Ford pull out hardly helps P&J deal

Alliance’s surprise ( to me) pullout from the P&J ministry complicates what seemed to be a straighforward if stubborn impasse between two sides. Whether this buys time for a solution or wastes it will I suppose become clear quite quickly. At this distance though, it seems a rather priggish move and a lost opportunity for David Ford to have refused nomination as the minister. His half-nomination had been the single accommodating exchange between the DUP and Sinn Fein on the subject. Better for him I should have thought, to have seized the opportunity and fought his corner, helping to shape the implementation of a deal. If he found he was hogtied, he could then have resigned from quite a strong position. Perhaps what passes in NI politics for a deep game here is being played out that I’m too simple minded to appreciate. Does Ford privately think the big parties might yet turn back to him on bended knee once they’ve played pass the parcel and nobody else can take the job? Leaving Ford aside, Margaret Ritchie’s sole nomination presents the UUs with a marvellous opportunity for a cross community gesture they ‘ll probably avoid, preferring to reach deadlock under their own steam. By supporting their nationalist rival, Sinn Fein take an obvious trick in the game. Alliance has presented the Assembly with a fresh reason for delay which diverts some blame from the DUP. But whether this opens up the game is open to doubt. Unfortunately, the governments will have to chip in and deal a new hand.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    We have the video clip here.

    It’s still a half-nomination – dependent on conditions still to be negotiated.

    Which, despite the bluster from SF, is in keeping with the St Andrews Agreement – as is the DUP’s position.

    Anyway, OFMDFM’s deadline was always an artificial construct.

    Any MLA can nominate in the Assembly when, or if, the position is available.

  • slug

    Alliance are sensible to play hardball to make sure as much of their agenda is pushed forward, otherwise they are failing their voters.

    This is Alliances moment.

    If they cave in under pressure to “save the process” then they will prove to be weak.

    I am not convinced alliance have the balls to stand up when they are put under pressure. But I hope they do.

  • igor

    This is Alliance’s moment? Sorry Slug but have you been at the pre Christmas sherry?

  • Mark McGregor

    Brian,

    I’ve got to disagree. This is the first politically astute decision I’ve seen from Alliance, ever. Instead of playing patsy and getting nothing from propping up a sectarian construct they’ve put a price on the need for their buy-in.

    They either get real power and influence or potentially see the thing collapse knowing any reconstruct would be on terms more likely to benefit them – some form of voluntary coalition.

    Well done Alliance, taking the opportunity to put a hand together instead of building the pot for others.

    Good politics.

  • slug

    Yes Mark-I agree.

  • Could this not potentially make the process easier? If Alliance haven’t nominated, does that not pave the way for the SDLP to take the post? SF claim they support an SDLP Ministry, the Ulster Unionists have had Ritchie at their conference, and the DUP can’t deploy the same arguments against an SDLP Ministry as they can against an SF one. It would also avoid a major bust-up with the SDLP, who see the Justice Ministry as their entitlement. Is there really any need to involve Alliance? In the interests of rebuilding relations, it would seem to make sense for the DUP, SF and UUP to agree to the SDLP having the justice post.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I tend to agree with Mark. The move also has the potential to force SF and the DUP to actually work together too, which might have wider benefits.

  • andrew white

    if there is not a cross party agreed minister then Dhont should be re-run. THis would enable the DUP to take P+J and possibly education if Sinn Fein take the other big office of finance.

  • We have a nomination now, why the delay? 😉

  • Guest

    No reason to decide anything.Have you not read the st.Andrews.We can do nothing forever!

  • Guest

    And the english are paying!Shuushhhhhhhhhhhhh

  • Dave

    A good workaround would be if the SDLP nominate and the Alliance Party don’t, with the UUP voting for the SDLP candidate with the DUP abstaining.

