Time for the DUP and UUP to think the unthinkable?

The stated policy of all the unionist parties is to move from the current status of mandatory coalition under D’Hondt to one of voluntary coalition. There are perceived to be enormous advantages to having a more normalised system of government with proper power sharing within the confines of a cabinet with collective responsibility. Collective responsibility is almost impossible to ensure with the current system as there is no real disincentive for a party to disagree with its coalition partners as those partners cannot, short of collapsing the whole agreement, take any major sanction against the party which is failing to abide by collective responsibility.

The only way for solo runs to be minimised (though by no means prevented) is for the parties to have mutual interlocking vetoes. This cumbersome system is essential to keep the whole system going yet it also prevents any form of genuine progress within government here and preserves as in aspic the current animosities, forever played out within the confines of one of the most dysfunctional governments imaginable. This state of affairs may be acceptable to some but as noted above all three unionist parties have proclaimed a wish eventually to move towards voluntary coalition.

The TUV propose achieving this by collapsing the whole agreement and renegotiating a new one. The DUP (and CUs) on the other hand have not agreed to this strategy and seem somewhat unclear on how to achieve this. Taking them at their own logic, however, there is a possible mechanism by which voluntary coalition could be achieved: with Sinn Fein as their coalition partner.
I have discussed Voluntary Coalition previously but briefly to recap:

If we had voluntary coalition and collective responsibility it would then be the responsibility of the governmental parties to bring forward a common agreed programme for government: something which has been far from true thus far. Fudging important issues and ignoring them would become much more difficult, and if they were fudged, the prospect of defeat at a further election would face the governmental parties. Hence, decisions on these issues could not be kicked into the long grass: yet the issues themselves used as sticks to beat the other party in government; as they are now.

As an example there would have to be a proper compromise over academic selection. That compromise very probably would not be entirely to the liking of Catriona Ruane and she would have to accept the compromise or be replaced. Equally, however, it would be most unlikely to be exactly what Mervyn Storey wants either. Furthermore it would mean that elected politicians would be making the decisions rather than as now, where Boards of Governors and the like are de facto made into the decision makers simply because no one else will organise a proper system.

If a compromise on academic selection would be likely to be more in keeping with the wishes of the unionist parties than the current stated (and completely flouted) Department of Education position there are other areas where nationalism might expect to gain. Nationalists could make progress on the Irish Language Act a precondition of entering into government.

There are of course enormous problems with voluntary coalition and most specifically persuading nationalists and republicans to enter into any such arrangement. Voluntary coalition cannot simply be seen by unionists as a panacea unless nationalists are prepared to play the roll of collective Uncle Tom’s: something which would automatically consign the nationalist party in question to political oblivion at the next election.

Furthermore Sinn Fein have tended to view any and all suggestions regarding voluntary coalition as devices to keep them out of government. Whatever the benefits of voluntary coalition they ring extremely hollow for Sinn Fein as they always sound like a tactic to remove their hands from the levers of power in Northern Ireland.

The TUV have clearly stated that they would not be willing to enter into power sharing with Sinn Fein and as such their view of voluntary coalition does not involve Sinn Fein unless they (the TUV) are outside that government. However, the other two unionist parties have entered into power sharing though mandatory coalition. It might now be time, if the DUP or UUP are serious about trying to change the system, to propose voluntary coalition and explicitly state that they would go into such a voluntary coalition with Sinn Fein for at least a certain period. Such a move might reassure republicans that unionist demands for voluntary coalition are not simply a more sophisticated variation on the “No republicans about the place” or even “No fenians about the place” mantra which unionists are often accused of secretly harbouring.

Such a change might well lead to better government as it might then allow for a proper cabinet government to emerge. In addition it would also likely produce a real opposition with potentially a UUP and SDLP (and after the next election TUV) in genuine opposition rather than their current semi detached status. Such a period of opposition might even help the UUP and SDLP to produce a credible strategy for regaining their previous places as the lead parties in their respective communities or even if (by chance) the CU project works producing a real cross community party which could move beyond the current confines of the designation system.

