Stormont’s inaction driving the handcart back towards the brink of the past?

Or predictions thread for the year to come is still a work in progress, but you don’t need a crystal ball to tell you the shenanigans at the year end suggest that already Stormont’s institutions are having some difficulty staying in touch with where the politics of the street is moving.

Alan Murray notes in yesterday’s Tele:

…many of our politicians on both sides are out of touch with reality. Political current affairs programmes on our local television and radio channels politely thrashed out scenarios, with the usual commentators seemingly unaware that a storm was about to engulf us.

The SDLP and Alliance, in particular, just didn’t grasp the potential for exploitation that the flags issue would provide, which in itself is deeply worrying.

Sinn Fein certainly did, demonstrated by the despatch of their cameraman to film the symbolic removal of the Union flag from the pinnacle flagpole in Ulster.

Insisting that “democracy must take its course” is commendable, but hardly comforting – given the potential street turmoil that lies ahead of us, particularly in the bigger loyalist urban population areas around Belfast.

And he goes on to lay a little blame with the people who promises us delivery, just under two years ago:

in spite of all the money spent on the costly mechanisms at Stormont and the exorbitant OFMDFM spin machine, political progress may have been set back significantly by events on the streets. Again.

The justice minister, David Ford, through the year ritually calling “for an end to terrorism”, as he did again yesterday, will have no impact on the paramilitaries on both sides intent on pursuing their destructive agendas.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has his agenda, as does Billy Hutchinson of the PUP – now with his discernibly different stance on the flag-flying issue.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, between them they have the capacity to press the buttons that cannot just frustrate, but can damage, or even derail, the peace process with a little bit of deadly nudging from the dissidents.

It’s hard to blame any nationalist party for wanting to take reduce the number of days the Union flag is flown on any local government building. What gives all of these actions heightened significance is the sheer lack of anything concrete coming out of the departments at Stormont.

After two years in office, the only thing political play is action on the streets (historically, the precedents are hardly encouraging). Despite apparently cordial relations at OFMdFM, the dealmaking at Stormont Castle appears to have ground to a halt in September.

Sinn Fein’s party leadership (which unlike the DUP’s is embedded at party headquarters rather than inside the political institutions at Stormont), has moved much of its attention and resources to giving itself a base and footing in the Republic rather than Northern Ireland.

It’s this lack of action and concomitant lack of focus on Northern Ireland’s future which is sapping the energies of our fledgeling representative democracy, and in the process enlarging the shadow of the past.

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  • Chris Donnelly

    An impressive effort at avoiding the elephant- at all costs!

    The ‘storm’ was born and bred of political unionism’s unwillingness to promote a tolerance of The Other amongst its base electorate- unsurprising, given the ‘leadership’ displayed on majority unionist councils, where power-sharing/ proportionality remains an anathema and reciprocal respect for the symbols of the nationalist community are unheard of. Indeed, remarks attributed to both Robinson and Nesbitt illustrate just how unwilling these leaders are to perform that role within their community.

    It remains an inconvenient truth that Belfast City Hall is awash with Unionist symbols, as indeed are most of the headquarters of the 26 local government councils across the Six Counties, as is Stormont itself.

    A shared future, if it is to be truly ‘shared’, will necessitate political unionism educating its electorate as to the need to afford respect to the legitimacy of the Irish nationalist tradition in precisely the same manner that British unionism seeks to be respected in the contested entity that is Northern Ireland.

  • jthree

    Maybe I’ve misread the Murray piece but is its core message ‘never, ever do anything which might upset the most lumpen elements of loyalism’?

  • aquifer

    Unionists played not just the Orange card, but flashed a get out of jail free card to protestant paramilitaries.

    Interesting what the electorate, or the parties of the soft centre, will make of it.

  • Mick Fealty

    Chris, I think if that’s how we are now defining “delivery” then we are surely getting close to the essence of the problem?

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Sinn Fein’s party leadership (which unlike the DUP’s is embedded at party headquarters rather than inside the political institutions at Stormont), has moved much of its attention and resources to giving itself a base and footing in the Republic rather than Northern Ireland.”

