Party mergers are not as attractive as they seem

Should the Ulster Unionists finally federate with the Conservatives and the SDLP with Fianna Fail? In each case in their present state of eclipse, the prospect of becoming part of a bigger machine must be sorely tempting. Below the surface however lurk huge problems. Unionists like Sylvia Hermon are sturdy individualists and want to remain big beasts in the local zoo. For the SDLP the attractions may at first glance be clearer, but who’s rushing to vote Fianna Fail these days? The plight of the Dublin government shows how local politicians would be placed at the mercy of events beyond their control. My objections to mergers are two fold. Nationalists looking to Dublin and Unionists to London risk widening the sectarian divide at a time when it desperately needs to be narrowed. And two, it throws into confusion what people are voting for. Was it for this that people bravely carried the torch for local democracy for the past thirty years, only to surrender to an informal form of joint authority between London and Dublin, depending on who’s in power in the national capitals? Only if the London and Dublin parties knocked local heads together would mergers be justfied. But haven’t they tried to do that already? And given the obsessive localism of our politics, wouldn’t the DUP and Sinn Fein look even better for continuing to stand on their own two feet?

  • eric

    “Nationalists looking to Dublin and Unionists to London risk widening the sectarian divide at a time when it desperately needs to be narrowed”

    I disagree. Moderate stay at home voters might well be more likely to support governmental parties. The mainstream national parties in Ireland and Britain are more moderate than the NI party system that alienates the moderate voter. In fact nationwide parties have a better track record of dealing with diversity than NI parties. It may well provide an injection for moderates.

    FF/SDLP + UUP Tory alternative to SF/DUP on bread and butter issues might well inject a bit of healthy competition into our moribound political scene.

  • Elvis parker

    ‘Nationalists looking to Dublin and Unionists to London risk widening the sectarian divide at a time when it desperately needs to be narrowed’
    Yeah like the two most parochial parties of all – SF and DUP – have such a great record in narrowing division
    The risk of your analysis is essentially: settle for fiddling around in a sectarian stich up. Pro Union people should not attempt to influence the big decisions at Westminster on tax, spending, welfare.

    London is not a foreign govt it is our government and we not accept second class citizenship

    Brian you might be confused about who you are voting for but I for one am not. I want a Conservative govt and welcome the opportunity to vote for it. If you dont fine just keep voting for the same old same old

  • eric

    I think what is overlooked is that the NI Tories welcomed Fianna Fail’s entry into the NI political scene in 2007. The local Tories can see the benefit of Fianna Fail – arch pragmatists if there ever were being potential partners in local politics.

    It is the pragamtism of a mainstream party that will appeal to many a dissaffected SDLP or UUP voter in addition to the Alliance Party support base. Although Sinn Fein have the organisation, they increasingly lack direction and the DUP will evetually have to face whether they stay in the tranches with Jim Allister or get out of the way to allow the politics of the Union grow.

    Ten years from now it might well be SF/DUP v FF/Tory

  • slug

    I think we can handle national parties. Many of us prefer to think at that level.

  • The fact of the matter is, most people be they unionist or Republican, look to their respective capitals, ie Belfast or Dublin. There is no getting away from this. To be fair, I think a FF / SDLP merger is off the cards. The FF membership in the North is opposed to this because they do not want to appeal to a greater proportion of the electorate than the SDLP. Of course, the bulk will be SDLP but we are looking for other voters such as SF, Republicans / Nationalists who no longer vote and moderate unionists.

  • slug

    Donnacha my capital is London.

  • eric

    “I think a FF / SDLP merger is off the cards”

    I think an outright merger wouldn’t be a runner. What you could see is the SDLP leaving the Labour group changing the name and becoming a sister party of Fianna Fail (through the European Liberals). A Tory/UUP styled arrangement might develop after that (the 2014 Euro election, rather than the 2011 assembly election being the starting point).

    There are nationalist constituencies where the SDLP barely exist. There is a job for Fianna Fail to do in these areas.

    Fianna Fail are on their uppers at the moment – and deservedly so. However Fine Gael were crushed in 2002 and have rebuilt. Don’t write off Fianna Fail in the medium term!

    I think governmental parties would not appeal to the extremes, who tend to view the mainstream of their respective mother countries as suspect (not Republican enough – or wanting to sell out the Union etc). The governmental parties are targeting a different and somewhat neglected constituency

  • slug

    What would 26 county civil war parties do for NI?

    FF – its website does not give any policy position except ‘being mainstream’ (which in 26 counties is pretty conservative in practice). That is, it is a catch all centre right party in practice.

    FG – it is also centre right, libearal in some ways, yet more conservative and at the same time in apparent alliance with Labour. Mess.

    These parties make little sense outside the 26 county context, at least that’s my take!

    If the SDLP want to have a clean clear position consistent with its name the only party they can ally with is Labour. To reach out maximally they should ally stronger with both UK and Ire Labour and leave the ethnic nationalism to SF who do it best.

  • slug

    “What you could see is the SDLP leaving the Labour group changing the name and becoming a sister party of Fianna Fail (through the European Liberals).”

