An end to mandatory coalition?

Alex Kane responds to Jim Allister`s letter in the News Letter on Saturday, which itself was a response to Kane`s challenge for Allister to outline a realistic and achievable alternative to mandatory coalition.

Jim Allister states:

I and TUV do not accept that we must continue to be the only part of the democratic world where by law you can neither vote a party out of government nor have an Opposition. This perversion of the basic tenets of democracy is so monstrous that no self-respecting democrat should lie down under it. TUV would not.

It is by a sufficient number of MLAs refusing to operate mandatory coalition that it will be starved of its legitimacy and all those who claim opposition to mandatory coalition will be tested. Then, we will see the durability of mandatory coalition. I believe it will flounder and the inevitable outcome will be fresh negotiations within which a sizeable section of Unionism will not be rolling over. Once mandatory coalition is made inoperative then alternatives will kick in, because the present Stormont parties’ reliance on sustaining an Assembly is such that even those who presently declare otherwise will then accept the logic of voluntary coalition.

Voluntary coalition does not ban Sinn Fein from government. Rather, it puts it on exactly the same footing as every other party that the only route into government is through the persuasion of sufficient other parties to agree a programme with them. TUV will never enter government with Sinn Fein, but if they can persuade others then we will be in Opposition, because we are democrats. If Sinn Fein are only democrats so long as they are in government, then they are not democrats at all. And we are being blackmailed as well as conned……………..

……..When the present unworkable edifice inevitably collapses it need not mean a reversion to Direct Rule, not that Direct Rule under a likely Conservative Government should worry the likes of Alex who is an enthusiastic supporter of the UUP Conservative alliance. Negotiations will follow, mandatory coalition under a Sinn Fein First Minister will be out of the question and thus the ultimate choice will be acceptable and democratic devolution or no Stormont. In these circumstances voluntary coalition will emerge as a viable alternative, more attainable now because of the demonstrable failure of the mandatory variety. All that stands in its way is the vested interest of the present Stormont parties and the resignation of some, Alex included, that special pleading or provision is required for Sinn Fein. It is this which the infusion of sufficient TUV MLAs will challenge and end.

  • Cahal

    “If Sinn Fein are only democrats so long as they are in government, then they are not democrats at all.”

    I suspect Jim is only a democrat so long as unionist parties are in the majority. There is zero chance of him remaining in opposition to a government composed of the SDLP and SF (who will almost inevitably have a majority of the vote in a few years).

  • Peter Fyfe

    Cahal

    Sure he still wont accept 11 years down the line the people of northern ireland voted for the GFA. You don’t have to forsee the future to know the man has got no respect for the voices of other people. I may even find myself voting paisley for the first time in my life, isn’t it ironic a man can be so digusting he makes a nationalist want to vote for big Ian?

  • borderline

    Well said Cahal.

    The “monstrous perversion of the basic tenets of democracy” started with a determination to gain as much land as possible whilst retaining a working majority. And for that reason, Ulster and Ireland was rent in two.

    So we’ll hear no lectures on democracy from you Allister.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    I think, to be truly fair and democratic, that all unionists should have two votes each. They are twice as hardworking, twice as trustworthy and it would end all the petty squabbling for another ninety years. If the indigenes dropped their silly ideas about equality, Irish language,United Ireland etc. we could all live in peace and our wee country would return to normal.

  • Henry94

    Any party is free to leave the executive. The only sane response would be to leave them out in the cold until they understand they have nowhere to go but back in.

    We have had the negotiations at some length and unless the next Prime Minister to spend his time dealing with the whole problem again then he will face down any attempt to drag us back into the mire.

    The call for voluntary coalition is really a call for Direct Rule because Unionists won’t go in with Sinn Fein if given a choice and the SDLP won’t go in without them. Needless to say unionist rule would be a non-starter.

    For a voluntary system you need volunteers and we won’t have them in the right combinations. So TUV should be honest and admit it’s Direct Rule they want. I’m sure the republican dissidents are hoping Jim will fix it for them.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Out of curiosity, Henry. Why are you so sure that the SDLP wouldn’t go in without them?

