Will the parties now start putting the public interest first?

The expected appointment of Alliance party leader David Ford as Justice minister will speak volumes for the Assembly’s need to step outside its sectarian boxes.The DUP and SF had the sense to realise they cancelled each other out. But high mindedness was stretched only so far. The often despised little “other” had its uses after all. One of them was to deny the job to the leading parties’ communal rivals. Adds At the SDLP conference Margaret Ritchie denounced Ford’s likely nomination as “a violation of democracy” because D’Hondt wasn’t rolled. She added her own not particularly democratic objection that “SF had acquiesced in the appointment of a non-nationalist round the Executive table. That is wrong.” (see more on the SDLP below the fold) Even so the SDLP although aggrieved at being denied Justice should pocket its pride and the UUP should stop sulking. The minor parties have a window of opportunity to score over the next few weeks. Ford is using his leverage to advance the Shared Future agenda the main parties have sidelined. Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie ( as new SDLP leader?) have a real chance to take the lead in charting a new direction for Executive delivery. It would help if the minor parties working party on school transfer came up with a solution for breaking that deadlock. That would be one big real test of their effectiveness. Another would be to set a timetable for totemic issue of an Irish Language Act. ( I suggest bringing on the Welsh before the OFDFM Committee ) One way or another. the fragile new mood will be put to the test over the next hectic few weeks. But expectations shouldn’t be raised too high. The minor parties shouldn’t overbid. Even with Ford in the frame as a minister with full powers they’re still outvoted two to one. This is the least likely time to expect reform of the Assembly, just when the leading parties are congratulating themselves for saving it. You can forget “voluntary coalition,” a smaller executive and even the end of designations for quite some time.

A great deal will rest on the shoulders of Robinson and McGuinness personally. On efficiency grounds alone they should reduce the size of their duplicate government in the OFDFM and begin to rely on the Executive collegiality they claim to have strengthened at St Andrews.

In the Assembly, structures and procedures could ride to the rescue to deal with seemingly intractable issues. That’s what they’re for. The parties should exploit them. NI Assembly committees have the right of initiating legislation themselves, a procedure regarded as advanced by constitutional experts. If the party grip on committees were eased and they functioned more as hoped, they would break down problems into manageable proportions and take an independent, sometimes cross community line. Voting by simple majority when issues are detoxified might become possible. Party leaders might see some advantage in this to head off problems from reaching crisis point.

There are plenty of elephant traps in the Justice portfolio that will test the minister’s skills and the Executive’s cohesion. The programme of penal reform won’t please everyone and a decision has to be taken by the end of the year on whether to renew 50:50 police recruitment. If only they can settle on a parades regime a powerful precedent will have been set for agreeing outcomes.

Update Judging from the BBC’s coverage of the SDLP leadership speeches ( see start of videostream) I only got a glimmer of an answer to the killer question: what is the SDLP for? Alasdair McDonnell tried blatantly to flatter the grass roots with a limp anedote about a young woman candidate telling him she wouldn’t vote for him until she was convinced he was telling the truth.” But the truth about what Alasdair? You never told us. Both he and Margaret Ritchie would have “taken it slower” than Caitriona Ruane in trying to end 11 plus selection, but in what direction? Margaret’s Big Idea here is to get the Executive to discuss the transfer deadlock. It’s hardly earth shattering but it may now stand a chance of success if she puts it to the Empey-Ritchie working party. Just how cobbled together that was, was plain from her understandable anger at not being consulted about it in advance: ” It would have been only good manners.. Now they want us to clear up the mess they have created.” Well ok Margaret but there could be quite a lot in it for the SDLP. Right at the end of her interview with Jim Fitzpatrick she surprised me by producing the hint of an SDLP unique selling point on the “development of a vision.”

“We have principled differences on the economy and on a shared society and we are credible on Unity.”

The SDLP’s shared society vs SF’s separate but equal?” Those red lines drawn some time ago I believe by the outgoing Mark Durkan could have credibility if the SDLP took the trouble to flesh out the fine words into something like a political strategy. On the basis of the TV clips, my vote would go to Margaret but without overwhelming enthusiasm.

