“That long term approach is not confined to policing…”

Confirmation that the UK government is to provide an additional £200million to help the PSNI combat the continuing, and increasing, terrorist threat here – over four years with £57.1m in 2011-12, £53.3m in 2012-13, £62.4m in 2013-14 and £26.7m in the final year.

And the BBC report carries these comments from the NI Justice Minister, the Alliance Party’s David Ford.

David Ford said he had worked closely with the Chief Constable “to ensure that the needs of Northern Ireland are recognised in London”.

“It is particularly significant that this funding provides four-year certainty and demonstrates a long-term intent to address the problems we face,” he added.

“That long term approach is not confined to policing – it is vital that we work with communities to address and resolve the problems they face.

“Those problems cannot be neatly labelled as justice issues alone, and we need to build on the work being done to develop a wider partnership across Government as a matter of urgency.” [added emphasis]

Like the briefings by the NI deputy First Minister?

Or the bickering over the spending proposals of “semi-detached” members in a “dysfunctional” Executive?

Or the “bitter Assembly exchanges over the Budget” because some parties may not vote in support of it?

Dysfunctional?

Perhaps it is time to seriously consider political reform.

It has been suggested before.

More than once.

And as Patrick Murphy has argued

In the old Stormont, the opposition was ignored. In the new Stormont, the opposition has been abolished. How democratic is a parliament without an opposition? Advocates of the new system argue that it brings political benefits. But does it? It gives constitutional authority to sectarianism and promotes political schizophrenia. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin claim the other is the enemy, within a supposedly partnership government. Do nationalists benefit by having nationalist ministers? For example, would our roads policy be different if Arlene Foster replaced Conor Murphy as regional development minister?If Murphy’s ministry has benefitted nationalists, then the minister must be acting unfairly – and there is not the slightest evidence that he is. So if his position has not benefitted nationalists and Arlene Foster would do the job with the same degree of competence and fairness, what is the case for compulsory power-shairing? The argument that it offers fairer government is undermined by our mountain of equality legislation. If that legislation is as effective as we are led to believe, there cannot be an abuse of democracy within the law, no matter who holds power.

And with those same safeguards now being referenced in the argument over political reform in the Irish general election, here’s some more from that previous post

“Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, MP, MLA, has set out his reasoning, such as it is, for why he believes that those who “toy with the idea that the system of governance can be changed” are “living in Fantasy Land.”

Because this is a sectarian state and because unionism could not be trusted to govern fairly the outcomes of the Good Friday Agreement and the Saint Andrews Agreement are all-Ireland in nature particularly in their institutions.

There are also many equality and other legal safe guards built into the new political dispensation. These include compulsory power sharing and partnership political arrangements.

Thinking unionism knows that this will be the case for as long as the new dispensation lasts and fair minded unionist MLAs have slowly but surely come to terms with this reality. They fulfil their political duties in a positive way. They also appreciate that these safeguards are to their advantage as the constitutional position changes in the future.

And how are you going to get there, again?

But Adams fails to address the core issue of whether compulsory or voluntary power-sharing is more preferrable and/or more democratic.

To quote again from Patrick Murphy

compulsory power-sharing emerged from secret political negotiations to secure the state’s existence rather than as part of a campaign for democracy. So how democratic is the new system? The short answer is – not very.

And, from what I recall, there wasn’t much reasoning in evidence in the responses to a previous suggestion that we should aspire to remove the “ugly scaffolding”..

Regardless of the actual system of governance in use what is required is a processs of civilisation. [Happy Birthday Michael! – Ed]

But if you don’t trust your compulsory partners in government, and you view the very state itself, which you are helping to govern, as being “sectarian at its core”…”

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  • CliffNI

    Things have to change from the present debacle at Stormont. We`re going nowhere apart from ever decreasing circles. Nationalists and Unionists have to make that change together, but some people like Gerry are inextricably linked to tired Republican dogma and can`t leave it behind. The irony is that we now find Peter Robinson heaping praise on the Sinn Fein ministers alongside his own. Peter and Martin might even go to Clontibret together now, hand in hand wearing red berets to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the invasion on 7th August this year.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Patrick doesn’t seem to understand what “democracy” means. The assembly is democratically elected and the executive is drawn from it. It’s pretty much about as democratic as you can get, if you measure democracy in terms of people electing representatives to run the country.

