Take Alliance seriously.They represent what most people want, the politics of compromise

Even to their own supporters the main parties are hardly coming out of the flag disorder looking impressive. When the chips are down the smiling cross community stuff isn’t quite cutting the mustard where it matters most. Nice people pocket the gains – they might even group around a new Northern Ireland, Peter still has a point even if he puts it provocatively.  But he and Martin still have to settle with their respective enemies within. The easier bit of power sharing is how to divvy up the money from the UK exchequer fairly.  (Greater integration would make it go a whole lot further but that’s another story). Ideally power sharing must do more to anticipate political gut trouble and give the lie to critics who claim that true power sharing between opposites is finally impossible. Rather than put up with a legalistic and bureaucatic equality agenda imposed on them by the GFA, they need to forge a more flexible political reality out of it. Taking over parades  regulation would become  the acid test. Are the DUP and Sinn Fein  up to the  existential challenge?  We see all too clearly  how strong is the challenge from the extremes. What is needed now  is a political  focus for the much bigger centre ground  which up to now opts out of politics as a hopless cause.

We can clearly see the problem of the militant tail wagging the political dog. Mainstream unionism is on the defensive in increasingly marginal areas. While the DUP has all but vanquished the UUs, it represents a unionism less monolithic than nationalism seems to have become. Primitive loyalism is well aware of a certain lack of confidence within their own side – nervous people always pay more attention to their opponents than to their own – and seek to exploit it in order to survive. City Hall politics shows nationalism on the offensive thanks to the demographic squeeze. The SDLP is now fractionally stronger than the UUs but currently presents less of a challenge to Sinn Fein than loyalism without a single Assembly seat creates for the DUP. City Hall voting confirms that there is no similar split within nationalism, at least for now. The SDLP seems  reduced to a mini- me party over everything but the history.

For the Westminster election of 2015, loyalism may be fragmented and confused but it can still summon up a political punch.  The Assembly elections  will be more complex but in the winnner- take- all Westminster contests, Nigel could lose North Belfast if the loyalists turn on him big time and split his tight vote. Wasn’t it epically careless of Peter to lose East Belfast and wasn’t it loyalism that made the difference in putting Naomi in? How can the DUP get Naomi out and win it back next time without appeasing them?  Or can middle class support for Naomi outweigh loyalist hostility after the City Hall vote?

Loyalism retains the capacity to destabilise boosted by the calendar of traditions and the challenge of an equality agenda in which they are allowed to present themselves virtually unchallenged as new victims. The Queen, the handshake the G8 summit are all big stuff over their heads. The symbolism they want is their parades and their flag.  Might it be possible to give them a little more of them than nationalists might ideally want to concede, conditional on good behaviour, even when mindful of 50 plus years of the unionist supremacy? That was a different world and long ago.

What are the lessons? A new era of barely suppressed sectarian struggle?  There may alternatives.

First, can’t the parties all become  cannier about anticipating trouble? On the flags issue it was clear that consultations and equality impact assessments were going to produce a new point of decision over the flag. 365 days a year is objectively excessive if you regard such things as important, as all the parties do. Nationalists may have been up for a fight but they could hardly have expected total victory. Couldn’t they all have constructed an early warning system to head off the train wreck? Privately to discuss more designated days, or the too late proposal of the DUP, moved as the protestors were literally banging at the gates, to fly the flag permanently from the cenotaph?  It’s all too easy for cynics to say that Sinn Fein wanted a confrontation to expose cracks in the supposed unionist monolith. If  that was their firm position,  private failure to reach a compromise would have exposed  it beyond doubt.

The other alternative is not up to the parties but the people. It is to take the Alliance party more seriously. Uncomfortable and frightening though it has been for them, they have literally come through the fire. In the City Hall votes, the easy thing for Alliance would have been to have supported the unionists yet again.

Alliance’s potential  has already been shown in Stormont with the election of David Ford as minister of justice. In the Westminster election of 2010 the special Swish Family Robinson circumstances and Naomi ‘s strong local roots brought their reward and put Alliance in.

There is a pressing need to create a small centre ground to act as a magnet for compromise . Alliance began as the party of the marginal areas but with the right candidate and circumstances, experience shows it can break through further.  If the main parties still fear their historic cores, let them begin to fear Alliance.

If you really are serious about tackling sectarianism, the time has come to put the squeeze on the two big parties and vote Alliance. What else is there? The DUP might even secretly welcome the development  at least outside East Belfast, as a counterweight  to unruly loyalism.


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  • Chris Donnelly

    Incredible stuff.

    To summarise: Catholics should let triumphalist loyalist parades through nationalist areas and let loyalist flags fly wherever/ whenever just to stop loyalists attacking Catholics.

    Why not try admonishing and then educating the narrow minded aggressors who seek to deny the equal legitimacy of their neighbours’ identity within this state as a better means of ensuring a stable and shared future? Appeasing the supremacist agenda of Unionism’s political underclass does not sound like a winning strategy, Brian, even if your suggested outcomes please unionists if all hues in the short term.

  • PaulT

    Have I missed something this week.

    DUP – NI is part of the UK and should fly the Union Flag
    UUP – NI is part of the UK and should fly the Union Flag
    APNI- NI is part of the UK and should fly the Union Flag

    APNI say it should only flag for 20 or so days because thats what other places in the UK do, Is it fair to say that if other places in the UK flew the Union flag for 365 days a year than thats what APNI would want.

    Is this why APNI are so vague on so much not least on their prized integrated education, what kind of integrated education do they want, looking at their attitude to flags it would appear they would prefer all kids to get a good British education.


    DUP – Believe in a shared future in a UK context.
    UUP – Believe in a shared future in a UK context.
    APNI- Believe in a shared future in a UK context.

    So this week is all about bragging rights on Britishness, Uber-Britishness versus Nice-Britishness are Nationalists meant to touch their forelocks when David Ford walks past because his shared future is in the context of Nice-Britishness.

    TBH it seems Nationalists are seeing a little bit of Good Cop, Bad Cop being played out.

    An unkind Nationalist might say there’s a lot of fishing going on for the Catholic Unicorn vote.

  • Mick Fealty

    if you can find them Chris?

  • The last four paragraphs sound like an AP leaders address to conference!

  • I can certainly see that “liberal unionists” would desert UUP to support Alliance. Alliance certainly deserve to be treated seriously.
    But essentially the Alliance philosophy is different from unionist philosophy.
    There are some 56 designated unionists within the Assembly. Even a small pick up of UUP seats will therefore mean that designated unionists will be in a minority.in Stormont.
    It is understandable that “liberal unionists” give up on UUP but drifting to support Alliance as the best hope for liberal unionist values…..is something that Alliance should actually be wary of.
    It would/will be a major blow to unionist confidence if they become a minority.
    Alliance dont need to pander to “liberal” unionists by appearing more “unionist” because they can possibly pitch for unionists to chage their outlook rather than changing their outlook to faciliate unionists.
    Bringing too many unionists into the Alliance tent makes it more difficult to persuade moderate nationalists….and UUP seats are geographically and philosophically much more vulnerable.
    Should Alliance maybe have its members declare themselves nationalist or unionist in Assembly (remember they did this….unconvincingly…..before………and while for the Common Good they lost “something”) ,,,,,,,to retain support from both communities.?
    The events of this week are relatively unprecedented and far too soon to analyse. But there is a dilemna……albeit a welcome one …..for Alliance when they sit down to talk about it around their next conference.

  • DC


    On Aaron and Brian’s blog post you left a comment that:

    The problem is not to do with anyone’s identity being stripped away, and suggesting that reflects a poor grasp of the situation.

    But on this one you say:

    Why not try admonishing and then educating the narrow minded aggressors who seek to deny the equal legitimacy of their neighbours’ identity

  • ayeYerMa

    Only in the warped mindset of Northern Ireland political commentators would loyal citizens be talked about in a manner as if they are some third party. “Their” flag is the one that represents us all in the country we live in and share, under its law, together along with a diverse nation of 63 million people.

    There cannot be “compromise” between loyal citizens and those who advocate treason. That is a fundamental flaw in logic which only shifts the balance towards destabilisation by rewarding those who try to encourage it, and the single greatest core flaw in the system in Stormont with “community designation”. It is a logic based on little more than appeasement of terror.

    An approach at building bridges that could have any bearing on reality is across the religious divide. Unfortunately, with their wishy-washy refusal to acknowledge a position on sovereignty Alliance often seem muddled on the difference with their dishonesty on the matter. Contrary to what PaulT says, their context of “shared future” is not clear other than sounding like a nice soundbite, with as I suspect there being many different motives with in the party — motives all bound together by a common bind of underhand slyness and dishonesty as to what they actually represent. I suspect many are in fact Republicans, and the logic of many of their decisions pushes towards a woefully unrealistic kind of destructive and unworkable joint-authority.

