Don’t blame the system, blame yourselves and then get on with it

Is the consociational model – that is, guaranteed power sharing – wrecking the Northern Ireland Assembly or rescuing it? Its critics have long argued that a system specifically designed to force accommodation actually hardens the battle lines and elevates them to unprecedented prominence. As for the political parties, living with the sectarian divide isn’t the problem; it’s rather that they can hardly bear the squeeze of the consociational pincers upon them. It’s all too tempting to blame the system when the answer lies in themselves. Talk of voluntary coalition (strictly a misnomer) and a smaller, more efficient Assembly and Executive is suspended as the parties struggle through the Hillsborough agenda. But if the devolution of Justice is finally settled, will the parties leave the structures well alone in the interests of bedding down in their fragile new relationship? It will be hard to impossible to persuade Sinn Fein that voluntary coalition is more than a dodge to exclude them from power. Even so, the subject could crop up again under pressure of elections, particularly if the polls record increasing unionist fragmentation and a Conservative government is serious about taking it on. An intense argument over the outworking of the power sharing system has been going on in academic circles for years and is worth examining for ideas about how it might perform better in the long run. The main themes are discussed in Consociational Theory: McGarry and O’Leary and the Northern Ireland conflict edited by Rupert Taylor of Queen’s, (Routledge), a snip at over £80 and inaccessible to me in London university libraries, so I rely on extracts and conversation and older versions of the arguments, apart from McGarry and O’Leary’s lengthy rejoinder. No doubt the Queen’s and UU politics departments are buzzing with them. Although the papers I discuss were written from between three months to three years ago, the arguments are still valid with little or no amendment. The indictment comes from Rupert Taylor (Political Quarterly April-June 2006).

The Assembly model condemned

? The Assembly is “ inherently illiberal and fails to lead to a democratic advance”
? STV for elections produced more polarised politics
? The centre parties were destroyed
? Executive irresponsibility was encouraged – viz the IRA was allowed to remain while Sinn Fein took their seats in the first Executive.
? The equality agenda was too much shaped by the unionist-nationalist zero sum game.
? “In consociationalism, contrary to what its supporters believe, cost benefit calculations trump deliberative politics every time,” i.e. party interests and the zero sum game always win over the wider public interest.

No case to answer, say its chief defenders
The rejoinder to Taylor and other critics comes in the book itself from the two most forceful advocates of the model, John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary. They insist on the basic reality of two national identities which are unlikely to assimilate into a common identity anytime soon. They coin the paradox that it often takes an “inflexible and hard” agreement to make accommodation possible. They divide the political environment into accommodationists ( like themselves), and integrationists who live with the illusion that somehow, society will transform itself. Here Robert McCartney’s UKUP and rejectionist republicans make strange bedfellows. Why? Because UKUP (and now presumably the TUV) believe most nationalists are happy enough inside the UK and dissident republicans believe unionism is fundamentally soft and can be overcome. These are illusions. Idealists like Taylor and Robin Wilson who believe in the transforming potential of civil society are likewise mistaken.

Look instead at the consociational record, say the authors. It gave birth to the Agreements. It was not the consociational model but British prevarication over implementing the 1999 Patten policing reforms that was responsible for the delay in IRA decommissioning and dogged the first Assembly. No peace dividend? Nonsense, it brought ten years of peace. Fears of political polarisation, “ do not survive inspection ”; SF and the DUP have moved on to the centre ground and the hankering for a lost middle ground is yesterday’s story. Democratic objections to excluding the “other” are largely dismissed, as the main designations represent 90% of the vote. Yet the divide need not be eternal. The authors believe that if the Assembly endures, a shared Northern Ireland identity is possible in twenty years.

