffeur-driven cars and their expense accounts, but let’s give them a chance to comment. Enough of them read Slugger and post here. Let’s see if any of them are prepared to state categorically and without the usual wriggling that they will not let Stormont continue with a Sinn Fein First Minister presiding over a Unionist majority.

    OK, DUP, over to you…. (and if there is a deafening silence we can draw our own conclusions).

  • DC

    Shock horror we could have an ex-terrorist as FM thanks to the DUP.

    Big deal, sure we had a potential war criminal as the PM.

    So to get an ex-terrorist is no surprise but the DUP didn’t help.

    But look at the rights and privileges both got for the people:

    Blair – he got the wider British diaspora a stake on oil and resources and men to fight for them – thank you all.

    McGuinness – he got those big capital ‘U’ Unionists via a sovereign proxy to stop treating Catholics a bit second class (Paisley of course didn’t help and neither did or will Allister I imagine).

    Turgon, so long as you’re having fun that’s what I always say to you about these blogs, as the actual relevance in them still remains on the ever withering fringes.

    Electorally the TUV may pick up some percentage growth by recapturing the withering-from-age Unionist voters who are deserting the DUP after realising the futility of mixing religion and politics and trying to do 21C Governance at the same time.

    Enjoy now.

  • Conquistador

    “How about replacing the current Stormont with a democratic parliament for a democratic people.”

    … you mean like the one that existed 1921-72?

    I was thinking along the lines of accountability, you know one where we can kick out inept ministers and parties and the like… preferably along the lines of voluntary powersharing (but maybe I’m not as sectarian as those who demand the mandatory model).

    always thought Allister only left the DUP over timing and, I watched him going into and out of ST Andrews with the rest of the DUP its funny how he didnt have a problem then but he does now?

    Well at least Jim Allister saw the light in the end. It’s funny how Robbo et al had a problem sharing power with unrepentant terrorists before St Andrew’s, but don’t now.

  • Jer

    Mason,

    The past called. Apparently dinner is waiting for you.

    If Martn McG becomes the first minister the sky will not fall, nor boats sail over the end of the world.

    You may think it will but a portion of the Unionist community would be able to handle it and move on with their lives.

  • slug

    As I am against “designation” I approve of this change. It seems sectarian and tribal to require that the FM come from the largest designation rather than the largest party. In most democracies the largest party does generally assume the top job.

  • Eh?

    The largest party [i]nominates[/i] the First Minister.

  • Dave

    Jim Allister’s position appears to contain a serious contradiction that, left unresolved, belies his claim that his objection to how the St Andrews Agreement deals with the appointment of ministers in the Executive is based on democratic principles rather than sectarianism.

    It is not clear if his objection is to “the possibility of McGuinness becoming First Minister” or to the possibility of a First Minister from the ‘Nationalist’ community designation. If it is the former, then he is right to be concerned about the repugnant possibility of an unrepentant mass-murderer becoming First Minister, and the detrimental effect that would have on democracy. If it is the latter, then his objection is based on sectarianism.

    Annex A (Strand 1 Issues) of the St Andrews Agreement states that:

    “The Nominating Officer of the largest party in the largest designation in the Assembly shall make a nomination to the Assembly Presiding Officer for the post of First Minister. The Nominating Officer of the largest party in the second largest designation in the Assembly shall similarly nominate for the post of Deputy First Minister.”

    The “designation” refers to the community designation under the GFA which is Unionist, Nationalist, or Other.

    It would appear that Jim Allister is actually more concerned about the latter option above than the former:

    “Bad as the original terms of the Belfast Agreement were, at least it guaranteed a Unionist First Minister, because it by law stipulated the First Minister must come from the biggest party of the biggest tradition. At St Andrews that Unionist protection was thrown away and the NI St Andrews Act, passed in November 2006 amended the 1998 Act to remove the position of First Minister from the biggest tradition, Unionism, and instead to gift it to the biggest party.”