  • “Take Alliance seriously.They represent what most people want, the politics of compromise”

    Brian, if APNI represented what most people want they would be the largest party in the Assembly and in Belfast City Hall. This is manifestly not the case; they also have only seven offices, all of them within a 15 mile radius of Stormont and a 12 mile radius of Belfast City Hall.

  • Brian Walker

    I was disappointed that you fastened on the idea of a minor concession to loyalists as the theme of the whole piece. This is a wilful distortion of what I took the trouble to write.

    I cannot believe your understanding is really limited to narrow nationalist advocacy

    If you seek influence beyond a comfort zone and Slugger you must learn to contemplate the concept of a different narrative and a compromise which is not your unilateral ideal of what you think it should be.

    No senior SF poltiician would privately believe your comment above is adequate.

    Seriously, why not raise your game?

  • Chris Donnelly

    Find who?

  • Brian Walker

    nevin ( sigh) Pay attention! I didn’t write- “Most people want Alliance”. I wrote they represent “what most people want- the politics of compromise”.

    Different, see?

  • PaulT

    Brian, I that that’s the problem most rational nationalists have, the flag thing is the issue at the moment, how is only flying the Union flag for a month instead of 12 months a compromise for anyone other than Big U and small U unionists. Surely the compromise is both flags or no flags.
    How do APNI duck out of real compromise, they wouldn’t support both flags flying because each flag would be seen as tribal (has the party being in a coma for a few decades) and they won’t support no flags as NI is part of the UK and should therefore fly the Union flag.

    APNI stated they would not support no flag flying so the SDLP and SF ‘compromised’ their position to get what they could out of the vote.

    On wider issues as I said APNI is virtually the same as the DUP and UUP, ie a shared future in a British context.

    The only difference is that the DUP and UUP say that they want to be in the UK and be British, and the APNI say we are in the UK and we are British.

    Can you really get even a cigarette paper in between those positions, the end result is the same, the parties just arrive there from different paths

  • “Different, see?”

    Brian, patronising me is not the best approach 😉

    If most people wanted the politics of compromise they would vote APNI (or the Greens); they would not vote for unreconstructed Unionism or irredentist Nationalism; they would also have abstained from voting for the anti-compromise Agreement.

    In the 2011 Assembly election 8.6% of the 54.5% who voted cast their first preference for APNI or the Green Party; that’s just under 1 in 20 of the electorate. On the other hand, of those who could be bothered to vote over 90% gave their first preference on tribal lines.

  • Turgon

    Nevin is of course correct. Walker’s idea that Alliance represent “what most people want, the politics of compromise” is a meaningless soundbite.

    Both Sinn Fein and the DUP have compromised from their own point of view. As such to their own supporters they represent “compromise”. Alliance also represent “compromise” just in a vastly less popular fashion.

    It is a bit like saying that all the parties represent being nice to puppies: it is fundamentally a meaningless concept in the way in which Walker presents it.

    Alliance may represent a different form of compromise: one which Walker appears to regard as a superior form of compromise. It is, however, a form of compromise opposed by the majority in Northern Ireland ie all who vote for parties other than Alliance. The majority support different versions of compromise.

    Walker trying to suggest that people should listen to Alliance as they support a form of compromise which most people want is simply incorrect.

  • “the APNI say we are in the UK and we are British.”

    PaulT, can you provide some evidence from the APNI website to demonstrate your claim?

    Can you also explain why the Irish government, SF and the SDLP signed up to this line in the Agreement: “There will be no derogation from the sovereignty of either Government.”? Your quote would appear to be much the same as the one I’ve lifted from the Agreement.

  • Turgon

    To continue. What Alliance may represent quite well is the sort of compromise most people would like “themuns” to support but not the sort of compromise they want from “usuns.”

    In addition when asked most people most of the time say nice things about Alliance. Now even more so after some of their MLAs and their MP has been threatened. I am quite happy to say nice things about Naomi Long on that subject: it is a wicked and awful thing that she has been threatened and the same with the other individuals threatened. That does not mean, however, I support Alliance.

    The only caveats I add to my condemnation of those threats is that for years I have been pointing out that the UVF and UDA were a pack of unreconstructed thugs whilst some were implying that they and their political mouth pieces were in some way “progressive” or “liberal” or some such. They are a groups of thugs and if they have any political ideology it is not socialist but fascist.

    The other caveat is that I know of a number of people who have been threatened by loyalists and dissident republicans in the last few years. They are less high profile than Long but some of the threats have been extremely serious and have had awful effects on these people. The ghastly thugs in our society have not gone away you know and far too many people for far too long have tried to act as though they have and even to entreat with such thugs as if they were civilised.

  • Mick Fealty


    You really ought to read everything Nev says twice. See Brian’s correction?

    Chris, the people you want to educate.

  • Turgon

    I did read it. My point is that indeed people want compromise. To suggest that that means that they should listen to Alliance is a non sequitur.

  • Turgon

    Or if not a complete non sequitur at least a vast over extension of the logic: so much so that the initial claim conflating peeople’s support for compromise with the need to take Alliance seriously is incorrect

  • zemblan

    ‘it represents a unionism less monolithic than nationalism seems to have become…’

    Can you explain what this means in more detail. The link leads me to a playground named after an IRA gunman – which is rather creepy. But can you tell me what bearing this has on the sentence in question?

    ‘City Hall politics shows nationalism on the offensive thanks to the demographic squeeze.’

    I’d be grateful if you could elaborate further on this point. For my own part, I can’t see how changes in demographic in all cases logically implies that ‘nationalism’ is ‘on the offensive’. Presumably there are many other reasons as to why it is ‘on the offensive’.

    ‘First, can’t the parties all become cannier about anticipating trouble?’

    I think this places far too much confidence in the current formation of political parties at Stormont. And I say this as it is all too apparent that some parties are actively engaging in acts of sectarian provocation. It is therefore hard for parties to be ‘canny’ about the outbreak of ‘trouble’ when they are in some cases implicated in acts of deliberate incitement.

    ‘Nationalists may have been up for a fight but they could hardly have expected total victory.’

    They were up for a fight? One assumes that in a society of shared identities and shared cultural traditions that nationalists were simply asking for what is both ‘reasonable’ and ‘just’. There is nothing spectacularly standoffish about what happened in the last couple of days. Indeed, some might say that the whole thing was long overdue.

  • aquifer

    The polite piggy in the middle party are now bloodied behind a barricade, and anybody who hopes for a civilised life here can ask who will be next. PSNI, civil servants?

    People may now vote Alliance because they want NO compromise.

    No surrender of democracy to terror.

    The systematic use of violence and street terror to displace democracy is a characteristic of fascism, and many people have a low threshold of tolerance for this.

    Orange unionism’s provisional response to street terror puts them on the other side of a line from every modern western power.

    How many enemies do they imagine they can afford?

    They can try for Serbian supervictim status, but look how that went.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I really appreciate the comments of yourself and many others in journalism over the past week to come out very clearly in opposition to this thuggery, more clearly than our political leaders have. It means a great deal. It’s sad that journalists are having to effectively lecture politicians and point out to them what they cannot see and still will not accept but it serves as a reminder of the function of the press.

    I think you correctly identify that parading is at the centre of this problem. It is clear that, now that the DUP seem to have decided unequivocally that their short term future is to try to win votes by falling back on street politics and acting as the Northern Ireland wing of the BNP, a solution to the parading problem is not possible while they are in charge – indeed when the first attempt at a solution arrived on Peter Robinson’s desk he vetoed it.

    Any parading solution must have two things at the centre of it; one of those is that there is a right to march and that peaceful, respectful, non-thuggish Orangeism is deservedly an integral part of our culture; and secondly that parading disputes must be resolved in consultation with local residents and that rerouting the parade must be accepted where negotiations held in good faith fail.

    Turgon, I appreciate your principled stance on this matter of thuggery and I know you are 100% sincere about it. I think what we need is a formula to crack down on the paramilitaries – of all shades – and we need to do this now before they start making inroads. However I am not optimistic that either the DUP or the TUV are going to back such a plan.

    I think FJH is making the points which Alliance supporters need to think about. One of them is – is it right for the party to try to rally people around a third, not-British/not-Irish identity as opposed to presenting itself as more of a “progressive” (I use that term carefully) coalition of unionists, nationalists and others who are sick and tired of the bullshit and who want to see NI work ?