  • Greenflag

    Allister’s usual bluster . Will somebody remind the idiot that it took 40 years to achieve the present ‘agreement’ and that it’s as good as it’s going to get until the present Northern Ireland State no longer exists in it’s present format.

    There’ll be no return to 1965 and no return to simple majority rule in Northern Ireland because there is no simple majority and there never was either . The TUV need to be told by both the SDLP and SF to go take a running jump into the North Channel . The day Irish people will take lessons in ‘democracy ‘ from ‘unionist’ parties ‘ are GONE for EVER .

    Now if Allister is trying to build a case for ‘voluntary coalition ‘ after a fair Repartition of Northern Ireland by a neutral international agency such as the UN or EU, then he can be said to have a valid point !

  • Henry94

    Pancho’s Horse

    Because it would the negation of everything they have worked for, the voters would never forgive them, they would have nothing to gain except one term in office which they would get anyway under the existing system.

    It would also be putting them into office on the terms of anti-Agreement unionists like Jim Allister. They would be just a fig-leaf for a return to the bad old days with people who don’t really believe in power sharing at all.

    It makes no sense whatsoever for the SDLP.

  • Dave

    A volutary coalition with one mandatory requirement that it should be comprised of parties from each of the two nations community would work very well. The ‘government’ should have a simple majority (not less than 51% and not more than 75%). That way one nationalist party and one unionist party would always be in government, and the same in opposition. That would benefit the SDLP since it is highly unlikely that any unionist party would choose to form a colaition with the Shinners. Nevertheless, no legal arrangement would be excluding that party so it can’t squeal aboout state discrimination when it finds itself in opposition. Northern Ireland would then have as normal a democratic system as it is ever going to get with two nations sharing one state.

  • Joe

    [i]”the inevitable outcome will be fresh negotiations within which a sizeable section of Unionism will not be rolling over.”[/i]

    Unless its nap time.

  • Brian Walker

    Let’s take the argument against “mandatory” coalition at face value for a moment. First, it creates pressure for all qualifying parties to join but isn’t quite compulsory, but rather inclusive of those present and voting. Nobody thinks it’s ideal. The DUP now hanker after voluntary coaltion; the SDLP and UUs mutter about quitting the coalition from time to time. The broad left object to it because they claim it institutionalises sectarianism. And yet at the start, all wanted in, even the half-in half- out DUP. What’s changed? Mainly Sinn Fein compliance, that’s what’s changed – a poor reason for quitting unless you were secretly hoping the IRA would never oblige.

    Ideally, of course a voluntary coalition like 1974 without designations would be better democratically. But right now, even Jim Allister admits SF would remain inside. So why the fuss? As in the comments above, suspicions must be strong that direct rule is the ulterior aim. If so, Jim and sympathisers in the DUP should own up. Ulterior aims are dishonest, not principled. This is no way to defend the Union, never mind govern Northern Ireland. Jim is wrong when he gives the impression that all party coalitions don’t exist. They do, as provisional governments (excuse the phrase) at times of political change, like France, 1944-46, (though the Communists soon quit.) The voting system produced one in West Germany from 1966-69.

    Politics need to change before the system changes. The best way to deal with Alex Kane’s anxieties is for everyone to keep their nerve and be even more patient. Confidence building is two sided. If unionists fear republican attrition, nationalists fear a sort of unionist coup. Both are exaggerated. Devolving J&P won’t suddenly call the dissidents off but it would copper fasten SF into the full system of government. And it’s not as if they like puppet Communist parties in eastern Europe in 1946 would thereby control big levers of power. Why fear SF so much? To preserve Alex’s prime aim the Union, the consent principle, which in reality has always existed has never been more explicitly guaranteed. It will never be improved upon. Equality, the latest unionist bugbear, is now a principle of 21st century governance everywhere, even though it cannot be arithmetically exact. It requires give and take, probabaly case by case for now.Insecurities exist on both sides need time – and honesty – to work through. In the meantime, let nobody think that the governments will tamely accede to requests for a voluntary coalition. The system would have to collpase and the outcome would be green tinged direct rule, the threat of which persuaded the DUP to comply less than three years ago. Why put us through somuch upheaval to get to precisely the same point?