Scrap the designations

In an article published last month in Parliamentary Affairs (not yet on line and subs req’d), Queen’s politics professor Rick Wilford sits above the academic battlefield. If the Assembly functions at all, it’s as much due to the fact that it’s the only show in town rather than its particular consociational architecture. Contrary to Taylor’s emphasis, Wilford commends the close correspondence between voter preferences and the inclusivness of the Executive. At the same time there’s no disguising the Executive’s poor behaviour and record. Parties can behave with total impunity, being in government and opposition at the same time. All negotiations are top down. The committees have failed to show much independence or come up with enough bright ideas, being unwilling to shake loose from the party straitjackets. In his most significant judgement, Wilford does agree (but almost in an aside), that the Alliance party’s marginalisation is wrong and that the designations should be scrapped, in favour of placing reliance on straightforward weighted majority voting.

The moral flaws

In Northern Ireland: the Politics of Entrenchment, (a slim work at only £54.13), Cillian McGrattan, formerly of the UU, now UCD returns to the attack on consociationalism. He argues for the pull of history. The politics of the last atrocity have determined political behaviour at least as much as O’Leary’s supposed ethnic divisions. McGrattan comes close to rejecting power sharing on moral grounds. The Good Friday Agreement produced a moral malaise which allowed republicans to write themselves into the political system as victims and introduced a false pragmatism into the idea of a shared future. His thesis recalls the fierce arguments over the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past. McGrattan differs crucially from O’Leary and McGarry on the fundamental issue of trust. While the latter accept the genuineness of the SF-DUP moves to the centre, McGrattan believes these are only superficial. SF still pursues it road map to Unity while the DUP hankers after a voluntary coalition.

The Assembly’s indifferent record

What are we to make of all this? None of the writers would abandon consociationalism outright . With all its flaws, McGrattan’s mentor the unionist-leaning Professor Henry Patterson supports what he calls “ the stabilising banalities of a functioning Stormont”, whatever its supposed moral deficiencies. Different time scales account for some of the differences of view. Over a 12 year time span, the Assembly has survived. But look closer and it has come near to collapse four times.

Considered generously, it is hardly surprising that the parties have shown a poor grasp of government. For generations they have had no focus for winning power, which is the usual object of a political party. Unionists have had no practice for 38 years and nationalists none ever, apart from four short chaotic months in 1974. The record is probably better than the severest critics suggest, but not much. A peace dividend has surely been won but O’Leary too easily dismisses a rising tide of street violence behind the peace walls, just as McGrattan is wrong to imply that the IRA got away with it unscathed. Nearly 300 were killed and 10,000 imprisoned.

Too late to row back

Wilford’s slipped in suggestion for ending Alliance’s undemocratic exclusion must receive a moral boost if David Ford takes the Justice Ministry. Could that be the pebble that starts an avalanche? The proposal to end designation voting in the Assembly leads inexorably to the crunch point that Hillsborough has only briefly overshadowed. The DUP must rue the day they negotiated away the joint election of the first and deputy first minister in favour of nomination in order of individual party strength. This departure from the consociational principle could cost unionism and the Assembly as a whole dear. After the next Assembly election, unionism could be faced with unpalatable choices of trying to patch up unionist unity out of a three way split (now further away than ever, it seems) ; swallowing a SF first minister; or plunging the Assembly into an even more intractable crisis. Sinn Fein is unlikely to be selfless enough to avert a new confrontation, nor is anyone else likely to spot a get out of jail bargaining chip to avert it. Unionism as a whole faces a bout of intense self questioning over whether to take the symbolic hit of a Sinn Fein First Minister, in order to save the Assembly.

Change behaviour and learn the arts of government

In the present volatile state of politics, it is surely unwise to attempt structural reform. More constructively, we should look for a change of behaviour as a result of recent traumas. We can accept that arcane disputes over the Irish language and loyalist parades are the tip of an iceberg of fear that one side will somehow dominate the other. Yet after Hillsborough, it may have dawned on the DUP and Sinn Fein that after winning primacy in their respective camps, it benefits them little to take their pet projects right to the brink.