    I think he’s confusing this with the fact that the system doesn’t work very well. And I’m not sure that a well-defined opposition is a fundamental prerequisite in a democracy. The government must be held to account but there are other ways to do this. In the USA for example the role of party whips is far less pronounced and the “opposition” as it were comes from the different houses within the government being elected at different times.

    We need to bear in mind that our present system was designed at the time to create a government in a formulaic way that would avoid the need for the participants to agree on its makeup. This was at a time when a large contingent would have acted to strangle the institutions at birth. More importantly, a large section of the electorate might feel that they were being discriminated against for religious reasons. It is also worth bearing in the mind that the voices calling the most loudly for voluntary coalition now are those who defended it stoutly when it awarded them with the lion’s share of the ministers.

    The underlying problems that led to this broken system being resolved still haven’t been addressed. Anywhere unionism has a majority – on Newtownabbey Council for example, or in Castlereagh – no efforts are made to try to accomodate minority views and there is systematic discrimination against people who come from Catholic backgrounds. Unionism can’t expected to be trusted when it argues for voluntary coalition until it starts demonstrating that it can behave fairly and show respect to minorities when it possesses a majority.

  • Comrade Stalin

    CliffNI,

    Fair points. Reading Hansard this week is interesting; you’ll note how it was effectively SF, the DUP and Alliance on one side and the UUP and SDLP on the other. People assume that voluntary coalition would mean SF being excluded. Watching that exchange I’m not so sure.

  • Pete Baker

    “I’m not sure that a well-defined opposition is a fundamental prerequisite in a democracy”

    Comrade

    Perhaps a fundamental prerequisite in a democracy is being able to vote the buggers out of office.

    Something our system, which “doesn’t work very well”, actively mitigates against.

    And we’re not the USA, where the opposition comes more from different parties holding the balance of power in those different houses. But promote a three tiered presidential system of government if you wish.

    And we know why we ended up with this “broken system”. The question is what do we do about it now?

    As for your “underlying problems”, didn’t you read the bit about those “same safeguards now being referenced in the argument over political reform in the Irish general election”?

    As Patrick Murphy argued

    The argument that [consociational power-sharing] offers fairer government is undermined by our mountain of equality legislation. If that legislation is as effective as we are led to believe, there cannot be an abuse of democracy within the law, no matter who holds power.

  • “The underlying problems that led to this broken system being resolved still haven’t been addressed”

    CS, I’m sure there are many good reasons for attacking the likes of Castlereagh and Moyle. Much is made of the concept of power-sharing whereas the best we seem to come up with is the sharing of chairmanships and positions on committees; decision making and resource allocation still comes down to majority rule. The veneer of sharing can hide a multitude of sins; there could easily be more discrimination against minorities in ‘power-sharing’ councils than in the rest.

  • Cynic2

    Poor Davy Ford. All that money and no time left to spend it.

    Aw well. they do say that all political careers end in failure!!!

  • lamhdearg

    our system sucks, but its better then what we had (killings on a weekly basis) time must be given for it to evolve and for the mooncats with guns to go away.big ian’s gone to the lords, gerrys going south, give it 20 years and we won’t be able to connect any of them with the troubles. And then our police bugget will be spent on fighting crime and flashy cars.

  • tinman

    ‘our system sucks, but its better then what we had’

    Agreed on both counts. But surely we can do better than this?