    The difficult hurdle the party needs to get over is to try to ensure that its message and ideas mean that nationalists and unionists alike should not feel they are diminishing their culture/heritage/identity by voting for the party. This is particularly a problem for nationalists at the moment, although I see a little bit of a chink in that nationalists in City Hall made the pragmatic decision to support designated days.

    Do I think that the SDLP are vulnerable in some places in a way that better politicians could exploit ? Definitely. But Alliance can’t exploit that as long as it is lumbered the the notion, whether it is fair or not, that it is small-u unionist. And the party needs to do more than recruit a handful of disgruntled SDLP councillors. It needs to be the case that a nationalist can stand up and say “I’m in Alliance, I want to see Ireland reunified but before that happens we need to get NI on its feet and reunite our people behind non-sectarian politics”. The SDLP’s shameful pandering to dissident republican tendencies and the ridiculous stance of Alban Maginness over gay marriage may be where the inroads lie.

    One point that I have heard discussed lately is that the nationalist parties are actually pretty bad in practical terms at doing obvious green-ish things, such as forging cross-border links. Can anyone think of a single cross border project spearheaded by local politicians which has been a success ? I can only think of failures. The failure to sort out the Enterprise train service for a start – despite a border republican running the DRD for four years not a single material improvement to that service was accomplished. You do not need to be a nationalist to believe that Northern Ireland benefits from good cross border co-operation – but it would certainly attract nationalists if they believe that you want to make that co-operation work.

  • Mick Fealty

    Turgon, again, I see how you read that. But the order in Brian’s head is take them seriously, not to vote for them! Only trying to clarify.

    I have my own analysis to share later which is rather more critical of the sort of soft liberalism the peace process has more generally left us.

  • Red Lion

    Brian – final paragraph, i generally agree but an alternative is to also vote for those liberal unionist voices like Basil McCrea in particular, if one has the choice. The stronger their voice, the better for NI also.

    East Belfast – the middle unionist class vote and a significant working class unionist vote together with the Catholic and/or nationalist vote tending to vote tactically will ensure Naomi Long gets in next time. And also because of a degree of split vote between DUP and UUP.

    Could Alliance’s stance be driven by more Catholics in the party?? Now said to be 4;3 catholic to protestant ratio in Alliance??

    FJH makes a fair point above. But, if Alliance actually stated what their constitutional position is, and if it nailed its colours to the mast about wanting a mild, but certain, form of union, they would take a very big chunk out of the DUP/UUP vote, and reawaken some non-voters. (I accept they may not wish to define themselves this way, but if they do, more votes are waiting). To me this is a position more reflective of reality, rather than pretending the constitutional issue doesn’t exist, which puts alot of their potential natural vote off.

  • Some folks appear uncomfortable with my take on the political landscape but it’s just that, it’s my take.

    The DUP and SF had to make compromises to get into power just as the UUP and SDLP had done. The paucity of votes for APNI and the Green Party and the limited transfer of preferences across tribal lines for other than tactical reasons is a fairly clear indication of a lack of desire for compromise on the part of the voter.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Rather than put up with a legalistic and bureaucatic equality agenda imposed on them by the GFA, they need to forge a more flexible political reality out of it. ”


    I do not agree with this view as I have seen no sign of Unionists being interested in any sort of equality agenda. From an old slugger posting : http://sluggerotoole.com/2006/07/21/dup_hypocrisy_over_right_to_march/

  • Chris Donnelly

    You suggest more contentious loyalist parades and further appeasement of loyalists in relation to their provocative flying of flags and don’t expect people to disagree?

    The boil needing lanced is unionism’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of the neighbouring tradition, complete with finding a way to respect and develop a place for the symbolism of Irish nationalism (most particularly the Irish National flag) within the contested entity that is and always has been the northern state.

    Consequently, proposed solutions which seek to avoid addressing the problem aren’t going to deliver us to a better place regardless of how long you spent considering them.

    There is a remarkable irony about Derry’s loyalists complaining about the Union Flag row in Belfast. Only last week, the overwhelmingly majority nationalist city hosted thousands of loyalists taking part in the Lundy’s Day parade. This annual event represents the biggest act of tolerance towards political expression of the Other anywhere in this state- the equivalent of 10,000 republicans descending annually on Carrickfergus, Larne or Bangor and being allowed to parade throughout the city. No one would seriously contend that unionism is yet at a place where that could be facilitated.

    On the issue of growing the middle ground, the problem is-and always has been- a failure to agree the basic principles upon which the centre can coalesce and develop.

    There is no sign of any strand of political unionism buying into a shared future narrative which embraces manifestations of Irish nationalism, something which will torpedo any genuine attempt to grow unionism beyond the PUL community -if such an outreach strategy is ever authentically developed by one of our unionist parties.

    Contrastingly, nationalist parties have embarked on this journey and, crucially, in the process had to accept that any future growth is to be found not by wishing unionism away but accepting the British identity of unionists.

    Ironically, growing demographic parity offers the greatest hope for a stronger centre ground as it will compel electoral leaders of both main traditions to sharpen strategies aimed at attracting support beyond the traditional cores.

    There’s no need to try to seek out specific individuals. It’s about developing and articulating a political message which doesn’t pander to a dangerous -and utterly erroneous – grievance narrative, but rather which highlights benefits of a tolerance approach (and which highlights just how wide of the mark the grievance line is. I have already decisively highlighted just how foolhardy the claims of disproportionate unionist socio-economic deprivation are in an earlier post.)

  • Chris Donnelly

    C Stalin

    Excellent points.

  • Dec

    ‘unionism’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of the neighbouring tradition’

    Indeed. Only a few weeks ago UUP and DUP councillors voted against bi-lingual street signs for Belfast’s Gaeltacht quarter. And Nationalists are expected to be hyper-sensitive to their (Unionists) cultural sensitivities in such a dispensation?

  • PaulT

    Nevin, in answer to your question, two recent PR’s from Maire Hendron,

    “….the Alliance Party recognises we are part of the United Kingdom and the Union flag remains the flag of Northern Ireland…”

    “The Alliance Party believes that the Union flag should be flown with respect and dignity. In the context of building a shared future in our divided society…”


    “….the Alliance Party recognises the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. We believe the Union flag is the flag which should be respected by citizens in this part of the United Kingdom, flown with dignity….”


    The DUP, UUP and APNI are merely different sides of the same coin,

    While reminding nationalists of where they are, they ignore the fact that NI is now almost 50% nationalist, so the difference in opinion in wanting a union flag flying or a tricolour flying is roughly 5% of the population, so apart from that 5% all 3 parties fall back on a legal arguement. Which is fair enough, the laws the law, but spare us the APNI claptrap about a shared future as their shared future is the same as the UUP’s and DUP, it must be in a British context, cos thats the law.

    TBH, I think when the dust settles support for the APNI will fall in nationalist areas but nationalists will continue to hold their noses and vote APNI where that vote can be used to unseat DUP or UUP candidates, but only because the APNI is preferrable not better.

  • Comrade Stalin,
    I think there is also a point of electoral pragmatism here.
    Alliance is represented in seven of eighteen constituencies.
    Although I dont intend to do any kinda analysis until later in week (Census plays a part here).
    ……..Alliance are not competitive and wont be in say seven. FST, Mid Ulster, West Tyrone, West Belfast, Foyle, South Down, Newry-Armagh (if they are it will be a unonist seat that is vulnerable).
    In North Down, Strangford, East Belfast, Lagan valley…where they hold seats they might well gain……but not at the expense of a nationalist seat (there are none).
    In East Antrim, South Antrim, South Belfast….they might gain seats but realistically only South Belfast is vulnerable from a nationalist (SDLP) point of view.
    Of the four remaining constituencies, there will always be a nationalist quota in North Antrim……so no gain there at expense of nationalists.
    East Derry and North Belfast….well we actually discussed this before the 2011 Election…..realistically I see no gain (at nationalist expense) in the former and
    unlikely in the latter.
    Upper Bann….well there is not a real prospect on current form of UUP holding two.

    Now of course this is based on 18 constituencies and 6 seats in each.
    But we are talking after ONE traumatic week and God knows what will happen between now and the next election/s. I would not overly interpret Sympathy with Support.
    Simply put the Alliance Party could pick up (lets say) six seats but disproportionately these would be UUP seats.
    SDLP-SF will be involved in their own inter-nationalist fight and looking to pick up on demographic changes.