Since the DUP and UUP have demonstrated by their actions that they are not in principle opposed to Sinn Fein in government it would at least be honest to state publicly that they would accept Sinn Fein as partners in a voluntary coalition. Such a position would then at least potentially allow for a more efficient form of government.

There are clearly potential problems: Sinn Fein might not accept the bone fides of the unionist party(ies) in question. Hence, some sort of system might have to be devised to ensure that at least for a time Sinn Fein could not be involuntarily removed from the executive.

Furthermore if the DUP be willing to enter into voluntary coalition with Sinn Fein would face the wrath of the TUV and probably the UUP for so doing. Whilst the TUV opposition would be legitimate, that of the UUP would seem somewhat more synthetic seeing as they had previously been in mandatory coalition with SF. Sinn Fein might of course be unwilling to play ball with this in view of their oft stated proclamation that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity. However, if a unionist party stated that it demanded voluntary coalition and would share power with Sinn Fein, the lure of power might be too much to resist, coupled as it would be with a further opportunity for Sinn Fein to gain power and respectability which might help it in the Republic of Ireland.

These options are complex and extremely high risk for the unionist party in question. However, in principle the DUP and UUP have accepted the idea of remaining in government themselves with Sinn Fein. Hence, to use the cloak of mandatory coalition as a veneer to hide their willingness to be in power sharing with Sinn Fein is somewhat disingenuous. If they truly believe that voluntary coalition devolution is the way forward for Northern Ireland it is possibly time for one or both of them to at least propose putting their policy where their mouth is. Whilst the TUV would clearly oppose them at least their honesty would have to be noted.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The TUV propose achieving this by collapsing the whole agreement and renegotiating a new one.

    With whom ?

  • bigchiefally

    The current system is a terrible one.

    2 parties can basically stop any law, any time they want. Neither has close to 50% of the votes.

    I think with our history here we do need some sort of mandatory inclusion but why do we need 50% of both “sides” to get anything done?

    Surely a better idea would be an overall majority and a sizeable minority, say 25%-35%, from either community.

    At least that way there would be no one party who could threaten to bring the whole thing down anytime they dont get their own way, plus no one could say that unionists/nationalists views are being ignored.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Why don’t we just simplify things as a first step and have a madatory coalition beween the two largest parties from largest groupings and then have all the other parties in opposition.

    The opposition parties could then have funding as at Westminister.

    Hmm… that is not far off what we have at the moment.

  • Turgon,

    I agree in principle but tampering with a mechanism which has delivered relative peace will not be countenanced by either government so soon after the ending of communal violence and to reuse a recently misused phrase not, however in a political liftime.

  • The Raven

    “Furthermore it would mean that elected politicians would be making the decisions rather than as now, where Boards of Governors and the like are de facto made into the decision makers simply because no one else will organise a proper system.”

    In the main I trust Boards of Governors more than any of the people elected to Dis-Assembly. Just a minor point.

  • Frustrated Democrat,

    can you see project UCUNF survive the failure of the UUP to vote in favour of the deal tomorrow?

  • Frustrated Democrat

    MU

    The Conservative position has always been that in devolved matters it is for the local parties to decide on their course of action. This since the CU deal is currently for the EU and Westminster only and not the Assembly.

    I would however comment on a Westminster basis the the blackmail and coercion tactics of Woodward and the Labour government are nothing short appalling e.g either P&J needs £800 million to function properly and it will be provided come what may or it was bribe to the DUP. He can’t say it will be removed and then say it wasn’t a bribe.

  • FD,

    “devolved matters”

    That is a completely unsustainable position given that the UUP seem to be trying ot destroy what it took a previous Tory administration many years to put in place.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    MU (an inexact name based on your posts)

    You either allow devolved administrations to take decisions or you don’t, to devolve something and then try to control what the local politicians do is nonsense.

