“The debate is gaining momentum due to the shut-out tactics of the two main parties which betray the ethics of an Agreement which was meant to unify.”

Last week, the News Letter had a feature article by former UUP Vice-Chairman Terry Wright, calling for the UUP to enter “virtual opposition”, a more structured stance of performance review for the executive and Assembly, if not full withdrawal from the executive. This may be seen as another attempt to try to square a particularly difficult circle for the party (and indeed the SDLP), as the intention behind the Agreement may be giving way to the practical logic of politics:

“A guaranteed place in government coupled with the ability of the bigger party ministers to take advantage of and trade on their main partner’s desire to sustain power and lack of effective scrutiny is flawed. It is rule without any quality control or moral compass. ….The democracy envisioned and implied within the process begun as a result of post-conflict agreements has become degenerative”.

The executive does operate via majority rule in many respects; it is just that it requires a cross-community majority. The difficulty for the smaller parties in the executive is that they have no levers with which to influence debate, without addressing the fact that the problem is largely structural, rather than merely the result of the attitudes of others to power-sharing. The large parties know that their junior partners are boxed in by their commitment to the principles of 1998 and have no recourse other than increasing public criticism, itself dismissed meekly as “sour grapes” .

Mike Nesbitt and John McCallister battled out the UUP leadership campaign on the basis of the merits of immediate withdrawal, but even Nesbitt’s more cautious view was firm on the need for an engine of change. Some voices in the SDLP have signalled their recognition of the relationship between institutional change and party fortunes.

The difficulty is that the two senior coalition partners have no appetite for change in a system largely working to their advantage; whether it is the ‘shock therapy’ of withdrawal or the construction of public momentum for legislative change, the junior partners must show that the agency is in their grasp….. Whether virtual opposition is the beginnings, remains to be seen….

  • Mister_Joe

    …no appetite for change…

    Oh, the irony.

  • Better Together

    Mister_Joe

    ?

  • Mister_Joe

    Better Together,

    A senior UUP politician complaining about others unwillingness to accept change. How long was the Stormont Parliament/Assembly shut down because of the UUP’s intransigence?

  • The Lodger

    “How long was the Stormont Parliament/Assembly shut down because of the UUP’s intransigence?”

    Mr Joe,

    Right up until one of the parties said it’s terrorist would stop murdering people. Unfortunately they were lying initially.

  • Mister_Joe

    The Lodger,

    In the words of Presidential candidate Reagan, “There you go again”.

  • The Lodger

    Mr Joe,

    You asked the question and I provided you with an accurate answer.

  • Better Together

    Mister_Joe

    I am not sure how you arrive at UUP intransigence as the cause of Stormont’s suspension; rather it was the ambiguity and the dragging of feet on decommissioning by the Republican movement in an attempt to wring every last concession out of the Government.

    Lord Trimble is on record as saying that the setting up of the institutions after the Agreement was of value in demonstrating the bona fides of Unionism in seeking a deal and refuting the tired narrative of “unionist intransigence”.

    Substance of the thread?

  • sherdy

    The UUP complaining about lack of ‘moral compass’! Would they recognise it if it hit them up the face?

  • Mister_Joe

    Better Together,

    History did not start when you seem to think it did. Guess you’re a relative youngster. Hint – suspended 1972, abolished 1973.

  • andnowwhat

    Here’s a thought for the UUP. Go away and make real policies fit for the 21st century and forget your past.

    If you can’t do that, stop whining

  • Better Together

    Mister Joe

    Thanks for the history lesson. It is an extremely simplistic and partial assessment of that period to lay the blame for the prorogation of Stormont solely at the door of the UUP. I feel that strategic decisions could have been made earlier in the 1960s towards rapprochement, but Terence O’Neill lacked the clout internally to deliver them without raising the fears of the Unionist body politic.

    Most of the demands of the civil rights movement had long been met at that point and Brian Faulkner was making significant advances in improving community relations. The decision of Heath cut the feet from under him and pandered to the calls of nationalists and in the short-term, only rewarded the violence of the IRA and loyalists.

    The tendency of political nationalism to ramp up their demands in the early 1970s was exuberance and frustrated movement towards a political solution; it fed both Paisleyite politics and the Provos. An accommodation was in sight and was again squandered by the intransigence of the SDLP over the Council of Ireland, a point recognised by the late Paddy Devlin.

  • Mister_Joe

    Better Together,

    I have no argument with most of that. But you did touch on my point. If the UUP had given O’Neill their support, and had been more willing to make the concessions eventually forced on them by Heath, the Provos might never have got off the ground, maybe.

  • Dec

    ‘the ‘shock therapy’ of withdrawal ‘

    Or alternatively, a ‘hissy fit’ thrown by a couple of has beens who can’t understand why most people don’t vote for them anymore.

    ‘or the construction of public momentum for legislative change’

    Ha! Good luck with that.

  • Better Together

    Mister_Joe

    The difficulty was that O’Neill was too patrician to command enough of a cross-class alliance in support of his reforms. The relationship is dialectical, as willingness to accept reforms was connected both to the internal strength of the leader and also bears a relationship to the political demands of nationalism.

    The key game changer is nationalist acceptance of the consent principle and non-executive North/South powers, something not on offer as a more radical generation graduating twenty years after the Education Act became more assertive in their demands.

  • Well, there is an opposition at Stormont. All Terry Wright needs to do is join the Green Party.