Perhaps we need more trouble makers in Stormont rather than on streets?

Like FitzJamesHorse, I get a sense that something important may have happened this week, though like him I also think it is way to early to conclude too concretely what they might be. But here are some short near ground thoughts to extend yesterday’s briefing for Hillary.

I think it demonstrates that government parties under our rigid and inclusive system put themselves (and the rest of society) in a very dangerous position when they indulge in activism, particularly when it involves stirring oppositionalist voices that have no residual voice on the hill.

As Mark Devenport notes, this was our first street crisis that genuinely touches Stormont’s political arrangements (think three elections in a row with no discernable change).

For all the deaths and injuries arising from dissident Republican activities (the death of David Black was discounted almost immediately), none of it has done much other than stress the body politic and force them to unify.

By contrast these events have brought out and defined political differences to an extent we’ve not seen since before the election of November 2003.

The bit in the middle in society actually matters more than people imagine it does. Alliance got hit because they actively used their balance of power. It made them relevant, and now they are being attacked for it. The question arises, can they follow through? Do they have a critique of where the big two are leading us that will actually impress the voters?

Perhaps it is significant that Belfast City Council is becoming one of the few place that people can make a political impact? The radicalising effects on the body politic have come from local authorities, rather than Stormont where everyone is on their best behaviour and nothing moves without prior agreement from OFMdFM.

Perhaps a little bit of trouble makes people think and reassess matters. Once that trouble takes to the streets it becomes scary and dangerous. Should our politicians not be looking to take more of that trouble off the streets and on to the floor of the house?

Only we don’t need to be talking about flegs, or the names of children’s playgrounds. These just end up taking centre stage because we cannot deal with bigger stuff that actually matters to people.

This is some of what Mike Nesbitt was stutteringly trying to say last night on UTV, but he was already mired in the street fight and once you are down there, and off policy, as Brian pointed out yesterday, nobody actually cares about jobs, education or all island economies, when gratification comes quicker when you can burn something down.

If we are not careful Stormont will resume the role it had in the early troubles: remote, aloof, and most of all, irrelevant to lives of the people it is supposed to represent. Perhaps what we need is more trouble makers, but in Stormont rather than on the streets?

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  • Alias

    Was it not the political class who voted to remove the flag, thereby stirring up the trouble? This isn’t an example of violence filling a political vacuum. The political class engineered this reaction.

  • Mick Fealty

    I did have the ‘right sort of trouble’ but I pulled it. Stuff that relates to real policy, not tribal posturing.

  • BarneyT

    Therein reflects part of the problem…the result of a democratic vote stirring up trouble. If the Alliance tabled the compromised motion, would it not be clear to unionists that they would vote in that direction too? Perhaps arrogance was at play here.

    The Unionist councillors did not abstain, but participated in the voting process….and therefore were obliged to respect the result. The Flag was voted down, not torn down.

    I certainly agree that the politicians via their leaflet campaign have stirred up and influenced the reaction, in advance of the vote and they are continuing to inflame.

    The point about stormont detachment via misrepresentation is accurate and a worrying factor. Whilst the unionist have set this in motion, they do not have control of the brakes.

  • BarneyT

    …the streets just became a little more dangerous with Naomi Long being advised not to return home last night, following death threats to the MP. Now the crowns parliamentarians are in danger. That should surely cause ripples in West Minster of the Alliance sister coalition party leaders are tuned in

  • “Alliance got hit because they actively used their balance of power.”

    Alliance didn’t use its balance of power, it used its policy and the equality impact assessment. It didn’t follow the recommendation from the committee that the flag be taken down, a recommendation that appears not to have been in line with my understanding of the BCC report.

    The Unionist parties are wrong to attack APNI on this issue and the male members of APNI would be better to follow the lead given by Naomi Long than to make silly claims about Nationalists voting for the Union flag to fly over City Hall.

    The Nationalist parties appear to be caught up at present in an internal tussle as to which is greener. Perhaps the threat from Republican paramilitaries is more potent than SF is prepared to admit otherwise why are they running after them in places like east Tyrone? Pan-nationalism usually seems to have greater influence over its wild men than does pan-unionism.

    “The radicalising effects on the body politic have come from local authorities, rather than Stormont where everyone is on their best behaviour and nothing moves without prior agreement from OFMdFM.”

    Stormont has cross-community voting and petitions of concern to curb majoritarianism; the councils don’t. Nothing much moves at Stormont because of the OFMDFM duopoly and the DUP/SF majority in committees. This majoritarianism came off the rails in PAC when a committee session on NIW was held in public and unelected representatives weighed-in.

  • PaddyReilly

    In Democracy, the people choose the government: with Unionism, it is the reverse. The methods by which the Unionist Government chooses the majority Unionist people are threefold:-

    1) gerrymander;
    2) discrimination;
    3) pogrom.

    As under current circumstances any elaboration of 1) and 2) are ruled out, then we must revert to 3). Now it would be quite easy to intimidate all Alliance Party workers out of the working class parts of Belfast as they have no paramilitary backing, but how do you intimidate the Alliance voters, without identifying them? Are their eyes closer together? I think we can look forward to an era of attacks on suspected Alliance types.

  • PR, I don’t hear Naomi Long using this sort of language.

  • Mick Fealty

    “Walking in a Fenian Wonderland…”, released yesterday. As Mitchel says… “whatever makes them miserable makes us happy…”

  • Neil

    If you haven’t seen this yet I’d be surprised.

  • tacapall

    Next we’ll be hearing Mick is the government should give loyalist paramilitaries a wildcard seat at Stormont, there’s already too many troublemakers at Stormont they hide behind the erroneous mantra of respected politicians who are quite happy rolling the snowballs of confrontation and violence for the less intelligent types to throw then with a smirk point the finger of blame at others when the fruits of their labour turn sour at the same time lecturing their political opponents about whats morally acceptable.