    If the Conservatives had elected members in the Assembly that would be different.

    As it is Conservatives, like the UUP, support the devolution of P&J, the timing of tranfer is for all the members in Assembly to decide.

  • Driftwood

    Itwassammymcnally/MU

    There is no reason for the UUP to support something hastily cobbled together after Irisgate to give the DUP ‘cover’ for rolling over to SF on P&J.
    The DUP are now effectively ‘in the pocket’ of Martin McGuinness. There is no need for anyone else to join them there.

  • ardmaj55

    Nimble footwork on Robbo’s part in just three days. No sooner had the UUP Pompeii Party, hinted last week that they wouldn’t necessarily go in with the duppers, that Dawdds pounced immediately and said the DUP couldn’t vote for the motion, then Robbo backed him up. next the Empty vessel that makes a lot of noise signifying little, says the UUP will Definitely not vote for P&J. So, Robbo comes out and cuts the ground from under nigel, by stating the DUP will go for the vote. Result; Dawdds left swinging in the wind, has now gone into total silence. Sunny Jim was right, that the 14 are snowmen.

  • FD,

    following the logic of your position for your a moment, the Labour and US administrations do not, to my knowledge have any elected memebers in the Assembly but are endeavouring to emphasise to the UUP that they should act responsibly.

    Trapped as you are in the logic of your own arguement you are now going to tell me that matters that relate to the political process (the completion of devolution) are not the concern of the British goivernment?

    Go on, give me a good laugh.

  • pinni

    ‘The TUV propose achieving this by collapsing the whole agreement and renegotiating a new one.’

    The TUV propose…? Who exactly do the TUV speak for? After years of standing in elections, TUV candidates have yet to win even one seat! If fact they lost a TUV seat in a by-election.

    Instead of taking about collapsing things, Turgon, how about some constructive thinking!

  • Frustrated Democrat

    MU

    Maybe that is the problem, they are all interfering in internal NI matters and should butt out and leave the locals who understand NI matters to it.

    The antics of Woodward are unpardonable with bully bribery and coercion to get what he wants, typical of the Labour Government.

    Much as we might wish it the Conservatives are not as yet the British Government, just the opposition!

  • Turgon,

    It is totally wrong to assume that changes to the system will not come about without cross community support.

    A cross-community consensus on changing the system my be a lot nearer than many people think. Mark Durkan of the SDLP has already paid lip service to the idea of making changes
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article4749287.ece

    Set that possibility against the prospect that smashing the power-sharing Constitution could destabilise NI back into mass terrrorism and your choice as to the correct way forward becomes a “no brainer”

  • FD,

    “Maybe that is the problem, they are all interfering in internal NI matters and should butt out and leave the locals who understand NI matters to it.”

    Yes, you have followed your own logic, the SOS whose job it is to adminster Ulster should not be involved in finding an agreement in Ulster – this line of arguement just gave Gerry Kelly a good laugh on the Stormont Live program and had McNarry wriggling like a good un when it was put to him by Mark Davenport.

    I know it must be comforting to follow the party line but when Wee Reggie starts to tell you the political equivalent of 2 and 2 are 5 you really need to start questioning what the hell he is on about.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    MU

    Remember it was SF that brought Brown over to pressurise the locals not the UUP, which he sucessfully did in the case of some parties.

    Woodward has ceased to be the facilitator that he proports to be and has started being partisan and directly involved – the very thing that he accuses the Conservatives of when they have actually sought votes here not Labour.

  • Paul

    The TUV have nothing to offer any of us as it seems neither have the UUP who have now moved to the right of the TUV.

  • Mr E Mann

    If local single-community parties on both sides continue to dominate NI politics, the current system is a road back to conflict. It freezes sectarianism into the administration. CF the confessional split of political offices the French imposed on Lebanon, which has been in a constant religious conflict ever since.

