DUP propose ending ‘community designation’ for the Assembly..

This afternoon, the DUP published their proposals for reform of the Assembly (PDF)… There’s a few things in there that are designed to tie in the smaller parties more tightly, but intriguingly, one of the more interesting details is the proposal to replace community designation with at 65% majority… which is clearly the longer term aim according to Simon Hamilton:

In the long-term, the best means of governing Northern Ireland would involve a voluntary coalition Executive and weighted majority voting of around 65% in the Assembly, resulting in an end to Community Designation.  This would be consistent with normal democratic institutions while respecting the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.

It’s the model the party’s been pushing for since 1998 (and which also gets a mention in the document)… It’s also in line with other themes that have been emerging in a lot of the party’s post conflict rhetoric recently..

In real terms it would’t make a lot of difference, except that it would dull the official marker between Unionist and Nationalist in any future set pieces…

Will it, or any of the other proposals submitted to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee fly? Don’t hold your breath…

 

  • Henry94

    The suspicion is of course that the voluntary coalition would be everybody except Sinn Fein for as long as that took to destroy the SDLP. Why would either Sinn Fein or the SDLP support such a thing?

    That’s not to say the designation system is ideal but if it is to be replaced it had to be by something which would lead to potential changes of government rather than simply excluding one party. This proposal would not do it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Much as I would like to see d’Hondt gone, the trust to allow this to happen simply doesn’t exist.

  • The DUP is smart enough to know that this is unlikely to happen, but not smart enough to know why. Community designation is obscene but it is there for a good reason: the parties cannot be trusted to govern in the interest of the entire community. Until politicians learn what true democracy entails, there will be little chance of the training wheels coming off.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    NUMBER/REORGANISATION OF
    DEPARTMENTS
    We propose that the number of Departments
    should be reduced to 6-8 and propose the
    following structure.

    OFMdFM would be reconstituted as the
    Executive Office with its concentration on
    dealing with Executive business and including
    responsibility for many of the central or cross-
    Governmental functions.

    In addition there would be seven ordinary
    Departments.

    • A Department of the Economy and Business
    with responsibility for all economic issues
    including skills, sport and culture.
    • A Department for Education with
    responsibility for young people, schools and
    higher education.
    • A Department of Health and Social Services.
    • A Department for Regional Development with
    responsibility for roads,water, transport as well
    as planning and urban regeneration.
    • A Department of Justice
    • A Department of Communities and Social
    Welfare with responsibility for Local
    Government, Housing, Land and Property
    Services and the Social Security Agency.
    • And a Department of Agriculture, Environment
    and Rural Development which would also have
    responsibility for the Northern Ireland
    Environment Agency.

    Is it worth pointing out that not only do the proposals for the reorganisation of Departments appear remarkably unimaginative but they also appear to exclude a Department of Finance?

  • JoeBryce

    Why not have the posts of First and Deputy First Minister rotate every 4 years, as the Lord Mayoralty does? Such an innovation would be surely a dramatic confidence building gesture which would create a context in which consensus may emerge for such further reform as may be advanced.

  • It makes sense but it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. They should come back in say 2032.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m tempted to say that we’ve had an overload of imaginative solutions…

  • I first got involved in politics during the civil rights era as I supported power sharing and believed that the exclusion of minorities in government could not be accepted in a divided society.I still believe this and therefore supported the inclusion community designation in GFA.
    However I believe we should now move on and find an alternative way of safe guarding the rights of minorities.

    My term in the Assembly convinced me that designation can no longer be justified as it is undemocratic, creates second class MLA’s and reinforces the sectarian nature of NI politics.
    “The present situation where MLA’s have to designate can have no place in a modern democratic system. The MLA’s who decline to designate “the others” are in fact treated as second class MLA’s and denied a say in many important decisions.

    “Issues such as the appointment of Ministers, setting the budget, and petitions of concern all require cross community support as determined by MLA’S designation. “The others” may vote on such issues but their vote is immaterial as it cannot influence the decision.
    In fact during my first year I decided on principle not to vote on cross community issues as my vote would not count However this seriously reduced my voting record so I did vote for the remainder of my term even though I recognised my vote was meaningless.
    Not only was I denied a say in issues such as the budget but those who voted for me were also denied a say. To disenfranchise voters because they did not vote for candidates with either a unionist or nationalist identity is totally unacceptable in any democracy.
    While I question the motives of the DUP I do believe that discrimination agaist MLAs who are unwilling to designate cannot be acceptable in any democratic system.