    Effectively, that would be the DUP backtracking on their implicit claim that no nationalist is fit to hold the justice portfolio, allowing the Shinners off the hook they placed them on by forcing them to agree that nationalists should be regarded as second-class candidates for this portfolio.

    Why would the DUP backpedal? If the Shinners compromised elsewhere, such as on the contentious Parades Commission issue.

    That way they all get to move on…

  • igor

    I think we are in danger of losing the run of ourselves.

    Fords position simply provides an excuse to delay the decision past Christmas – we cant do it because the nasty but neutral Alliance are holding it up. Post Christmas all eventually will be sweetness and light and he will be a shoo in.

    The SDLP should get the job but wont because SF don’t want them to and Ford will get it because SF and the DUP know that he’s not a threat to either of them and they can neuter him

  • granni trixie

    Brian..you havin’ a laff? For far from being ‘a priggish’ move or ‘lost opportunity’, Ford is showing shrewd judgement,not so much furthering a narrow party agenda, but looking to the long term future of NI. He is also being pragmatic for what chance of success would the new minister have (whovever they are) without some meeting of minds over p&j policy? And taking the opportunity to highlight ‘community relations’ in the context of devolution of P&J, is very astute from the perspoective of those (of us)who believe sectarianism is a quality of life issue.

  • slug

    Indeed granni you are correct.

  • Dave

    “The SDLP should get the job but wont because SF don’t want them to…”

    While some unionists may seek to present the DUP’s exclusion of a nationalist from the justice ministry as being an act of political sabotage by one nationalist party against another, the reality is that it is an act of sectarianism against the nationalist community by the DUP that the Shinners colluded with for selfish party advantage rather than devised.

    As Ian Paisley put it in January 2007:

    “As a consequence of our proposals for policing and justice we have changed the context of the debate on when policing and justice powers are devolved by proposing that the minister be appointed by a cross-community vote rather than by the d’Hondt system. This would ensure that only someone who has widespread support and enjoys community confidence could hold the post. Consequently, only someone whom we support can be chosen for the post.”

    The other reality is that an act of party sectarianism will become an act of state sectarianism if the Alliance Party also be colluding in it by facilitating it. The only reason the Alliance Party are in the running is because they’re not a nationalist party.

    If the Alliance Party do not support state sectarianism then they will act accordingly by withdrawing from a process that is designed to facilitate it.

  • Dave

    Typo: “The other reality is that an act of party sectarianism will become an act of state sectarianism [i]which[/i] the Alliance Party [i]would[/i] be colluding [i]with[/i] by facilitating it.”

  • igor

    Dave

    The DUP have the right to block whomever they wish, as do SF. So do you think that SF would ever vote for a DUP Minister of Justice? is that not sectarianism too?

    There’s a cosy little deal here that suits both sides

  • Each ministry is independent. If the policing and justice ministry is to be run by a non-sectarian party, then it was no business of the DUP or Sinn Fein to be negotiating in London – they should have handed over the whole task to delegation of non-aligned MLAs (Alliance + Greens + Independents). The four old farts (DUP, UUP, SDLP, SF) should have kept out of it.

  • hj mccracken

    Dave (post 16)

    If the Alliance Party do not support state sectarianism then they will act accordingly by withdrawing from a process that is designed to facilitate it.

    But Alliance haven’t withdrawn from any process. They have said what they need to become part of the process. UUP apparently don’t want to be any part of the process and SDLP want to be in so much that they don’t seem to have any conditions. Looks like the big two can either run with SDLP or see if they would prefer to do a deal which meets Alliance concerns. If anyone goes into government without agreeing plans first they will be as badly screwed down as Margaret Richie already is. I think Alliance is right to talk about agreed policies for p&j and it’s not exactly a secret that they emphasise getting better community relations.