  • Dave

    “Ulterior aims are dishonest, not principled.” – Brian Walker

    Only when you don’t approve of the aim. Otherwise, it’s praised as leadership. The ‘Peace Process was founded on them, and your favourite project – the EU – masters in them.

  • Greenflag

    BW

    ‘Why put us through so much upheaval to get to precisely the same point? ‘

    Because idiocy knows no bounds whether it’s called TUV or anything else .

    Dave ,

    ‘That would benefit the SDLP since it is highly unlikely that any unionist party would choose to form a coaltion with the Shinners.’

    DUH ? So you think that maybe SF haven’t figured out that one yet ? And the SDLP have no desire to speed up their political extinction. Carry on dreaming .

    ‘Northern Ireland would then have as normal a democratic system as it is ever going to get ‘

    Northern Ireland NOW has as normal a democratic system as it’s ever likley to get . The GFA poured cement into any cracks in the sectarian fundament. Neither government in London or Dublin will be taking a jackhammer to the present settlement . If it collapses then it’s DR again at least for the short to medium term 10 years to 15 most likely until a new generation decides to have another go . Can’t see anybody getting too excited about another 35 years of talks about talks ending with the same or worse that the last talks achieved for ‘unionism ‘

  • pete whitcroft

    Allister is not logical.
    He will be in opposition.
    If SF took their seats at Westminster he would still oppose them.
    He overlooks the long tradition of Unionist support for war when it suits.
    His arguement is therefore only based on sectarianism.
    This will gain some votes, but not enough to overturn the GFA.

  • Dave

    “DUH ? So you think that maybe SF haven’t figured out that one yet ? And the SDLP have no desire to speed up their political extinction. Carry on dreaming .”

    I don’t understand what point you are making. If it is just to point out that a man will not walk to the gallows of his own free will, well I thank you for that statement of the bleeding obvious and I’ll go file it under “Greenie has been swilling VAT 69 again.” If, however, it was a point too subtle for my limited intellect to grasp, could you help this thicko out and elaborate a little?

  • I am perplaxed as to why, Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, is all but confirmed as the Party’s candidate for the North Antrim seat for Westminster in 2011.

    Allister and his party are fixated on dethroning Sinn Fein from power, by way of voluntary coalition, which can only be achieved by having around fifteen members(a tall order by the way) of the party elected to the local assembly at Stormont.

    Why, then, would the TUV’s only gifted speaker refrain from partaking in the battleground at Stormont?

  • Greenflag

    Dave a.k.a Thicko or limited intellect (your own choice of epithet 🙂

    In plain vulgar anglo saxon there is as much chance of voluntary power sharing in Northern Ireland as there is of Jim Allister being the first earthling to be sent to explore the Planet Uranus .

    Now is that subtle enough ;)?

  • Sean

    greenflag

    I would make a joke about Jim and Uranus but my welcome is well and truly already wore out lol

    kind of like Uran……

  • Dave

    Greenie, you are simply making a declaration that voluntary coalition can’t happen, and offering no explanation as to why you think voluntary coalition can’t happen. Why can it not happen? I know you think it has something to do with the SDLP not supporting voluntary coalition, since you have made another declaration to that effect. But again, why do you think the SDLP will not support it?

    I think you will find that the SDLP support mandatory coalition because they see it as a means of securing powersharing between the two nations. As I have pointed out above, voluntary coalition does not have to exclude mandatory coalition between the two nations, so the SDLP’s actual objection can be easily overcome. You, I think, are obfuscating mandatory coalition between the two nations with mandatory coalition between the two largest parties of those two nations. They are not the same thing.

    Voluntary coalition could include one party from each nation as a mandatory condition with the parties forming a government to consist of a simple majority, and the other parties forming the opposition. That would get very close to ‘normal’ democracy while not excluding either nation from participation in a majoritarian system. It would be majoritarianism without the risk of sectarianism.