  • I’m sure you noticed the notable absence of any mention of the Irish language from the final document. This is supposed to indicate progress has been made?

    As much as I dislike the irish language being used as a poltiical football in negotiations between parties on the opposite sides of a sectarian fence, I abhor ‘under the table’/uisce faoi thalamh deals in which the Irish language is made so grubby it’s not fit to be shown in public [according to the deal makers].

    Treat our language with respect and politicians on both sides will be treated with respect. [The ‘our’ refers to everyone as I believe the Irish language is part of our common shared heritage – if politicians abuse it, they abuse our heritage and they don’t deserve our respect].

  • FitzjamesHorse

    More Creative Ambiguity. The Rock on which the whole flawed process is built and the Rock on which it will fail.
    The GFA was supposed to be the mechanism that brought the DUP & SF-IRA to heel so I cam understand the chagrin of the Great and the Good that it has become the mechanism that has actually put the extremes in charge.A little straight talking and Integrity is probably too much to ask for but at least it beats the alternative.

  • GavBelfast

    Never expect anything substantial to come from a Fudge.

    Still, the process continues.

    Until the next time.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    As the PSNI membership have to declare whether they are members of the Orange Order or Freemasons, I presume that this declaration would also be required of the Minister For Justice and his senior civil servants.

  • Framer

    David Ford will only have a limited time (18 months?) as Minister of Justice until the legislative axe falls and his appointment has to be given to another under the D’Hondt voting system.

    Anyway OFM & DFM have just got retrospective power (uniquely for a departmental minister) to overturn his decisions.

    One way and another, devolution of P&J after St Andrews has ensured a Sinn Fein nominee will be the second Minister in charge of the police and judiciary.

  • LabourNIman

    FitzjamesHorse – what does the freemasons have to do with anything?

  • Sammy Morse

    As the PSNI membership have to declare whether they are members of the Orange Order or Freemasons, I presume that this declaration would also be required of the Minister For Justice and his senior civil servants.

    Where did that come from?

  • Framer

    And membership of the IRA?

  • David Crookes

    Conchubar, anyone who abuses the Irish language while knowing nothing about it is like a tone-deaf person who wishes that everyone would stop talking about music. It may help unionists to lose their fear of the Irish language if the whole question is broadened or even internationalized. Here’s what I mean. Set up a committee of MLAs to hear testimony from anti-linguicide members of the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the maybe-soon-to-be-established Cornish Assembly, the House of Keys, and the Dail. Invite a number of interested Breton politicians to come over and testify as well.

    We actually need a centre for the nourishment of all six Celtic languages (Irish, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Cornish, Manx, and Breton). Such a centre might be genial enough to spread its wings over Ulster Scots.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Morse,Labour NI Man

    I make the point that Orde stated. that PSNI members of the Freemasons should declare their membership. I do not comment that this is good or bad. Merely that it has been stated.
    In the interests of fairness, it would appear to be only right that any minister responsible for Policing should be so required.
    Perhaps Mr morse and labourNI man belive our police should be traeted differently from those who supervise them.
    Framer,
    yes indeed if our Minister for Justice is a member of the IRA, I think we should be told.

  • Cynic2

    Brian

    This is not a sign of a non sectarian approach. Quite the reverse. Sectarianism ios so engrained that neither side wants the SDLP to hold the post (as they should under d’Hondt). Its a sectarian carve up

  • iluvni

    If Ritchie is nominated as a potential P&J minister, and Sir Reg and his party supported her nomination, what would happen?

    Can that happen? I havent a clue. Anyone know.

  • Cynic2

    As I understand it any MLA can nominate. Its then down to a vote

  • joeCanuck

    Correct Cynic2. And I think that Ritchie has somehow already been nominated or, at least, SDLP have said that she will be.

  • Comrade Stalin

    David,

    Conchubar, anyone who abuses the Irish language while knowing nothing about it is like a tone-deaf person who wishes that everyone would stop talking about music.