    Most successful parties in Europe have to work on a number of political levels. The British Labour party are successful in UK, Welsh, Scottish and European elections.

    The “lack of action” is down to the fact that our political parties in “government” do not agree.

  • son of sam

    Speaking of “elephants in rooms” would Chris care to comment on Declan Gormley’s case and its implications for Sinn Fein ?Perhaps it is still conveniently sub-judice!

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s not sub judice, but I don’t see it’s relevance to this thread?

  • acquifier. I wouldn’t normally be heard dead agreeing with Frazer on anything, but his interview with Clarke today included a suggestion that Direct Rule should return and Stormont closed down. The DUP could find itself drained of support from formerly dependable sources, as the backlash over the flag issue continues.Frazer is tacitly admitting that that the protests will not result in the flag going back on city hall other than on the days now formal, so he’s widening the ambit of the protests.

  • The Raven

    “Interesting what the electorate…will make of it.”

    Nothing. Hashtag: #54%turnout

  • son of sam

    The irony in my comment clearly got lost in the ether!Chris’s first line read”an impressive effort at avoiding the elephant -at all costs”.I was merely making the point that Chris can be very selective (like many) in avoiding topics where his party might be thought to be on the back foot.I agree technically that I may be off thread, but I’m hardly the first on Slugger.Over and out!

  • “Stormont’s inaction driving the handcart back towards the brink of the past?”

    I doubt it. IMO they both flow from the contradictions contained within the Agreement, reinforced by the change made to the selection of the First Minister. To ‘recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose’ is at odds with Westminster sovereignty, even if Westminster sometimes rubber-stamps partisan Leinster House proposals.

    “It’s hard to blame any nationalist party for wanting to take reduce the number of days the Union flag is flown on any local government building.”

    Nationalists seek to remove NI from the UK and to construct a UI; they sought to remove the Union flag from City Hall, not to fly it in honour of the Queen’s birthday; variations on the Athboy conspiracy will continue to be endorsed/propagated by SF and the SDLP will go with the flow as the 1916 anniversary hoves into view.

    The Union flag doesn’t fly on Moyle Council premises in Ballycastle on any day or on any business premise or any private home in the town. As a local member of staff at nearby Corrymeela put it many moons ago: “They know which side their bread’s buttered on.” Nationalists and unionists can agree on some issues but, even if OFMDFM agreed to a flags policy it would be a very brave or very foolish person who would fly the Union flag on a building in Ballycastle. I’m told that those who contemplated a counter-protest to the recent flags protest at the council protest were given short shrift by ‘strong’ nationalists.

  • Barnshee

    “The Union flag doesn’t fly on Moyle Council premises in Ballycastle ”

    Indeed –but the crown is “fondly fingered “on a daily basis via social security payments.. (Try an FOI on Social Security payments by Postcode) and via the full panoply of a “District Council” for what is essentially a hole in the wall

  • “Stormont’s institutions are having some difficulty staying in touch with where the politics of the street is moving.”

    Not just the politics of the streets but also the politics of the councils and the murders and attempted murders of police and prison officers. The hard men on both sides are unlikely to be impressed or much influenced by the might of the OFMDFM PR machine.

  • David Crookes

    If you refuse to DO anything, you should also refuse to make vacuous platitudinous ‘statements’ which highlight your impotence.

    Flying in Mrs Clinton to say the stupid word UNACCEPTABLE merely invites the contempt of everyone.

    If PR is all PR, has he any right to govern? PR should be telling the #flegs brigade what it really means to be British. If they don’t like what he tells them, they can vote for some other party at the next election. If they break the law, they can be faced down and prosecuted. That’s the British way.

  • Mc Slaggart


    Mrs Clinton got money for Tyrone GAA Center of Excellence so her time was not wasted.

  • David Crookes

    Good show, Mc Slaggart, something useful after all. I didn’t know.