    Majority rule can only be democratic if there is one nation. If there are two nations (and Jim Allister accepts that there are since he is seeking to promote the interest of one nation/designation over the other), and if majority rule is reinstated at Stormont, then one nation will be excluded from office in the Executive. It is possible, of course, that parties from each designation could form a coalition under a system of majority rule, but Jim Allister is proposing the changes not to allow for the possibility of a nationalist becoming First Minister but to exclude it, so it is clear that the concept of a one nation state does not guide his thinking. If the concept of a one nation state does not apply here, then the concept of majority rule cannot apply either.

    In reality, the GFA consolidates ‘sectarianism’ because it legitimises two nations, and forces those two nations to share one state. That does not work anywhere in the world, and it will not work in NI either. That is why virtually all of the world’s 206 states are nation-states (exceptions being the Vatican, Belgium, The UK, and the US). These two nations must compete with each other for control of one state, and that is why you see the parties within Stormont waving vetoes at each other and enforcing mutual censorship and it is also why you see the parties outside of the Executive operating along the dynamics of two separate nations.

    Because there are two nations, each nation must have a majority and both majorities must have a consensus if they are to make any progress. To accept that there are two nations but to enforce majority rule is to exclude one nation from power. Of course, it’s all a bit of a sick joke to call Stormont power since it is a puppet parliament that is only economically sustained by subvention from a productive nation (the English) and only politically maintained by them because of a fear that its muck-savages would revert to organised murder campaigns if they are not pampered and indulged as ‘statesmen’ and ‘peacemakers’ etc.

    Neither St Andrews nor the GFA resolved the problem of how two nations are supposed to share one state and still retain any semblance of self-determination, and the only option that ever will resolve it is repartition.

  • Dave

    “The Nominating Officer of the largest party in the largest designation in the Assembly shall make a nomination to the Assembly Presiding Officer for the post of First Minister. ”

    By the way, how exactly does Jim Allister conclude that the Shinners will become “the largest designation in the Assembly” and will therefore be in a position “to make a nomination to the Assembly Presiding Officer for the post of First Minister.” They may become “the largest party” but not “in the largest designation.”

  • Dave

    Actually, it appears that the offending clause is Section 16C(6) of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews’ Agreement) Bill:

    [b]If at any time the party which is the largest political party of the largest political designation is not the largest political party—[/b]

    [i](a) any nomination to be made at that time under section 16A(4) or16B(4) shall instead be made by the nominating officer of the largest political party; and

    (b) any nomination to be made at that time under section 16A(5) or16B(5) shall instead be made by the nominating officer of the largest political party of the largest political designation[/i]

    These are 16A(4) and 16A(5) respectively:

    [i](4) The nominating officer of the largest political party of the largest political designation shall nominate a member of the Assembly to be the First Minister.

    (5) The nominating officer of the largest political party of the second largest political designation shall nominate a member of the Assembly to be the deputy First Minister[/i]

    The largest party of the largest designation only nominates the First Minister if is also the largest party. In other words, the minority community may nominate the First Minister if the minority community has the largest party. That may indeed return to bite Mr Robinson on the ass.

    That is different from what is declared the British government’s St Andrews’ Agreement site, where it states in Annex A (Strand 1 Issues) that:

    “The Nominating Officer of the largest party in the largest designation in the Assembly shall make a nomination to the Assembly Presiding Officer for the post of First Minister. The Nominating Officer of the largest party in the second largest designation in the Assembly shall similarly nominate for the post of Deputy First Minister.”

    The official site states that it must be “the largest party in the largest designation [b]in the Assembly[/b]” that nominates the First Minister.

  • Mike

    Dave

    The point is that the system of choosing the FM & dFM, having been changed from what was in the Belfast Agreement, was altered again between the publication of the St Andrews Agreement and the passing of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act.

    What’s in the Act doesn’t reflect faithfully what’s in the Agreement. Obviously this change was made at SF’s instigation (once they’d realised they’d slipped up at St Andrews), but it seems this was very much with the DUP’s acquiesence since it enabled them to attempt to blackmail the unionist electorate.

  • Mike

    slug

    “As I am against “designation” I approve of this change. It seems sectarian and tribal to require that the FM come from the largest designation rather than the largest party. In most democracies the largest party does generally assume the top job.”

    Not quite. It’s normally the party or parties that can form a government with majority support (or at least not majority outright opposition) in the legislature.