    It could still be claimed, of course, that any system that recognises two nations is inherently sectarian but any system that doesn’t recognise the reality of two nations would be psychotic. The state of Northern Ireland will always be sectarian – as the probability of the mandarins being able to successfully engineer a merger of the two nations into a new nation of Northern Irish and thereby engineer a one-nation state is extremely remote.

  • New Yorker

    The system on which Stormont operates is obviously not working. The major structural problem is mandatory coalition. It needs to be improved. Most democracies in the world have operated at some time with voluntary coalition.

    Jim Allister is not the first one to raise the issue, it has been discussed for months or years; remember the ‘scaflolding’ discussion.

    Realistically neither the present UK government nor the likely next Conservative government nor whatever government in Dublin would allow an all-unionist or all-nationalist Stormont government. It would force the party with the largest percentage of the vote to get mature and select a partner party from the other side. Bill Craig will remain in the clay, he and his type are not coming back.

    Founding documents like the Agreement almost always need to be improved. Just consider how many amendments there are to the US constitution. You need to think beyond zero-sum and consider what would make the government at Stormont actually work for the citizens. Realize you have a stalemate and offer some ideas to resolve it without the usual sectarian bickering. The rest of the world is weary of your inability to help yourselves after all the international assistance you have received.

  • Sean

    Dave

    It is very obvious if the SDLP went into coalition with unionists and played ‘my pretty republican pony’ to unionists they would be extinct in one voting cycle. And that is the only place unionists see for a republican in voluntary coalition.

  • bootman

    so in other words back to the thirties!

  • Greenflag

    Dave ,

    ‘But again, why do you think the SDLP will not support it?’

    The last time the SDLP supported a voluntary coalition ‘Sunningdale’ it was not a success. In fact it was the beginning of the slide in SDLP political fortune’s which have now reduced the party to it’s present base.

    Which Unionist ‘party ‘ would the SDLP coalesce with anyway ? Not the TUV who are anti Irish , not the DUP who are anti irish . Which leaves the UUP who will probably end up with a third of the seats if they are lucky in any new Assembly ?

    There is no electoral space for the SDLP to go into any ‘voluntary coalition’ and neither will there be for a very long time to come .

    And the SDLP do not subscribe to any two nations doctrine even if they represent a more watered down version of Irish nationalism /republicanism.

    BTW I’m not obfuscating anything . I’m saying that ‘voluntary coalition’ is a bus that’s not going anywhere in the present NI State -that’s all . I did’nt say never .

    Sean above I see makes the ‘electoral’ point succinctly .

  • Henry94

    What’s happening is that the unionist side of the election campaign has kicked off and the floating vote is the hard-line vote so they are all going after that.

    Ideally we should have Assembly elections early and get it over with. Do we need a year of this posturing?

  • Greenflag

    New Yorker,

    ‘ The major structural problem is mandatory coalition.’

    No it’s not. The major structural problem is the Northern Ireland State itself as in it’s present format . A ‘voluntary’ coalition would in present circumstances only lead to greater instability imo.

    ‘ Just consider how many amendments there are to the US constitution.’

    The US Constitution has been around since 1776 ? over two centuries ? The NI Assembly has been in ‘operation’ for 2 years ?

    ‘The rest of the world is weary of your inability to help yourselves after all the international assistance you have received. ‘

    That may be true at least in those parts of the world where governments actually ‘notice’ or have assisted in the political development of democracy in Northern Ireland .

    ‘Realize you have a stalemate ‘

    Indeed and to be blunt that’s the only political solution that’s acceptable to both sides i.e stalemate.

    ‘and offer some ideas to resolve it without the usual sectarian bickering.’

    Wonderful words and I’m sure well meant . Alas in the context of Northern Ireland politics about as realistic a wish as hoping to put a fat young lamb into a cage with a ravenous lion at 8.00 am and expecting to see said lamb cavorting happily around in the same cage at noon. As a non believer in miracles I would expect only a less ravenous by about 8.05 am ;)!