    It’s a bit of a red herring, that. We’re not talking about “abusing” the language. Conchubar and his fellow travellers want an Irish Language Act which will presumably make bilingualism a legal requirement within the government, as is the case in the RoI.

  • Comrade Stalin

    If Ritchie is nominated as a potential P&J minister, and Sir Reg and his party supported her nomination, what would happen?

    Can that happen? I havent a clue. Anyone know.

    SF and the DUP would block it. Due to the voting system which is organized along sectarian blocs, the only parties which are relevant (sadly) in the assembly are the DUP and SF who between them decides what happens and what doesn’t.

  • Driftwood

    Will David Ford (for presumably he will be ‘given’ the post)actually have any real power. ie extend the 1967 abortion act to here?

    Another difficulty, should an SF member ever get the job, is that I assume they will be in control of the Army garrison here, that’ll go down well with the squaddies.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Will David Ford (for presumably he will be ‘given’ the post)actually have any real power. ie extend the 1967 abortion act to here?

    You are aware of the basic functioning of the Westminster system ? You know, the part about how it is parliament, not ministers, that makes legislation ?

    Another difficulty, should an SF member ever get the job, is that I assume they will be in control of the Army garrison here, that’ll go down well with the squaddies.

    You’re also not aware of the delineation between justice powers and the military ?

    To think you call yourself an integrationist.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Will the new PJ minister have a say in the retention of 50/50 recruitment of police officers?

    As the sdlp are in favour of discrimanation against protestant applicants then they don’t deserve the post.

  • Framer

    50/50 was an exemption ratified by the EU in the Nice Treaty at the UK’s request – the first and only one for reverse discrimination in Europe.

    The iron law of the Irish exception was also invoked to preserve the exemption from fair employment law of school teachers’ appointments in NI.

    Mandelson argued that was to preserve ‘good community relations’.

    I kid you not.

  • Kevsterino

    As I understand it, the 50/50 recruitment ends when a 30% threshold of Catholic policemen is reached. What is wrong with that?

  • Scaramoosh

    Interesting article on the ethnic tribunes and their potentialities;

    “Ethnic out-bidding models correctly suggest that democratic stability is much more difficult to achieve in divided societies with fully mobilised ethnic party systems. But they are not correct when they predict that ethnic party systems inevitably lead to perpetual extremist outbidding leading to inevitable democratic collapse. We argue that the incentives of powersharing institutions combined with Downsian vote-seeking motivations can encourage the development of electoral strategies based on ‘ethnic tribune appeals’, where parties combine robust ethnic identity representation with increased pragmatism over political resource allocation. We test these arguments in Northern Ireland and show that though evidence of direct vote-switching from moderate parties to ostensibly ‘extreme’ parties is prima facie consistent with the outbidding thesis, attitudinal convergence between the nationalist and unionist communities on the main political issues is not. The recent success of the DUP and Sinn Féin can instead be explained by these parties’ increased moderation in combination with their ‘tribune’ appeals.”

    http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/25489/

  • Comrade Stalin

    Alan,

    I 100% agree. Alex Attwood is basically saying “the police can’t be acceptable if it has too many Prods in it” which is nakedly sectarian. It’s the oversight on the PSNI, and the cross community support for it, which makes it the service that enjoys cross-community support, not the sordid sectarian headcount insisted upon by the SDLP.

    kevsterino:

    As I understand it, the 50/50 recruitment ends when a 30% threshold of Catholic policemen is reached. What is wrong with that?

    Where’d you hear that ?

  • Lionel Hutz

    If there was a 44% catholic quota, I’m not sure it can be said to directly discriminate against Protestants.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Lionel,

    Several problems with that :

    (1) NI isn’t 44% Catholic or 56% Protestant.
    (2) People should be selected on merit, not on the basis of their religion.

  • LabourNIman

    Comrade Stalin – with you 100% on what your saying.

  • st etienne

    “The often despised little “other” had its uses after all. One of them was to deny the job to the leading parties’ communal rivals.”

    …and so Alliance help prop up the sectarian status quo.

    I’m sure it’ll make for riveting after dinner conversation though.