  • Alias

    “In Democracy, the people choose the government: with Unionism, it is the reverse.”

    How many of the people voted for the present ‘government’? I’d suggest that virtually none of the people voted to have the present government. DUP voters are highly unlikely to have voted for PSF to be there, and PSF voters are highly unlikely to have voted for the DUP to be there. Since neither set of voters would wish the other party to be in the government, the people did not choose the government. Under consociationalism the voter can only choose part of the government and therefore can only choose part of its policy, assuming that the part he supported is even implemented. The whole state is now gerrymandered to produce the same parties in government at every election, with the voter duly deprived of the fundamental democratic option of ejecting the current government.

  • Mick, if the likes of that had originated with Newton Emerson or the Hole in the Wall Gang we’d all be told to lighten-up it’s only good natured banter or satire. But alas when the boot is on the other foot, someone ripping the piss is seen as somehow symptomatic of an underlying dark zero-sum outlook prevalent in the nationalist community. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
    Most nationalists are genuinely perplexed at the faux outrage being displayed over the past few days. They are also wise enough to see there is another game being played out here within the unionist community that doesn’t concern us. So as long as the protests don’t cause us too much disruption, they are free to protest away and we’ll go about our normal business.
    We’ll snigger at the likes of this or the even better ‘Shining remix” ( or Wizard of Oz ( but that’s how people react to something that is at first glance incomprehensible. Like some weird Amazonian tribal initiation or circumcision, this is what unionists/loyalists do – we might have an inconsequential laugh at their behaviour but that certainly doesn’t indicate any delight at their predicament.

  • grandimarkey

    Of all of the online parodies This is my favourite.

  • Mick Fealty


    I absolutely believe YOU when you say that… but I don’t think it’s generally applicable. Newt usually hits a nerve because he’s good at pricking pomposity.

    This is dining out on what you think holds the promise of a better future based on the misery of others. It’s an interesting diversion though, even if we are drifting from the original point (yeah, I know, I did too)..

    My point is that there’s always going to be people in society who don’t like what ‘the government’ is up to. Steam builds up and lets off. My concern is not the particulars of this protest, but how people communicate with a rigid and unhearing administration.

  • Greenflag

    Alias @ 7 December 2012 at 11:57 am

    ‘The whole state is now gerrymandered to produce the same parties in government at every election, with the voter duly deprived of the fundamental democratic option of ejecting the current government.’

    Sometimes Alias you can be as deaf as a door 😉 .
    The NI State was gerrymandered from day 1 and the current solution is just a continuation of the previous status quo except that now it’s a ‘divvied ‘ up rather than just a purely ‘unionist’ dominated regime .

    It’s either that or another 40 years of political wandering in a political desert.

    It would be admirable and indeed gratifying to see the brave AP coopt the UUP and SDLP into a coherent opposition but both these sometimes ‘middle of the road ‘ parties have been so long in the middle of the road that every passing ‘crisis event’ knocks them further to the edge of the road to political irrelevance and perhaps even extinction.

    People protesting against the flag being restricted to 17 days a year is fine – Threatening AP politicians and others with their lives and forcing them to leave their homes is just Kristallnacht -Northern Ireland style 🙁

  • sonofstrongbow

    What is it with nationalists and their predilections for comparing unionists to Nazis? Perhaps it’s just that their grasp of world history is as poor as their take on Irish history.

    Too many trolling along with the (misplaced) confidence in their HMP Maze degrees handed out with the travel warrant to get them home methinks.

    Here’s a bit of tuition for free: it was Irish Republicans that got into bed with the Nazis and before that they distinguished themselves in providing the largest single national contingent after the Germans to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War (not that that little expedition went particularly well for them mind you).

  • “Perhaps what we need is more trouble makers, but in Stormont rather than on the streets?”

    Stormont looks a bit like a drop-in centre for trouble makers 🙂

    How beholden to Stormont is the MSM? It needs to be a bit of a troublemaker. Is it too dependent on advertising revenue from government to do some decent investigative journalism? If an editor were to take a line that upset the OFMDFM or a lesser department too much would he or she be advised that such advertising could be given to other outlet? I pose that question because of something I picked up on the Grapevine.

    Could the balance of power in the committees be altered? At the moment they appear to be largely impotent. DUP and SF hold 6 out of the 11 seats. If this were cut to 4 and closed sessions were curtailed might this help to offset the power of OFMDFM? More open government would create a space for troublemakers like me to make a contribution – hopefully positive – alongside the elected representatives and the civil servants.

    Some might view Ann Travers, an old acquaintance of mine, as a troublemaker but I thought she brought some useful insights to a recent exchange in Stormont. For those who may not have heard, she’s just received the Inspirational Woman of the Year Award from the Belfast Telegraph. Ann was a member of our cross-community group up on the north-coast when she was a schoolgirl coping with the trauma of her sister’s murder. It was my privilege to be associated with such wonderful young people.

  • simtrib

    The NI State was gerrymandered from day 1

    It’s a nice wrapper to put on that but ultimately underneath that wrapper is nothing more than the logic of ethnic blood and soil supremacism, like the Serb nationalist who wants his sacred soil in Kosovo back, the Jewish settler pointing to the Torah to determine what land is his, or indeed for that matter Hamas and the Jihad to reclaim the land “stolen” by infidels. The position that when it comes to self determination an Irish nationalist has / had 100% of a right to it and a British unionist has / had 0% of a right to it. An absolutism most Irish nationalists seem to lose when discussing the problems of Abkhazia, South Ossetia or whether the native territories of Quebec should be allowed to stick with Canada should Quebec secede. I can only conclude that this is a result of childhood indoctrination.