  • son of sam

    Re Mc Slaggart-3 14pm
    At the risk of being chastised by Mick for going off thread,the choreography of the announcement of the funding for the Garvaghey project was interesting .The photo taken at Stormont included Tyrone G A A officials and only Sinn Fein ministers/M L A s.Presumably the non too subtle message was that this was S F largesse for which the Gaels of Tyrone should be suitably grateful at election time.We now learn that pressure from the Democratic Party in Philadelphia had a significant part to play in the ultimate decision .Despite sustained applications for grant aid over a number of years from Club Tyrone,no funding was forthcoming until recently.Would the money have been available without the American pressure ?One can only surmise but certainly the redoubtable Connolly House press office was determined to exploit the opportunity to maximum advantage .But I suppose that’s politics!

  • David Crookes

    Only SF ministers and MLAs in the photograph? That is very bad.

    Did unionist minsters and MLAs turn down an invitation to appear in the photograph? Such a refusal would represent an unwise piece of ‘inaction’ on their part. If the Queen can speak a few words of Irish, and if her husband can accept the gift of a hurley, unionist politicians should be able to do likewise.

    Were unionist ministers and MLAs not invited to appear in the photograph? If they were not, someone needs to summon the American ambassador.

    Whatever the case, there is a serious bit of ‘inaction’ here that needs to be ferreted out. Thanks, son of sam.

  • son of sam

    David Crookes
    Sadly given the polarised nature of politics,it is unlikely that Unionist representatives even if invited would have felt able to attend.I am open to correction on this.The point I was attempting to make is that the G A A generally would portray itself as a broad church at least within the “Nationalist community”.Yet it is not apparent to me that any S D L P representative was asked to appear in the publicity photograph.I’m sure Joe Byrne (S D L P M L A for West Tyrone)would have been more than happy to be associated.One is led to the conclusion that the Shinners were directing the publicity operation and the Tyrone G A A officials as beneficiaries of the grant had to go along with the arrangement .

  • Gopher

    Sometimes I don’t know who is worse our political commentators or the politicians themselves. Politics apparently is managing events. I’ll wager good money that we have the most predictable political events in the world. The cynics among us would suggest that is because the politicians engineer them or because we have events on specific calender days, or every ten years.

    What is happening at Stormont is merely an interbellum or as Foch would have probably describe the GFA as an armistice for 20 years. There is absolutely no real world politics going on in that place and there is no appetite for peace.

  • IJP


    Happy New Year to you, and all Sluggerettes of course.

    I am very much inclined to jthree‘s view of Murray’s line. Indeed, too many Unionists are inclined towards the “comfort” of a view that anyone inciting Loyalists to be disruptive is to blame for inciting them. This strikes me as suspiciously similar to the old Nationalist view “Well, we don’t support the IRA, but, you know, you can kind of understand why they do what they do, can’t you?”

    Even this evening I have seen hints that SF should not launch a campaign on Irish unity for fear that it may incite Loyalists further. I can think of many reasons SF should not launch such a campaign, but “incitement” of people with no democratic mandate and a recent record of consistent illegality is not one of them – and all democrats must agree with me on that point.

    Therefore, I do feel there is a risk that you miss the point somewhat here – in an almost Alliance-y way, if I may say so. In an attempt to spread blame equally, you miss the fundamental point here which is that Unionism is seriously struggling with democracy, not that it is a minority. That has very serious implications, but we need to address that fundamental point directly and resist the temptation to be waylaid by excuses for Unionist failure.

  • IJP

    Another important error in Murray’s analysis, by the way: Alliance “didn’t see” this coming.

    This assumes that the Alliance Party is a single entity consisting of 1,000 people all of whom think precisely the same thing.

    On the contrary, having rejoined the party in late February, I blogged on this precise issue in mid-March! That was a full nine months ahead, and I was not the only one concerned that far back. So to say we missed it (or, at least, that we all missed it) is just wrong.

    Let us again be clear: Alliance Councillors went into a democratic chamber and voted for their own party policy.

    That that led to a purge against party representatives is a democratic outrage; Unionism’s failure to grasp that is the real issue here, and explains why the above figure is now 1,000 rather than 900!

  • tacapall

    The crux will come when Unionists attempt to fly the Union flag over Stormont 365 days a year, will Alliance cave in to pressure from Loyalist paramilitaries and so called respectable Unionism or will they support the practice they followed at Belfast City hall. The overwhelming evidence emerging almost weekly of the connections and joint enterprise between the British government and Loyalist paramilitaries must surely not be overlooked when observing the scenes of violence against Alliance party members and offices. The census results have put Unionism on the back foot, they cannot hold back the tide, they are now the minority and their only hope in the future to keep the link with Britain is to go for the lesser of two evils, Joint Authority.