    Some form of weighted majority can be devised to protect minorities without disenfranchising the many thousands of voters who vote for ” others”

  • ThomasMourne

    Sectarian politics in N. Ireland will only end when enough of the electorate catch themselves on and stop voting for the sectarian politicians who have thrived on separation.

    Isn’t it ironic that we are currently hearing about the poor work-rate of our Stormont representatives just as we did before the last election? But the electorate can always be depended upon to re-elect the same bunch of wasters with 1 or 2 slight variations.

    In the meantime, the size of the Assembly should be cut – 80 members is more than enough. 4 or 5 departments should also be sufficient for the little amount of work to be done.

    The executive should be elected by a PR system which would eventually [probably in a few decades] help to eradicate sectarianism.

    Weighted majority voting is also required.

  • FuturePhysicist

    65% until there’s away for all the other parties to squeeze the DUP out they mean.

  • Red Lion

    Thomas Mourne

    Perhaps the UUP, SDLP and Alliance should co-operate at election time into a coalition of sorts, agreeing policies on bread and butter issues- ie no deadlock, park the constitutional issue(wouldnt be that hard) and present a true cross community alternative for government??

    Maybe then the DUP and SF might be outflanked, or at the very least have their vote ate into ?

  • Stephen Blacker

    When the talks were going on to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement the Progressive Unionist Party under the Leadership of the Late David Ervine suggested a weighted majority of 66% but as we know it was rejected. The DUP have helped to erect what some MLA’s call the “ugly scaffolding” of the GFA with antics like using “Petition of Concern” in a manner similar to a baby throwing its rattle from the pram when they dont get their way.

    This is an out-reach idea from the new DUP outlined by their Leader during their conference recently but it seems that they have a long way to go when other speeches like Sammy Wilson’s got laugh’s and cheers so I’m not surprised that this is a long term aim.

    It is such a shame that the DUP were so scared of being political leaders in 1998 that they could not argue their ideas from inside the GFA talks instead of shouting from the gates & letting others do the dirty work.

    I remember Dawn Purvis commenting during the 10th anniversary of the GFA (ad lib) that it was never ment to be a panacea but to be built on and developed as we as a society changed.

    The above idea would be another step closer to “normal” politics here but the actions and deeds from our MLA’s does not give me confidence that this will be fast moving.

  • pauluk

    More constructive and forward-looking ideas from the DUP for a shared society being cynically rejected or pooh-hoo’ed by what seems to be a majority of Slugger contributors. Why do I waste my time reading this stuff?

  • Mick Fealty

    You obviously missed Brian Wilsons experience, for which many thanks Brian. Good to hear from you.

    I thought it was clever of the DUP to offer this as a stand alone deal separate from d’Hondt and the Executive, something that seems to have been missed by earlier commenters.

    Not. Sure I’ve seen a competitive case yet against since 65% is more than enough for a pan nationalist veto.

  • Cynic2

    This may be an opening negotiating ploy – I assume they would do a deal say up to a 75% majority. Sf would feel safe at that. The SDLP and UUP would be squeezed.

    But nothing will happen. I see no appetite for any change. Ministers are all too comfortable and they will not even cut the number of MLAs. There are just too many mouths to feed

  • SK

    Read in the Newsletter today that they’re also pretty adamant about the First Minister post remaining a unionist-only job, regardless of election results. No hypocrisy there, then.

    Nationalism adopting the Unionist version of ‘normal politics’ would be akin to turkeys voting for Christmas.

  • Brian,

    I agree completely, designation creates second-class MLAs. But it only does so if MLAs volunteer to be relegated to second-class. It is your pride that makes you designate as “other”, which is understandable. But one can make a principled stand against communitarianism without disenfranchising oneself – a political party can cross-designate, for example, or an independent can publicly toss a coin before signing.

    Mick,

    Yes, 65% may be enough for a pan-nationalist veto, but it is also enough for a pan-unionist veto. What if both vetoes are exercised simultaneously?

    I have an alternative.