    In the short term, though, rather obviously the result of the breakup of the mandatory coalition system would be an all-unionist coalition. Not to give away any secrets, but that’s what those wankers have in mind when they say “Traditional Ulster Values.” If adhering to GFA means that nationalists have to wait until they have a voting majority (2040, if ever) before they can be represented in government, we’re back in 1968.

    Best to leave it alone. If UK and ROI parties eventually dominate NI politics, things will be a little different. A DUP-SF mandatory coalition feels like an uneasy truce in a sectarian war, but an FF-Tory one would be more like a reasonable working arrangement.

  • Mr E Mann

    If local single-community parties on both sides continue to dominate NI politics, the current system is a road back to conflict. It freezes sectarianism into the administration. CF the confessional split of political offices the French imposed on Lebanon, which has been in a constant religious conflict ever since.

    In the short term, though, rather obviously the result of the breakup of the mandatory coalition system would be an all-unionist coalition. Not to give away any secrets, but that’s what those wankers have in mind when they say “Traditional Ulster Values.” If adhering to GFA means that nationalists have to wait until they have a voting majority (2040, if ever) before they can be represented in government, we’re back in 1968.

    Best to leave it alone. If UK and ROI parties eventually dominate NI politics, things will be a little different. A DUP-SF mandatory coalition feels like an uneasy truce in a sectarian war, but an FF-Tory one would be more like a reasonable working arrangement.

  • LabourNIman

    Turgon – Which countries parliament will you based the new assembly on? Please tell me so I can see how our ‘real’ democracy will work.

    As much as I long for a mandatory coalition, your party is more keen on excluding a large portion of the electorate than engaging it. Or will your party be fielding catholic candidates?

  • Kevin Barry

    Good piece Turgon,

    I think most people would like to see voluntary coalition at the Assembly, but, as stated above, constant calls by Unionist parties to ‘smash Sinn Fein’ doesn’t exactly inspire faith or a willingness to see this happen and the feeling that it’s merely a fig leaf to kick SF out of government lingers.

    As for the UU going to the right of the TUV, I don’t agree with this. It would seem that Reg is trying to play politics (he usually does)by being seen as someone who can solve other issues in the hope of trying to tap into the electorate’s opinion that the Assembly is unworkable with DUP and SF in power and that it should focus on more bread and butter issues.

    It appears he’s been caught out here and is seemingly trying to find a formula to allow the UU to vote for this soon. Watch this space

  • Greenflag

    Has it not yet dawned on Turgon and other similar minded individual unionists that it has taken almost 40 years aand over 4,000 dead and tens of thousands traumatised as well as billions in property damage etc etc plus thousands of hours of negotiations by UK, USA and Irish negotiators as well as the input of local NI unionist and republican politicians to achieve the current settlement ?

    Northern Ireland in it’s present format is not the kind of State that can afford ‘voluntary’ coalitions. The State simply does not have the degree of cohesion or geographic, political, historical integrity that would allow it .

    A smaller post repartition NI could ‘indulge’ in the luxury of ‘voluntary’ coalition government as that would be the only way for the smaller 10 to 15% nationalist minority a say in government and ditto for the small ‘unionist ‘ minority in an enlarged Republic .

    IT’s either that or the status quo I would think for the next decade or two or three .

    So stop dreaming ‘unionists’. Voluntary coalition had it’s chance at Sunningdale and Sunningdale is not returning -ever .

  • Do I recall correctly that as things stand, for example, the UUP, SDLP and Alliance could all refuse to take part in d’Hondt, and the resulting DUP-Sinn Fein coalition would be perfectly legal under the existing structures?

    Anyway, I agree with Turgon. Unless TUV make significant inroads into the DUP vote, they are a total irrelevance, and in any case they are living in a world of “let’s pretend” where they think that their policies will lead to anything other than green-tinged Direct Rule, just as we had from 1974 to 1998 – and on the evidence of that time, there will be even less care for what the people want and need should either of the two main GB parties take over the NICS departments again.