  • Dave

    hj mccracken, I didn’t claim they did withdraw. I claimed they would be facilitating the upgrade from party sectarianism to state sectarianism if they didn’t withdraw. It is one thing for a unionist political party to act to discriminate against nationalists by excluding them from the justice ministry (irrespective of separate arguments about whether they are entitled to it by default), but it a much more serious form of sectarianism when the state sanctions it.

    igor, the DUP do not have the right to discriminate against nationalists. I agree, however, that it is their disposition to do so (as this example blatantly demonstrates). What argument does the DUP advance to deny that their objection to a nationalist holding the justice portfolio is anything other than blatant sectarianism? It is simply a case of not wanting a Taig about the place because they own heartlands couldn’t stomach the RUC PSNI falling into Popish hands.

    This is now state sectarianism, and the Alliance Party should have nothing to do with legitimising it.

  • Dave

    By the way, when the old Stormont regime excluded nationalists from state positions simply because they were nationalists, those nationalists had no problem arguing that it was wrong to discriminate on that basis. Why then do circa half of those nationalists now stay silent when the new Stormont regime excludes nationalists from state positions simply because they are nationalists? Is it because the Shinners say it is okay for the new regime to discriminate against nationalists? It is exactly for that reason do the nationalists now collude with the state as it acts to discriminate against them, converting them into second-class citizens once again but this time with their own approval.

  • interested

    Clever move by the Alliance Party, it helps the DUP argument about getting the outstanding issues tied down. There appears to be three issues from what I see, firstly the minister for p&j which can be sorted easily, secondly what the p&j minister powers are going to be, and what needs to go to the executive for agreement. I imagine that you would have a pretty ineffective minister if every issue had to go to the executive which could take months to agree making it impossible for a p&j minister to run the department, who then may have a crisis to sort out and does not have the time to deal with it while waiting for the executive to agree, so a p&j minister needs to be freed up more than other minister to make decisions. I would have thought that this should be easy to sort out especially if Sinn Fein really wants p&j devolved. Thirdly parades, it seems to me Sinn Fein had agreed to the Ashdown report and linked it to p&j being devolved but only after p&j was devolved, would not the compromise route be for both the DUP & Sinn Fein be have p&j devolved and the parades commission being done away with, announced at the exact same time. I really think people are fed up with the arguments and just want the politicians to agree and get on with it.

  • igor

    Dave

    On your definition all politics is discrimination. I discriminate against all other parties in whom close to vote for. That’s what democratic choice is about. When Carmel Hanna and Francis Brolly stood down the SDLP and SF nominated members of their own parties for co-option My god! They have discriminated against Unionists! What a shock. Should I have expected the SDLP to have put forward Papa Doc as a clear demonstration of their commitment to non-discriminatory politics?

    Nationalists dont have some special right never to suffer discrimination from anyone. Nor do Unionists. How Ministers act AS MINISTERS in exercising the powers of their office is a completely different matter.

    And in this case let us be very very clear – there are very strong grounds for believing that SF did the deal on P&J to keep out the SDLP who, by rights, should have the seat if d’Hondt was applied. That’s not unusual. They see the SDLP as their real electoral enemy just as the DUP see the UUP and TUV as theirs

  • LabourNIman

    I have to agree, this is a smart move by Alliance, they need to keep the pressure on SF and DUP.

    SDLP allowing Ritchie to get nominated could well be a plow by McDonnell to have her viewed as opportunistic with her knowing fine well that everyone wants a non-sectarian party to have the seat

  • Comrade Stalin

    Dave,

    Speaking for myself obviously, and not the party (I know next to nothing about the negotiations that are taking place other than what I see in the media), you sometimes have to be pragmatic and accept that there is a limit to how far you can push things. Alliance’s view is that d’Hondt and the cross-community voting system in the assembly should be abolished. As you have said, it amounts to the State institutionalizing sectarianism. We said that in 1998. The party also has a view on a lot of other things as well. Realistically, however, we’re not going to get away with all the other parties signing off on the implementation of the full Alliance manifesto in exchange for the justice ministry.