  • DC

    I think Murray’s view about SF is very insightful, it also matches what i was thinking about last month whenever this all kicked off that perhaps SF actually knows working class loyalism better than any unionist party, save for the PUP maybe, knows its socio-psychological side best, the ‘which buttons to press’, whereas *all* the others were just not in that zone? When you think about it, SF deals with interface issues and comes up against working class unionist areas – and the issues there – a lot, regardless of the blame around the fallout connected to sectarian trouble/riots. it is still there among WCU. I am not sure if there is such a party on the unionist side embedded in that way and is as knowledgeable as SF. SF seems to have a sound and live connection to local working-class type street politics that runs back into its party politics.

    I think there needs to be a party that could build out of working class areas and be spun out into other ones, but a party that was organised more along secular lines that tried to overcome unionist religious fragmentation, but it would naturally because of this not be exclusively secular in that you debar religious types, just that church-going networking wouldn’t be the way forward! It would in essence operate along community lines, community organising a bit like SF does.

    The DUP and UUP have been largely church-based/OO based and this comes with its own limits, the DUP has had a history of organising along ethno-religous lines, the UUP more along ethnic/civic in my view, and the Alliance high-brow civic maybe.

    Clearly upon reflection the Alliance took the decision over the heads of a certain section of the community that wasn’t ready to take it on the chin, democracy or not (I take it there is no way possible to bring forward a particular council election?), especially not after a motion that wanted to remove the flag completely.

    Whereas a more networked, cross-class, community/grass-roots political alliance might have cultivated the ground more for such a bumpy compromise, which is why the likes of the PUP has interested me in that regard. (Another thing is Billy Hutchinson’s line that we remain in post-ceasefire politics not post-conflict, and it got me thinking about how we get to that, i would be interested in finding out Chris Donnelly’s list of things that unionism should accede to in order to validate the nationalist tradition in NI.)

    It’s the way SF has built its political community and it seems robust, but also clearly that party – as the article mentions, doesn’t make decisions very quickly and struggles to move much out of its comfort zone, over-networked and sluggish perhaps even overly conservative as a result.

    Re SF comfort zone, perhaps another reason why Alliance shouldn’t have bothered to amend the removal motion for restricted days, as it would have been nice to see if SF had it in it to actually move into a position to compromise itself, to move post-conflict.

    Something we’ll never find out now…

  • David Crookes

    Many thanks for all that information, son of sam. I wonder if this matter is worth taking up with some of our MLAs.

    IJP, you say, ‘…..Unionism is seriously struggling with democracy…..’

    100% correct. Unionism’s anti-democratic wing has seen off every decent leader since Terence O’Neill. PR must resolve to triumph over that anti-democratic wing. He needs to say, ‘Keep the law, or you will go to jail.’

    I’m going to bore everyone by suggesting four yes-or-no questions that intrepid interviewers may like to address to unionist politicians.

    Do you accept that everyone must keep the law?

    Will you now declare without equivocation that all forms of protest must be legal?

    Do you without equivocation denounce as lawbreakers those who disrupt traffic by blocking roads?

    If a majority of NI’s citizens vote in a referendum for a unified Ireland, will you abide peacefully and democratically by the result of the referendum?

    The unionist politician who can give straight YES answers to those questions is a rare bird. (I reckon that no member of the AP will have any difficulty in giving four straight YES answers, but then the AP has never had any kind of paramilitary wing.)

  • Comrade Stalin


    I wouldn’t normally be heard dead agreeing with Frazer on anything, but his interview with Clarke today included a suggestion that Direct Rule should return and Stormont closed down.

    Frazer is a self promoter and the fact that he has been running a victims group for many years and yet none of the unionist parties will touch him with a bargepole should tell you everything you need to know. I think he is trying to take over the leadership of these protests and direct it along the lines of his own political agenda; I think he seems himself as the next Ian Paisley. I don’t think he’ll succeed.