    In so far as the concept of gerrymandering national borders has objective rather than rhetorical meaning virtually every national boundary on Earth has been gerrymandered in the same way as the one in Ireland.

  • Mr Fealty’s point about Alliance actively using their balance of power is well made.
    The big parties have been used to two or three Alliance councillors getting them off hooks with a compromise. It changes the dynamic when there are six councillors who are a genuine “force”..policy makers rather than facilitators.
    That is probably true in Stormont also.
    Im still not entirely sure why Alliance got involved as much as they did. Their own review might be an interesting read if it became “public”.
    But certainly DUP seemed to be targetting Alliance. No coincidence that four of its six councillors are in East Belfast.. Nor is Castlereagh a coincidence.

  • Kevsterino

    I haven’t seen nor heard of any public celebration of lowering the flag above City Hall in the various Nationalist communities of Belfast.

    Have there been any that have not been covered in the news?

  • RegisterForThisSite

    Kevsterino, Not heard of any Nationalists celebrating but I bet the owner of the factory in China that makes cheap flags is probably over the Moon.

  • PaddyReilly

    every national boundary on Earth has been gerrymandered

    Fortunately not: it’s a matter of numbers. The Ulster boundary takes the thing too far: it started with two approvers for every disapprover: nowadays it’s more like 51 to 49. You can’t hope to run a normal, successful state with that woeful level of approval, as this week’s events are demonstrating.

  • stewrogers

    As a unionist, I am disheartened to see this week’s unnecessary and disappointing events unfold. However, the saddest part is that it has taken the perceived erosion of Britishness to make the unionist/loyalist community see just how much trouble it is in. Fragmented, disillusioned, still with paramilitaries calling the shots in many areas, unionism is creaking under its own maxim of “united we stand, divided we fall”. This week has shown how disconnected from reality the party leaderships are, much like the protesters are, though they arrived there from a different way. Robinson and Nesbitt need to take a long hard look at what is happening here. They have let the unionist vote fall to bits. Alliance has massively increased their vote for a number of reasons but the key one is the failure of the unionist parties.
    The UUP have hit the self destruct button repeatedly and now are an afterthought. They have no clear policy direction, they appear irrelevant, they have taken the mantle of a UUP vote is a wasted vote, a conviction fired at Alliance in the past.
    The DUP on the other hand seem to have morphed into the UUP of old. It’s hard not to see them as self interested suits that only have an interest in the middle classes and above. They switch people off with their bible thumping brand of unionism that always smacks of hypocrisy. They do not have an interest in the working classes, appearing aloof and detached from the very people they claim to represent. But painfully they are the only worthwhile party for unionists when it comes to election time.
    I can only hope that this week is a watershed moment. The unionist parties have to reconnect with the voter at ALL levels of society. Education has to be a priority, specifically teaching people about the importance of politics for them and their children and for the strength of Northern Ireland as a country. Peter Robinson waxed lyrical about Catholic unionists in a speech celebrated by some, seen as a premature judgement by many. However he continues to overlook the working class Protestant unionist.
    I also get the feeling unionism lost more than it knows with the death of David Irvine. Maybe if he were alive, those who successfully orchestrated these futile and dangerous protests would have taken another path and would have been sitting in the chamber, democratically voting to keep the Union flag flying over City Hall.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    ‘…virtually every national boundary on Earth has been gerrymandered…’

    This is simply untrue. Borders usually reflect the national loyalties of the people who live within them. Where they don’t, instability is the norm.

    Gerrymandering involves the manipulation of boundaries in order to advantage some of the people, and disadvantage others, within those same boundaries. Our old friend Wikipedia (an august source) describes it thus:

    ‘gerrymandering is a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan or incumbent-protected districts… Gerrymandering may be used to achieve desired electoral results for a particular party, or may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group.’

    Usually the term is used to refer to electoral districts, and it’s highly unusual to use it to refer to an entire ‘national’ (sic) territory. You claim that ‘every national boundary on Earth has been gerrymandered,’ but in truth, very, very few can be described in these terms.

    Northern Ireland, however, is one of the few.


    Really? Every border in the world was established ‘in the same way as the one in Ireland’?

    On the contrary, I’d challenge you to name even one border on earth which was established ‘in the same way as the one in Ireland.’

    I certainly can’t think of one.

  • Sp12

    “Kevsterino, Not heard of any Nationalists celebrating but I bet the owner of the factory in China that makes cheap flags is probably over the Moon.”

    The man celebrating lives a little closer to home.
    The Boycot the Alliance Party facebook page had instructions for Saturdays Belfast City Centre demo to bring 3 flags, one to wear like a magical shawl, one to wave and finally one to tie round anything stationary once you get there (a PSNI jeep would do in a pinch). A few comments down there was a very helpful post telling everyone they could buy 3 union flegs for a tenner in a shop on the creggah road 🙂

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Good post. But I must pull you up on this:

    ‘Education has to be a priority, specifically teaching people about the importance of politics for them and their children and for the strength of Northern Ireland as a country.’

    This isn’t ‘education’; this is indoctrination.

    What, in your eyes, are the ‘strengths of Northern Ireland as a country’?

    I think the whole concept of ‘Northern Ireland’ is flawed – politically, historically, morally and perhaps even demographically – and continuing attempts to prop up a failed state with some ersatz ideology of ‘Northern Irishness’ can only prove destructive.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Strongbow Óg

    ‘What is it with nationalists and their predilections for comparing unionists to Nazis?’

    Personally, I disapprove of the analogy; but since you ask why nationalists, and others, seem to so frequently, make it, I suppose I could venture that it might be something to do with supremacism, and a predilection for inciting the darkest tendencies of the mob?

  • sonofstrongbow


    You seem confused. I didn’t ask for a definition of the Shinner gather-up on BCC

    But never mind, my own theory for what it’s worth is a wistful fondness on the part of nationalists for the blue (Rangers) shirts every Prod is required by Orange Law to wear.