Their sense of impunity may vanish if they are faced with the unpredictable consequences of a declining vote. Public pressure however unfocused may be sufficient to prise them away from the signature issues towards the problems of real life which, truth to tell, many of them find boring compared to the poetry of identity politics. But government is not entirely written in prose. How for instance should each party calibrate its approach to a divided polity: separate but equal, a shared future, reconciliation? Lacking experience of government, they leap from vision to local politics with little in the way of policies in between.

If they were to adopt problem solving techniques to the toxic issues they would find themselves building a better platform of stability. An ideal subject would the school transfer deadlock – a cross community problem where grammar schools on both sides of the divide are in a people’s revolt against an impotent Executive – tailor made for a collegial approach.

Many will not share Brendan O’Leary’s grim relish for the durable nature of the divide. He himself admits the need for flexibility. But for as long as the parties hold to a system of mutual veto, a voluntary coalition won’t fly. If confidence grows, the traditional identities may become less defining. There is public longing for a lot of accommodation and more than a little transformation. If that happens, the consociational model will be standing there, waiting to take the credit.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    The problem is we have a rigid system, with rigid parties in control of it.

    We can wait for those rigid parties to change.

    Or we can change the system.

    Unfortunately their control of the system prevents any changes to it.

    So we wait for those rigid parties to change.

    The rest is sophistry.

  • Henry94

    Truly voluntary coalition means a unionist government. They have the seats. As nobody believes that’s a sane idea what people want is any device that would deliver a unionist/SDLP government with SF excluded.

    In other words the unionist would pick the unionist part of the government and they would also pick the nationalist part.

    It’s an idea whose time came and went in 1973 and it really should be put out of its misery.

    Of course that doesn’t mean there is no room for reform. If opposition is not catered for in the makeup of the executive then the party whip system is unnecessary and stifles the Assembly from holding the Executive to account.

    I suggest that the Assembly should allow for secret ballots on issues requiring cross community decisions.. You could have orange slips and green slips to count the designations but the parties would not have control over their members votes. You might see issues being resolved a lot quicker as common sense might start t creep in.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Unlike Mr Walker….I like the system.
    Unlike Mr Walker….I live here

  • joeCanuck

    The system will change when people (yes, mainly “nationalists”) are comfortable that discrimination in every field has been consigned to history (apart from the “normal” it’s who you know).
    That will take a couple of generations, probably, with a lot of give and take along the way.

  • granni trixie

    In 1995 de Clerk said that what had made the difference in S Africa was that there was the politcal will to get round problems – the absense of will to get round them made the probs seem intractible.

    Leaving aside the current (violent) state of S Aftica, I think his point still holds for NI – we have made our problems seem more important than they warrant. I still have hopes that Robbo and Martin have the will necessary to get round them.

    I sincerely hope that the Conservatives will not make matters worse here – they do not even seem aware they could be bolstering sectrarian forces here – do they not know that getting to this stage has been a lifetime of hard effort?

    Trimble on Question time managed to get in a few plugs for the Conservatives – it occured to me that it is probably his analysis to Camerons elites that is leading them up the garden path….again…(have they not read JOnathan Powells account of what went on during T’s watch?). (note Tories adverts on Slugger – you must really need the dosh Mick).

    That said, am v. cheered by by Rick Wilford’s postive vierw of Alliance, especially as I usually find his analysis so sound.

  • Turgon

    joeCanuck,

    I do have to point out that there remains one very specific form of discrimination in employment. If you and I both applied to join the PSNI (unlikely I know we are both a bit old): the simple fact is that you would have a higher chance of being accepted because there is a specific legislated for discrimination in favour of Catholics and against all non Catholics.

    Now there may be good reasons for that but it is a simple fact and is legal.

  • granni trixie

    Yes, Turgon and from memory a weakness in the Patton proposals was that despite pointing out that women were under-represented, contributing to a militaristic culture, no such action was recommended to rectify the imbalance.

  • joeCanuck

    Yes, Turgon, I understand that.
    But you do me a dishonour; I think you know that I am not a Catholic.