    One good effect of this would be to pave the way for a proper Labour electoral movement.

  • slug

    I guess the ramifications could be

    SDLP-FF – a nationalist party that has left the Labour group but takes Westminster seats and is allied with FF, competeing as a new political force attractive to SF voters that is nationalist and linked to Dublin.

    SF – there but diminished in vote share by switchers to SDLP-FF

    Labour – a new political force with Labour values, linked to trade unions, with cross community appeal.

  • If you dont fine just keep voting for the same old same old

    You’d think that anyone with the temerity to suggest that people in Northern Ireland should be denied entitlements which result from their democratic constitutional choice would be based in Northern Ireland. But then again you’d be wrong!

  • Mergers? All sounds a bit Trick or Treat to me.

  • eric

    “If the SDLP want to have a clean clear position consistent with its name the only party they can ally with is Labour”.

    Ture, but this is NI – a logic free zone. Fine Gael have a Protestant and ex Redmondite constituency that don’t aspire to all Ireland organisation. Fianna Fail is different from them in this respect (this is probably their only difference).

    Much of the conservative nationalist SDLP will throw their lot in with FF just to differentiate themselves from the British Tory/Labour divide.

    Your are right slug repositioned SDLP outsuide the Labour block would cause defections to Labour and the Irish and British Labour parties will probably combine to fill that void.

    That or we muddle on as we are – a freakish laughing stock

  • northern whig

    What about just changing the stationery and moving on? Lots of English speaking countries have Conservative, Liberals, Democrats, Labour and Green parties and the generally mean the same thing everywhere. Take the name, nick the policies, license the brand, invite fraternal assistance and decide on contractual obligations like whipping and cabinet posts if the chance occurs post election. If you need financial support promise coalition for a cabinet position.

    The GB positions tie up with the NI party positions anyway. GB Labour’s constitutional position since its foundation has been Irish unity by consent so SDLP adoption of the name if they want it is entirely appropriate.

    How about;

    Democratic Unionist (Unionist)
    Conservative (mostly Unionist)
    Liberal Democrats (United Community)
    Greens (United Community)
    Labour (mostly Nationalist)
    Sinn Fein (Nationalist)

    Just don’t make MLA designation a whipping issue. If Dawn wants to be part of the Labour Party and to designate as a unionist at Stormont let her so long as she’s up front with her electorate. And why shouldn’t an individual Tory designate as United Community? We’re a small enough region/state to know our politician’s quirks and proclivities. We don’t elect parties – we elect people. Use the flexibility that allows.

  • Glyn

    “My objections to mergers are two fold. Nationalists looking to Dublin and Unionists to London risk widening the sectarian divide at a time when it desperately needs to be narrowed.”

    Yes, keep the natives sandbagged into their respective unionist vs nationalist camps. That did a lot to reduce the secatrian divide, didn’t it? You are surely being ironic here, Brian? I mean, no thinking person could seriously advance this lucirous argument.

    “And two, it throws into confusion what people are voting for.”

    Yeah, deary me, we wouldn’t want people voting on unimportant things like taxes, the recession, Afghanistan, the Lisbon Treaty, immigration, crime etc, would we? Keep the simpletons focused on putting their thumb print down for their tribe. Honestly, arguments like this make me sick. If there wasn’t such a thing as a “Northern Irish cringe”, you can see it here now – for those who revel in isolation, division, irrelevance and mediocrity.

  • Garza

    God forbid that Northern irish politics comes out of its small minded, divisive hole and reach a little further out.

    We have been a political loner for too long.

  • Reader

    northern whig: Just don’t make MLA designation a whipping issue.
    It’s reasonable to expect MLAs to designate as they specify they will on their individual election literature. But if a party will allow their candidates to spread their designations in a constituency, they may even pick up a few extra votes.

  • eric

    “We’re a small enough region/state to know our politician’s quirks and proclivities. We don’t elect parties – we elect people. Use the flexibility that allows. ”

    I think Conservatives, Labour, Liberals and Greens can live with that flexibility – whether they will be outnumbered by committed tribalists is another matter

  • slug

    Eric

    What I think is important is for there to be a labour option that isn’t nationalist. It might be cross community, partly nationalist partly unionist. But not “mainly nationalist” or “mainly unioist” rather “mainly Labour”.

  • Just when you least expect it, up stands another Little Ulsterman, determined to keep us in our respective tribal boxes:

    Nationalists looking to Dublin and Unionists to London risk widening the sectarian divide at a time when it desperately needs to be narrowed.

    And two, it throws into confusion what people are voting for.

    I don’t claim to have any insight into the typical nationalist voter’s mindset… but I’d guess that having the choice of voting for a non-communal (albeit based in Dublin), secular party without the terrorist baggage is not likely to strengthen any latent feelings of antagonism they may have towards their protestant neighbours.

    Similarly if the UUP/Conservative arrangement does take off the way it should, the corresponding weakening of the DUPes’ right to speak for the *Unionist Community*- then again is Brian Walker seriously claiming that the the “sectarian divide” would be “widening”?

    The second point is simply a breathtakingly patronising and arrogant assessment of one of the most clued-in electorates in W Europe.