    To treat all MLAs equally, cross-community votes would have to require a majority of all three designations, not just two. Similarly, a representative executive could be formed with the support of a majority of all three designations – that way, no party could be excluded if it was genuinely popular. This would lead to a two-party system within each designation, allowing the development of normal politics under the existing framework. At some point, when sufficient trust has been built, the three left-wing parties and the three right-wing parties could then agree to merge into two cross-community blocks and designation would no longer be necessary. The removal of designation is the end of the process, not the beginning.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Ok, the first cuts to Stormont are already happening, by default be it, with MLAs reduced from 108 to 96 at the next election, almost certaitainly it will reduce further to 80, but the window of opportunity to do so before the next election is very small as it would have to be part of the current NI Bill being prepared. 7 departments is probably about right, where you draw the line is the main issue, as also will be how much if any extra powers are devolved down to the new councils. Some areas need a frontman/woman, Agriculture, Tourism and Culture, with a back office, but not a full department, give juinors these roles and reduce it to 5 departments?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Perhaps the UUP, SDLP and Alliance should co-operate at election time into a coalition of sorts, agreeing policies on bread and butter issues- ie no deadlock, park the constitutional issue(wouldnt be that hard) and present a true cross community alternative for government??

    Um, maybe it’s because the UUP and SDLP are not interested in presenting a cross community alternative ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    The case for reducing the number of MLAs is to me essentially one of trying to get the quality levels driven up. Without naming names there are some serious turkeys in that chamber. There are people who can barely read the script in front of them – and we are paying these people to design and scrutinize complex legislation ? The parties are obviously not able to supply talent in this quantity.

    Either way it is hard to see it happening. It might happen if the British created some sort of financial incentive to do it, but the sums of money involved are quite minuscule relative to the size of the NI budget.

  • Andrew

    My refusal to to designate has nothing to do with pride but to my lifelong opposition to sectarian politics
    To have designated would have
    –Been a betrayal of what I had stood for for over 40 years
    –A betrayal of the three thousand of voters in North Down who gave me their support in the election
    –In the context of NI politics designation would have resulted in the Green party being labeled as either Unionist or Nationalist despite the fact that we received support from all communities
    Designation and the discrimination which goes with it cannot be justified in a democratic society and I await an explanation of how one can support a system which denied me and my voters a say in important issues such as the budget

  • Chris Donnelly

    I thought it was clever of the DUP to offer this as a stand alone deal separate from d’Hondt and the Executive, something that seems to have been missed by earlier commenters.

    Not. Sure I’ve seen a competitive case yet against since 65% is more than enough for a pan nationalist veto.

    Mick
    There’s little new nor particularly clever in this initiative.
    Indeed it is entirely appropriate that it has emerged over the wintry Christmas period as there is a snowball’s chance in hell of this being realised in the forseeable future for quite obvious- and very good- reasons.

    Unionism has not gotten used to the idea of power-sharing, and the practices on most unionist-majority councils illustrate how the absence of rigid structures a la the Executive and Assembly have meant little has changed in the backwaters.

    This will be batted away by Sinn Fein, and I rather hope it will be done in a vociferous manner to emphasise the point that permitting the emergence of an ABSF tactic (Anybody But Sinn Fein- apologies to ABD/ ABU) will not be tolerated.

    The current model may not be ideal, but it is up to unionists to convince nationalists and republicans that they have good reasons for abandoning structures and safeguards which experiences show to be absolutely necessary.

    And good luck on that front……

  • orly

    Andrew Gallagher
    The DUP is smart enough to know that this is unlikely to happen, but not smart enough to know why. Community designation is obscene but it is there for a good reason: the parties cannot be trusted to govern in the interest of the entire community. Until politicians learn what true democracy entails, there will be little chance of the training wheels coming off.

    Seems to me, this sort of view is inherently flawed or at least traps itself in “a vicious circle” kind of way.

    Learn what “true democracy entails” but don’t try to institute anything that moves towards it until you’ve learnt? A bit horse before the cart.

  • Brian,

    I do not defend the disenfranchisement of those designated “other”. That is why I have suggested (as a first step) making cross-community votes dependent on a majority of all three designations, which would at least treat all MLAs equally. I fully support the long-term goal of removing the ugly scaffolding, but (to stretch the metaphor to breaking point) one only removes the scaffolding after the building is finished. The work of creating a party political system that crosses community boundaries is still incomplete. Will removing designation hasten this process? I don’t have the answer to that, but I have tried to make constructive suggestions.

    In the meantime, I would follow de Valera’s example and sign whatever “empty political formula” required, rather than disenfranchise myself and my voters by taking the moral high ground. I would not regard this as a betrayal of the electorate, as I would declare my intention to do so in advance. Nor would I regard it as a betrayal of my non-sectarian principles, as I would do everything in my power to make a public mockery of the process. The coin-tossing suggestion had a serious purpose – firstly to ensure that the choice of designation would not be mine, but also to draw attention to the fact that designation for most MLAs is equally arbitrary, due to accident of birth. Sometimes ridicule can be the most effective weapon.

