Cameron: “politics here will need to move beyond the peace process…”

After yesterday’s Joint Ministerial Committee meeting in Downing Street, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was in Northern Ireland today.  The Belfast Telegraph has an article on NI by the Conservative Party leader.  And his address to the NI Assembly is here.

Some sections worth highlighting – for the benefit of certain members of the Northern Ireland Executive…

Whether you serve here as a Minister, a member of a committee or as a backbench member, all of you carry the responsibility over the next four years of delivering real improvements to people’s lives.

Politics here is now more stable than for over a generation.

But as the institutions mature people will look for more than survival; there is now an ever greater expectation of delivery.

As in other parts of the UK, political institutions need to deliver or they will lose popular support.

So to match expectations, politics here will need to move beyond the peace process and a focus on narrow constitutional matters to the economic and social issues that affect people in their daily lives.

It doesn’t matter if people are from Coleraine or Cardiff, Birmingham or Ballymena, Arboath or Antrim…

…they all want the same things in life: the self-confidence that comes with work; the security that comes from safe streets, free from anti-social behaviour; the happiness and joy that comes from a stable home life.

And against a background of greater political stability there is a greater opportunity than ever before to put normal, mainstream politics first.

But if politics is about anything, it’s about public service on behalf of the whole community, not just those who vote for us.

And a crucial area where I believe we need to move beyond the peace process is in tackling the causes of division within society here.

Given the history of Northern Ireland I don’t for a minute underestimate the scale of the challenge.

But it is a depressing fact that since the 2006 St. Andrews Agreement the number of so-called ‘peace walls’ has increased from 37 to 48.

And it is disappointing that in too many places Protestant and Catholic communities remain largely segregated, sharing the same space but living their lives apart.

According to one survey the costs of division through the duplication of public services alone is around £1.5 billion a year.

But this not just about the economic cost, it’s about the social cost too.

It’s these divisions that help to sustain terrorism and other criminal activities particularly within deprived communities.

I acknowledge the work that the previous executive began on this through the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy, and welcome the fact that the new executive is committed to taking it forward.

Clearly, more needs to be done.

Most of the responsibilities for this, such as community relations policy, are devolved.

We will support you in whatever ways we can.

But this is something that’s mainly in your hands.

I am clear, though, that we cannot have a future in which everything in Northern Ireland is shared out on sectarian grounds.

Northern Ireland needs a genuinely shared future; not a shared out future.

And also this

Neither I nor Owen Paterson have any desire to interfere in those matters that are rightly run by locally accountable politicians.

They are for you to decide according to your priorities.

The same applies to the future of the institutions here and how they might evolve.

The Government’s view is that, over time, we would like to see a more normal system, with a government and opposition, consistent with power-sharing and inclusiveness.

We agree with Bertie Ahern who said in 2008:

‘there will come a time when people say “you need an opposition, you need us and them”’.

But as I made clear at the General Election, we will make no changes without the agreement of the parties in this Assembly.

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  • Cynic2

    A gentle poke with a pointed stick.

  • A very statesman-like speech from the Prime Minister.

  • I’m no fan of the smarmy Etonian PM but i agree with him as regards a genuinely shared future; not a shared out future.

  • Greenflag

    We agree with Bertie Ahern who said in 2008:

    ‘there will come a time when people say “you need an opposition, you need us and them”’.

    Mr Cameron’s words sound sensible enough to those outside the cage .Alas to most people in Northern Ireland they already have an us and them – indeed the state was built on that very foundation . And the present ‘solution’ has cemented the us and them into the mandatory coalition framework to such a degree that any move away from it threatens to return the province to the good old bad old days .

    A state built on a sectarian foundation has now been cemented into a strait jacketed future from which their is no easy escape without bringing the house down .

    Somehow it seems unimaginable that either SF or the DUP would ever agree to being the official opposition . And it seems even more unimaginable that the SDLP, AP and UUP would ever form an opposition coalition alternative to the present big two .

    As good as it gets Mr Cameron until your Exchequer starts to cut the subvention mightily and then NI might see a more ‘normal’ system . On the other hand that new normality could be uncomfortably reminiscent of the old ‘normality’ from which the GFA has delivered NI these past few years .

    The future political direction of NI is not guaranteed not when almost half the electorate don’t even bother to vote!

  • patio dev

    The post ‘peace process’ process begins?

  • Manfarang

    Do we all want the same things Mr.”I know what is best for you” Cameron normal politician?

  • Greenflag

    ‘The post ‘peace process’ process begins?’

    Or as former Taoiseach John Bruton might have said the %#@&*^& ‘post ‘peace process’ process’ 😉

  • Cynic2


    Just where did he say that?

  • Light23

    Politics will never be normal until the sectarian parties go, or non-sectarian parties get a large share of the vote.