  • LabourNIman

    SDLP’s merger issues wouldn’t be necessary if they were to re-launch the party – if it’s left or right, nationalist/unionist/non tribal etc.

    Any labour minded people would then have a choice – stay or go to the Labour party or co-op party.

    The Alliance party will face the same issue in the next 5/10 years – their seats have stayed almost still the last few assembly elections. Their two main faces – Ford (nice but dim english bloke) and Long (double jobbing glory hunter) are heading for a fight for power which no one will care about and it could bring them down.

  • Brian Walker

    I accept that some of the comments above might be valid, that a lesser motive for mergers might be aimed at reducing sectarian pressures. What isn’t at all clear though is (a) the electoral appeal of mergers on either side of the divide and (b)how any appeal would translate into better government. If nationalists go for the biggest nationalist party and unionists go for the Conservatives, ” the party of the Union,” how exactly is this an obvious improvement? Two parties facing towards different national politics seems terribly confusing.FF standing in some elections but not in others short changes the voters. At worst, it could all lead to sectarian carve-up at a higher level. However the likelihhod is that the two metropolitan parties would fear local clashes that would implicate them more closely in NI than either would want. For the Brits, the Agreement delivered substantial disengagement. While it won for the Irish an assured place as of right, there’s no sign of their wanting closer involvement either. That’s why I think mergers would amount to very little of benefit for local politics. The message is – you are a natural regional polity. We’ll help but you’ll have to do the main sort-out yourselves.

  • frustrated voter

    Brian what planet do you live on????

    You talk about “the Brits” as if they were foreigners! WE are the Brits too. I want to vote for OUR government – that is the UK government. The CU pact offers me that, Labour standing here will too. You on the other hand want us to have to chose between the local pigmy parties with their endless meaningless bickering. The sooner voters here are choosing between the mainstream parties like the rest of the UK the better for our politics.

    Tell me this Brian – why is a choice of blinkered local numpties who will never form a government better for us than a choice of who will govern us?

  • John East Belfast

    This analysis by Brian is akin to the other thread about the wearing of the poppy.

    As a UK unionist living in NI the wearing of a poppy by me is as natural as voting for a UK wide political party who will form the Govt who will pass the majority of laws that will truly affect my life.

    The problem with Poppies and UK Parties lies with nationalists.
    Their issue with the former is based on anti British prejudice based on both perceived and real historical injustices. For me wearing a poppy is not about unionism or nationalism but simply paying respect to all our arms forces (whether you agree with the conflict or not)as many other UK citisens are currently doing.

    The problems associated with “national” parties is also nationalist. As said above for me voting for the national parties who really affect my lives is totally natural.

    However introducing FF to NI opens up a serious conflict of interest/Mid Lothian type question – this of course has been illustrated not by comments from northerners but by FF itself. Whether it be “unpatriotic shopping” or labelling only 26 county agricultural products the problem is clearly identified by the 26 county politicians. We are fiscal competitors.

    FF in NI is illogical and daft but Mainland GB parties in NI is totally sensible – indeed democratic.

    I commented at the UUP 100 year celebratory dinner that I hoped to God there wouldnt be another 100 years.
    Unionism has only been successful when it no longer needs to exist as a poltical force in itself.

    I dont wnat to be trapped in a unionist v nationalist existance and i am not interested in “local politics” per se

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, a limited defence of Brian’s argument (since I think a lot of people here are taking his general point rather personally and missing the wood from trees distinction).

    Mergers are not easy. Mergers across borders are in particular not easy and I mean internal as well as external. You have to account local for actions that make sense for London and the SE of England and/or Dublin exchequer.

    Local, ie non governmental parties, do not have such complications to negotiate. They can dig in and get deeper into incumbency.

    But, and here’s the thing, the only two dedicated local parties are not SF and the DUP, its the DUP and the SDLP. Sinn Fein may be grappling with the failure of what remains of its 32 county strategy, but it is still a two state party with ambitions to get into government in the south.

    The problem is less whether you choose to go national or not, and more whether you can develop your local incumbency or disrupt that of your rivals. My view generally is that the more competitive the game of representative democracy here, the healthier it will be for us citizens.

    In that respect it matters not who wins at any one moment, but whether the game remains competitive. The lack of competition (and the monopolizing instincts of the old Unionist Party which crowded out nationalist and labour interests) is what did for the first Stormont regime.

    How parties evolve to best maximise their appeal and their vote is best left up to them (and serendipity)… But even dissenters like Allister’s TUV (and their threat to bring the whole thing down) have an important role in incentivising the main players to keep the game functional.

  • StoopAnyLower?

    Really, if the assumption is that the SDLP will certainly realign south of the border, why does every armchair pundit assume that it’s going to be with Fianna Failure?

    Despite how Patsy McGlone is Fianna Fail in the north personified, is the SDLP manifesto not a left of centre one? Is there not a big section of it more pro Labour?

  • Patrick Stephens

    I dont undertand why SDLP and UUP are not cooperating more closely to make Northnern Ireland work. As Brian points out above this is a region so why not govern it as such. In that sense regional parties are perfectly acceptable, be they independent or linked to other federal parties. Thats the case on the socilaist side in Spain, Italy and Germany for example.

