How Stormont sustains division and structurally disables the middle ground…

Denis Bradley has an interesting piece in today’s Irish News suggesting that in order to arrive at timely decisions in Stormont, the two governments should draw tighter lines. The Irish Examiner’s leader takes another view and suggests the caucusing of MLAs as Unionist and Nationalist tribes is one of the least desirable outworking of the Belfast Agreement. It also, they argue, accounts for the last three years in which nothing of any significance emerged from the joint offices of OFMdFM run under the aegis of the DUP and Sinn Fein. It argues:

It is disappointing that, after such a very long time, those two parties have not devised a process to reach agreement in a reasonable timeframe, without the intervention of the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister or the occasional White House envoy.

These politics of the impasse, the deadlock default, are rooted in arrangements that now seem bizarre but when they were put in place they were a welcome change from the terror that cost so many lives.

This formula was reached to prevent a majority take-all system returning, as was the case from 1920 to 1972 when the unionist majority so abused their mandate. Under this system the votes of those who have not registered as either unionist or nationalist do not count when it comes to deciding if cross-community consent has been secured. This represents a barrier to moderation as there is a systemic disincentive to parties that want to bury the hatreds of the past.

It may be time to ask whether the structures established on Good Friday 1998, and enhanced by the St Andrew’s agreement of 2006, will ever work

Read more:–agreement-helps-sustain-divisions-111299.html#ixzz0ef4QL4ZV

  • Paul Doran

    These intervention of outside forces is merely window dressing. Why is the Taoiseach and the PM up in the North, to get some credo for their failed attempts at managing their own respective positions. Brown is a failed PM. He has let so many people down, Cowen is worse, It was on his watch that the Southern state is in the position it is along that wee bugger Bertie.

    Window Dressing

  • Henry94

    Typical Examiner editorial. Complain and whinge about what’s wrong but don’t offer a single constructive proposal. There is no other newspaper that gives such an impression of having nothing to say but is determined to say it anyway. That is as useless a contribution as we are likely to see.

    The simple way to include and encourage the minority parties is to change the majority requirement to a majority on non-nationalist and non-unionist. That would make the middle ground disproportionately powerful and encourage it to develop.

    But tearing up the Agreement and starting from scratch is something you’d expect from somebody after too much port at the RCYC.

  • Yes – its so unfortunate isn’t it that the majority keep voting for the DUP and Sinn Féin.

    As they ran their one party state for 50 years or so – “Official” Unionists showed the way things should be done if ye want “stability”.

    God be with the days.

  • Rory Carr

    Who exactly are these people who are neither unionist nor nationalist? Where do they live and how many of them are there? But, more importantly, if they are neither one thing nor the other what in the hell are they and why are they always “forces of moderation”? Who decides?

    A force for moderation in the eyes of any news publisher would be one that advocates the enactment of social and economic legislation that would not be inimical to the commercial interests of that publisher. Thus those proposing a freeze on wages would be regarded as “forces of moderation” regardless of whatever other extreme views they might hold and people of quite moderate disposition who agitate for a fair increase would be described as “extremists”.

    So if this element of society who claim to be neutral on the national question actually exist and they are not merely self-deluded or opportunistic liars then it won’t be long before the Examiner and its fellows will begin sorting them into moderate and extreme camps as each new issue arises.

    Apart from all this there remains the difficulty of knowing what to call these people – bullocks perhaps?

  • IanR

    “The simple way to include and encourage the minority parties is to change the majority requirement to a majority on non-nationalist and non-unionist. That would make the middle ground disproportionately powerful and encourage it to develop.”

    That’s a good idea, I wish I’d thought of it. Oh, I did 🙂 (see page 2, comment 20 of this post):

  • Greenflag

    rory carr ,

    bullocks perhaps?

    hardly 😉

    Cows , bulls and calves but cattle one and all- well that’s what the oul sergeant major used to bark when he bellowed at the shoddy line up .