    Id say worst case scenario for Nationalists (and I am one)would be going into Assembly with same number of seats.
    So maybe 43….Alliance/Green say 15……unionists 50.
    Now Im not using those figures as in any way hard and fast but rather an indication. We will have a situation that in terms of political expression Norn Iron has a minority of unionists. That would be traumatic and we have seen their reaction this week. (and lets not forget “new” councils).
    But I think that does present a dilemna……a good one…..for your party. We have over two years now discussed the collapse of the UCUFN element and its benefit/mixed legacy to your party…….and I think an influx of “unionist” members cannot help but re-calibrate the Alliance Party. I would of course suggest Alliance was born out of liberal unionism (New Ulster Movement) and its present agnostic public stance is changeable.

    There will be a rush of support……..but essentially these people are jumping overboard from a sinking ship and swimming to the nearest vessel. In taking liberal unionists out of the lifeboats, you will hear pretty nice things…….”thank you for saving us” but Id keep an eye out for them trying to take over the Alliance ship and steering towards a “unionist” destination.

  • iluvni

    “There is no sign of any strand of political unionism buying into a shared future narrative which embraces manifestations of Irish nationalism…”

    At the commencement of the ‘peace process’ Unionism was rather willing to offer a generous hand to Irish nationalism to give us all peace. Unionism didnt get that peace, all it got was low level agitation to ensure the pot was kept simmering: still ongoing to this day. A Northern Ireland at peace with itself wasnt allowed to develop.
    The willingness to embrace has been rather exhausted. Its been all take.
    A shared future within Northern Ireland doesnt compute with Irish republicans. Alliance may bleat on about it, but its meaningless when those whom they expect to do the sharing dont see it playing any role in their long term strategy.

  • PaulT

    And Nevin here’s much earlier one from Sean Neeson in 2000 when he was party leader,

    “Alliance would be opposed to placing the Union Flag and the Tricolour side-by-side. This would not reflect the current constitutional position, and would in effect suggest a dangerous situation in which the Union Flag is used to represent only the Unionist identity and the Tricolour is used to represent only the Nationalist identity at the expense of all other identities and a shared future.”


  • Thanks for your linked reply, PaulT.

    Those quotations from APNI are an endorsement IMO of the sovereignty line in the1998 Agreement – an Agreement which had more support from Nationalists than from Unionists.

    On the other hand, my proposal for devolution under shared sovereignty would have provided parity of treatment for the two constitutional aspirations. We could have devised some sharing symbols and worked the common ground.

  • Red Lion

    PaulT – i heard Maire Hendron’s speech and it was good in the certainty it pertained to provide. However, how does it square with David Ford’s ‘agnostic on the union’ and Naomi Long assertively stating about 2 days after her East Belfast victory ‘I am not a unionist…I am not a nationalist’. If she had said that 2 days before the election rather than 2 days after she might not have got the East Belfast vote she did!

    FJH – liberal unionists jumping to Alliance (as they have recently done anyway-Harry Hamilton, Paula Bradshaw) and steering it to defined mild unionism would just be what the doctor ordered(for me anyway!)

  • PaulT, our posts crossed. The Neeson comments highlight the problems surrounding sovereignty within the Agreement. Both Unionism and Nationalism attract less than 50% of the votes so this will place APNI and the Green Party in an invidious position.

  • Red Lion,
    Yes thats what liberal unionists want.
    Quite possible what some (unionist orientated) Alliance people want.
    But it would recalibrate Alliance……and I dont think that Alliance people who have made a very principled stand this week…..want to be recalibrated for electoral success (they could have done that overa number of years).
    And obviously Alliance steering to a liberal unionist destination has no attraction for nationalists.

  • Chris Donnelly

    At the commencement of the ‘peace process’ Unionism was rather willing to offer a generous hand to Irish nationalism to give us all peace. Unionism didnt get that peace, all it got was low level agitation to ensure the pot was kept simmering: still ongoing to this day. A Northern Ireland at peace with itself wasnt allowed to develop.
    The willingness to embrace has been rather exhausted. Its been all take.
    A shared future within Northern Ireland doesnt compute with Irish republicans. Alliance may bleat on about it, but its meaningless when those whom they expect to do the sharing dont see it playing any role in their long term strategy.


    Thanks for providing an updated example of precisely the groundless narrative that has left unionism floundering this week.

    Let’s take what you’ve said, bit by bit.

    1. At the commencement of the ‘peace process’ Unionism was rather willing to offer a generous hand to Irish nationalism to give us all peace. Unionism didnt get that peace, all it got was low level agitation to ensure the pot was kept simmering: still ongoing to this day

    Where was this generosity? Half of unionism opposed the GFA, and what followed the cessations was years of turmoil as loyalism flexed its muscles through the shameful Drumcree protests, ending with the murder of three young children in their family home.

    The simmering pot which boiled once again this summer was a direct result of loyalism’s supremacist mentality which demands the right to parade in contentious districts, descending to new lows with the Famine Song debacle and subsequent failure to respect catholic churches throughout the north through flag flying, band parades and urinating episodes.

    2. The willingness to embrace has been rather exhausted. Its been all take.

    Again, meaningless unsubstantiated drivel.

    What has been ‘all take?’ This past year has witnessed many examples of unionists celebrating their own identity- Royal wedding, Jubilee celebrations, Marching Season, Covenant commemorations. Republicans and nationalists even supported aspects of those celebrations at local council level, whilst McGuinness met the British Queen.

    We’re now at a stage where republicans leaving a wreath at the British Cenotaph annually is a non-story.

    I could go on but really shouldn’t need to…..

  • iluvni

    sure, if you want to ignore what ‘low level agitation’ delivered thats fair enough….just remember that it was your glorious leader who let the cat out of the bag things didnt happen by accident.

  • Submariner

    “At the commencement of the ‘peace process’ Unionism was rather willing to offer a generous hand to Irish nationalism to give us all peace. Unionism didnt get that peace, all it got was low level agitation to ensure the pot was kept simmering: still ongoing to this day. A Northern Ireland at peace with itself wasnt allowed to develop.”

    Really? Would you care to expand and give some examples.

  • PaulT

    Red Lion, it’s merely the DUP/UUP taking one path (we want to be British and want to stamp it on NI) and the APNI taking another path (we are British so it’s right to stamp it on NI) to arrive at the same policy (NI has the union flag stamped all over it) I think what Brian, Mick and Co are saying is that nationalists should should support APNI because the path they have taken is much nicer) DUP and UUP supporters are angry with APNI cos they are not stamping the union flag all over NI quite hard enough, it would be funny except they actually believe it and can’t understand why nationalists aren’t jumping for joy at the emergence of just a great party as the APNI.

    But then again maybe the Equality Commission need to explain why it’s ok to fly the union flag on say Monday but not Tuesday Wednesday or Thursday.

    While I believe the SDLP and SF offered a true compromise both flags or no flags, I can understand why unionism rejected it, and I accept the legal argument used to back up that rejection, what I can’t understand is how the APNI, DUP or UUP can shoehorn a ‘Shared Future’ into their policy alongside the legal argument.

    Not least because if they were honestly promoting a shared future they would have no need to recourse to the law.

    At least the DUP and UUP are honest, the APNI is like some dodgy sales person, who can’t tell you just how great the product is cos of silly regulations etc. “I have to describe it like that guv cos of the EU, but really it is the best on the market….”

  • David Crookes

    Comrade Stalin, you say,

    “The failure to sort out the Enterprise train service for a start – despite a border republican running the DRD for four years, not a single material improvement to that service was accomplished.”

    Bravo. Whatever kind of New Ireland is waiting to be born, we need palpable improvements in areas like transport. Otherwise all the high-powered inter-hoojahs are a waste of time and money.

    Let me advert tangentially to the main point of the thread. Anti-sectarianism conferences for Good People in Big Hotels are useless. Our local politicians should be encouraging the PSNI to prosecute as many of last week’s rioters as possible. For well over a hundred years we have allowed unBritish savages to do their will with impunity. (In 1967 one of Terence O’Neill’s ministers was kicked unconscious by professing Christians at an Orange demonstration.) When enough savages have been punished with condign severity, the savagery will stop.

    For the last few days I have been wondering if a large number of UN troops would serve us better than visits from Mrs Clinton. Sorry to be apocalyptic, but if we let things fester, an apocalypse of squalid savagery may begin to encompass us all. Our politicians need to do what the Bible says and quit themselves like men. To speak with a forked tongue about acts of fascism is to promote fascism.

  • iluvni

    Lets start with the release of terrorists from prison.

  • Submariner

    “Lets start with the release of terrorists from prison.”

    Crap. Prisoner releases were nothing to do with Unionists offering a generous hand to Nationalists,it was in the gift of the British Govt to release prisoners not Unionisms and besides Loyalists were also released some of whom were present at the fascist flag burning rally yesterday. You are going to have to try a lot harder than that my friend.