    The question for me is not who merges with who but who is willing to work in strategic partnerhsip with who here?

    Why cant the SDLP and UUP come together on key issues like sectarianism, health, education or the economy to offer an alternative to SF -DUP failure?

  • Seymour Major

    I agree entirely with Mick’s analysis.

    There are big differences between the problems which parties face as between a local party which joins a National Party in an alliance and local party which joins another in an alliance across two states.

    I would suggest that there are bound to be greater stresses in developing coherent policy crossing a border because of the different legal, fiscal and economic problems faced by different states. A big problem for a Fianna Fail would have been that they would have had little or no more influence over UK economic policy than a local NI party.

    In relation to Patrick Stephens point, I think that the sort of political co-operation he is talking about has already started to a certain extent and is developing but it still does not resolve the problem of breaking sectarian voting patterns.

    I could not see how a FF/SDLP alliance on its own would be able to make a contribution towards tackling that problem. However, if those two parties hooked up with the UK Labour Party in a triple alliance, it would be game changing. It would enable socialism to become the dominant ideology and of course, when it came to matters such as UK economic policy, the UK’s interests would take primacy over ROI interests.

    By contrast, I do see the Conservative /UUP alliance being able to make very sifnificant inroads into the sectarian problem. The reason for this is that as this pact develops, Conservativism – not unionism becomes the dominant ideology.

  • “Despite how Patsy McGlone is Fianna Fail in the north personified, is the SDLP manifesto not a left of centre one? Is there not a big section of it more pro Labour?”

    We all know that a significant proportion of the sdlp is pro labour. I would hope that FF worries more about the possible allegiances of the sdlp voters rather than their elected reps.

  • Seymour Major

    “Despite how Patsy McGlone is Fianna Fail in the north personified, is the SDLP manifesto not a left of centre one? Is there not a big section of it more pro Labour?”

    I have scratched my head a number of times pondering variations of that question. Fianna Fail is rather a political enigma. If you take its Republicanism out of the equation, what is its ideology for good government? Go onto their website and you dont get much of a clue there. Which group does it allign with in Europe?

    Not the EPP (but it is worth noting that Fine Gael is with this group). Not the Socialist Group which is where the SDLP would feel most comfortable with.

    Looking at FF’s history gives a clear hint at its lack of an Ideology for Government. It has never been a member of the EPP or the Socialists but has made quite a number of switches between various groups. It has previously been a member of the Union for Europe, the European Democratic Alliance and the European Progressive Democrats.

    Today, Fianna Fail is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. It seems that if anything, Fianna Fail are nearer to the Alliance Party than the SDLP.

    Could it be that Fianna Fail’s ideological weakness will make it difficult for that party to win back all of the support that it has lost since the slump? Time will tell but the importance of having an ideology was made very recently by Seamus Mallon.

    In his interview with Yvette Shapiro for the BBC speaking about the SDLP’s leadership contest, Mallon said “You can’t have politics without ideas, without idealism, without ideology.”
    Mallon widened this criticism to all Northern Ireland parties. I cannot disagree with him on that.

    A clip of the interview is here on the Politics Show
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/regions/northern_ireland/8334093.stm

  • Brian Walker

    The complexity of this is getting above my simple head. Much of the disagreement, as ever, is over a state of nature that exists in people’s heads rather than in reality – as British as Fihcnley vs as Irish as Tallaght. However. to take up what Mick said..

    “My view generally is that the more competitive the game of representative democracy here, the healthier it will be for us citizens.”

    This surely depends on whether the competition is over making the system function rather than deadlocking it. Eamonn Mallie has been making some basic points about this. Coming from anyone else, you might call him naive, but not from someone who has been covering every twist and turn for the past 25 years.

    As I’ve said before, STV for an 108 member Assembly leaves plenty of room for competition of every sort, so there’s no need to write any party off. Real progress would come if only we had more cross community/party cooperation, including in the ballot box. Call me naive too!

  • consul

    Fianna Fail is rather a political enigma. If you take its Republicanism out of the equation, what is its ideology for good government?

    There are three main ideologies in the Republic; theres the Right, that would be FG; then you have the Left, that would be Labour; and then you have FF. We’re fairly familiar with right and left in theory at least but FF have patented their own vision which is neither one nor the other. Essentially they are populists who go wherever they need to go to pick up the votes. Good governance is a secondary consideration, traditionally keeping the party in power is all that has ever concerned them.

  • In a way, Im happy that FF isnt wedded to an left – right type of ideology. If you look at the the history of FF in power, it has been the party that always looked after the poor yet was smart enough to make sure business was succeeding. If that is what populist is being like, Im happy enough with that.

    And I actually dont think you can simply remove FF’s Republicanism. In itself, it is an ideology. If you broaden it out away from the Irish Question, its fundamentally about Human Rights, Freedoms and the common good…sounds like a good ideology dont ya think? The fact that Republicanism/ Radicalism and Liberalism are so closely linked historically is an added bonus. I think FF will fit in quite rightly in the ELDR / ALDE.