  • Greenflag

    Henry 94,

    ‘Do we need a year of this posturing? ‘

    A year ? Better toughen up Henry94 and get used to it on a permanent basis. It’s the future of ‘unionism’ for as long as it ‘unionism ‘ lasts . If it’s not the DUP rattling the cage of the UUP it’s the TUV rattling the cage of the DUP . What the next acronym in the litany will be I don’t know but you can bet your shirt that there’ll be another one .

    I’m not sure if either the First Minister/DFM can call for an early election ? An early election if possible might help to neuter the TUV on the other hand it could backfire . Your ‘floating’ vote of hardliners is not ‘floating’ but ‘sinking’ which is why they are grabbing for the TUV straw !

  • damon

    Can I just point out an article I saw today by the editor of the Irish online magazine called ‘Forth’?
    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7716/

    The title of it is ”Why Northern Ireland is a one-party state.” and then says: ”Forget Sinn Féin or the DUP, the only party that matters in the Northern Ireland Assembly is the Peace Process Party.”

  • Bing

    Come on you Nationalists cut to the chase. You’ll only be happy when the unionists are the minority in your ‘New Ireland’. Then you’ll have the chance to “put manners on them”.

  • Jo

    I suppose JA et al go on taling about “inevitable collapse” and things “not working” on the assumption that this is reprweated often enough, in the face of the evidence, that it will indeed come to pass. Well, what is not happening right now and continues not to happen day after day is funeral after funeral of people wrongfully killed because of failing to settle political and historical differneces.

    JA represents nobody -he talks about democracy and held on to his MEP seat long after he left the party that got him there in the first place. From the moment he clung to the gravy train, he showed himself to be unscrupulous and trying to out-Paisley Paisley. T

    he latter will be, despite his younger self in the history books. JA and his kin will not. End.

  • dub

    New Yorker and Dave in particular but most everyone here are under the delusion that ni is a state with a governement. it is not a state and does not have its own govt. its govt is the uk govt the governing parties of which have never during the history of the six county off shore detached part of the british state ever seriously presented themselves to the electorate in ni. the ni govt of which you all speak is merely a glorified county council type arrangement there for the express purpose of boring everyone to death in the ni so much so that most of them will never go back to killing eachother and more importantly never plant bombs in london again. the other benefit of the arrangement for london in particular is that the unionists simply by being made to play by the rules end up always looking like the bad guys because they cannot stomach the outcome of the rules in practice. they also have the very reassuring habit of endlessly splitting themselves into lots of little bickering parties none of which shows any sign of actually understanding what has happened in the last 15 years. nationalist ireland is now britiain’s strategic partner in ireland, that would be by virtue of what mick fealty quaintly referred to as majority rule recently on this site.

  • New Yorker

    Greenflag,

    The Declaration of Independence was in 1776. The Constitution was adopted in 1789 and within six years there were eleven amendments.

    Stalemates do not last forever. The new Tory government may ask the question – what value for money are we getting for Stormont; and what improvements will get better value for money.

    Dub,

    I am quite aware that Stormont is the local government of a province of the UK. In lean economic times it is especially appropriate for the UK government to evaluate all Treasury outflows and more so for the coming Tory government than Labour. Benefits have to justify their costs; and, the benefits you cite are either useless or outdated.

  • Jud

    Bing,
    No way. I honestly believe we would all be better off in a UI, and I would not support it without cast iron guarantees for the Unionist community being built in.

    New Yorker – comparing the situation in NI to the fledgling US is a flawed analogy – many more parallels with the fledgling ROI circa 1922 – maybe assuming NY remained a British colony.

  • New Yorker

    Jud,

    The point I made is that founding documents are often in need of improvement. Even the generally revered US Constitution. The US Constitution makes a stronger case for the validity of my point, I believe, that the Free State documents.

  • Jud

    NY,
    And the point I’m making is your analogy is flawed.

    The GFA/STA are not anything like founding documents. They are an enforced compromise on an ongoing political and economic basket case.

    I’m very surprised you don’t agree the constitutions of the two republics share more than the US Constitution does with the GFA/STA.