    Right now we don’t have an education policy, we don’t have a health policy, in fact I’m not sure we have any policies at all. We’re broke and we have no plan to get fixed. Our ministers don’t work together, they support those from the same party and snipe at those from others – everyone is effectively in government and opposition at the same time.

    At the very least a formal government/opposition setup would mean those holding ministerial office would have some sort of collective responsibility, so there could be a broad commonality of focus and direction. The opposition would hold to account and propose alternative policies, rather than trying to run their own ministries while criticising everyone else’s.

    The difficulty is ensuring that the government is ‘inclusive’, presumably meaning in our context that at least two parties need to be involved and they need to come from opposite sides of our historical divide – a ‘representative coalition’.

  • lamhdearg

    tinman,
    I agree with all you say in this post, but in the interest of debate, “surely we can do better than this”, it seems not, and don’t call me surely. also the problem with opposition partys is that they say what they think will get them into power but not what they truly intend to do. i think here in ulster its going to be a long time before we get a normal system whatever that is.

  • tinman

    lamhdearg,

    Agreed on the shortcomings of oppositions. But I think this is first about delivering more effective government. With the current setup no-one holds authority+responsibility for the delivery of government as a whole. As an electorate, if we believe the current Executive has made a pig’s ear of running this place, how do we demonstrate that in the polling booth?

    At least with a smaller governing coalition we know who’s in charge and therefore who to hold accountable. That way the parties in government have a vested interest in making the whole system work, rather than just being concerned about their own little part of it while criticising all the other parts.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Peter,

    Perhaps a fundamental prerequisite in a democracy is being able to vote the buggers out of office.

    In that case there are a lot of democracies that don’t meet this fundamental prerequisite. We don’t have to look far – both the UK and Ireland have governments consisting of parties which, individually, the majority of the voters voted against.

    The other problem I have with this attitude is the negativity that surrounds it. Instead of talking about who we’re going to vote in to fix things, we’re preoccupied with how we can put people out. It’s an example of the mentality that pervades our political culture here, everyone is happy to criticize and be negative, nobody wants to stand up and offer ideas of how to do things better.

    And finally, this point of view will be interpreted by a lot of people – including me – as an attempt to take us to a place where Sinn Fein ministers in particular can be excluded from government. Hand in hand with talk of voluntary coalition we usually hear the arguments about how terrible SF are. We never hear corresponding arguments about how terrible certain unionist ministers are. It’s not as if they’re perfect. Like I said, underlying problems.

    I prefer to define democracy as the presence of a government that is representative of the broadest and possible section of the people with an eye on diversity. The current British government meets this definition, as does the Irish government. And the NI Executive.

    And we’re not the USA, where the opposition comes more from different parties holding the balance of power in those different houses. But promote a three tiered presidential system of government if you wish.

    I’m not “promoting” any such thing. I’m pointing out that not many of the countries listed as democracies in the CIA World Factbook meet your “fundamental prerequisite”.

    As for your “underlying problems”, didn’t you read the bit about those “same safeguards now being referenced in the argument over political reform in the Irish general election”?

    Given that the Irish republic is a stable democracy and hasn’t (recently) had to build a government against a background of a country recovering from a quasi-civil war, I don’t see the relevance of it. I know you like to bash SF and all, so do I, but it’s perfectly valid (albeit somewhat inconsistent in terms of their core ideology, I’ll grant) for them to have two different opinions on how governments should be run in the two different states on the island.

    I’ll put my hand up and say that I don’t understand Patrick Murphy’s argument. He he believes that the equality legislation we have covers the appointment and operation of the government, then he’s starting from a completely false premise. Or is there a point I’ve missed ?

    Nevin:

    Much is made of the concept of power-sharing whereas the best we seem to come up with is the sharing of chairmanships and positions on committees; decision making and resource allocation still comes down to majority rule. The veneer of sharing can hide a multitude of sins; there could easily be more discrimination against minorities in ‘power-sharing’ councils than in the rest.