    He somewhat redeemed himself when he added
    ‘but I’ll make proper soldiers of the lot of yiz ‘

    Of course he himself remained a bollix as was only natural 🙂

  • Henry94


    I welcome your support 😉

    My solution is a simple one. Instead of a vote requiring a majority of nationalists and a majority of unionists change it to be a majority of non-nationalists and a majoritiy of non-unionists.

    Any objections?

    Posted by Henry94 on Mar 14, 2007 @ 08:47 AM

  • st etienne

    Hubris such as that emanating from outraged bigots such as Carr above is partly the reason why supporters of alternative propositions keep their feet out of the water – if the whole thing is poisoned why not just carry on ignoring it?

    Thankfully there are elements who are attempting this. The Tory efforts is one such manifestation. Should they start getting Northern Irish votes, the setting up of the two other main parties is inevitable.

    Hence the bluster from those blindly supporting the status quo, out of fear more than anything else.

    It’s time the joke that currently goes by the name of ‘pluralism’ was exposed.

    Having said that it’s also high time we wretched souls were given a choice in the matter – while it remains to be seen what the UU associations will decide, they can only delay the inevitable – roll on Conservative candidates standing in elections. It will precipitate real governance here, whether that be from the right or the left.

  • Greenflag

    So what exactly is this supposed difference between the middle and extremes in Northern Ireland politics that anybody would notice ?

    If i’m reading this right it appears that SF and the DUP are considered as ‘extremes’ whereas the UUP. SDLP, AP, ( I’m not sure of the PUP but Dawn Purvis seems moderate to me ) are seen as the middle .

    But the ‘middle’ when it was the middle got into a muddle and eventually bellied up thus allowing the ‘extremes ‘ to move into their place .

    It seems to me that our well meaning friends in the so called middle are somewhat muddled for they refuse to see what the eyes of all see when they observe the NI polity from outside the cage .

    The Irish Examiner is indulging in some wishful thinking . It’s not the GFA that’s least desirable . It’s the very State itself that’s undesirable . It cannot be other than what it is . When ‘sectarianism ‘ is built into the very foundations of a State(1920) and then layered over with a fresh coating via the GFA then some jack hammers will be needed to rip out the foundation and rebuild .

    But it seems that the so called political extremes have no stomach for such a task and neither do most of the NI people . Thus it is as it is and will always be . One can hope for a bit more civility and recognition of each other’s predicament form the main parties but that’s about it .

    London holds the purse strings and Dublin remains a guarantor . Shame there’s no immediate election but it should’nt be too long before another opportunity is presented .

    Westminster will provide the TUV with their chance to upset the uncomfortable applecart of the DUP/SF and for UCUNF to break through . I could be wrong but I believe that they have both missed the boat for now .

  • Rory Carr

    Henry 94 and IanR, I am a little confused. Would not a non-nationalist really be a unionist and a non-unionist really be a nationalist?

    In the upcoming Arsenal v. Chelsea match Man. Utd. supporters are not neutral, they have a vested interest in seeing Chelsea lose.

    St. Etienne, that neutral moderate Tory whose only concern is the welfare of his fellow man, no doubt considers such interest to be mired in bigotry but less spiritually evolved mortals might think it is because they are not stupid.

  • BryanS

    You might understand this definition of non unionist and non republican.

    They could be people who have the union and a united ireland on their priority list but it would rank well below
    a job
    good health
    a bit of charity for those less fortunate
    decent weather
    a holiday
    a game of golf, football, rugby or darts
    a good nights sleep
    etc etc
    Parading and the ILA would also be listed in the 40’s along withthe union and irish unity

  • David Crookes

    Greenflag, what you call ‘a bit more civility’ may turn out to be one of the more important fruits of the new agreement.

    Whatever the case, today’s booby prize for civility goes to the UUP. Welcome to the land of sulks and scowlers.