  • From the “Walking in a Fenian wonderland” Mick posted:

    “In the city they put flags on streetlights
    Then pretend that this is their homeland”


    “Ireland free ain’t it thrilling
    No more hate, that’s what we’re willing
    We’ll frolic and play, the british away”

    Now, I am sure the (cough) alleged *Dutch* *Protestant* intended it as the usual ” sure, it’s only a bit of craic” rather than a bit of naked bigotry but as a British person who regards this part of Ireland as his homeland (but nevertheless doesn’t see the need to firebomb the nearest Alliance office to prove it) I would like to confirm that I and many of my ilk will not be heading for the nearest available rowing boat just to give him the pleasure of a Brit/Unionist/Hun Free Ireland.

    Apart from the ethno/nationalist overload, fair play to him, it’s catchy wee tune.

  • looneygas

    As an Irish Canadian who was deeply offended to hear the words to The Sloop John B rearranged to poke fun at famine emigrants, I would like to say that say that I am disappointed to hear this Walking In A Fenian Wonderland nonsense. My ancestors fled Ireland when faced with starvation, came to Canada on a timber ship while ships full of food sailed to England. I was royally pissed to hear the marching dorks in their dorky outfits singing “the famine’s over, why don’t you go home.”(or maybe just their supporters were singing, forgot that hair-splice)
    Anyhow, I would like to say that i empathise with the poor Loyalists who will not be able to feel the the comfort of seeing their flag flying high above all and are forced to go on You Tube and listen to such rubbing-your-nose-innit-ism.
    However, I’ll just say HAHA.

  • Sp12

    “the (cough) alleged *Dutch* *Protestant* ”

    He’s certainly a european who ever he is, the pronunciation of tricolour gives it away.

  • stewrogers

    The quote is “Education has to be a priority, specifically teaching people about the importance of politics for them and their children and for the strength of Northern Ireland as a country.”
    To make it clear what I mean in terms of education – politicians need to go beyond their usual mail shot of self promoting flyers (on all sides) and promote the game they are in, namely democracy and how it works. I’m not talking about schools run by a political party (I believe religion and political bias needs to be kept away from ALL schools) however politicians do need to appear in front of the next generation and explain their purpose. I’m thinking back to when Mo Mowlam appeared in Methody just before Labour came to power. Her talk was very much about the function (and failure) of politics in NI and offering up her opinion and why she was a member of the Labour party, without sounding like a sales pitch.

    “and for the strength of Northern Ireland as a country.” What is the strength of any country? The people. As we in NI are only too aware, it is the people who define the country and shape its future. That is why this week has annoyed me as a unionist and that is why I offer up education as a priority. It doesn’t take much thought to stand in the middle of the street and tell a cop to f*** off. But all that will get you is arrested or cautioned. An education can give you tools to use politics and democracy to have an impact in a more constructive manner. To vote for people who share your view, or even be voted in to take action yourself.
    My biggest disappointment as a citizen of NI – the killers of David Black are still out there somewhere and need to have their lives ruined, but all we can talk about is a flag.

  • Zig70

    This is all just smart politics. SDLP are leaving behind the petty bickering with everything SF and recapturing their share of the tribal vote. The DUP are squeezing the Alliance. After all it’s the tribes that vote and the ivory tower dogooders stay at home turned off by the mess on the streets.

  • seanb123

    As a republican i must say i am disgusted at the goings on in Glenavy.If the people that did this think it is some form of retaliation for the loyalist skullduggery of recent days they couldnt be more wrong.In my opinion it will only make it much harder to achieve genuine political union in this country.Cant help but feeling more disheartened of recent weeks than i have in a long time.

  • TwilightoftheProds

    More troublemakers needed in our provincial assembly?

    …best we can hope for seems to be something like this…

    Flegs, theres a lot of it aboot, eh?

    I sense Mr. Joe’s insidious hand in all of this….

  • Professor Yattle

    Again, Fitzjameshorse praises Alliance for what he has always previously, and endlessly, denounced as “letsgetalongerism”.
    What has been the point of this man’s years of tedious trolling?

  • sonofstrongbow

    The word is that the Glenavy Painting ASU hummed ‘Walking in a Fenian Wonderland’ as they decorated the local Church of Ireland with festive greetings such as “IRA, “scum out” and “kill all Huns”.

    All of course all a bit of crack, but, the horror was yet to come it is said they walked round in circles outside the closed church afterwards. The despicable bastids!

  • “He’s certainly a european who ever he is, the pronunciation of tricolour gives it away”

    “European” as in living in the continent of Europe, I do believe you might be correct. I suspect, however, that a visceral hatred of the Ulster hun may be something that could originate a bit closer to home.

  • Gopher

    Something happened you are correct everyone in Northern Ireland with half a brain who did not have flawed history beat into to them from when they were young seen our politicians are bigger idiots than they ever dared imagine. Unable to do anything constructive they revert to type . Though I must admit the Alliance Party and Basil McCrea shocked me by not having the same perverse convictions of the other parties. Thankfully the one good side effect if you are not held up in a protest you might be able to do 37 Mph in a 30 without the civil service inventing jobs making you feel like Freddy West as all the Police will be (getting overtime) failing to do anything (as usual) against lawless mobs.

  • Sp12

    ““European” as in living in the continent of Europe, I do believe you might be correct. I suspect, however, that a visceral hatred of the Ulster hun may be something that could originate a bit closer to home.”

    Not living no, you don’t pick up that pronunciation simply by ‘living’ in Europe. At the end of the day, it’s only one bad video out of a million on the internet, it’ll be forgotten in a few days

    The lady who was screaming through the broken city hall glass however has a lot more staying power, she’s well on her way to becoming a meme.