  • Turgon

    joe,
    Yes but did you not go to a Catholic school? I think in Northern Ireland land that makes you a Catholic whatever you actually are. Maybe not for the PSNI though I agree as Polish Catholics are Catholics in PSNI terms: something Martina Anderson got very annoyed about at one stage.

    Incidentally in PSNI land does an ardent republican atheist equal a non Catholic whereas an ex army English Catholic equal a Catholic? I am not sure but I have a feeling that is the wonderful legacy of Patten.

  • joeCanuck

    Well, not dishonour, disservice.

  • Turgon

    joe,
    Sorry if any offence. Not that religion or lack thereof is a disservice but my apologies anyway.

    Though to be fair I for one am well pleased that there are now a lot more Catholics in the PSNI: though more Chinese and other ethnic minorities would not go amiss. I was in London this week and saw lots of Asian police officers which is an excellent thing. The police should represent society but I do not like institutionalised sectarianism as we now have in the police.

    In addition the Catholics in the RUC issue although not solely because of it was not unrelated to the IRA’s fondness for murdering Catholic police officers and intimidating them and their families.

  • joeCanuck

    It’s awfully complicated, Turgon (you also know I am not an ardent republican).
    We have had something similar over here; affirmative action. I have to confess that it made me very ambivalent. Ideally, people should be picked solely on merit but I had/have some sympathy with affirmative action if it meant simply picking people from different backgrounds in proportion to their percentage of applicants. I have more trouble with allocating a fixed percentage of successful applicants.
    Am I a fence sitter or whatever?
    Finally, you caught me out; I’m a Catholic atheist.

  • joeCanuck

    Should have added “percentage of applicants who meet the minimum requirements for the position..”

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    How about the biggest Unionist party and the biggest Republican/Nationalist party form the executive (If they had the old 50% +1)

    Then you should have an opposition in republicanism/nationalism and Unionism.

    Mind you with the Unionist parties getting involved in a menage á trois with the Orange Order it might be hard to find out who is top dog at that orgy.

  • PaddyReilly

    Truly voluntary coalition means a unionist government

    At the moment this is true; 50% of the seats in Stormont are held by Unionists and one by a Loyalist. So all that is needed is for the Unionist camp to lose two seats and voluntary coalition will be possible, as a majority of the seats in Stormont will be held by parties which believe in power sharing and do not have any issues with office sharing with Sinn Féin.

    When this happens it will be possible to abandon consociationalism and have a voluntary coalition. For how this works, see Belfast Council.

    It could be argued that Alliance is a unionist party with a small ‘u’, but it could equally be argued, as I’m sure Alias/Dave would do, that the SDLP and Sinn Féin are also unionist parties with a small ‘u’, having signed up for the GFA. So there is no problem.

    If this happens it seems to me that the TUV, as recently defined by Jim Allister, will be left without a purpose. The TUV idea is that they can put an end to mandatory power-sharing and thus kick Sinn Féin out of government. But if the mandatory bit is abolished and there is still a power-sharing majority, what will they have achieved?

    I suppose really the answer is positions for themselves, which after all is all that any politician is seeking. The DUP defeats the UUP by pretending that they’re going to make a difference, and the TUV defeats the DUP by the same pretence. The ultimate destination of a TUV politician is a career in a coalition government in Leinster House.

  • Thanks for the very detailed analysis, Brian.

    Lots to ponder but the one thing that caught my eye was this:

    “Yet the divide need not be eternal. The authors believe that if the Assembly endures, a shared Northern Ireland identity is possible in twenty years.”

    As a nationalist, I try to be positive about NI but I don’t believe in two hundred years that a shared NI identity is possible. There’ll be an accommodation but not a single identity. The two cultures get their strength from their differences, not from their similarities (if any). Holding hands across the divide is a nice idea but not grounded in the reality on the ground. The shared identity in NI in the future will be a two-headed creature.

  • Reader

    Turgon: Yes but did you not go to a Catholic school? I think in Northern Ireland land that makes you a Catholic whatever you actually are.
    If you refuse to self-designate during a job application, your school is the decider. Except for the Police! Number 2 son goes to a Catholic school, and would like to join the police, but he’s officially a Prod for that purpose.