    I fully understand and sympathise with your position. Where we part company is on the utility of ideological piety. Non-communal parties need to get their hands dirty or they won’t be taken seriously.

  • Orly,

    Democracy is not about votes. Democracy is a state of mind. Government of the people, by the people, for the people – the third part of this is crucial. Voting only gets us government by the people. If government is not for the people – all of the people – then there is no democracy. If politicians only stand up for narrow interests, then there is no democracy. If voters only vote in their own interest, or in their communal interest, rather than in the interests of society as a whole, then there is no democracy.

    Now all democracies have sectional interests, but all successful democracies pay at least lip service to the common good. What is lacking in Northern Ireland is this sense of solidarity. Instead we think in terms of the zero-sum game, negotiations, tradeoffs. We do not truly believe in the common good. We do not truly believe in democracy. And when the people do not believe in democracy, democracy cannot exist.

    We have designation because we have no democracy. We are already in the vicious circle that you accuse me of. Designation protects us from politicians who only care about their communal interests. Removing designation is not a solution in itself – we also need to change our politicians.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Andrew,

    That is why I have suggested (as a first step) making cross-community votes dependent on a majority of all three designations,

    You do realize this means Alliance being able to veto all Assembly legislation when a petition of concern occurs. I like it. But I fear that it would not be terribly democratic.

    Will removing designation hasten this process? I don’t have the answer to that, but I have tried to make constructive suggestions.

    It pains me to say it, but at the moment there isn’t enough good faith to remove designations, as it will be seen essentially for what it is ie an attempt to disenfranchise Sinn Fein.

  • CS,

    You do realize this means Alliance being able to veto all Assembly legislation when a petition of concern occurs. I like it. But I fear that it would not be terribly democratic.

    It is no less democratic than Sinn Fein being able to veto legislation. And you’re assuming that Alliance will always be the largest other party. This has historically been the case, but then the UUP and SDLP were historically the largest unionist and nationalist parties.

    If we’re going to have designations at all, then we need to have equal designations. On the other hand, if we want to remove designations, then we need some other means of protection. If protection is not to be enforced in the Assembly, then it needs to be enforced within the parties themselves. What if we replicated fair employment legislation for political parties? Required 50% of the officers of each party to be Catholic and 50% Protestant? That would probably fail spectacularly.

    But until the parties start making genuine efforts towards that goal of their own free will, they will need some other restrictions imposed upon them. The problem with the current designation-based restrictions is that the incentive is backwards: for a communal party the incentive is to consolidate the communal vote, not to attract voters from the other side. To fix our political system in the long term we need to change the incentives, but without abandoning protections until the incentives take effect.

    The question is then: how do we change the incentives when the big players like the system just the way it is? We cannot rely on Westminster imposing change from above any more. If change comes, it will have to grow organically, from the ground up.

    The answer is to find a flaw in the current system that gives anti-communalism an advantage. The Alliance party found just such a flaw, and that was the ability to designate as they saw fit. The hole was subsequently partially closed by standing order, but the ability to cross-designate is still there. The source of power in the Assembly under its current rules is to control both unionist and nationalist designations. The communal parties are only interested in controlling one designation. A party that can cross-designate has the potential to control both designations simultaneously.

    But the Alliance party ran scared of cross-designation, for fear of alienating their core vote. They did not attempt to sell the idea to their supporters. They did not try to explain that cross-designation would give their voters more power. They were weak.

  • a west

    you signed it ( andrews).Get over it!

  • Comrade Stalin

    It is no less democratic than Sinn Fein being able to veto legislation.

    Um, yes it is. Alliance have a fraction of the number of MLAs. You are giving an automatic and permanent veto to what is likely to remain, at least in the short and medium term, a small proportion of the MLAs. That’s not going to work.

    Believe me, I am not a defender of designation, far from it. I’m still quite bitter about the idiots (the SDLP) who came up with the idea for their own selfish, cynical reasons and who refused the several opportunities they had to implement reforms. But we are where we are and we need to do something better, not introduce another sticking plaster. I think we probably agree that the real problem is an absence of trust and good faith, and working on ways that we can improve this is the best way to take the thing forward. This is not going to be an overnight thing.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Missed this bit :

    They did not try to explain that cross-designation would give their voters more power. They were weak.