    Let us all be blithe and hopeful. Constructive people don’t do gloom.

  • BryanS

    and I missed a pint of beer, a glass of wine and a gin and tonic

  • BryanS

    Some might include a sex life but feel free to add your own.
    The point is there are many people who have priorities well removed from the constitutional position of the country. In short Get real get a life.

  • Rory Carr

    Prioritisation of what one deems important at any given time, BryanS, in no way negates my understanding that in N Ireland one is either unionist or nationalist – on this central issue there simply is no middle ground upon which to dwell.

    I’m sure that even the most fanatical loyalist or republican has other things on his mind than Irish unification when he is shaping up to putt at golf or on the point of orgasm, to cite a couple of your examples, but such diversions do not in the least detract from his political stance on the question any more they detract from the stance of what you might call the ‘moderate’ nationalist or ‘moderate’ unionist.

    When the priority of the moment becomes casting one’s vote then unionists, whether they be described as moderate or extreme, both vote for candidates who would preserve the union and those who are nationalists vote for those who espouse Irish unity. Which I suppose is why we call them ‘unionists’ and ‘nationalists’ in the first place

  • Henry94


    Would not a non-nationalist really be a unionist and a non-unionist really be a nationalist?

    But in the system you have people who don’t designate as either meaning their votes don’t really matter.

    It is an unfortunate and annoying anomaly which could be removed quite easily

  • BryanS

    Sorry rory,
    you miss my point. There are many people for whom the constitutional position is way down their list of priorities. Given the chance these people would vote for a candidate or party who more closely matched their view of a priority. Presumably this is how the Alliance party got a few votes over the years. It may also be how the conservative or labour party would garner votes if they were to organise here.

  • Mr. J.


    I think this is a symptom of the unfortunate mentality of themuns and usuns, which still permeates Northern Irish politics.

    An individual may have plenty of issues which he or she would rank above their constitutional position, but at the end of the day, a party could come along which ticks all their governance boxes but doesn’t holler their -ist/-an credentials from the rooftops and, as a result, said individual cast his/her vote for the party with the colours they recognise. I hope that this is something Norn Irn will grow out of, but I’m not convinced it will be any time soon.

    For what it’s worth, I couldn’t give a fiddlers fart if Northern Ireland is governed by Westminster, Dublin or Washington DC, as long as I can raise my family in a safe, stable environment. I figure that makes me neither Unionist nor Nationalist, but I sense that I am in the minority.

  • joeCanuck

    I don’t believe most people give a shit about the niceties of the constitutional argument.
    What drives both “extreme” camps to vote they way they do can be summed up in one word – FEAR.

  • Marcionite

    There are large elements of the UUP which I cannot ever describe as moderate. Some in the SDLP, especially those at local level in Tyrone and Fermanagh are very green indeed and only a tax-bracket and a M&S blazer above being a Shinner.

    I made the point some time ago that the non-aligned/cross community bloc should be given their own veto and be part of a tri-partite weighted majority. Decisions could not be made without the majority of all 3 bloc being in agreement.

    If agreement is seen as stalling and slow to the point of non-fuctioning, then a multi-party convention wuold need to be held to see if new parties could be formed along non-constitutional lines and let the constitutional issue be a matter for individual consciences along the lines of a free vote.

    Lady Sylvia could head the new left-grouping, Reg the right wing and David Forde the middle liberal grouping.

    I think we’re probably about 10 years away from such a convention but its essential its held. Its patently obvious that after 10 years, it would be obvious that all parties are ok with sharing power with their religious opposite numbers so the ‘no fenian/brit about the place’ would become an irrevelent relic of a slogan.

    Only then when trust is enmeshed can the next step be taken.

    All parties here accept the constitutional position of NI as part of the UK until a majority want otherwise. So let’s make NI work 100% in both an economic and civic and poltical way.