    However, the party has been making clear, since this whole business about the justice minister began, that it wouldn’t be acceptable to have another minister acting as a front for the old NIO regime. Radical reform is required across all aspects of the justice system in NI, from the police, to the courts, to the legal services system, to the judiciary. It would be stupid to take up the ministry with such a radical programme in mind only to have it blocked by the dysfunctional foot-dragging of the DUP/SF axis. Therefore, it is an essential precondition, in my view anyway, that the DUP/SF sign off on the programme – or at least a programme that all the parties can agree on – first.

    To me this is normal government. I don’t expect in any other system in the world that someone would agree to be nominated as a minister without some kind of understanding that their programme would be allowed to progress. And it’s not a case of “it’s Alliance’s way, or nothing” – clearly the party has it’s own ideas that it wants to put in traction, but it’s not about driving a steamroller over everyone else.

    As far as I can see, the party is quite serious about taking the job and participating in the executive provided these conditions are met. So anyone hoping that Alliance are going to act as proxies for the wrecker agenda (the UUP in particular) are likely to be disappointed. It should be straightforward for the DUP and SF to agree to Alliance’s request for agreement and a joined-up approach.

  • Comrade Stalin

    El Matador:

    Could this not potentially make the process easier? If Alliance haven’t nominated, does that not pave the way for the SDLP to take the post?

    No. Nothing happens unless the DUP/SF want it. Neither the DUP nor SF (despite SF’s public position) want the SDLP to take that ministry.

    SF claim they support an SDLP Ministry,

    Yes, but in reality they don’t, because it would allow the SDLP to appeal to the nationalist electorate over SF’s head. Of course, they’re not admitting that, as it’s a lot easier to hide behind the DUP position.

    the Ulster Unionists have had Ritchie at their conference,

    Yes, and then Sir Reg wrote into a newspaper to say that it wouldn’t be acceptable to have a justice minister who was not committed to the union. Please, do not kid yourself into believing that the UUP are anything other than a bunch of bigots.

    and the DUP can’t deploy the same arguments against an SDLP Ministry as they can against an SF one.

    It’s more to do with the arguments that Jim Allister can deploy against the DUP.

    It would also avoid a major bust-up with the SDLP, who see the Justice Ministry as their entitlement.

    Holy crap! I’m really scared of a bust up with the SDLP. We must move the earth to stop such a monumental catastrophe. no actually, wait a second ..

    Is there really any need to involve Alliance?

    Yes, it’s the least worst option for the DUP/SF.

    In the interests of rebuilding relations, it would seem to make sense for the DUP, SF and UUP to agree to the SDLP having the justice post.

    The only thing the three of those parties are agreed on is that they do NOT want the SDLP taking the justice ministry.

  • Expenses111

    Would someone from the SDLP explain why the SDLP nominated Margaret Ritchie to be Minister of Policing and Justice? From other bloggers on here they said that Margaret would stand down as DSD Minister if she was elected leader.

    Also does anyone really think that the Assembly will return in January. I think they will but only for Martin McGuinness to resign. woohoo

  • Comrade Stalin

    Expenses111,

    The real news to me is that they didn’t nominate Alban Maginness who has supposedly been the front runner for the job. Perhaps that means they realized that the nomination was a complete waste of time.

    It’s possible that McGuinness will resign, but it would be a real shame as policing and justice powers are within grasp.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    If the bleating Stoops are so perturbed about institutionalised sectarianism, why did they come up with the idea in the first place?

  • Expenses111

    Comrade Stalin,

    Do you think that the Executive is fit for Policing and Justice.

    Why do the SDLP sit on the side lines complaining that everything is so terrible and awful but surely they are up to their neck in it.