  • Alan N/Ards

    It is good to see the Canadian chap from the Americas is back posting. Yes you are right it has been a bad week for the irish unionist’s with the flag being taken down by the catholic nationalist’s. Part of me understands why they wanted it down and that’s fair enough as we took their lands centuries ago. I’m sure it’s the way native Americans feel every time they look at the flag of the people who stole their land centuries ago flying over government buildings.

  • In another blog post yesterday, several hours before the one referred to by Mick Fealty in his original post here, I blogged seperately about the human cost to members of the Alliance Party….and stated that I would be trying to post about the politics of it later…….this resulted in the blog to which Mick has kindly linked.

    We I think would distinguish between human sympathy and political feeling. I am as opposed to (faux) letsgetalongerism as I ever was…..although it seems inappropriate to have the normal hostilities at this sensitive time.
    Alliance will get a bounce from this. Thats entirely normal.
    But it is important to keep the sympathy and the politics seperate……otherwise we get the headline in the BElfast Telegraph which proclaims “We Are All Alliance Now”. Frankly I think that committed members of the Alliance Party would prefer to be judged on their policies….although we are all fully entitled to note that this is how some of their opponents behave.
    But tragedy has befallen individuals on the basis of their membership of political parties. The Tele had no such headline.

  • looneygas

    Alan N/Ards,
    I understand that you Northern Irish don’t care for foreigners poking their noses into your affairs or making judgements on your actions, but I must say that I can’t be the only diaspora Irishman who’s glad to see the Union flag come down. I do hope that the more excitable among you can control themselves or be locked up if necessary before anyone is seriously hurt over this non-edible piece of cloth.
    As for Native Canadians or Americans and their feelings regarding flags, I don’t care about any flag especially and wouldn’t care if we flew no flag.. I look forward to a borderless world in which the wealth is shared equally and no ethnic or religious or socio-economic group dominates another. I expect this within no more than 27 lifetimes, give or take.
    Maybe Belfast’s flagless pole can be a new symbol for the world. Buddhist emptiness or something. Less is more. Maybe people can meditate under the empty flagpole. Pardon my rambling.

  • simtrib

    @Billy Pilgrim

    ‘…virtually every national boundary on Earth has been gerrymandered…’

    This is simply untrue. Borders usually reflect the national loyalties of the people who live within them. Where they don’t, instability is the norm.

    I don’t disagree, as instability as occurred in, say Khasmir. However goodness is amongst other things recognising the equal rights of your fellow man, and that includes equal rights to self determiniation. That is fundamenatally why, in Star Wars terms, during the troubles the republican forces of Sinn Fein and the IRA were the “baddies” and the forces of unionism, the RUC and the British army were the “goodies”. Just like a rapist is a goodie and someone who obtains consensual sex is not a baddie whatever his peccadilloes.

  • Neil

    I don’t disagree, as instability as occurred in, say Khasmir. However goodness is amongst other things recognising the equal rights of your fellow man, and that includes equal rights to self determiniation.

    And if we could only come up with some way of balancing that equal right of the common man out among the population. By voting for people and allowing them to then vote for suggestions that come before them. Than the people would respect that vote. Oh yeah, what’s it called? Democracy! The thing Loyalists are rioting about, because Alliance did the unconscionable thing of having an idea different to Loyalists. That’s the one.

    And now we have ‘protestors’ (if they were Republican they’d be dissidents) in towns like Ballymena protesting about a flag in Belfast council. That’s as valid as Republicans in Derry protesting about a flag in Lisburn. Democracy = majority rules, in a given place. Jesus did indeed weep.

  • simtrib


    I have neither actually opposed the vote of Alliance nor been in Ballymena for the last 3 years, but don’t let that get in the way of your prejudices and ad honinem.

    Irish republicanism is a supremacist ideology whose whole raison d’etre was to elimate and destroy the self determination of unionists and nothing particularly else. That may be what you support but at least acknowlwdge it rather than playing for sympathy. No doubt you have a shopping list of historical greivances that “prove” that your fellow human being should have less rights than you, just as every sociopath has a sob story to tell to his arresting officer. However all human beings actually have the same rights.

  • Neil

    Very good. I’m attacking you yet I’m a sociopath? All I’m saying is that democracy seems to the the answer to our squabble here.

    Irish republicanism is a supremacist ideology whose whole raison d’etre was to elimate and destroy the self determination of unionists and nothing particularly else.

    And Unionism’s raison d’etre was to elimate and destroy the self determination of Nationalists and nothing particularly else. They succeeded when they Gerrymandered a constituency in the North East they could never lose. Some people are just pissed of that they were wrong. They can lose and have done in Belfast (a city with more CNRs than PULs).

    Democracy sucks when you cannot set things up any more so you get a one third Unionist majority in the council of a two thirds Nationalist city (Derry back in the Utopia of Unionist ruled NI). And you reckon gerrymandering never happened? Some people lost and some people need to get over it.

  • Neil

    Incidentally, re scanning my posts, I have performed no ad hominem attack on you. You have on me. All I have stated are facts, and I grew up in Ballymena hence my comparison.

  • simtrib

    And Unionism’s raison d’etre was to elimate and destroy the self determination of Nationalists and nothing particularly else. They succeeded when they Gerrymandered a constituency in the North East they could never lose. Some people are just pissed of that they were wrong. They can lose and have done in Belfast (a city with more CNRs than PULs).

    Look, let’s cut the crap. The partition of the United Kingdom from the Republic of Ireland in 1921 was a compromise. It may not have been a compromise to your liking but it was based in principle on the idea that unionists and nationalists had equal rights to self determination. The whole ideology of Sinn Fein / IRA during the troubles was based on supremacism, that that right of unionists and nationalists to self determination was not to be equally granted and that unionists should be subdued and dominated by violence and threat since they had no right to self determination, and murder was occasioned to enforce that view against consent.