    And as for the 6 counties, only time will tell

  • StoopAny Lower?

    Consul’s characterisation of populism unfortunately strikes at the heart of truth – ‘looking after the poor’ is something that Fianna Fail has pretended to do; notionally appeared to do. The real aim and ideology of that party is to keep itself in power: Opportunism. In fact, using ‘looking after the poor’ as a term in itself is tell-tale of a lack of any real concern beyond that which has positive ramifications for FF.

    As for Seymour Major’s comparison to the European Parliament’s group system, I largely agree; Fianna Fail fits in wherever suits them in the short term. The SDLP fitting into the PES by virtue of its ideology as contained in its manifesto is entirely logical – but those in the SDLP who consider themselves to be of Fianna Fail stock must see this differently: I think/hope these are not in the majority.

    To me, an FF/SDLP alliance is incongruous. On a pure level, parties can be defined ideologically according to the thrust of their manifesto. The FF manifesto differs greatly to that of the SDLP – so different that an untrained observer would consider a pact between those two parties as fantasy. The SDLP are not ‘destined’ to be partners of the soldiers of destiny on these ideological terms.

    The basis for the supposition of an SDLP/FF alliance is upon republicanism (although in a nationalistic form) and political opportunism. This is precisely why it may seem second nature to the FF contingent both north and south of the border, but it feels very alien indeed to the leftish, progressive part of the SDLP (the part that makes the policy and writes the manifesto)

    My own view of political realignment is that the UCU-NF relationship in its aims is pragmatic at best, but the mechanism is of some worth. It’s not a total ‘merger’ and allows for some autonomy within the dynamic of NI; although the electoral selection process I’m sure is far from satisfactory. However, the notion of political cooperation between the UUP and SDLP is even more bizarre than an FF/SDLP venture. Within the dynamic of the executive, day-to-day ‘cooperation’ will come and go between the UUP and the SDLP, but this type of activity will not have any long term airs of matrimony.

    The next leader of the SDLP has the task of grappling with the gremlins and cooperating on some level with a party with which it is ideologically comfortable.

    More importantly, the next leader, in my opinion, also has the task of breaking the mould of ‘sectarian’ politics – those politics which rely upon ‘nationalism’ of either the British or Irish sort. Note that this need not mean the dropping of a real, working policy on a united Ireland; merely defining ‘nationalism’ and ‘republicanism’; establishing the progressive, republican, centre-left nature of its policy as its identity – not the head-nodding Fianna Fogey element.

  • Seymour Major

    Stoop Any Lower,

    Thank you for your most excellent comment.

    It is hard to know how NI politics would have developed if a political pact or merger between the SDLP and Fianna Fail had been agreed. In my view, such an agreement would have been a disastrous step backwards in terms of breaking the sectarian mould.

    The last paragraph of your comment raises the most interesting question about the SDLP. What significant contribution can the SDLP make to breaking the mould of sectarian politics?

    For the SDLP, the theory may be much easier than the practice but for them, it may come down to a choice of making sacrifices of facing political oblivion. I have always thought that that the SDLP was capable of breaking the sectarian mould on the left of Northern Ireland politics. As I see it, the solution has three strands to it.

    Firstly, the SDLP should make social democracy its dominant working ideology and “park” its Nationalist ideology. In other words, it would only need to draw on its Nationalist ideology if there was a referendum on a united Ireland. In a sense, that is a mirror image of what the Conservatives want to do with the UUP – to make Conservativism the dominant ideology and “park” unionism.

    Keeping Unionism and Nationalism out of election politics can be done with the overwhelming majority of day-to-day political issues. There are some political issues that are not. That brings me to the second strand of the proposed solution. I am not sure if Brian Walker was not alluding to this in the last para of comment 6 above. It is that those parties who want to take sectarianism from politics come together and set up a joint committee. The task of that committee would be to negotiate a way forward on the basis of consensus. Each party involved in these talks would have to agree to certain ethics. Those might be (a) to vigorously look for solutions which are in the best interest of NI as a whole and not just one section of it (b) that no any elected member of any political party involved makes a public statement of their personal point of view (c) That no public statements are made about the work of that committee except jointly agreed statements. An agreement of this kind would require parties to discipline their members when making public statements on certain topics such as parades.

    Most of the sort of issues that I am talking about here are likely to be cultural issues. For example, I think it is entirely possible for such a joint committee to agree a way forward for the Irish Language.

    The task of breaking the sectarian mould for either UCUNF or the SDLP does not end there. The parties still have to develop trust with those voters that they are asking to cross the sectarian divide. That leads me to the third strand.

    An open Alliance with the UK Labour Party running along similar lines to the UCU-NF pact would not just give all NI voters the opportunity to vote Labour on Westminster issues. That would swing the door wide open to would be protestant labour voters.

    What would hold the SDLP back from such a course? I think it is something to do with the view they take of Sinn Fein as their competition. If they did pursue the path I have suggested, who is to say that they will not do Sinn Fein a lot of damage.