  • David Crookes

    Brian, let me warmly second N.Exile’s vote of thanks.

    One irrational number may help to save the whole unbalanced equation: good will. In the absence of economic chaos, even the Weimar constitution (which on paper was a great deal closer to perfection than the GFA) might have bedded down and worked. The notionally equitable constitution of Lebanon broke down mostly because of outside pressures, but the present problems of Northern Ireland come from the ungenial pigeons who roost in her own loft. Too many of them are too old for the game. We need fresh young politicians like Jo-anne Dobson who will not define themselves in terms of the troubles. We need literate economists, green-minded architects, and not too many lawyers. What we’re getting at the moment is a mixture of Dad’s Army and the Woodentops.

  • granni trixie

    Why the unfair prejudice against lawyers? If its on the basis that the present lot are MLAs surely that is not the case?

  • granni trixie

    Plus – there is lack of official recognition for you if you do not identify with nationalist or unionist camps. That is a change I would like to see.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, granni trixie, but how can you construe the words ‘not too many’ as connoting ‘unfair prejudice’? Do you believe that we can’t have too many lawyers in Stormont? What I’m concerned to avoid is the situation which presently obtains in Westminster, where one in every eight MPs is a lawyer. ‘Oh, but we need lawyers to make laws,’ someone will cry. Very good. Say the FM and dFM propose that it would be a good thing to get rid of fatuous litigation. How will a large power-block of lawyers in our legislative assembly react to that proposal? Will they use their expertise to militate against the proposal? I don’t know: but I think it’s wise not to have too many members of ANY group in a legislative assembly. So let us have not too many builders, doctors, teachers, lawyers, farmers, or members of the Theosophical Society. Maybe you’ll be kind enough to acquit me of unfair prejudice.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Joe,

    But you do me a dishonour; I think you know that I am not a Catholic.

    Surely you are not so new here as to think that your own opinion of what your religion is doesn’t count. If the neighbourhood bigots think you’re a Catholic, then that’s what you are.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Paddy:

    At the moment this is true; 50% of the seats in Stormont are held by Unionists and one by a Loyalist. So all that is needed is for the Unionist camp to lose two seats and voluntary coalition will be possible, as a majority of the seats in Stormont will be held by parties which believe in power sharing and do not have any issues with office sharing with Sinn Féin.

    Paddy, I think it’s more accurate to say that just over 50% of the seats are designated unionist. This is why a weighted majority voluntary coalition would be essential.

    I have a lot of issues with office sharing with Sinn Fein, the principle one being that they are terrible at government. They should be ejected from office on the basis of their transfer mess alone. Likewise, when it comes to the unionists, I find the nutty creationist homophobia bent a lot of them have to be intolerable. Of course, negotiations to create voluntary coalition would create an opportunity to resolve these things.

    If this happens it seems to me that the TUV, as recently defined by Jim Allister, will be left without a purpose.

    The TUV is nothing other than a sink party for wreckers and people who think that loyalist paramilitaries shouldn’t be in jail. That’s what their purpose is, this stuff about voluntary coalition is a sideshow.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Very interesting post Brian.

    I would say that the tension between structural change and party change will inevitably continue due to the self-interest of certain politicians. If your initial reason for becoming involved was to stop discrimination against Catholics, that by no means indicates that you oppose discrimination against women, let alone that you are a good person to make digital economy policy.

    Pete’s point is incorrect. Both SF and the DUP are constantly trying to change the system. This is because of a lack of confidence in the results of normal politics.

    If you feel more comfortable on the old ground of constitutional debate, you are more likely to steer the activity of the Assembly in that direction, even where it shouldn’t be relevant. This can be seen in the education debate which Brian is right to highlight. The debate internationally is founded on how results compare country by country and what leads to those differences. Finland requires a specific Masters to teach and produces the best results – given the abundance of unemployed graduates, this could be a good short-term measure for NI.