    I do believe in a United Ireland but it will only happen when NI and RoI will see it as a logical reasoned initiative that would economically enhance one another and such a debate when it does take place in earnest, could take place without the emotive memory of the troubles. This I believe, is the guts of a century away but just because we mightnt see it (if ever ) in our lifetimes, doesn’t mean the necessary groundwork for a better reconstituted political future cannot be founded today.

  • Henry94


    I made the point some time ago that the non-aligned/cross community bloc should be given their own veto and be part of a tri-partite weighted majority. Decisions could not be made without the majority of all 3 bloc being in agreement.

    That’s going a bit too far. I think you’d need to put a quota hurdle in for that. Otherwise you could end up with a tiny group of fanatical moderates holding everybody to ransom.

    Maybe if they got to 25 or 30 seats it should kick in.

  • IanR

    “fanatical moderates”

    I’m intrigued by that apparently oxymoronic concept. What policies would be espoused by someone who is ‘fanatically moderate’?!?

  • joeCanuck

    Marcionite and Henry,

    We don’t need that. Just a tweak to give a unified non-aligned bloc equal “rights” as the designated blocs. The “cabinet” should consist only of members of the 2 largest blocs, designated or non-aligned.

  • IanR

    By the way Henry94, I came up with the same idea independently a few years ago regarding designating as non-unionist and non-nationalist, although I concede you were first to mention it on Slugger. (I think a trawl through the Irish News letters page archives might throw it up, but I’m not subscribed at the mo.)

    My version was tweaked slightly so that each ‘Other’-designated MLAs vote is counted as half when tallying up both non-nationalist and non-unionist votes. That way, Alliance etc become enfranchised without their votes becoming twice as influential as the rest of the Assembly’s, which is anti-democratic.

  • The Raven

    I’m with the BryanS list. In fact I’m probably one of them.

    My tuppence worth is rather bitter. I open the front page of the Beeb website, and there are the four of them standing, McG and Robinson in the middle.

    Feted for their breakthrough. Talk of an invite to Ameri-cay. Robinson has “nothing to answer for” according to the SoS. So that’s all right then.

    And yet these are the people who have singularly brought this region to a standstill, just as effectively as any bombing campaign, though admittedly without as much shrapnel and actual bodies littering the street. Our education system lies in a rut. The economy is f**ked. The environment waits on someone who thinks the planet is 6000 years old to play catchup in terms of legislation. And so on and so forth.

    This all on top of the absolute deadlock last year which saw NOTHING happen in terms of governmental work for how many hundred days? Foster and others nowhere to be seen while the economy melted, hiding behind the odd press release. Ruane – I can’t even remember what she looks like, so long has it been since she graced a camera. Christ, Murphy’s crowd couldn’t even fill salt bins in time.

    David, you’re absolutely right, constructive people don’t do gloom. But we know that when things have to be fixed when they have broken down, spit, chewing gum and some rubber bands don’t fix it. And that’s exactly what this Assembly is.

    I truly hope the long memory with which people from this region are reputedly imbued, lasts long enough to see voting day, and kick these electoral vagabonds well and truly in the arse where they deserve – down the steps of Stormont to the gutter.

    Phew. That’s better.

  • BryanS

    Ill raise my glass to that!

  • Stewart

    Never really understood why Ulster unionists are regarded as moderate and lumped in with this imaginary middle ground grouping.

    As regards the non-aligned cross community types. If the voters democratically elect them they gain an influence consistant with their strength within the assembly.

    I always found it funny how the Alliance Party are deemed good for politics here. There is nothing good about them when they decide to close leisure centres in socially disadvantaged areas of Belfast.

  • Paul Doran

    I was born in Newcastle Co Down I am not a Nationalist and not a Unionist. I beleive strongly in a United Ireland free from British Imperialism.I am Communist.I beleive in the class isuue and all this shite as kept the class issue under the mat so long.Rise up Comrades and rid yourself of this bullshite

  • BryanS

    If i ever heard a voice crying in the wilderness………………
    I hope you enjoy your own company Paul.