  • consul

    Look Donnacha saying and doing are two different things. We can talk about looking after the poor all day long and it all sounds wonderful but it’s doing it that counts. When they had more money than they knew what to do with the gap between the haves and the have nots only grew wider. They’re development policies for instance of building estate after estate with no such thing as transport or the necessary commercial infrastructure that should be integrated with these projects without question has caused all sorts of problems which are coming home to roost. But developers were allowed to plan without provision for essential infrastructure that would be less profitable than just row after row of houses. To hell with the social consequences down the line. That is just one snapshot of their mentality. You could write a book on the skullduggery that they’ve engaged in, some people have.

    In a time when they could have done what they liked, when they had the means to mould Irish society into a model for other countries to emulate, they chose instead to gear the place to service the greed of a small clique. And they achieved their aims but the price has been that society is breaking down. Some might look at the state of the place today and say it’s just a series of unfortunate errors made by some well meaning people. Others would contend that no mistakes were made, that huge profits were made by the movers and shakers through innovative policy that was designed precisely to accomplish this. And the inescapable results that flowed from this for everyone else, while not purposely unleashed, were never the less inevitable but were disregarded. Their words and actions over the last 18 months have shown that there is no remorse for their part in Ireland’s problems, just a marked indignation that they are being taken to task. They are utterly unreconstructed and are simply waiting for the donkeys to cool down and vote them back in again. Business as usual because they are not for changing. Of course the buck stops with the electorate, you get what you vote for and we must take responsibility for that.

    You might like to believe the soundbites about FF for the ordinary people but that’s not how they’re wired in practice. They failed when they had pucks of money and they’re failing now that the coffers are empty. Except it’s not really failure is it when they were quite successful in their actual agenda and were not in fact straining at the leash to make Ireland the best that it can be. I’m not saying that they should not organise in the north but you should be clear on what they are. I only say to you what I would say to any Irish person in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast or wherever. You should be under no illusions about what you’re voting for when you vote FF.

  • Comrade Stalin

    LabourNIMan:

    SDLP’s merger issues wouldn’t be necessary if they were to re-launch the party – if it’s left or right, nationalist/unionist/non tribal etc.

    The SDLP does not have merger issues. Like the UUP, it has issues with a dwindling support base (although I don’t know if it has the UUP’s desperate financial situation), and is short of ideas on how to arrest that decline. Absent any original thinking or ideas, some misguided individuals cling to the idea that tacking themselves onto a larger, essentially “foreign” movement (“foreign” in the sense of being grounded in issues that are alien to NI politics) will promote a rescue. To me this is nothing short of an admission of defeat. It doesn’t reflect changing attitudes in the country, other than the changing attitude that the SDLP/UUP are no longer worth voting for.

    I repeat what I said to you earlier. The fact is – and it is a very sad fact that I don’t take a lot of pleasure in pointing out – that people don’t want to vote for parties run out of either Dublin or London. Likewise, the parties in those places are not especially interested in us here. I’m looking forward to the next general election when the mediocre UCUNF results will hopefully put this misguided notion to bed.

    Any labour minded people would then have a choice – stay or go to the Labour party or co-op party.

    I’m looking forward to hearing your case for giving Gordon Brown another five years in government, especially now that we know that, thanks to Labour’s financial management, the UK is among the last of the Western countries to come out of recession. Go for it, let’s hear it.

    The Alliance party will face the same issue in the next 5/10 years – their seats have stayed almost still the last few assembly elections. Their two main faces – Ford (nice but dim english bloke) and Long (double jobbing glory hunter) are heading for a fight for power which no one will care about and it could bring them down.

    Labour’s seats have also stayed still the last few assembly elections – at zero. The best NI Labour result in Northern Ireland was 123 votes – by the local party leader. So I do not find your psephology to be particularly compelling. I’ll take more notice when you win a few seats, but I’m quite comfortable in predicting that you won’t.

    Some people here are tying the issue of “bread and butter politics” to party mergers. I have always thought that bread and butter politics would be the route that would see us out of sectarianism and tribalism. People have been talking about this for decades.

    What I don’t see is how adding water to a boil-in-the-bag wannabe party (“we wannabe just like them!”) is going to make any impact. The Conservative Party might have made this case well had it not tacked itself to the UUP, who remain obsessed with the constitutional question going by their recent public utterances. Labour are in for a long period in the doldrums in UK politics and either way they are not especially interested in organizing – properly – here.

    FD:

    You talk about “the Brits” as if they were foreigners! WE are the Brits too.

    This is pretty much unionism’s epitaph. People elsewhere in the UK regard us as Irish. Brian’s minor slip probably reflects the fact that he’s lived there too long. 🙂

    I want to vote for OUR government – that is the UK government.

    I really don’t understand what makes this argument so compelling. The day may yet come when the Conservatives are unpopular again. In which case, what are you going to do then ? Switch allegience to whatever party is ascendant so that you can be secure in the knowledge that you are voting for the government ?

    Tell me this Brian – why is a choice of blinkered local numpties who will never form a government better for us than a choice of who will govern us?

    Again, this is an argument for colonial dictatorship over democracy. I’ve never heard of a situation where people have said “please, take away our power and appoint an overlord to rule over us”. I guess you guys are taking the monarchism thing a bit too seriously.