    Look at Israel at the start of this year – Kadima won more votes, and more seats, than Likud, but the Likud leader Netanyahu became Prime Minister as he was able to put together a much larger coalition than Kadmima Leader Livni, and was able to win a majority vote in parliament.

    In the UK we seem to be a lot less mature and assume the largest party in the legislature, even when it’s substantially in the minority, has some sort of divine right. So in Scotland, the SNP beat Labour by one seat and it was seen as a moral imperative that the SNP be able to form a government, with the small Green contingent, even though the outgoing Labour – Lib Dem coalition won substantially more votes and seats.

    But here’s the rub – Alex Salmond wasn’t simply crowned First Minister after the SNP was asked to provide a nomination. No, he was nominated from the floor of the Scottish Parliament ( as any other MSP could have been) and had to win a majority vote of that Parliament to become FM and be able to form a government. And he won that vote, thanks partly to the abstention of the Lib Dems and Conservatives.

    In summary, I think the system we had prior to St Andrews, with FM & dFM facing a vote in the Assembly, was much more democratic than what we have now. But it suited the DUP & SF to change it for perceived party-political advantage.

  • Dave,

    That is why virtually all of the world’s 206 states are nation-states (exceptions being the Vatican, Belgium, The UK, and the US).

    Still peddling this nonsense? You seem to have forgotten Spain, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Indonesia and pretty much every state in Africa. I could go on. And who defines a “nation” anyway? There are plenty of people who don’t agree that there are two “nations” in NI.

  • Mason Powell

    A few further observations:

    DC:
    What exactly is an ex-terrorist? Is it anything like an ex-paedophile? An ex-rapist? An ex-murderer?

    Jer:
    “The past called…”

    Yes, isn’t it strange that all crimes are past events, and catching criminals actually involves delving into past events? Still, never mind, let’s forgive the Nazis, hug the KKK and sponsor a “be kind to the BNP” week. Next time your elderly mother or granny or aunt gets mugged, raped or burgled, let’s all join in a chorus of “forget about it, move on, get a life!”

    “If MMcG becomes FM the sky will not fall…a portion of the Unionist community would be able to handle it and move on with their lives…”

    Yes, and we already know which portion of the Unionist community. The DUP have shown that they will eagerly sell their birthright for a mess of potage (which, in their case, would be a chauffeur-driven limo and a ministerial salary). I’m banking on the rest of the Unionist community catching themselves on and realising that Emperor Robinson is as bereft of clothing as he is of principles. That leads me back to my original question: where are the DUP bloggers to reassure us that they will never let the Assembly operate with a minority terrorist commander as FM? We’re still waiting.

  • Dave

    Andrew Gallagher:

    [i]I could go on.[/i]

    Just like the Duracell bunny.

    [i]And who defines a “nation” anyway? [/i]

    You are very confused. If you don’t know what a nation is, how can you identify which states are not nation-states?

    [i]There are plenty of people who don’t agree that there are two “nations” in NI.[/i]

    But none of them are signatories to the GFA. That defines two nations.

    Mike:

    You’re right. The change I noticed was rather significant (since the largest designation in the Assembly does not have the same meaning as the largest designation), and I just glanced through it. No doubt there are other changes.

  • Dave

    “What exactly is an ex-terrorist? Is it anything like an ex-paedophile? An ex-rapist? An ex-murderer?” – Mason Powell

    Well, the murderer may stop murdering people but, alas, those he has murdered cannot stop being dead. Only one party to that relationship can ever ‘move on.’

  • Dave

    Incidentally, since there are an estimated 7000 to 10000 nations in the world (Center For World Indigenous Studies), and there are only 194 states that are officially recognised by the US and 192 that are members of the UN (206 counting disputed others such as Taiwan, Greenland, Scotland, Wales, Palestine, etc), it follows that there are more nations than there are states and that some nations must therefore share a state. The key factor is whether or not a nation asserts a claim to self-determination or autonomy and, if it does, how forcefully it asserts it and what validity is attached to the claim. If they are united by a common nationalism that promotes social and political cohesion, then they can indeed share a state as one nation.