    But our MLAs are reluctant to take this approach – partly because of sheer incompetence and partly electoral fear. The latter is what will provoke change – people’s calls for normal politics and disgust at the Hillsborough stand-off are indicative of this.

    Consociationalism is inherently sectarian, balanced by forcing opposing sides to work together on other issues. In that sense, the exclusion of the centre parties is its logical conclusion, but if those centre parties prove better at dealing with non-constitutional issues, they will recover.

    NI has been relatively at peace for over a decade, but its politics have not changed so dramatically. Natural change through retirement will feature heavily in the next decade, so if parties are led by confident people of vision, the replacements should help. Voters have a certain responsibility.

    The model is not wrong, but it is open to abuse by constitutional obsession. The best remedy is to sanction abuse, in elections and opinion polling, and to incentivise good performance in normal politics. I’d cite Dawn Purvis as an example.

    I would say that, barring external interference, another ten years will embed normality sufficiently for a return to the old conflict to be unsustainable. Though that does not preclude a new kind of conflict.

  • David Crookes

    Damian, in #24 you say, ‘I’d cite Dawn Purvis as an example.’ Yes, indeed. A wise old church elder said in my hearing more than forty years ago that there were three sorts of people: the helpers, the yelpers, and the skelpers. Dawn is one of the helpers. Once some of our young people get into Stormont and start working as helpers, we’ll be able to put the gerontocracy out to grass.

  • PaddyReilly

    Paddy, I think it’s more accurate to say that just over 50% of the seats are designated unionist. This is why a weighted majority voluntary coalition would be essential.

    Not sure what this is meant to mean. The current designation of the occupants of 50% + 1 of the seats is Unionist, I suppose. But would this survive an election, even if one were held tomorrow? There has been a redrawing of the constituencies in the meantime. They only need to lose two, and their game is up. I could tell you which two they are going to lose, but I would be repeating myself.

    I have a lot of issues with office sharing with Sinn Fein, the principle one being that they are terrible at government. They should be ejected from office

    Unsurprisingly, Alliance apparatchiks have a tremendously inflated belief in their own worth and the incompetence of their opponents. Fortunately, that belief is not shared by the electorate, so they would not be in a position to eject anyone. Even if they got the UUP and SDLP on their side, they wouldn’t have the votes to survive.

    The choice is between a mandatory coalition where only the extremes are represented and a voluntary one where all parties are represented, should they wish to participate. The numbers do not exist for a Centre Fascist coalition.

    Stormont is mostly about representing the electorate and office holding, there isn’t a lot of governing going on.

    I find the nutty creationist homophobia bent a lot of them have to be intolerable

    Homophobia, like homophilia, is a point of view people are entitled to hold, provided they confine their actions to what is legal. The laws in this matter are made in Westminster, and any local permutations would not pass through lack of votes. As I say, there isn’t a lot of governing going on Stormont. Creationism is a personal belief which does not impinge on government, except slightly on Education. But I don’t think it really matters if children are taught this sort of thing in (Protestant) schools, I don’t suppose they will Adam and Eve it.

    Altogether, I think you have to realise that Stormont is not about allowing Alliance and political correctness to conquer Ireland, the Moon and the Outer Planets: it’s about achieving consensus. The governed have to consent to the existence of the state before the state can effectively govern them.

  • Cynic2

    ” a weakness in the Patton proposals was that despite pointing out that women were under-represented, contributing to a militaristic culture, ”

    Really. Can you point me to where Patten said that?

  • David Crookes

    Well said, Paddy Reilly. We don’t want any creatiophobes around here.

    What you say about the Alliance Party is true. Leaving aside its supercilious attitude to the rough boys and girls of tribal life, the AP is not helped by having a leader who recently declared himself to be agnostic about the union. Rather like a supplier of tractors who doesn’t know if he really believes in agriculture.

    The whole thing is about achieving consensus, as you say.

  • BryanS

    Stalin I think you misrepresent Allister when you say his purpose is to keep loyalist paramilitaries out of jail. I suspect he believes both lots should have stayed in jail for a verylong time.