  • I hate south armagh

    See twitter.com/DBradley MLA
    “New saying in south Armagh,its so cold it would freeze your assets”-

  • [i]SDLP allowing Ritchie to get nominated could well be a plow by McDonnell to have her viewed as opportunistic with her knowing fine well that everyone wants a non-sectarian party to have the seat[/i]

    The only thing wrong with this interpretation is the facts. Durkan was the one who put forward Margaret Ritchie’s name, not McDonnell, and Durkan wouldn’t want to be helping McDonnell with his campaign at all.

  • [i]Why do the SDLP sit on the side lines complaining that everything is so terrible and awful but surely they are up to their neck in it.[/i]

    Earth to Expenses111, the SDLP have put forward a candidate for the position. Hardly sitting on the sidelines. Criticising the justice bill is hardly complaining that everything is so terrible either, the party put down amendments for discussion which is normal practice in a parliamentary debate. What would you prefer? That the SDLP just agree to everything that DUP/SF propose?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Expenses111:

    Do you think that the Executive is fit for Policing and Justice.

    If there is an agreed programme for justice reform backed by a commitment to see that programme through, then yes.

    Why do the SDLP sit on the side lines complaining that everything is so terrible and awful but surely they are up to their neck in it.

    I’ve never figured that one out myself. I’d like to see all the other small parties doing what Alliance is doing right now and negotiating an agenda in exchange for their agreement to participate in the executive.

  • Expenses111

    nineteensixtyseven,

    You said “Earth to Expenses111, the SDLP have put forward a candidate for the position.” I did notice that but I am wondering why the SDLP are so keen to get Justice devolved when everything is a mess? I also wonder why it is the SDLP’s position to constantly attack the Executive and carve up between DUP/SF yet they are part off the very same Executive?

    Comrade Stalin

    You said “I’d like to see all the other small parties doing what Alliance is doing right now and negotiating an agenda in exchange for their agreement to participate in the executive.” I used to think that the Alliance and in particular David Ford didn’t have the know how but the policy they have now is brilliant. You have to admit David Ford has played a blinder. Why should P&J be devolved to a failed Executive?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Expenses111:

    I used to think that the Alliance and in particular David Ford didn’t have the know how but the policy they have now is brilliant. You have to admit David Ford has played a blinder.

    I’m an ardent supporter but I like to think I have my feet on the ground. The policy is rational and reasonable, and is the right one, but it seems a bit silly that it would take a tactical genius to come up with it. I’m quite happy for you to think so, though 🙂

    Why should P&J be devolved to a failed Executive?

    A pointless question which could just as easily be turned on it’s head – “why should P+J remain in the hands of failed Direct Rule?”. The underlying premise of your argument is that we should get rid of our executive because we don’t know how to elect the right politicians to it. That is a premise I completely reject. People need to think carefully when they are casting their vote, and if they are not happy with the performance of their existing politicians then they need to vote for someone else. Voting for the imcumbent means that you lose the right to complain when they keep screwing up.

  • Brian Walker

    Comrade Stalin, Despite the pseudo ( why oh why do people use them unless they’re all senior civil servants?) you seem to talk with some authority about the Alliance party. You say:

    “Radical reform is required across all aspects of the justice system in NI, from the police, to the courts, to the legal services system, to the judiciary..”

    What “radical reform?” The bulk of it is mainly done,leaving the locals with a neat little job of monitoring regulation, even if the Assembly decides that a ministry plus Assembly committee should replace the Policing Board. Or are you really Comrade Stalin ( who was an ace writer of a constitution, among other things)?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Brian,

    Maybe I don’t choose my words well. Can I get something out of the way ? : I’m not a politician, I have no plans to become one (or indeed work in any kind of public sector arena) and, above all, I am not a spokesperson for Alliance. I am just a party member with an opinion, some of them dovetail with those of the party, some do not. That all gives me a lot of freedom to say what I like without fear of retribution. Don’t be surprised if someone comes along and says “actually that isn’t Alliance policy at all”.