  • Paul Doran

    Bryan Yes I-recall the Suffragettes being told the same

  • Greenflag

    Raven ,

    Thou speaketh the truth oh bird of gloom 😉 Alas in the country of the blind the one eyed are kings while he with two eyes is emperor and although he goeth naked through his country the people see not nor do they care .

    Sursum corda as Ovid might say .

  • Greenflag

    Paul ,

    ‘I am Communist.’

    You’ll need to clarify . Would that be ‘communist ‘ in the sense of a follower of the Dear Leaderr Kim IL Sung the hereditary Communist leader of North Korea ? or of the Marxist Leninist Scientific Socialist leader of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe ? or a supporter of the Chinese Communist party which is now the only one party Authoritarian Capitalist Government on the earth ? Do you still yearn for good old Stalin and his kindly ways of dealing with dissent and critics ?

    Nothing is simple is it ? not it ever was eh ?

    However your time may come again and the ghouls of Lenin and Marx are still out there awaiting the self destruction of world capitalism .

    And as the world awaits an end to recession and a resumption of growth there are those who forecast another major slump in the USA with almost half of homeowners in what is called an ‘underwater ‘ position . Up to now many of these people have been ashamed to break their mortgage contracts and walk away . Economically however they are now becoming ‘real’ capitalists in a very pragmatic sense and many are simply walking away from their debts . Unconscionable from the puritan ethic point of view but there you are . You see many have lost faith in the banks , the insurance companies , the religions , the usurers , the politicians , etc etc and are more or less saying a pox on the lot . As they survey 27 million of their countrymen and women out of work with increasing numbers of foreclosures -so many in fact that the banks have slowed down and almost stopped taking back homes – the people have become angry and populist with many directing their anger sometimes towards the wrong target .

    And this o communist one is the country that the world is relying on to spend itself out of recession and lift the rest of the globe with it ?

    Meanwhile hundreds of billions get burned up in two wars while billions more go to feed the private health insurance financial ogre which now gobbles up one in every 5 dollars of spending .And one in every 4 USA children is considerd food insecure with one in 8 americans now dependant on charity or food stamps to keep body and soul going . This while the former Bank of America President faces charges of misleading shareholders by not telling them of Merrill Lynch’s sixteen billion dollar loss in the sub prime mortgage area .

    While not a communist at least not in the prescriptive sense I have to admit that old Karl Marx got a lot of his analysis of mankind’s economic nature right .

    However the economy is forever changing and that’s where the marxian prediction and prescription got it wrong . Marx also overestimated the behavioural and ethical propensities of the proletarian revolutionaries many of whom adopted no less brutal methods of oppression than their former monarchical or capitalist overlords .

    That said the so called ‘free market’ which is not free has come to a spot between a rock and a hard place as the leaders of the world scratch their brains to try and find a way past the current mess .

    It’s not certain that there is one at least not one that will find favour with all the people of the world

  • Greenflag

    Paul ,

    I trust you are aware that that the mass of the populations of Communist North Korea are facing mass hunger and some 2 million are estimated to have starved to death over the past 6 years and that one third of Zimbabwe’s population has fled the country while the remainder are now again facing starvation .

    Meanwhile the authoritarian capitalist/communist one party state i.e China is doing better with no actual starvation an an economy that’s growing at 10% . I read that now that the cash strapped and multi party capitalist colossus the USA has had to postpone it’s ‘return to the moon ‘ the rest of us earthlings can expect that the next moon landing will be achieved by the Chinese capitalist/communists ?

    George Orwell where are you now that we need you ?

  • Paddy Matthews

    @St Etienne:

    roll on Conservative candidates standing in elections

    I was under the impression that there had been Conservative candidates standing in elections for quite a long while – the one who got a grand total of 106 first preferences at the last Assembly elections in South Belfast, for example.