  • granni trixie

    Cynic: I am pretty sure Patton pointed out the low numbers of women (as this was/is indeed the case), but the point about militaristic culture is my own analysis. I used to do a job in the 90s which brought me in contact with RUC. You would go into a room, I would be one of the few women and could feel the male cultre (I’m an anthropologist, so I would woulnt I).
    I would also say everyone felt constrained by invisible army like rules (yes sir,no sir 3 bags full sir).

    Although you may say it is sexist to think that part of the change needed is to feminise what was then a ‘force, I believe that a more representative leavening of women would have positive effect on the largely male culture. How can a diverse workforce rep of NI be achievced if half the population is so under represented ?

    Looking at what lay behind my remark, I thought it odd that having 50:50 to effect change re Protestant-Catholic, Patton suggested no measures to rectify the male-female imbalance.

    BTW,personally I do not tend to supoport 50:50 but have listened to some people who are very convincing as to its necessity of the P&C balance were to be achieved this century.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Paddy:

    Unsurprisingly, Alliance apparatchiks have a tremendously inflated belief in their own worth and the incompetence of their opponents. Fortunately, that belief is not shared by the electorate, so they would not be in a position to eject anyone. Even if they got the UUP and SDLP on their side, they wouldn’t have the votes to survive.

    Alliance already has all the other parties on it’s side with respect to the issue of academic selection. The only party which is out in the cold is SF. Like I said, that alone would be good enough reason for their ejection from the executive.

    When it comes to competency, I’d say the DUP and SDLP are the best in the executive, in that order. I’d put most of the Alliance assembly group in the same category.

    Stormont is mostly about representing the electorate and office holding, there isn’t a lot of governing going on.

    A problem which flows substantially from mandatory coalition, and a problem which needs to be fixed.

    David Crookes:

    What you say about the Alliance Party is true. Leaving aside its supercilious attitude to the rough boys and girls of tribal life, the AP is not helped by having a leader who recently declared himself to be agnostic about the union. Rather like a supplier of tractors who doesn’t know if he really believes in agriculture.

    No, it’s like a tractor supplier who doesn’t know whether the Volkswagen is any good or not.

    We’re already all agreed that you will have your chance to say whether you support the union or not on referendum day. In the meantime, what’s the point in voting on it ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Bryan:

    Stalin I think you misrepresent Allister when you say his purpose is to keep loyalist paramilitaries out of jail. I suspect he believes both lots should have stayed in jail for a verylong time.

    He might do, but there are other people in his party do not. And given that the TUV membership form requires prospective members to agree to uphold TUV principles, Allister’s failure to eject those members from his party speak volumes.

  • DerTer

    Brian
    Excellent post, and deserves serious contemplation – and we’ll undoubtedly hear more and more critical analysis of the consociational model. In the meantime, what hit me between the eyes more forcefully than ever in the middle of reading all the responses, was that nobody was attempting to persuade anyone else ‘across the divide’ to change his/her mind or even modify his/her position. Isn’t that part of the problem – that there is absolutely no incentive under the present arrangement to attempt to convince the ‘other side’ that your own case is right or that theirs is wrong?

  • DerTer

    Sorry for the missing apostrophe – pedant that I am!

  • PaddyReilly

    I do not have any mandate to speak for the SDLP, but I think I can put their position as follows.

    1) We will, on occasion, perhaps on many occasions, side with all the other parties against Sinn Féin, if their position on any particular issue is unreasonable or wrong-headed.
    2) We will not under any circumstances co-operate in a policy of excluding SF from office. We reserve the right to side with them on numerous other issues. All opinions must be represented.

    Imagine that you are a boy at a school which is mixed. There are rough Catholics, quiet Catholics, a Chinese boy, quiet Protestants and rough Protestants.

    You are a quiet Catholic. You may on occasions be pleased that the rough Catholics are told to pipe down, but you will not be pleased if they are all expelled. The rough Protestants would use the situation to hammer you.