    Yes, a lot of what passes for power sharing is about tokenism, but hell, that’s what passes for politics a lot of the time in this country – and in other places. It’s a dramatic development that the American government now has a black man at its head for the first time ever. That doesn’t mean that institutional racism has been completely eliminated – but the symbolism is important.

    In Newtownabbey, where the council would rather have a UDA-linked deputy Mayor than a Catholic Mayor – a man who has been arrested more than once and who was recently summonsed to give evidence on a sectarian murder in the 70s – this symbolism is important, especially given that we have seen riots take place over the issue of Catholics burying their dead in the council-owned graveyard.

  • Comrade Stalin

    tinman:

    I’m playing devil’s advocate here as I think there is much that is broken about our system. But the arguments being deployed here are hard for me to go along with :

    Right now we don’t have an education policy, we don’t have a health policy, in fact I’m not sure we have any policies at all.

    We do, they’re outlined in the Programme for Government. The reason why you might believe that we don’t have policies is because they are spectacularly boring. There are no stretch targets, and no ambition to do anything other than keep the status quo ticking over.

    We’re broke and we have no plan to get fixed. Our ministers don’t work together, they support those from the same party and snipe at those from others – everyone is effectively in government and opposition at the same time.

    Actually our ministers do work quite well together by and large.

    What we don’t do well at is the issue of taking tough decisions. The government clearly needs to find ways to raise revenue. It needs to find ways to cut costs. It’s not doing that, not because of the system, but because we have elected crap politicians who don’t have the bottle to push the decisions through and explain them. Our politicians think that we, as an electorate, don’t want to be asked to take responsibility for things. There are notable exceptions – Sammy Wilson is doing a fine job and doesn’t run away from telling people about the tough choices out there – but by and large we’re plain unadventurous.

    Maybe they’re right but it’s a theory that isn’t tested. Sometimes campaigning on a manifesto of corrective action through austerity and tough choices can work. As we are hearing in the RoI and in the UK general election earlier this year.

    I guess it is an outworking of our failure as an electorate to identify our own responsibility that we seem to be under the impression that we are entitled to a government better than the one we actively went out and voted for, and we express this by blaming the system rather than the marks we chose to make on the ballot paper.

    At the very least a formal government/opposition setup would mean those holding ministerial office would have some sort of collective responsibility, so there could be a broad commonality of focus and direction.

    I am not sure that it would be a magic bullet in the way that you describe.

    The opposition would hold to account and propose alternative policies, rather than trying to run their own ministries while criticising everyone else’s.

    I would rather solve this problem by explaining to people that they will get better government if they vote for better politicians. There are many things that Alliance are unhappy about WRT the government and how it is setup, but now that we are part of that government we simply consider it a matter of being honourable and straight with people not to carp about the decisions that it makes.

  • Pete Baker

    Comrade

    “I’m playing devil’s advocate here as I think there is much that is broken about our system.”

    I’ll remember that in future.

    It will stop me wasting my time engaging in discussion with you.

  • tinman

    Comrade:

    Some good points – tough decisions, magic bullet – but I do maintain my position that the system pushes our politicians to act in the way that they do. Political advantage is gained not by delivering effective, coherent government but by scoring points off political opponents, even when that is detrimental to effective, coherent government. And because everyone is in the same boat, no-one has an incentive to make sure the whole programme actually makes sense or delivers any real change for the people who matter.

    Your point that we should simply ‘vote for better politicians’ is fine as far as it goes – we get the government we deserve, that’s one of the joys of democracy. Perhaps there is an assembly-full of gifted, articulate individuals with the best interests of the people at heart, just waiting out there for someone to vote them into office. However, given the longevity of political careers in our part of the world, I’m not sure we can afford to wait.

    “The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” (Einstein). I suspect if we go into another assembly with the same system we will have the same lamentable result. And if we are depending on our politicians being ‘honourable and straight’ we are toast.