    To the question – there are a few things. I think you’re making the same mistake as Sinn Fein and a few others by believing that the justice ministry is really the “police ministry”, and that when I wrote “radical reform” up there I was talking about policing. However, I am referring to the justice system in general.Policing is only a part of the justice ministry. You’re quite correct that the bulk of the work has already been done. I think Patten did a fine job, I imagine that’s close to the Alliance official position, and I am positive that there are no plans to overturn any of it. My vision of the justice minister would be one of working in tandem with, and substantially in deference to, the Police Board and the DPPs. Realpolitik has a way of interfering with these hopes, though, it has to be said.

    I doubt that replacing the Police Board or the system of DPPs is on the cards at all, I think they work quite well. The justice minister can’t ignore policing or delegate the whole thing, as I said above, there will be a degree of overlap. But I would expect the minister (and committee) to be substantially concerned with things like the availability of prison places and prison conditions; sentencing policy, particularly for anti-social behaviour and similar issues; the massive delays in the justice system (between a case being filed at the DPP and subsequently coming to court – sometimes this can be years, and there are no obvious explanations for why this is); the regulation of the legal services sector; the management of the policing budget and the way it is allocated (from personal experience, red tape and bureaucracy in the police is a serious problem, and the utilization of IT is utterly woeful).

    I hope that’s not too waffly.

  • pith

    Like TUV and hardline republicans, Alliance seem to be having trouble adjusting to the way things are now. Having spent their formative years being handed things by the UK government they are now, like a spoilt brat, incapable of dealing with a more adult environment.

  • hj mccracken

    pith

    You really are a bit uptight. Alliance is clearly being asked to do a job and they have the temerity to suggest how it might be done right, not like education for instance. They have never said that they must have it (unlike the SDLP), just what they think is important. Up to now they have been more constructive than either the UUP or SDLP, despite having no role in the Executive. This isn’t having trouble adjusting to the way things are now, its a fair way of saying ‘if you want us, we think the following things are needed for the sake of the people of NI’.

  • LabourNIman

    nineteensixtyseven – durkan would not have put her forward without the assembly teams ok, doing that would cause a rift during a leadership campaign.

  • Ormeau

    But it’s being said that Durkan himself proposed Ritchie at an SDLP Assembly team meeting.
    If that is true, he was surely interfering in the process of electing the next party leader.
    It must be a very smart plan to aid Alasdair McDonnell, since it gives her the publicity and the very public support of the MLAs and the current leader.
    I never thought that Durkan got on well with his deputy leader, but Alasdair McDonnell has a right to be annoyed about being stabbed in the back.
    Sounds like a rift to me and a very dangerous game by Durkan.

  • Bit of an obvious name to choose if you are trying to get members to start arguing again lol.

  • Comrade Stalin

    pith:

    incapable of dealing with a more adult environment.

    That couldn’t be further from the truth. I think that many people in NI regard the current functioning of the executive as something far less than an adult environment – lots of huffs, stamping of feet, whinging and sulking, and not a lot of work getting done.

    I think Alliance are trying to inject some proper politics – adult politics if you will – into things. Behaving like adults to me means not rewarding bad behaviour.

    I think it’s fair to say that Alliance are quite serious about taking on the job – in the right conditions. I think we’ll be able to make a real improvement to the way justice here works. Most of the internal discussions in Alliance that I am aware of on this issue concern policy, and those policies will remain the same whether we end up with the ministry or not.

  • slug

    Alliance must press hard – this is a moment they can make some changes. They are right to do so – and they must not be too frightened of fighting to win on their issues.

    Psychologically, Alliance are used to losing, not to getting their ideas across. So there is little hope they will act like winners and press for what they want until they get it. So I am not hopeful.

  • granni trixie

    Slug – keep your heart up – Alliance are speaking sense which, this time, I believe the public understand. They have a certain freedom derived from genuinely not wanting to assume a role just for the sake of it.David Ford is playing a blinder.

  • slug

    Granni-good to hear. Make Alliance relevant! This is their moment.