    The belief that if only the Tories try harder then scales will fall from the eyes, false consciousnesses will wither, and Portadown and Carrickmore will magically turn into Portishead and Caterham strikes me as having absolutely no basis in reality.

  • Paul Doran

    Greenflag take your head out of your Pocket

  • Paul Doran

    I just heard the Monster raving Party are going to stand. Lord & lady Junkets.They lived in England for many years and have been found out and believe there are rich pickings in the North.They were quoted as saying the fools the foolss they no not what they pay out

  • Kevsterino

    The talk about the extremists and moderates reminded me of something Barry Goldwater said a decades ago:

    “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

    Not that I ever agreed much with Barry, but I think he got that one right.

  • Sammy Morse

    roll on Conservative candidates standing in elections.

    They have done since 1989.

    Otherwise you could end up with a tiny group of fanatical moderates holding everybody to ransom.

    Henry, I like the cut of your jib!

  • Scaramoosh

    The Stormont Assembly suffers from “locked-in syndrome” defined as a condition in which the patient is aware and awake, but cannot move or communicate due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes.

  • Reader

    Henry94: My solution is a simple one. Instead of a vote requiring a majority of nationalists and a majority of unionists change it to be a majority of non-nationalists and a majoritiy of non-unionists.
    Any objections?

    Then unionists all designate as non-aligned and we are back to majority rule. Good plan.

  • st etienne

    I was under the impression that there had been Conservative candidates standing in elections for quite a long while

    sure – but this time we will have them running with the support of a local party. Depending upon candidate selection this time round a local aligned party will be putting it’s weight behind a real political ideal and not just a sectarian register. A dropping of the guard and the fear. It is this environment that will see NI develop, not in any boke-inducing backslapping fakery.

    Small steps but the Peter & Marty show only serve to highlight it’s need.

    Can I also point out the difference between real politics and moderates? While ‘real politics’ undoubtedly places less emphasis on the constitutional issue, what it specifically refers to is a division of politics along right and left, as in normal functioning western democracies.

    We don’t need just another Alliance, since they too rely on the sectarian status quo just as much as the worst in the DUP or SF.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Dennis Bradley makes “division” sound like a bad thing.
    We live in a curious place where “Division” is bad and “Diversity” is good.
    We cannot build up respect for two ethnic groups and then hope that there is something called a “middle ground”.
    Seamus Mallon was of course only half right in 1998.
    The GFA is indeed Sunningdale for slow learners.
    But the Hillsborough Agreement might be described as the Sunningdale/GFA for slow learners.
    Sunningdale was certainly about power sharing and an Irish dimension and yes thats what our structures now are about……but Sunningdale excluded the extremes (or they excluded themselves).
    The GFA brought the extremes into the process.
    And Hillsborough actually empowered the Extremes.

  • aquifer

    Having parties nominate ministers the way small boys pick football teams only entrenches division. MLAs cannot vote for a minister of ‘the other sort’, so the assembly does not develop an identity, or policy, beyond tribal parties taking ministries out for a spin.

  • Rory Carr

    …a real political ideal and not just a sectarian register…

    I like the sound of that, St Etienne. From the Tories that means, “We don’t care whether you are Catholic or Protestant, just so long as you are working class we are happy to keep you poor, uneducated and miserable.”

    Equal opportunity for exploitation. Non-sectarian shafting. The Tory way – you know it makes sense.

  • smellybigoxteronye

    I don’t think the “non-nationalist” and “non-unionist” suggestion in this discussion addresses the problem. It still enforces the cringe-inducing and divisive “two communities” idea, rather than enforcing the idea of a single, but diverse, community with respect for all.

  • Henry94


    The idea is to address a problem in the assembly rather than to re-think the whole basis of the institutions and the Agreement.

    The single diverse community with respect for all idea is one I fully support on this little island of ours.