    That, however, does not apply to the two nations in Northern Ireland. There is no common nationalism to unite them, notwithstanding futile attempts to unite the Irish nation under the banner of British or European. The use of Irish as a common banner to unite two traditions is firmly rejected in the GFA, which dismisses the one-nation concept of Wolfe Tone and replaces it with the Two Nations Theory as espoused by the likes of Conor Cruise O’Brien, Owen Dudley Edwards and, of course, endorsed by the SDLP and the Shinners when they endorsed the GFA. At any rate, two nations require two states, so that kills off any possibility (or desirability) of unity between two incompatible nations.

    As the UK and the US are not nation-states, they need to promote a common nationalism as a means of uniting the nations that live within their respective states. If you look at the UK and the US, you will see that nationalism is strongest in those countries at times of war. People feel British and patriotic or American and patriotic during a lovely war. So these nations can share their state because they are all united under a common nationalism of British or American.

    That is a lesson, incidentally, that has not been lost on the EU, which has duly instructed its Member States to increase their spending on their military capabilities. Developments in Canada and Spain are good examples of how nation-states are still emergent despite assurances by stooges of the EU that the nation-state has had its day.

  • Cushy Glenn

    “You may think it will but a portion of the Unionist community would be able to handle it and move on with their lives.”

    Yup,Sid and Doris Bonkers of Holywood will have no problem, but the rest of us might be rather miffed….

  • Dave,

    Just like the Duracell bunny.

    Hi, Mr. Kettle. I’m Mr. Pot. Pleased to meet you.

    If you don’t know what a nation is, how can you identify which states are not nation-states?

    I can’t make an exhaustive list. But neither can anyone else.

  • Ian

    “The First and Deputy First Ministers are of course actually coequal but there could be significant embarrassment for the DUP in having McGuinness as First Minister.”

    This business of who gets to be First Minister and who becomes Deputy is a red herring.

    The real issue is that if SF overtake the DUP in terms of numbers of MLAs*, then [i]SF gets first pick of Ministry under d’Hondt[/i], i.e. in all likelihood the [i]Finance Ministry[/i].

    I predict that the point at which SF attain most MLAs is the point at which the DUP agree to change the rules to throw the Justice ministry back into the d’Hondt mix. Justice would be too tempting for SF to resist, so the DUP, assuming they remain top dog in the unionist bloc, would therefore retain Finance (which I would suggest is really a bigger priority for the DUP than keeping SF’s mitts off Justice, given the checks and balances inherent in the Assembly and Policing Board).

    *(Not number of first preference votes – the SDLP got most votes in 1998 but the UUP got more MLAs, so Trimble was FM not Mallon. SF may indeed attain more votes but remain second in terms of MLAs, if crudely speaking unionist parties can rely on transfers from two sizeable parties, as opposed to two in the nationalist camp.)

  • Ian

    Sorry, to clarify that footnote, if the TUV take off there might be three sizeable parties in the unionist camp, so unionists of one party could rely on transfers from two other unionist parties, whilst there being only two sizeable nationalist parties, each can only rely on transfers from one other party.

    (I realise Alliance types might shout that down as too crude a sectarian breakdown, but it’s precisely what happened in 1998 when Bob McCartney’s UKUP took TUV’s place in the scheme of things, allowing the SDLP to head the poll but not the Assembly.)

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Turgon,

    there can be little doubt that Robbo did not for forsee the rise and rise of the TUV and therefore thought he was relatively safe in changing the rules regarding the selection of first minister – but what puzzles me is that considering the DUP seized the opportuinty so well themselves when the UUP left their Orange flank exposed you would have thought that they would have seen it coming?

    Looking at the bigger picture for Unionism, as Paul Bew pointed out on R4 last week, the strength of the TUV at this point – when Robbo is trying to hold out against the pressure to transfer Police to Norn Iron – is extremely damaging to the DUP and therfore must be damaging to Unionism as whole – if the main beneficaries of the DUPs difficulty will be SF.

    Surely you realise that SF are laughing all the way to the next election(s) – is there not even a twinge of unease in the TUV at how events are unfolding?

  • Turgon

    Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Worryingly I was thinking of a blog on this very subject. Not just at the moment: very busy at work and the evil wife has gone to a business meeting for a few days abandoning me with the boys.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Turgon,

    the chip shop is yer-main-man times like these.