    I am not sure what you mean by cross-designation, but if you mean Alliance could designate partially nationalist, partially unionist at election time, then I am lost as to why you think it would give the party more power – the DUP and SF can presently put whatever they want through the assembly, over the heads of parties which are much larger than Alliance.

  • CS,

    I agree that giving a third veto to “others” is not a likely prospect, and leads to its own absurdities. But that is the logic of designation. If one is giving out vetoes, then everyone has to have one.

    Yes, that is what I mean by cross-designation (not my terminology, I think I picked it up from IJP). And yes, on current numbers the DUP and SF can do what they like anyway. But I am talking about the next election, and the one after that. Why should people vote for a party that promises to abstain on petitions of concern? That is what designating as “other” currently means in practice.

    What can Alliance offer their electorate that the DUP and SF cannot? Even if Alliance were the single biggest party, even if they had 51% of the MLAs the communal parties could outvote them on any issue by declaring a petition of concern. However, if Alliance were to cross-designate so that they had 51% of the nationalist MLAs and 51% of the unionist MLAs, then they could get their way on anything they wanted. What’s more, they could do it by themselves, rather than DUP/SF who are to busy squaring off against each other to get anything done. Alliance could offer government that actually works. That is real political power. That is what every serious political party dreams of, and the Alliance party currently shows no hunger for it. How can you grow your vote when you don’t appear to be taking politics seriously?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Why should people vote for a party that promises to abstain on petitions of concern? That is what designating as “other” currently means in practice.

    People mainly vote for a party because its policies or positions reflect their own. The designation system is not going to change unless enough people vote for parties that agree that it needs to change. The job for those of us who want it changed is to work to persuade people of that. There is no other way around it.

    What can Alliance offer their electorate that the DUP and SF cannot?

    Surely you are not making the case that everyone who is not the DUP or SF should just pack up and go home ?

    However, if Alliance were to cross-designate so that they had 51% of the nationalist MLAs and 51% of the unionist MLAs

    Okay, you’ve lost me there.

    , then they could get their way on anything they wanted.

    My brain isn’t completely working at the moment, but I can’t conceive of the numbers falling out in such a way that Alliance would be able to exercise an effective veto if it changed its designation. Perhaps you could enlighten me.

    What’s more, they could do it by themselves, rather than DUP/SF who are to busy squaring off against each other to get anything done.

    Now I’m completely lost.

    That is what every serious political party dreams of, and the Alliance party currently shows no hunger for it.

    Alliance has two ministers in the executive, so I’m not sure how you can make that case. Moreover, the party’s position since before 1998 is that there needs to be a weighted majority voting system, with the Executive appointed by STV, rather than this daft designation idea. I don’t see the point in doing tinkering (especially if I can’t see the logic) which pushes problems down the road rather than confronting the need to do it all properly.

    How can you grow your vote when you don’t appear to be taking politics seriously?

    Come back when you have an argument that makes sense.

  • CS,

    Sorry for the late reply. Too busy eating! 😉

    Let me put it another way. Consider a former UUP voter who wants to switch. Let us simplify and assume he has two realistic choices, Alliance or DUP, and ignore tactical voting. Who should he vote for?

    If he votes DUP, he is voting to maintain the unionist voting bloc in the Assembly. If he votes Alliance, he is reducing the strength of the unionist bloc. Furthermore, he is faced with a choice of a party whose MLAs will always have their votes counted, or a party whose MLAs will be ignored during contentious votes. For as long as designation continues to exist, there is an incentive to vote for the communal party. He may disagree with designation, but removing designation will undoubtedly involve a petition of concern, and voting Alliance will not help.

    The UUP and SDLP are dying, and there is a battle for their votes. DUP/SF are winning this battle. The DUP are stealing your policies wholesale. It does not matter if you or I believe them to be cheap electoral tricks, they are quite effectively neutralising your perceived advantages. If you want to turn this around, you need to neutralise theirs, and the designation system works to their advantage by keeping you shut out of important votes. Even if Alliance had 90% of the MLAs the DUP and SF could still veto everything you proposed. It is their rules that say you must designate as “other” and thereby emasculate yourselves — you know you’re truly oppressed when they convince you to do it to yourself. So stop playing by their rules. Sit at the front of the bus and dare them to do something about it.

    mainly vote for a party because its policies or positions reflect their own.

    No, people vote for a party that will protect their interests. You’re no use to them just being noble. You also need a sword.

    has two ministers in the executive, so I’m not sure how you can make that case.

    One of which you got because DUP/SF handed it to you on a plate. Do you honestly think they would have done that if they thought you were any threat to them?