    Patrick Stephens:

    I dont undertand why SDLP and UUP are not cooperating more closely to make Northnern Ireland work.

    Because the UUP don’t want a taig about the place, as Reg Empey explained a couple of months ago when he wrote in a newspaper letter that anyone who was not pro-union should not be allowed to have the justice ministry. Lately the UUP have attempted to lead a pan-unionist front to “keep South Belfast British” and remove the sitting SDLP MP who, to my knowledge, hasn’t done anything especially to offend unionism. The UUP are, for all their anti-sectarian talk, not remotely interested in building partnership. Which is a real shame, as they were making slow but steady progress a few years back when they were in power in the assembly.

  • LabourNIman

    Comrade Stalin – sorry mate, but the labour party I’m a member of hasn’t taken part in an election in NI. So of course they don’t have any seats… yet.

    The fact that you didn’t comment on my predicted problems for Alliance speaks volumes.

    As for Gordo – I’m not a fan but I’d rather have him than Cameron.

    Personally I think 12 years of a Labour government has taken it’s toll on the party and Gordo isn’t the man to help us. I would prefare for him to do a Durkan, stand down around feb and let us have a solid election battle.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Comrade Stalin – sorry mate, but the labour party I’m a member of hasn’t taken part in an election in NI. So of course they don’t have any seats… yet.

    So the Northern Ireland Labour Party is not the same as the Labour Party in Northern Ireland. It’s useful to at least have that clarified.

    The fact that you didn’t comment on my predicted problems for Alliance speaks volumes.

    Well, I will now. They’re nonsense. I think everyone knows that Naomi Long is a likely candidate for the next leader of the party, but likewise everybody knows that there are no efforts underway to unseat Ford. Why would you unseat the party leader who arrested the decline and who is overseeing the ongoing rebuild of the electoral base ? I do not think anyone regards Ford as “dim”, if you do then you clearly haven’t read his contributions in the NI assembly Hansard. I’m glad you made a point about him being English though, which don’t seem consistent with your ideas about having an English-headquartered Labour Party organize here.

    As for Gordo – I’m not a fan but I’d rather have him than Cameron.

    You’re going to have to come up with more than that to fill up the other 9 minutes and 50 seconds of the party political broadcast.

    Personally I think 12 years of a Labour government has taken it’s toll on the party and Gordo isn’t the man to help us. I would prefare for him to do a Durkan, stand down around feb and let us have a solid election battle.

    Actually I think the earlier the election occurs, the more likely it is to favour the Tories.

  • LabourNIman

    Comrade Stalin – I could care less that Ford is English, however anyone I speak to about your party has no idea who he is until some catches on ‘oh, thats the english bloke’.

    People consider him dim as there is never much emotion from the man.

    What a Leader you have.

  • !When they had more money than they knew what to do with the gap between the haves and the have nots only grew wider.”

    I think its clear to say that when we had the money we raised pensions to €240 per week, the dole to €204 per week and Childrens Allownce to €165 per month. We also financially started to support those caring for people with illness or aged people. We put more money into disability services than ever before. That is my parties committment to looking after the people who need help.

    I am under no illusions as to who I am voting for. Im proud to vote FF.

  • northern whig

    Fair play to you Donnacha. As an enthusiastic European Liberal Democrat have you given any thought to developing relations with The Alliance Party?

    Comrade,

    How would you feel if Fianna Fail sent fraternal delegates (maybe even Donnacha) to your next quarterly committee meeting?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Comrade Stalin – I could care less that Ford is English,

    Now you’re lying. You cared enough to bring it up.

    however anyone I speak to about your party has no idea who he is until some catches on ‘oh, thats the english bloke’.

    A problem shared by smaller parties in NI. I accept that Ford might not be so famous, but then again, neither are Durkan or Empey. That’s a consequence of the current political setup.

    People consider him dim as there is never much emotion from the man.

    What a Leader you have.

    I think Ford has more humanity than that dour, prudish Scot whose mouth looks like it’s trying to escape from his face whenever he smiles, for whom you’re going to be campaigning to have another five years in charge. Not that I believe the election should be about personalities, but since you do, you’ve a few things you’re going to have to reconcile.

    northern whig:

    How would you feel if Fianna Fail sent fraternal delegates (maybe even Donnacha) to your next quarterly committee meeting?

    The thought of having representatives from the Fianna Fellini crime family along to an Alliance meeting is somewhat stomach-turning.

  • consul

    Im proud to vote FF

    I see you used the word “we” 3 times in one short paragraph and also described them as “my party”. You’re obviously one of the hard-core supporters. ‘My party’ suggests a member no less. :). Well when you’ve finished explaining why it’s such a wonderful idea to scrap the Junior Cert maybe you can also answer some of the questions touched on here. There’s a good chap.

  • Comrade Stalin

    That is my parties committment to looking after the people who need help.

    It’s nice to see that your party has commitment for people other than the property developers. Still, none of that’s going to let you off with fist-fucking the Irish economy into oblivion. If there is anything like a benevolent God, Fianna Fail are going to be in for a long spell out of government, as are the Green Party who have kept them on life support.