    The return of direct rule is, in fact, the worst possible outcome for unionists that is actually a plausible one. The the assembly, where the mutual veto keeps a check on things, will be replaced by a regime where the British listen to both sides, find the centre line and impose it over everyone’s head. That will lead to more union flags coming down or being flown less frequently and it will almost certainly lead to some form of Irish Language Act.

  • DC

    Just re-read the sentence ‘move into a position to compromise itself’ – double meaning, but I guess that’s Freudian.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Perhaps Murray is referring to the reaction when he reckons that Alliance did not see it coming, rather than the vote itself. That is of course equally untrue.

    The vote had been anticipated for a long time and not just by Alliance. A certain Belfast DUP councillor has spent the past six months at least talking about little else on his Facebook page.

    At some point, the DUP must have been genuinely concerned that the vote would pass unnoticed, hence their grand plan to highlight the issue by issuing leaflets, with an attack on Naomi Long thrown in for good measure.

  • DC

    Comrade, maybe you are right re the leaflet, but once people in Alliance perceive this to be a potential knock out blow and now being in a political boxing fight, you need to learn how to slip a punch.

    1)Block the motion.
    2)Let SF and SDLP go back to the table to re-think.
    3)SF and SDLP initiate restricted days off their own bat to get the flag down 96% of the time, a 4% shift from their original position – wow!

    To the press Alliance could have said it will block the motion to remove the flag altogether because of its long-standing history in unionist communities, but if SF goes back and introduces designated days, Alliance will not stand in the way, it will abstain, all legal advice indicates designated days to be sound from discrimination challenge but there remains no absolute legal position on this.

    Punch slipped.

  • DC

    Examples of slipping punches:


  • Alias

    It’s interesting that all the Peace Process™ funded/inspired waffle that the likes of the SDLP and Alliance have spewed to others over the last 15 years about the importance of symbols hasn’t actually succeeded in enabling either the SDLP and Alliance to grasp the importance of symbols, never mind the others.

  • Comrade Stalin

    DC, I’ve explained why the above couldn’t happen three or four times and it still doesn’t seem to be sinking in. Jeez, this site needs a killfile.

  • DC

    Run it past me again as to why?

    Apart from breaching policy which you wouldn’t be, well maybe only for a short period of time until SF and SDLP came back and introduced your policy for you? Win!

  • Kevsterino

    Regarding the title of the thread, I’m not convinced that anything brings Northern Ireland to the brink of the past, insomuch as I truly don’t believe nobody is on the brink of the seventies, for instance. Although I’m sure I have a few suitable neckties, just in case.

    Social conditions are entirely different, the nature of government is entirely different both in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Wales and even England. I think the threats of a return to the past are exaggerated.

  • Kevsterino

    ooops, I meant “I don’t believe anybody”.

  • Comrade Stalin

    DC, click on my profile and read through the contributions a few days ago where I explained this to you in detail.

  • streetlegal

    It would seem that the leadership of the flag protests have been successful in opening a split within the DUP in Belfast. It seems that close associations have been made between the protesters and the sectarian wing of the Belfast DUP, most notably represented by Ruth Patterson and Nelson McCausland. This has important implications as it now seems likely that a move will be made against the leadership of Peter Robinson by the Belfast hardliners.

  • DC

    Those two headbangers should join the TUV!

    Long should resign her seat and call a by-election around the shared future issue.

    Ruth Patterson to stand in east Belfast for TUV, Gavin for DUP, Naomi for Alliance, God Knows for the UUP and Billy Hutchinson for the PUP in the east, BNP and Britain First all take up positions.

    Long to come out a winner?
    Or DUP the way forward?

  • Comrade Stalin


    I think there’s certainly a split in the DUP and Robinson is busy trying to pilot his way around it. I’d count Nelson McCausland and Nigel Dodds both as part of the faction you mention.

    Robinson is undoubtedly having to deal with pressure but I’m not sure there is a credible challenger to his leadership at this stage. Any challenger is going to have to have a platform that would alter the party’s present course – and what is that platform likely to be ? The party would be significantly wounded by a withdrawal from Stormont.