  • Gopher

    Well the one thing that is certain Alliance run a second candidate in South Belfast Conal can go back to his day job. Unless of course the leader concentrates on Westminster and puts a patsy in. Whether or not Alliance win the seat is another question and Ruth could be elevated to a level beyond her wildest cognition. In South Belfast you see you have the immaculate transfer, people that dont exist transfer to the SDLP heck 86 of them even transfered to SF

  • Comrade Stalin

    Very constructive comments everyone. Even the Alliance bashing is constructive 😉 Seriously, it does represent stuff the party needs to think about. There’s a lot to think about in general terms and I’m probably going to need to spend some quality time thinking about it all and trying to piece it together. Forgive me if some of my Slugger contributions appear to be long collections of disconnected thoughts. Writing it down is a good way to piece it together.

    Some have pointed out that Alliance’s reaction seemed instinctively unionist, quoting David Ford talking about Sinn Féin agreeing to fly the flag on the Queen’s birthday etc etc. I think that is a valid criticism but again I would say that it is more to do with the party’s shortfall on how it would react to events. Ford was trying to counter the argument that Alliance was weakening unionist symbols by pointing out that Alliance’s action could, depending on interpretation, be perceived as having the opposite effect.

    I really cannot buy into the idea that the party’s non-sectarian, non-tribal stance would be weakened by people from other parties joining. It’s a two way street. But perhaps the way to deal with this is to create the idea that the party is a coalition of disparate religions and cultures rather than suggesting that it is a collection of like-minded people who look at issues such as culture and the constitution in the same way.

    “recalibration” is a good word. But I don’t think we are talking about a recalibration of Alliance. It’s a recalibration of society in NI and it has been going on beneath our feet, and many of our politicians appear to be unaware of it – perhaps this is the Stormont bubble at play. Gay marriage and abortion are issues where our political class are completely out of sync with the public. I think this may also turn out to be the case for some of the DUP’s strategic decisions over the past week, I think the public may be at the point of realizing exactly what they get when they vote for politicians who try to whip up tension to get votes. Correspondingly, all of the political parties including Alliance may have to engage in a bit of recalibrating if they don’t want to lose sight of the people they are representing. With that will inevitably come a shift in the fortunes of those parties.

  • If you really are serious about tackling sectarianism, the time has come to put the squeeze on the two big parties and vote Alliance,

    I wish more people would think like that. Unfortunately, as many keep telling me, Orange versus Green is going to be around for a long time yet.

  • Comrade Stalin


    You have drawn out a side point which is that a lot of unionists still labour under the misapprehension that unionists granted certain things rather than being compelled to back off. I still hear unionist supporters saying to their politicians things like “we shouldn’t let them in government” – as if unionists had the means or the right to choose such things.

  • “I think that is a valid criticism”

    CS, I don’t really understand why David made such a silly remark. I said so the other day when I complemented Naomi on her much more broadly based comments; she’d pointed out that APNI had been under attack in recent times from the wild men in both tribes [my paraphrase].

  • anne warren

    reply @ david Crookes”I have been wondering if a large number of UN troops would serve us”

    That idea was mooted some 40 odd years ago and was a non-runner then.

    Not likely to get any purchase now after the GFA/Belfast Agreement has been signed and ratified by all concerned.

    It’s up to the people living in NI/Occupied Six Counties(delete where appropriate) to resolve their differences

    And until and unless Loyalists particularly but also Dissident republicans are educated in what exactly the GFA/Belfast Agreement actually means, rather than what they think it means – I can foresee more of what’s been going on this week.

    Suggest capillary grassroots Educational Encounters explaining and discussing everything from the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights onwards but don’t see them happening anytime soon.

    Because they might, just might, get people onboard for a real, decent shared future and that wouldn’t suit a lot of other people!!

  • Submariner

    CS as ive said before there is still a rich vein of supremacy running throughout parts of the Unionist community. Unionism had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the talks prior to the GFA. Remember all the hysterics from Trimble et al around having to negotiate with terrorist representatives and yet when the day came for that talking to begin the UUP turned up flanked by the UVF and UDA.

  • Comrade Stalin,
    I think Alliance need to question the motives of people praising Alliance. What SOME people seemingly want is effectively a coalition between Alliance and liberal wing of unionism. But I just see it as those “liberal” unionists trying to save their own philosophy. How would they have voted last Monday night.

    For myself….I have enormous sympathy for what is happening with individual members as well as unfair criticism of the Party itself. But that is not Support. I still wouldnt give them a preference at any election. Ever.

  • Reader

    Submariner: Remember all the hysterics from Trimble et al around having to negotiate with terrorist representatives and yet when the day came for that talking to begin the UUP turned up flanked by the UVF and UDA.
    The PUP and UDP waited for him to arrive. Should he have turned round and gone back to base? Since he was going in to talk to SF, it was not the time to dodge SF’s loyalist counterparts.

  • Obelisk

    “Ford was trying to counter the argument that Alliance was weakening unionist symbols by pointing out that Alliance’s action could, depending on interpretation, be perceived as having the opposite effect.”

    That statement irked me. Alliance doesn’t stand where I live. In fact I don’t think they stand in a lot of Nationalist constituencies. I just don’t know them.

    The image I had of the Alliance party is a well to do and well meaning party that was neutral on the constitutional issue. But that statement of Ford’s irked me exactly the same way the statement Ken Maginnis made when the executive was first set up, to paraphrase ‘Sinn Fein are administering British rule here at Stormont now’.

    Now we know technically Ken was telling the truth, just as Ford was telling the truth. But we also know there was a different perspective on the matter from Nationalists, and the statement seemed to be just trying to anger us.

    Even though I feel sorry for what Alliance is going through right now, they way they’ve portrayed the event itself


    This has shaken my previously held belief that Alliance was neutral on constitutional issues. This incident has warranted closer examination by me on an area where I was previously ignorant, and I find that Alliance really isn’t as neutral as I believed in my naivety. Had Alliance stood in my constituency in a future election maybe I could have been convinced to give them a transfer vote but I definitely wouldn’t now.

    I wonder if the lack of any activity in Nationalist majority constituencies contributes to the perception that it is a liberal unionist party.

    Comrade Stalin said that an Alliance member should be able to say “I’m in Alliance, I want to see Ireland reunified but before that happens we need to get NI on its feet and reunite our people behind non-sectarian politics”.

    You’re not there yet. It’s something you should work towards, and I wish you well in that endeavor. But if you want my vote, and a centrist party that allows someone to say that convincingly would be VERY tempting, you’ll have to try harder.

  • Red Lion

    How can a Northern Irish politician/party be ‘neutral on the union’?

    Certainly , they can put it on the back burner, not dwell on it etc etc, but to ignore the contitutional position does not bear scrutiny.

    You either believe NI is better off in the union, or it is better off in a UI, or some other constitutional position, otherwise what?? Floating in pink fluffy space. A region/country has to belong somewhere!!

  • Obelisk

    You say you’re committed to make Northern Ireland work regardless of the constitutional status and that if a border poll comes along you’ll allow your members to make their own minds up and to campaign for whichever outcome according to their conscience.

    Alliance wants to be a true cross-community party. Didn’t David Ford say a few years back he was ‘agnostic on the Union’. I’m not so sure he and his party are really agnostic on the Union after this week, but they definitely aspire to be so.

    And if they achieve this status, and attract Nationalist support to their philosophy, and become the cross-community party they dream, then they are going to have to be neutral otherwise the party would rip itself apart along tribal lines on any issue pertaining to the constitutional status.

    You can’t be unionist lite and cross-community. You can’t be nationalist lite and cross-community. If you aspire to this position in wider society, the party has to have no position on the border and hope people see this as common-sense (i.e the only way this party can function across the divide is to leave the constitutional position to a future referendum) rather than political cowardice in tackling the issue one way or the other.

  • Brian Walker

    During the thread Chris Donnelly has extended his argument to make the entirely valid point I refer to, that loyalism’s “cold home” victimhood is going unchallenged.
    but like so much of the comment, his is a statement of position rather than engagement.

    These I suggest are lessons of the past 15 years

    If you’re seeking to solve a problem, you engage with it.

    Unionists are best able to answer loyalist political complaints.

    A zero sum move such as cutting 365 days to zero will not ease the problem, or improve nationalists’ sense of security in their own areas.

    All partlies should know from experience that negotiation is the way to get a better deal all round rather than force the problem to the point of confrontation in a vote.