    Bear in mind that there is no confidence in Northern Ireland that any party could be trusted to govern fairly for all the people of Northern Ireland even if they could command an absolute majority. Therefore, single party government or a single-community coalition (ie DUP+UUP or SF+SDLP) cannot work.

    The medium-term goal must be a system where two or more parties may form a voluntary cross-community coalition, and only when this fails should we revert to d’Hondt and mandatory coalition.

    In the short term, there needs to be an understanding on all sides that even though you cannot easily get rid of a minister trying to go solo, the parties need to compromise. The reality is that no minister can achieve anything that requires primary legislation without the agreement of the rest of the Executive, whether that be Catriona Ruane and the 11+ or Edwin Poots trying to gerrymander the local government boundaries.

  • Garza

    Mark Davenport has unoffical polls at his blog. Look at the TUV!!!

    NIO commissioned poll

    DUP 26%
    SDLP 21%
    TUV 1%
    PUP 1%
    SF17%
    UUP 14%
    Alliance 8%
    Green 4%
    Conservative 2%
    Workers Party 2%
    RSF 1%
    UKUP 1%

    OFMDFM Commissioned Poll

    DUP 30%
    UUP 19%
    SDLP 19%
    SF 16%
    Alliance 11%
    TUV 2%
    PUP 1%
    Others 3%

  • Driftwood

    Margaret Ritchie must be doing something right if the SDLP score is correct!
    Any word on her contender for the South Down seat, some Reverend?

  • Driftwood
  • Comrade Stalin

    Trowbridge a Stoop ? Never.

  • pinni

    Wow, TUV – between 1-2%.

    So the pathetic result for the TUV in Craigavon, one of its supposed strongholds, wasn’t a fluke after all!

    Turgon, you would be safer joining up with the UU’s to avoid the coming humiliation, lol! Old Vancey’s wetting his pants…

  • LabourNIman

    why the hell are UKUP on the list? Are they coming back?

  • They haven’t gone away you know!

  • PaddyReilly

    DUP 30%, TUV 2%. Wow, I wonder who was responsible for this poll—it wouldn’t be the DUP, would it?

    Now, as for Turgon’s renegotiated settlement, the essence of negociation is that you give something up, in order to gain something else. Perhaps then the TUV intends to agree to a United Ireland in order to gain a voluntary coalition in an Ulster Assembly? Or maybe they are just such wonderful negotiators that the Fenians will give them everything they want without asking anything in return?

    My suggestion is that both parties leave off their masturbatory fantasies and reconcile themselves to reality. If you want to know how people are going to vote, look at the results of the last election. If you want to know how the country will be governed, refer to the GFA.

  • Greenflag

    paddyreilly ,

    One small correction;).

    ‘If you want to know how people are going to vote, look at the results of the last election. ‘

    AND the last NI census .

    ‘If you want to know how the country will be governed, refer to the GFA.’

    That’s the truth and it also includes the ‘misgovernance ‘ of the province .

    But it will deliver a stagnant peace eventually. Looking beyond that at this stage would be premature.

  • PaddyReilly

    When I said look at the last election results, I should have specified that small increases and decreases are to be expected.

    The DUP vote of 18.2% in the Euro Elections is not going to spring up to 30% a year later in the General Election, especially given Iris Robinson’s helpful contribution.

    It may rise, particularly because the TUV will not be standing in every constituency, and the effects of a different electoral system to the transferable vote one at the Euros.

    Neither have the TUV so disgraced themselves that their vote is going to go down from 13.7% to 2.

    The Census is irrelevant: the sectarian balance only alters very gradually, and effects only the cumulative Unionist and Nationalist vote, not that of individual parties.

    Equally, the GFA may be subject to minor alterations: but it is not going to be rewritten to bestow a victory on the Unionist (soon to be) minority.