    Let’s ignore the specifics of flags and Belfast City Council.

    Can you concede the principle that that unionists and nationalists have and did have an equal right of self determination?

    Thought not.

    That’s what makes you a baddie and not a goodie.

  • Neil

    Look, let’s cut the crap. The partition of the United Kingdom from the Republic of Ireland in 1921 was a compromise.

    No, it was ignoring the right to self determination of the Irish people. But you don’t like that because you didn’t have an artificial majority back then, it only suited post the partition of Ireland because the democratic will of the people of Ireland (including the Unionist minority – that’s how democracy works btw) had been subverted at the point of a British rifle.

    Can you concede the principle that that unionists and nationalists have and did have an equal right of self determination?

    Yes, go and have a look. Always have done go and have a look.

    Thought not.

    That’s what makes you a baddie and not a goodie.

    And there ya go. You accuse me of ad hominem attacks then repeatedly perform them. I’m all for democracy and peace. But I’m a Republican see. A working, normal, non paramilitary every day Republican.

  • simtrib


    I have not called you a sociopath, however justifying immoral behavior by producing a shopping list of people who have done you wrong and have property x, and then doing wrong to somebody who has property x as “revenge” is sociopathic behavior par excellance. Sociopaths do that every day of the week.

    It justifies nothing. What is right now is right now. Humans have rights, not archetypal groups.

    The difference between your “supremacism” of unionism and the supremacism of nationalism is the same as that between the “supremacism” of Kosovo Albanians and those of Serbs who claim Kosovo. Not necessarily in magnitude but in principle. Are you interested in rational debate though? I’m willing to give you a chance, that you are not an absolutist supremacist. Prove me wrong or right as is your wish.

    If you believe that Irish nationalists had all of the right to self determination in 1921 and that unionists had no rights to self determination then I guess that that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it, even if I would fight and die to oppose it. You will though have confirmed everything I said as being correct. If however you believe that unionists had some right to self determination, but not to the extent that I do, then perhaps we might have an interesting discussion on our hands. In which case let it proceed.

  • simtrib

    Can you concede the principle that that unionists and nationalists have and did have an equal right of self determination?

    Yes, go and have a look. Always have done go and have a look.

    Then you must concede that that a border somewhere on the Island of Ireland should have seperated the United Kingdom from “Southern Ireland” in 1921, whether the one that did occur or not.

    Taking this in baby steps. Is that your position or not?

    If it is not then surely you must oppose unionists having an equal right of self determination as nationalists.

  • Professor Yattle

    So it’s “(faux) letsgetalongerism” you’re opposed to now, Fitzjameshorse? What does that qualification, let alone it’s qualifying brackets, mean?
    Your critique of ‘letsgetalongerism’ was always that it was inherently ‘faux’. Are you now saying Alliance faux-letsgetalongerism on flags is not as a faux as the faux-faux letsgetalongerism you critiqued them about before?
    I think you’ve never had anything much say, and your pet phrase has no meaning, beyond a sneer at those who do not share your tribal absolutism. What else can you have been meaning all this time, in objecting to compromise, other than a call for outright victory?
    Now you are witnessing what that looks like when loyalists demand it of ‘letsgetalongerists’, you back off in embarrassment, although not for long I see.
    Please take some time to think about what it is you are really trying to say, if anything.

  • DC

    The thing I like about FJH’s piece above is that it attempts a bit of analysis which is often lacking on Slugger, sure poetry or a nice turn of phrase is added in by Mick Fealty to extract bad blood from raw situations. Poetry over politics sounds nice and is an emollient, but it sure as heck is no theory. I think ‘grains of sand’ was the last one or something doing the rounds.

    So how about a shot at developing an explanation with a view to making sure politics is done better to maintain good relations? This may well be termed by some as an attempt to ‘retro-engineer a traumatic present’ or to the ordinary folk it’s nothing other than a stab at political analysis.

    On further thought, I don’t think it is good politics to boil down the much needed cross-community cohesion, sharing and integration policy and ‘shared future’ rhetoric solely to the issue of flag flying. The DUP was unhelpful in that regard but the response from Alliance has been:

    “We will take our decisions based on principles, based on furthering our beliefs and objectives in delivering a shared future and we will not be deterred from that by violent people.

    Unionists have now equated CSI and ‘shared future’ as actions related to them only and in particular involves reduction to union flags etc, basically the decision to remove the union flag was essentially a localised BCC decision. Applying a regional ‘shared future’ rhetoric over it without any understanding of what a nationalist reciprocation looks like as part of this process perhaps should have been avoided. Bearing in mind the original nationalist output was total removal and once that genie had come out of the green bottle the issue was toxic.

    The PUP support for the flag policy had melted away, Alliance was out on limbo, never a good place to be. On that basis, I think it should have let the removal vote go ahead and carry by Alliance abstaining 24-21 perhaps? After that it could have negotiated up and progressed the flag issue, being seen to save it from extinction, rather than working with republicans to limit – which was seen as regressive, not progressive. **All of this should be seen in the context of Alliance working and operating within unionist communities, it could have achieved the same outcome but using better tactics.**

    This would have required a lot of media work before hand in the run up to the vote to condition the electorate. Such as ‘Alliance says you can’t eat a flag, it’s not a priority for us at this time, but we are in listening mode all the time, we will watch and see how this pans out after, we have other stuff to be getting on with etc’.

    I believe Alliance failed to use politics – albeit dirty politics – to make sure its clean set of policies could be introduced without harming good relations in the process.

    Nationalists have got off scot free, given it was that grouping that initiated a complete fascist-type removal of the flag and have now come out seeming reasonable enough, sure the flag is now out on Betty Windsor’s birthday, we are tolerant it is themmums.