    Nationalists are of course entirely justified in criticising unionism for refusing to engage properly over parades. Are we now being told that the votes on the flag were nationalist replies in kind? If so are they not just as mistaken as intransigent loyalism and evasive unionism and just as reliant on grievance posturing?

    A new framework of negotiation is needed betwen the sides to head off these all too predictable crises. Any parties which fails to fufill the negotiating norms as they crop up stand exposed. This is certainly true of unionism over parades.

    It is unlikely that the present parades mechanism can be quickly replaced. But it may now be necessary for the two governments to create new mediation procedures to head off future clashes. This would be quite a confession of defeat for the governing parties and may yet spur them to better efforts.

    At any rate, better effort is what the ongoing debate should be about.

  • iluvni

    I still hear unionist supporters saying to their politicians things like “we shouldn’t let them in government”

    Do you really hear that, or do you hear unionist supporters say that Unionists shouldnt be in government with ‘them’?

  • Submariner

    “The PUP and UDP waited for him to arrive. Should he have turned round and gone back to base? Since he was going in to talk to SF, it was not the time to dodge SF’s loyalist counterparts.”

    Except he didnt. All during the negotiations prior to the signing of the GFA the UUP refused to speak with Sinn Fein. Not one word. Trimble was however quite happy to talk to and be photographed with Loyalist terrorists.

  • Red Lion

    but political parties seek to get into power into a legislature and all legislatures have a constitutional framework – now surely as a political party you must have an idea on what you would like that constitutional set-up to be! The constitution is the basis for …. everything! (short of going to live in the trees and opting out of society altogether)!

    In more settled countries you might prefer a presidentail democracy, a constitututional monarchy, absolute monarchy, to be in the commonwealth etc etc,its less controversial but essential.

    It’s imposssible to be agnostic on the union for when push comes to shove you have to say, mmm, do i prefer things slightly more this way or that way?

    And you certainly CAN be union-lite and cross community. This is advocating a constitutional position, from which you hope to attract a non-tribal (ie catholic vote). If your constitutional position is joint sovereignty then i guess you’ll also be looking to step into the cross community vote.

    You don’t have to dwell on it (many labour mps might not like a constitutional monarchy but toe the party line)

  • Zig70

    Alliances benefit is wishful thinking from liberals who can’t understand the thinking of the prols on this right wing island. What would change the landscape is a right sided NI focused only party that would give an alternative to the non liberal middle ground. Not something I’d want to see as a champagne socialist but I do think it would be popular. To me this looks like a big strategic screw up for the DUP. They didn’t plan for the flag vote passing and talked themselves into a situation which was reported around the world as a nationalist victory and where nats are in the majority. Instead of what it was, vote on flying the flag in line with Stormont and most of the rest of NI, with the helpful backdrop of a bunch of kids burning a flag. I’m not a unionist so my take could well be completely different than an east Belfast voter. I’m not sure how this plays to the 2015 elections as they are a long way away and the census is next. A bad event also for the UUP were Nesbitt once again looks like he is chasing the story rather than being a leader and creating it. The UUPs woes are probably of little consequence to the Alliance in terms of transforming them into main players.

  • Obelisk

    I agree with you Mr. Walker. But what can Nationalists do?

    I don’t want to tear down British symbols for some fleeting sense of schadenfreude for the sake of it. I want to raise up Irish symbols that reflect my community, which symbolise that we too belong here, to sit alongside the British.

    But as far as I can see it is simply not countenanced for there to be official recognition of anything Irish. Peter Robinson even threatened to hold an election if the badge of the Prison service was altered to make it more neutral. The Irish Language Act never got out of Stormont. And if you even whisper the idea that both flags should fly you’re apt to induce fits of apoplexy.

    Is our choice to be reduced then to suffering the indignity in silence of our symbols being ignored or actively trashed, or the only option we have in some places of using our majorities to purge British symbols as much as we can to ensure some kind of neutrality in shared spaces.

    Cultural nihilism is an extremely poor solution, a soulless wasteland of culture that awaits us all. But I can’t see what other option Nationalists have when it comes to symbols.

    Both or Neither.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I have heard both versions. I saw someone berating a certain DUP MLA over the issue a couple of months ago on Facebook. That MLA replied to the complainer to say words to the effect of “it was not us who let them in, it was the UUP and now we have to work with that”.

    Obelisk, I need to spend more time thinking about all of the above but I think there is a distinction over the issue of being agnostic on the union, and of how we try to be as neutral and unbiased as possible in terms of recognising NI’s constitutional status. It is impossible to please everyone and I would not advocate spending a huge amount of time trying to appeal to people who feel it necessary to forensically examine every comment made by an Alliance politician to determine how well it scores for unionist or nationalist tendencies.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Brian Walker
    “Are we now being told that the votes on the flag were nationalist replies in kind?”

    No! Did sf not offer the flying of both national flags? I would be interested in what you think they should have offered as part of the negotiation.

  • Gopher

    I mentioned in a previous post the the majority of the electorate will soon be non voters which in natural law usually means that they arnt too worried about the status quo. Alliance seems to me to be the only party trying to woo those voters. The SDLP and UUP in their infinite wisdom decided against such folly.

  • Obelisk

    ‘It is impossible to please everyone and I would not advocate spending a huge amount of time trying to appeal to people who feel it necessary to forensically examine every comment made by an Alliance politician to determine how well it scores for unionist or nationalist tendencies.’

    As I mentioned previously, I am coming at the Alliance party from a position of almost complete ignorance. But out of all the statements the Alliance has made over the years, some must have given the impression of being ‘unionist lite’ in order to feed into the perception of the party as small-u unionist.

    I have not for example heard quoted one example of someone in the party expressing an opinion that could be considered small n nationalist. It is always the impression of small u unionist that is being fought against.

    Is it the lack of presence outside unionist communities inhibiting your outreach?

    I have to ask the question. Why does Alliance not seriously compete in nationalist constituencies if it truly aspires to be a cross-community party. Is the issue the SDLP occupying the ground that would otherwise be natural for Alliance? Is it a question of cost?

    I always took it as given that Alliance was a Belfast party, but now I’d like to know, why is this so? Why does it have to be so?

  • PaulT

    SF & the SDLP, wanted either both flags or no flags flying, there’s a clue there in what they want, either a shared environment or a neutral environment, Belfast would be no less part of the UK with either choice, and if the union fly flew for 365 days or just 20 Belfast is nor would be no more a part of the UK.

    Nor is flying the union flag an argument in favour of being in the UK just as flying the tricolour is an argument in favour of a united Ireland.

    Flying either flag anywhere officially or unoffically is just tribal markings and that is exactly what the APNI indulged in, so they and their supporters need to climb get off their moral pedestal because all they’ve proven is that they are a less anti-Irish than the DUP and UUP.

    What shames the APNI is that one week into this farce noone else in the UK seems too bothered, and I think if it was decided that the union flag shouldn’t fly anywhere in NI the rest of the UK wouldn’t be too bothered

  • Red Lion

    CS, that’s my point, ‘agnostic on the union’ is a non-position which i think unnerves people.

    I think it will be hard for alliance to choose a constitutional position. A constitutional position is one you have to believe in, one that will deliver good to as many people as possible for the long term.

    Unionism is crying out for a liberal, tolerant, diverse, secular union to be championed – something trully to be proud of and where one can say ‘i’m proud to be a unionist, because i’m a liberal unionist’, and this is a very sound constitutional position and vision to bring Catholic voters into a non-tribal party. Very oppposite to the DUP’s vision of unionism. It is truelly an ideolgy-if only Basil McCrea et al could somehow step up to a postion of leadership in this movement.

    But what solid foundation of a constitutional position can inform and grow Alliance ideology i am less sure. It will need it, especially if it aims to be cross community, for people need to come to a party understanding exactly what it stands for and knew this when they joined, otherwise cracks will open.

  • Comrade Stalin


    All fair questions and I have to be straight up and tell you that I do not have the answers. The party needs to think very hard about why it has difficulty expanding outside the regions in and surrounding Belfast.

  • Why don’t Alliance stand in the west? My story might shed some light. When I was a lad, not yet entitled to vote, I persuaded, with a lot of effort, both my Ma and her best friend to vote for the only non-sectarian party fielding a candidate, the NILP. When I came home from school I asked Ma about how she had voted. She said that when they got to the polling station a nationalist told her that the NILP candidate was being paid by the unionists to split the Catholic vote so she and her pal voted nationalist.