  • slug

    LabourNIMan

    Is there any progress on Labour standing in NI elections?

    2003 – membership allowed
    2009 – local organisation allowed

    Do we have to wait another 6 years for elections? Is it still the aim for the 2011 locals be contested?

  • allstar

    The comments by Mallon on the Politics Show are bizarre. He damned both potential SDLP leadership candidates with what can only be said to be faint praise. He then says you cant have politics without ideas idealogy.. an obvious reference to populist FF. FF define themselves as republican. The SDLP were anti violence. It was easy for Mallon to define what he was against. He is now carrying more chips on his shoulders than the average porter at MacDonalds! He should look closer to home for his demotion in the legacy stakes. And with some humility he should remember Charlie Haughey’s life line to him when he was made a senator and the support of David Andrews, Rory O Hanlon, Seamus Kirk and Dermot Ahern at election times. Impressive as he was- he cant blame people outside of the SDLP.. many civil servants will testify that those working against him in the first Executive were his own SDLP colleagues.

  • “Fair play to you Donnacha. As an enthusiastic European Liberal Democrat have you given any thought to developing relations with The Alliance Party?”

    TBH, no I havnt yet. The party is still getting used to being a ‘liberal’ party. I have no issue with developing relations with the Alliance Party. However, the relationship with the SDLP will always be stronger. Perhaps, in a few years it might change…Liberalism is as you know very like radicalism which is very close to Republicanism…so when the Alliance Party becomes Republican, well maybe we’ll party together

  • @Consul..Ive taken a look at some of those questions. Some of your answers are wrong, but as Im not a FF Election Candidate and only a humble party member…answering them isnt top of my list of things to do in life.

    @Comrade Stalin. TBH, I would welcome a period in opposition too. So we are both agreed

  • Comrade Stalin

    answering them isnt top of my list of things to do in life.

    Baa-aa-aaa!

  • fair_deal

    Northern whig

    “GB Labour’s constitutional position since its foundation has been Irish unity by consent”

    1. The Labour party was founded 21 years before partition.
    2. IIRC Unity by consent was dropped by Labour in October 1994.

  • northern whig

    FD,

    Thanks for that. My understanding is that even before the foundation of the Labour party Liberal endorsed trade-union candidates supported Liberal Home Rule policy and that throughout its existence the Labour Party had declined to challenge the franchise of local, independence or (later) unity inclined social-democratic parties.

    I also think I remember the admission of Northern Irish members to the GB Labour only came after threats of action against the party for discrimination.

    I can’t see a Labour Party organising candidates in competition with SDLP candidates which is why I think the way forward might be for all parties not entirely devoted to identity politics to accept that MLA designation should be a matter of conscience.

    That said I’m not sure what my own party’s position would be on an MLA who declined the “united community” designation and chose either Nationalist or Unionist.

    Any idea Comrade?

  • eric

    “I can’t see a Labour Party organising candidates in competition with SDLP candidates which is why I think the way forward might be for all parties not entirely devoted to identity politics to accept that MLA designation should be a matter of conscience. ”

    The Irish Labour Party’s approach is one of whilst the SDLP is a sister party they won’t go electoral. If a McDonnell led SDLP left the Socialist Group then the ILP would have a number of the SDLP refugees taking up membership including a few elected reps.

    The British Labour Party has fought bitterly through the courts to stop membership and organisation. While the SDLP as it is presently constituted will not go for a UUP/Tory type alliance with UK Labour, a Northern Irish section of the Irish Labour Party would almost certainly link with the UK Labour Party in the same way as the UUP/Tory alliance.

    It would be a question of whether the SDLP will leave the Party of European Socialists (not necessarily having to merge with Fianna Fail). That forces the ILP to take in SDLP refugees and in turn seeek and alliance with their British sister party.

    The SDLP as is presently exists with its Nationalist/Fianna Fail wing won’t touch the British Labour Party as regards an alliance. The Irish Labour Party’s view would be very very different

  • slug

    Eric, interesting thoughts. Ideally though some deal between the two Labour parties would result in a single pooled-membership constituency structure rather than two parallel ones (as in the duplicative UCUNF structure)?

  • eric

    “Eric, interesting thoughts. Ideally though some deal between the two Labour parties would result in a single pooled-membership constituency structure rather than two parallel ones (as in the duplicative UCUNF structure)? ”

    I dunno. An initial defection from the SDLP would have Irish Labour with a some cllrs and a couple of MLAs. UK Labour, like the Tories to an extent just have members (I know the Tories have picked up a few cllrs since)so initially the structure might be very similar to the UUP/Tory one. That said you can be a member of both Labour Parties as it stands.

    British Labour is a very reluctant entrant on the NI scene, whilst Irish Labour won’t want to foot the Bill. With the ILP Stickie lead, they have more time for the UK Labour Party than the SDLP and would be “Post Nationalist” in outlook. However the financial imperative for joining forces with the UK Labour Party would be as strong as the ideological outlook

    But as long as the SDLP stays in the Party of European Socialists, niether Labour Party will be pro-active in the matter.