    Looking at the news you can see that unionists have recognised this and have got annoyed at Alliance in its part in furthering a republican engineered motion and agenda, but I imagine it is something that even those liberal unionists will not appreciate.

  • DC

    Or if Alliance wants to use shared future ideals it perhaps more easily could have blocked the removal motion until regional agreement had been reached on what a shared future means for all.

  • I am assuredly not embarrassed in any way.
    I have for more than two years “sneered” at letsgetalongerism and hope to do so again in the not too distant future.
    Yes “faux” is implied.
    But don’t get the idea that the Alliance Party is anything more than just one aspect.
    I find the entire Golden Halo I appealing…..
    Surprisingly perhaps I get along quite well with a lot of people.

  • DC is right but there was the potential for a deal by simply bringing the Cenotaph Plan upfront. Actually on reflection it looks like the DUP were simply carried away by their own rhetoric….and thought they would leave the City Hall that night with a deal. It got out of hand. Frankly on Monday afternoon, nobody could have foreseen this debacle and safe to assume a lot of people regret things they said and did.

  • DC

    Option 1 – Let the removal go through would have placed the media attention onto the nationalist side of the city while Alliance would have drawn criticism and probably still been attacked for “what kind of prods are ye” it still could have got out of it better by working up a deal in the shadows and told nationalists off in the process for doing what it did. This is good stuff in unionist communities. Both sides probably coming out looking bad – a win win 🙂

    Option 2 – to block the motion would be to redirect shared future back up into Stormont for regional agreement and pausing the flag issue at BCC.

    The cenotaph you are right, I wasn’t aware of the inner workings of BCC, but regardless of that joker card the Alliance must protect its position regardless of what situation it finds itself in.

  • DC


    Re the DUP’s cenotaph proposal, I can match you on both SDLP’s and SF’s speed with which they were prepared to accept flying on restricted days.

    Using option one would likely have called bluff on SDLP and SF in terms of wanting to attract the opprobrium as good relations spoilers.

    Ultimately meaning Alliance may well never have had to become embroiled in national identity politics because the SDLP and SF may well have decided to pull back from that removal motion and initiate restricted days off their own bat.

  • zemblan

    ‘Only we don’t need to be talking about flegs, or the names of children’s playgrounds. These just end up taking centre stage because we cannot deal with bigger stuff that actually matters to people.’

    An absolutely vital comment, brimming with the truth. Yes, the fact is that Stormont spends an inordinate amount of time talking about flags, symbols, cross-community programmes (or outreach), marches, etc. But the really important issues, the issues that affect each and every one of us, are generally passed over with an impotent shrug of the shoulders.

    The general population, and most certainly the younger generation, are no longer interested in sectarian retrenchment. They care infinitely more about access to free healthcare, tuition fees, cuts to the welfare state, fair legal and political representation, justifiable taxation, and so on. The sad truth is that such issues are either dismissed out of hand, or simply thrown over to the NIO for further consultation.

    Of course, nothing much can be done unless Stormont is given the ability to set its own budget – something that will perhaps be vigorously rejected by Unionists (especially those who dwell in the shadow of the Conservative Party). But this is no reason as to why we cannot engage in serious discussion about the shape, texture, and type, of society that we all wish to live in.

    Sectarianism provides merely a useful smokescreen for those that want to take us back to the dark ages.

  • DC


    Why can’t politicians process these things together, flags can coexist with cuts in welfare – just at the minute flags processing is taking up more time.

    I am glad you raised the children’s playground because that was like a nationalist fart in the room when BCC was sitting to take the decision on the flag, which I guess proves my ‘shared future’ point in that any shared future which only requires unionist introspection on the way forward is futile. This is why the likes of Chris Donnelly and that are pissing themselves laughing as no hard questions have been asked as they have engineered their politics so as to be currently outside of such a discussion.

    Also, Stormont would be the place to discuss meaty issues, but unfortunately i believe the place wasn’t even sitting when all this really kicked off.

    There’s no point complaining about the issues, you need to know that people make their own history but not under conditions of their own choosing.

  • zemblan


    I take a typically Habermasian view on things. This means that I place a great deal of emphasis on communicative reason – or the ability of political representatives to use reason and not polemic in order to arrive at satisfactory conclusions to the benefit of all. Sadly, when you have a government that is filled with slow-witted puppets and grasping publicity hawks, it becomes difficult to realise this ideal.

    So what to do? It seems to me that we simply have to live through this terrible sectarian fog, and cling to the desperate hope that we might one day discuss issues that affect all people in equal measure. This means that we have to allow the old sectarian dinosaurs to die out: which is rather difficult as the selfsame dinosaurs have nurtured a whole progeny of irrational supporters. I remain hopeful in any event that reason and good sense will triumph, and that a tolerant rationalism will eventually lead to the creation of fair-minded policy-making; but not before years of stale political showmanship and sectarian flag-waving.

    Already there is a huge gulf of difference emerging between the political identity of the older generation and the younger generation. The latter appears to be more interested in political pragmatism, with the discussion of shared perspectives and agendas, wheres the former is interested in a debased form of political oneupmanship. The latter is more interested in establishing shared narratives, with the prospect political pluralism and social cohesion, than with sticking to a single political ideology. This leads me to believe that, exempting a few radical elements that are forever carping on about their allegiance to flag and country, there may well be a brighter future for this place.

  • DC

    Based on the fall out that ‘reason’ was not followed. Above I have attempted to explain why based on my own views and senses and experience of living in an area which has a history of returning Alliance reps.

    All in all – well done SDLP and SF.

  • Comrade Stalin


    My reaction to the cenotaph proposal when I first heard it (a couple of hours after the vote on Monday) was that I would have no problem with it and I think there would have been a way found to get the SDLP on board with it – the SDLP have always been constructive and sensitive to unionist concerns connected with Remembrance and the centoaph.