  • Reader

    Red Lion: CS, that’s my point, ‘agnostic on the union’ is a non-position which i think unnerves people.
    It’s perfectly possible for people to be ‘agnostic on the union’, much easier for a party to be agnostic, simply by scrutinising it’s own policies. It’s also easy for a person with a constitutional position to vote for a party without one – the real personal position is being held for a referendum at a later date, after all.
    What the nationalist posters are struggling with is that they can’t imagine what an agnostic position looks like – as though Northern Ireland was in a state of Limbo, rather than actually being in the UK. I don’t see why they are having such trouble; all they need to do is imagine how they would expect Alliance to behave in a United Ireland, and swap everything across. E.g. In a United Ireland what flag(s) should fly over Belfast City Hall, and how often?
    That same question is also a reasonable test of nationalist hypocrisy.

  • GavBelfast

    Maybe Basil McCrea and John McCallister would be more natural at home in the Conservative Party.

    They both strike me as liberal on social issues but distinctly right-of-centre on economic issues, and believers in smaller rather than statist government – pretty much the Cameron brand.

    Being part of than pan-UK party also means the ‘Unionist’ label is superfluous, is simply implied and taken for granted.

    They also stood under that banner 30 months ago, so it’s hardly a stretch.

    Aside from the disgraceful violence and trauma of the past week, we live in interesting times.

  • Neil

    E.g. In a United Ireland what flag(s) should fly over Belfast City Hall, and how often?

    One would hazard a guess that a vote would be carried out in City Hall. Possibly Alliance would hold the balance of power, and possibly Unionists could engineer a victory by voting for a middle of the road compromise motion which would lead to the flag being flow on designated days. Or something like that.

    It’s democracy, it’s not in anyway complicated.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Reader – a good point.

    GavBelfast – in my opinion the Conservative brand is a vote loser in Northern Ireland. Some people seem to be in denial about this no matter how many elections they lose.

  • Does the city have a city flag? If so, they should fly it. If not the councillors should put their heads together and create one. An agreed flag including everyone would be a positive move away from all of the negativity currently convulsing one side.

  • CS.
    Some excellent points made here tonight, particularly in relation to developing the middle ground. What are your thoughts on Basil?
    He is obviously ill at ease in the UUP and they are ill at at ease with him. He has received some plaudits over the past week, deserved in my opinion.

  • BluesJazz

    “in my opinion the Conservative brand is a vote loser in Northern Ireland.”

    Because the easy money is slowly being turned off?

    Maybe you like the idea of other people paying for your comfortable lifestyle? I’m sure lots of people in NI do.

    That’s why you hate the Conservatives. Standing on your own feet is anathema to people like you.

  • GavBelfast


    I wouldn’t disagree, but who dragged-down who in UCUNF?

  • BluesJazz

    I really, really hope the Tories turn off the tap here.

    There will be a harsh period of withdrawal (from our addiction to England’s largesse).

    Then we’ll get used to living within our means.

    If it means no heating for old people (who refused to save) and starvation wages for the workshy, Bring it on.

  • BluesJazz.
    Calm yerself

  • Red Lion

    Joe, Belfast City does indeed have a city flag. Have never seen it anywhere except on wiki.

    GavBelfast – the only promising unionist politicians that give the union position hope, should NEVER go to the black hole that is the Tory Party.

    Reader, well i guess i have too much of a conviction in a reformed liberal union ideology as the way for NI to grow and prosper.

  • Mc Slaggart

    BluesJazz (profile) 9 December 2012 at 11:16 pm
    “I really, really hope the Tories turn off the tap here.”

    It will happen. That is why we need Island wide tax setup to improve the number of international companies that are setting up.

  • BluesJazz

    I’m in favour of the IV drip of cash from England being turned off.

    It’s the only way our politicans will wise up.

    David Cameron knows this and is being far too kind. I suspect in the near future he’ll be less inclined to be so generous.

    Sure the Irish government can easily make it up..

  • DUP Policy on Flegs…..well in Lisburn anyway according to the council minutes:


  • Brian Walker

    I’ve argued above in support for negotiations before controversial votes and in favour of Alliance. My final point which will have occurred to many commenters is that Alliance is able to hold the balance of power in the City Hall because designated blocs don’t exist. This increases Alliance’s effectiveness and potential appeal

    Bloc domination in Stormont was shown to be irrelevant over the need iof the Assembly to elect David Ford as Justice Minister, the only minister to be elected by the whole Assembly.

    The City Hall vote will have diminished their image as “unionist lite” and allows them to begin staking out a more distinctive middle ground with the help of a hard won higher profile .

    A big increase in electoral support in 2015 could increase pressure for more flexible power sharing in which they could play a bigger part as deal brokers and pace setters for reform.

  • Comrade Stalin

    BluesJazz, I doubt “let’s have more dead pensioners” is a policy even the right wing Tories would chant at election time.

    GavBelfast, I think UCUNF was the Ulster Unionists trying to clean up their image by appropriating the Tory brand (and funding) and it failed principally for that reason – it was a cynical exercise. But the Tory brand was thoroughly discredited in NI long before this. In 1995, AFAIK the Conservatives scored their worst-ever result in a Westminster election, in North Down.

    Bangordub, I would have been highly impressed by Basil for just sticking his neck out unequivocally against thuggery and intimidation, but not only did he do this, he went even further, taking the risk of endorsing Alliance’s compromise and pointing out that the policy was already in place in Lisburn. He behaved as a statesman should. If Basil McCrea wished to join Alliance I would warmly welcome it. I would personally have no problem for Basil to continue to call himself a unionist, his ideas on culture and identity do not conflict with those of Alliance to my interpretation.

  • The problem with that Brian, is that in Nationalist majority councils there is no need for a bloc designation. There is voluntary office and power sharing. It is the Unionist majority councils where this doesn’t exist. That is why Alliance enjoy a power greater than their electoral strength in those councils and also why Alliance’s strength is non existent in Nationalist councils.

  • CS,
    ” I would personally have no problem for Basil to continue to call himself a unionist, his ideas on culture and identity do not conflict with those of Alliance to my interpretation.”

    Nor should he compromise on his identity. No problem with that

  • Mc Slaggart

    Brian Walker

    “Might it be possible to give them a little more of them than nationalists might ideally want to concede”

    Can you give us clear examples of what they would be?

  • jagmaster

    BluesJazz if the tap is turned off here as you put it you better lock up your valuables. As the saying goes people with nothing to lose……

  • GavBelfast

    I do sense that there are an awful lot of people here who simply don’t have anyone to vote for …. socially liberal unionists, fiscally tight nationalists, libertarians generally.

    Can’t resist saying it again: political slum.

  • derrydave

    Interesting Thread – particularly Comrade Stalins thoughts on the future of the Alliance Party. Would like to think in future it would be possible for people like myself to be able to stand up and state I am a republican and I vote the Alliance party. Surelly it should be possible to stand side-by-side with other Republicans, Nationalists, Unionists, and Loyalists in deciding that it is best for politics and for society that we put the sovereignty question to one side and accept that the majority will decide on this via the border polls. The obvious follow-through from the Alliance Party however would have to be a commitment to be neutral on the border poll – advising all members and voters to vote on this issue as a matter of personal preference, and for all to accept the democratic outcome.
    All sounds very possible I would have thought – the reality of course could well be that the divisive nature of the border polls could lead to the other parties gaining advantage by appealing to all our own base instincts whilst the Alliance party lose out standing on the sidelines.

  • Lionel Hutz

    This whole article is based on the notion that this was a bad week for the four main parties. This was not a bad week for any of the Nationalist parties. This is a Unionist crisis.

    It could have been bad for Sinn Fein, as voting for the Union Flag to be raised over city hall could always be turned against them. But the howls of loyalist angst singling Sinn Fein out as chipping away at their Britishness will drown out any cries of traitors from more extreme Republicans. It could also have been a very bad week for SDLP given their serious miscalculation in Newry & Mourne DC, but that is off the news cycle. Both Nationalist parties came to the table with a reasonable compromise of no flags or both flags and in the end moved further to accommodate Unionists by flying the one flag on designated days. If their is any backlash, it would only be due to the timing of the vote and the effect on hard-pressed retailers, but they can hardly be singled out for that.

    This a crisis for Unionism and as I see it, a sort of battle for its soul, between the DUP and Alliance, the Loyalists feeling disenfranchised and the UUP getting squeezed ever more.

    The politics of compromise (isn’t that just politics?) is not only what people want, it is what they vote for and expect. And voters have been putting preferences and “x”‘s beside the candidates and parties that they think will best represent them at the negotiating table – get the best deal.