    It really shouldn’t matter anyway – people should be able to vote for the party whose policies they agree with. Unfortunately there are too many sectarian voters who would refuse to vote for “the other side”.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Bizarrely I find myself agreeing with Cameron – the “shared not shared out” thing is pithy and hits the nail on the head.

    But if govt is to have cross-community legitimacy, presumably we’ll be looking at rival cross-community blocks – a SF-DUP coalition vs a UUP-SDLP one? It’s always going to be pretty limited. But yes, we need the ability to change governments, really, perpetual rainbow coalition is a recipe for bad government.

  • Greenflag

    @ mainland ulsterman,

    ‘perpetual rainbow coalition is a recipe for bad government.’

    For NI the record of single party government 1920 to 1972 is nothing to write home about as we have seen from the many reports on it’s ‘faults’ and ‘failings’ over the years.

    It too had no opposition and there was no possibility of a change of government bar revolution -which is what happened anyway .

    But unlike the 1920 -1972 period I don’t believe it much matters now . NI has the government it deserves 9just about) and even the would be rainbow opposition of UUP/SDLP/AP have all taken their Ministerial share outs under D’hondt rather than sit in opposition .

    At the end of every rainbow they say there is a pot of gold . Alas those who make it to the end of the rainbow find that by the time they get there the pot of gold has vanished or it would have if it had ever been there .

    While I can agree that perpetual mandatory coalition government is not a recipe for governmental success -the brutal fact is that the political demographics and varying constitutional aspirations within Northern Ireland are the only effective ‘strait jacket’ in which those differences can be managed -to at least give some semblance of a normal democracy which we all know NI can only aspire to in it’s present format.

  • Independent Ulster

    Anyone know what the protocol for who addresses the Assembly?

    Presumably the shinners dont have a veto, I cant believe McGuinness enjoyed his photoop with the Prime Minister of Great Britian and Northern Ireland.

  • Greenflag

    ‘I cant believe McGuinness enjoyed his photoop with the Prime Minister of Great Britian and Northern Ireland.’

    Why would’nt he ? After all Mr Cameron is head of the government which keeps all of Northern Ireland’s politicians in clover and it’s economy to the tune of 7 billion sterling a year as well as providing over 70% of NI GDP .

    I was disappointed not to see both Messrs Robinson and McGuinness not in the prostrate position in thankful mode for their annual largesse which keeps them ahead of Slovenia in the EU GDP per capita stakes by a small margin .

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I fear you may be right that we have little choice but to accept a rainbow coalition. And it’s better than the dire 1921-72 days, I agree (which I blame as much on the failure of other parties to make themselves electorally appealing as on the success of the Unionist Party – hardly their fault they kept winning elections). But as Aherne, Cameron and others have pointed out, the lack of an opposition isn’t ideal, is it?

  • Greenflag

    @mainland ulsterman,

    ‘the lack of an opposition isn’t ideal, is it?’

    We don’t live in an ideal world -never have and never will -human nature being what it is . That said what we like to think of as ‘democratic’ opposition in parliaments around the world has proved in the light of recent worldwide economic events triggered off by a corrupt and self serving international financial sector – to be ineffective not just in opposition against the forces of financial anarchy but even more so when some of these ‘oppositions’ have been elected to government .

    As for earlier ‘Unionist’ one party dominance -apart from a brief surge of support for NI Labour at one point given the make up of the state at the time and it’s birth origins the ‘failure ‘ of the opposition ‘nationalists was built in with the state’s foundation . Which is of course why although some 1920 Unionists wanted a nine county NI the majority were dissuaded because such a political entity would have had a wafer thin unionist majority and thus inherently unstable and iirc they had had enough of instability 1912-1920 as it was.

    I’m sure there will be an ‘opposition ‘ some day in the NI Assembly but that will only be when that Assembly no longer exists in it’s present format .

    Not that the fine points of the’ normal constitutional need for an opposition ‘ should worry NI residents too much . As the Assembly is still beholden to it’s Westminster parent then as long as there’s an alternative opposition in the HOC then there’s an outlet . Of course you may say that in pre 1969 days that was the case also but it did’nt do any good at least in the sense of staving of civil unrest in NI at the time and you would be correct .

    On the other hand things could have been a lot worse without that Westminster back up.

    It’s unlikely that Westminster will be caught ‘napping ‘ next time if there is a next time and hopefully there won’t be ever of a major upsurge in violence in NI in years to come.

  • Independent Ulster


    You say,

    “Why would’nt he ? ”

    Well that would be the same Martin McGuinnes who spent most of his life unsuccessfully trying to remove British political influence from Northern Ireland and who is aligned with a movement that tried to murder David Cameron’s childhood hero and former party leader and of course does not take his seat in Westminster.

    Kowtowing to a Tory leader is not what Martin had planned when he was hiding out in ditches.