    But having spent some time thinking about it, I can now see two problems. First, agreeing to the proposal carries with it the very real risk that it would look like caving in to intimidation and thuggery, and that isn’t acceptable. Secondly, I have come to the view that the DUP are a bunch of tricky bastards. Did anyone see any DUP proposals for a flag compromise of any kind before the vote ? No. Why ? Because the DUP’s concern was not the flag itself, but to ensure that their message of Alliance Party treachery was carried to loyalist communities with the maximum impact. Proposing a compromise in time for people to reflect upon it and debate it would have detracted from that objective.

    I am not in any kind of mood to help out the DUP at all, quite frankly. This is not politics, it is personal – their deliberate, intentional actions have led to death threats against people I care a lot about; friends of mine, some of whom have been attacked and some of whom are living in fear of attack, are stressed, can’t sleep and are not able to get on with their work or private lives for fear of attacks. All this is because the DUP just will not get past their loss of East Belfast and will not put country before party.

  • Comrade Stalin,
    You could well be right.
    But this is really too big for “analysis”. I read your piece…and as Im sure you can appreciate we could tease out nuance.
    But really this is no time for a nuanced approach. I fully take on board that you are “not in any kind of mood to help out the DUP”. Thats understandable and you and your party are entitled to take the lead on this and the rest just go with it.
    There is frankly no sign of this abating except when the Sabbath dawns and those who caused the grief put on their Sunday clothes.
    And then Monday and the debate……which actually comes too soon in a way. It will understandably be conducted with a lot of ill feeling…………and that may be counter-productive.
    Robinson and others should really have been more pro-active before now and Monday.

  • Comrade Stalin


    It is a bit of a quandry, because being intransigent over the issue of the cenotaph on the basis that it would be seen as a cave-in could be argued as an example of avoiding a tough decision because of optics.

    I read your article just now. A few points. I am not sure why you are asking why Alliance got involved in this, it’s as if you think there was a choice, as if fence-sitting was an option. A position had to be adopted due to the SF-SDLP bringing it to the council meeting. Voting with the unionists – especially after they had distributed their leaflet – to keep the flag there would have thrown the party open to all kinds of accusations, not least that it had violated its own stated flag policy, but that it is simply a small-u unionist tool of the DUP desperately trying to keep Peter Robinson sweet for cushy jobs. Abstaining would have been no different from passing the nationalist motion and the outcome would have been much the same as we see; and it would have been hard to justify against that same party policy on flags.

    As I pointed out elsewhere this business did not happen out of the blue. It’s been going on in the background for some time, particularly since the council elections, and SF’s support for the compromise was known about some time ago. It is certainly true that SF pushed this to wind up the unionists and I see your argument that Alliance perhaps unwittingly became part of that ploy. But you can’t abandon your own policies on the basis that they happen to coincide with someone else’s plans to stir trouble.

    The DUP absolutely set a trap, they started working on it a year ago and the leaflet was the culmination of their strategy. They knew that they could not stop the flag coming down, so I reckon they asked themselves how they could pull something positive out of it and the answer was that they could use it to target Naomi Long in East Belfast. Again, you can’t back down from your principles because of this sort of machiavellian planning.

    I think it is probably true that Alliance did not spend a lot of time on the strategy. I would have liked to have seen the party fight back much harder than it did. I think this contributed to your perception that the party was caught on the hop.

  • Comrade Stalin

    BTW also .. on your point about the SDLP .. yes I have to say they have been very kind and very supportive. I interpret that as their basic common decency as human beings. If the SDLP were under attack of course I’d expect Alliance and other civilized parties to behave likewise.

  • Thanks I appreciate that….not least because we have often sparred for almost three years and I have been highly critical of Alliance and will be again.
    But what has happened this week has been beyond that kinda thing.
    There is a nuanced discussion to be had here but Im not sure that it is the time. I appreciate what youve said about SDLP in this context. I have been told by some people taht we have been opportunistic here….ie Al going to carrickfergus for what one person (not a big fan of SDLP) described as a photo op…..but I think it was important.
    To be slightly critical of my own Party here……Im not totally sure they have been outspoken enough….although I think Conall did an excellent job getting the admission that paramilitaries were involved.
    About 10 minutes ago I suggested to a friend that SDLP might let rip a bit on Monday…..parliamentary privelege will help a lot of people. And yet I also think it might be a good idea to simply give speaking rights to Alliance (I have said this before).
    To be honest……the whle thing is depressing and no amount of nuanced analysis even seems appropriate.

    I am some distance from Belfast. My perception was that it was handled badly. I dont really want to develop that point because its not appropriate.
    Id point out that maybe AP was set a trap by two parties. I think SDLP was always more likely to accept the compromise……I say in my article that had I been a SDLP councillor I would have taken APs arm off when they offered it.
    So maybe….AP was not fully expecting SF to go along with it. I just dont know.
    Either way…and you will maybe in a position to know……..did the six Alliance councillors and indeed the wider Party think it would go like this?
    My own perception on Monday night was over the top rhetoric……a compromise based around Cenotaph and recreational rioting. But I certainly didnt expect this degree of …..blind hatred.

    Ironically a lot of people who caused this will go off in their Sunday clothes. No rioting on the Sabbath and the early morning session on Monday will be the next time we hear from unionists attempting to defend this.
    It will be nasty and brutal………and it should be.

    But we have moved from a position where PSNI admit that paramilitaries were involved to now stating they were “organising” …… lets see some arrests.
    What I am heartily sick of is the whole Stormont nonsense being underpinned by LIES even if its supposed to be for the Public Good.
    What we need on Monday is Truth………

  • streetlegal

    The flag has gone – this is old news. Time to move on.