    Sinn Fein and the DUP played on this, raising the stakes of farcical sham fights all so that their voters think they need one party to fight off the aggression of the other. At the end of it is always the deal, or at least the appearance of a deal. CSI was a good example of that, with the parties needing to put something out, even it gets panned. It keeps the whole pretense up that they are working together.

    Its worked well for both parties but in some respects better for Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein played on the fear that the SDLP would give in too easy, not fight hard enough and get walked over by the DUP. With the far superior resources and a rival in constant transition mode since losing its big-hittings, Sinn Fein have been able to squeeze votes out of the SDLP bit by bit. But the main difference is the extent to which Nationalist’s sign up to the politics of compromise (which, despite all the commentary to contrary, is built in the institutions here). Nationalist’s have nowhere else to go, save for violence and only a minute segment of extreme Republicans will do that. Nationalist’s have to deal with Unionists, because no deal means the status quo remains and the status quo is very heavily biased towards Unionists, particularly on issues of cultural expression, and the official and civic recognition and promotion of it.

    DUP have had a different dilemma. Because the practical outworking of the politics of compromise does mean that they give away bits and pieces. That’s because they had it all to give away, particularly on issues of culture. With every summer saturated with Unionist and Orange expression and Union flags (and only Union flags) flying from the civic buildings standing in stark contrast to the sparse space afforded to the Irish minority to express and celebrate our identity and with little encouragement of the Irish Language. So there is this rump in Loyalism that feels disenfranchised, its much larger than that in the Nationalist community (a fact which seems to anger the Loyalist’s even more) and they just have to go and wreck the place every now and then. Also when the DUP bleed the UUP, some of the latter’s vote (particularly east of the Bann) went to the Alliance Party. The DUP needed to the Alliance Party for the devolution of justice to prevent the SDLP taking the post of minister (something Sinn Fein were happy to facilitate) and the Alliance Party have used their increased profile to great effect. You have to hand it to them. The DUP have to fight them on the liberal side and appease the disenfranchised mob, and that seems to me to be the biggest reason that this issue exploded in the way it did.

    As for the Alliance Party, they have been taken way too seriously and given a profile beyond what their mandate justifies. This idea that you can be agnostic on the Union is a fallacy. Its easy when you behave as half political party/ half single issue group as the Alliance do. They can walk out of CSI group meetings if they are not happy. Because they are small. Like the Greens as well. Half serious party, half lobbyists. Would it be feasible for David Ford as a First Minister to be agnostic on the Union? That would be like Enda Kenny or David Cameron having no view on membership of the EU.

    Its not good enough. More than that it does a disservice. The Alliance Party talk about how the constitutional issue is not important and treat working either for a United Ireland or preserving the United Kingdom as sectarian enterprises. They are not. And preaching to the electorate that their aspirations in that respect should be disregarded for the greater good is counter-productive, because they cannot be disregarded. Nationalism and Unionism need be sectarian philosophies. In fact, the Alliance could embody that tomorrow if they came out as Unionist. They are seen as small u unionist and not only that but civil about it and accommodating to Nationalist people. That would be a far more productive lesson.

    People dont want to give up their national identity. Its bizarre for a Political Party not to have one. That’s another reason why Nationalists got fed up with the SDLP. They were seen to give it up for this mealy mouthed lets-get-along post conflict resolution nonsense. I wanted the SDLP to re-engage with being a Nationalist party while demonstrating that it could represent Unionists on every day issues and really sell a United Ireland. The mirror image of what the Alliance Party could be tomorrow if it came out as Unionist.

    The Politics of Compromise is what most people want. But at the negotiator table, who wants to be represented by the mediator?

  • Mick Fealty

    The SDLP’s problem is purely one of duplication. Why do we need them if, as in the flag dispute, their opening position is apparently more extreme than SF’s?

    What we have here is liberals aping extreme positions such that they are slowly making themselves redundant politically.

    I have SF friends who love that Pat Ramsey is busting a gut for dissident Republicans in Derry. They hope for a cooling of Stoop ardour on the Culmore Road as well as amongst moderate unionists in the Waterside.

    The party is making itself smaller in hopes this will help it to survive. And theres a limited sense in that. Ironically, it also makes it harder to bid decisively for the centre ground when/if it eventually re-opens for business.

    The stand out description in Brian’s analysis for me is ‘mini me’. It less justifiably applies to the UUP.

    It remains to be seen if this all nothing more than a storm in a tea cup and yet another ‘tale told by an idiot’.

    That is very much up to Alliance. I suspect their contingent walked into this without thinking of the consequences.

    But it has crystallised some longer term problems with the rigid system we have inherited from those great pioneers of peace, the UUP and the SDLP, but to which Alliance may be the only ‘shovel ready’, if highly imperfect, answer.

    If the SDLP are interrupting the lessons of the last week correctly, they should be noting that this is crisis for everyone in NI, not just Unionists.

    If opinion polls are anything to go by, they are less degraded than the UUP, who’ve suffered not least because Alliance have cannibalising their soft liberal flank in greater Belfast.

    Ironically Alliance have ensured their own survival by making themselves critical to the DUP/SF main event. It’s a long time since David Ford waxed on being the unofficial opposition at Stormont.

    That particular road is closed to both former great parties of the centre. If they want to survive they must find another, much longer way round.

    That will have to relate to an entirely different second phase political play, which is capable of offering a more functional and sustainable form of government with less need to ‘outsource’ their own liberalism.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The more and more I think about it, I think that the biggest problem facing the SDLP is that people don’t just vote for the nationalist party. They vote for the package, and the package is Sinn Fein/DUP. Voters dont see the alternative as SDLP/DUP, they see it as SDLP/UUP and however bad the SDLP are, they are nowhere near in as much trouble as the UUP.

    That’s the big reason that I think the best thing that could happen to the SDLP would be if the UUP left the stage. They split to DUP and Alliance. It looks like it can happen. Then the alternative would be SDLP/Alliance. And that would be more attractive.

    I think it’s feasible that that could happen. The SDLP will be able to hold Sinn Fein for a while yet. In the face of the challenge of a party outspending them 3 to 1 and at time when Sinn Fein were getting the kid-glove treatment with backs slapped from Prime-Ministers and Diplomats, you have to say that the SDLP fought their corner as well as could be expected.

    In the meantime, the SDLP have to work on policy and articulating arguments on “bread and butter” issues (which they are not doing), use their Ministerial portfolio to demostrate competence (which Attwood is doing), and build a better ground game (which they appear to be making progress with). Beyond that they have to bide their time and pick up the dropped balls of DUP/Sinn Fein coalition and use it.

    You have to remember its only been five years of Stormont working on this. Thats not that long for people to get fed up with Sinn Fein/DUP and look elsewhere. Its 9 years since Sinn Fein overtook SDLP in the polls. But that’s not an age in comparison to political battles south of the border or across the water. It can come round if you do the basics well.

    But I do think that the best thing that could happen for them is that UUP disappear

  • Gopher

    It’s quite amazing the SDLP have no other strategy apart from holding on (whilst tactical votes for them decline) and being more nationalist keeping ones finger crossed that the UUP are worse than them. I am also not really sure that Alex’s competence is noticed beyond the gaze of the faithful.

  • Reader

    Red Lion: Reader, well i guess i have too much of a conviction in a reformed liberal union ideology as the way for NI to grow and prosper.
    If a socially liberal, moderate unionist party magicked into existence, it would get my vote. On the rare occasions when the UUP has looked like that party, that’s how I voted. But the UUP is a serial let-down, so these days I vote Alliance. I didn’t see anything wrong with their flag vote, and they aren’t scary in any other way.
    Having given Alliance my vote, I only expect them to follow their declared policies. If they have any sense they will balance my vote against that of a moderate nationalist voter and try to keep both of us on board for next time.
    Getting a bit cynical now – maybe Alliance had hoped to recruit some moderate nationalists with their flag vote, but it may have backfired – if all they get is another load of UUP defectors shocked at UUP mismanagement of the issue.

  • Reader

    Bangordub: The problem with that Brian, is that in Nationalist majority councils there is no need for a bloc designation. There is voluntary office and power sharing.
    I am aware that there is office sharing. But in what sense is there any power sharing?

  • GavBelfast

    As I understand it, flying of the Union flag from council / government / other appropriate public buildings on “designated days” has been official Alliance Party policy for ten years or more, so their proposal and vote was following now long-standing Alliance Party policy.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick what do you mean “I have SF friends”? I find the term somewhat strange. Do you mean you have friends who vote for sf?

    More importantly could you explain what Pat Ramsey is doing for the “dissident Republicans” ? People in the sdlp may consider what you are repeating is at best “sf spin”. You should recall that Pat Ramsey has been targeted by dissident republicans.