    Submit word ‘states’!….

  • New Yorker

    Jud,

    I spoke of the founding documents of Stormont, the Northern Ireland Acts, which were brought about by the GFA and STA. I am speaking of founding documents in general and not making comparisons, but making the point that most, if not all, founding documents undergo changes. The Free State and ROI are additional examples of changes and founding documents. You are not using the word “analogy” correctly.

  • Jud

    Analogy – “a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based”.

    The US and Irish constitutions are founding documents.

    The Northern Ireland Acts are modifications of an existing legal and political framework. NI is still a state without founding principles of the type you infer. I wish it wasn’t so, but that’s the way it is.

    I’m not trying to be pedantic by the way.
    The deadlock we continue to see is down to that fundamental lack of initial legitimacy which will need to be addressed at some point.

    Nationalists see the current arrangements as a compromise bridge towards a UI (and ultimately a modification of the republic’s constitution).
    The Unionist approach is fundamentally focused on blocking progress towards that goal.

    The irony is that the best chance of stalling such an outcome would simply be to make the current arrangements ultra successful.

  • Dave

    dub, not much to argue with there. But it’s good to see that you no longer come on here for the sole purpose of chearleading the Shinners. You’re very much at odds with party policy which decrees that that “glorified county council” is a magnificent governmental achievement that fully merited the taking of several thousand lives and that NI is not part of the British unity state but rather is now part of something called an “all-Ireland.”

  • Dave

    “British unity unitary state”

  • New Yorker

    Jud,

    From the definition you supplied you can see that I am not using analogy or making a comparison, but using examples.

    You state, “The deadlock we continue to see is down to that fundamental lack of initial legitimacy which will need to be addressed at some point.” Northern Ireland is a fully legitimate province of the UK. It is a settled matter in fact and in law and accepted as such by the world. Maybe it is not in your mind, but that is a personal matter for you to deal with.

  • Henry94

    bing

    Come on you Nationalists cut to the chase. You’ll only be happy when the unionists are the minority in your ‘New Ireland’. Then you’ll have the chance to “put manners on them”.

    The offer made by Albert Reynolds of five seats in Government reserved for unionists in a united Ireland stands. In fact the only way you are ever going to see unionists in government and Sinn Fein out of it is in a united Ireland.

  • Driftwood

    In fact the only way you are ever going to see unionists in government and Sinn Fein out of it is in a united Ireland.

    Not true. Lets see what happens at Westminster in the next year. The national (UK) government may have a Unionist presence, and it is the only Government that matters.

  • Anonymous

    From Kane’s column

    That’s why I get angry when republicans, governments and some self-styled unionists insist that unionism and republicanism should be regarded and treated as equals”

    I think this is pretty telling. At the very least it is not the choice of words that someone who interested in equality would make.

  • Anonymous

    From Kane’s column:

    “That’s why I get angry when republicans, governments and some self-styled unionists insist that unionism and republicanism should be regarded and treated as equals”

    I think this is pretty telling. At the very least it is not the choice of words that someone interested in equality would make.

  • Commenter

    “Founding documents like the Agreement almost always need to be improved. Just consider how many amendments there are to the US constitution.”

    The U.S. constitution is actually a poor example as it is amended very rarely. In over 220 years it has been altered only 27 times. By way of contrast, just since WWII the Southern Irish constitution has been amended over 20 times, the German constitution over 50 times, and the Indian constitution over 100 times.

  • Henry94

    Driftwood

    Lets see what happens at Westminster in the next year. The national (UK) government may have a Unionist presence

    Is that your hope? That a Tory government will kick Sinn Fein out for you? That they will repudiate the agreement that brought an end to the conflict and risk having themselves distracted from their own agenda by a return to endless negotiation.

  • Jud

    NY,
    Whatever – I’m obviously not going to convince you comparing mods the US constitution to mods to the GFA/STA is an analogy, much less a flawed one.

    My opinion remains of all the scenarios that will possibly play out over the next few hundred years, I see the least likely one being the GFA/STA still in place with a subsequent list of fairly minor modifications.