“they have failed to adopt the responsibility and transparency which goes with power”

In his Irish News column on Saturday, Patrick Murphy identified three “explanations for the failure of Stormont”.  That’s all he had time for…  From the Irish News article

The first is the catch-22 analysis, based on the novel by Joseph Heller.  In it, US pilots in the Second World War were deemed crazy to fly any further missions.  But if they refused to fly, they were regarded as sane – and therefore fit to fly.  The two main parties at Stormont might be viewed in a similar light.

They would be electorally crazy to abandon their long-held (largely flag-waving) principles.  So they retain their core values, which renders them electorally sane and therefore fit for power.

But the only form of power available is power-sharing, which if operated fully, would render them electorally crazy by requiring them to abandon their flag-obsessed values.

By institutionalising sectarianism, Stormont has created an inherent contradiction for the DUP and Sinn Féin.  They are required to have one message for supporters but the opposite message for their main coalition partner.

Supporters have now copped on, so both parties have taken a step back from their loving relationship.

Of course, they could have used the initial favourable coverage – “No praise was too great.  No superlatives were too super.” – and spent some of their undoubted political capital in leading a way out of that particular dilemma.  As Patrick Murphy points out

…the role of government is not to look politically pretty.  It is to govern – and Stormont has significantly failed to do so.

And, now, “They’ve had the time, they’ve had the money, they’ve had the opportunity…

As for the other parties…  Merely offering to replace, as tribal tribune, either of the two current encumbents within OFMDFM – as articulated recently by the SDLP’s Alex Attwood – would be to miss the point.  They need to offer an alternative strategy that avoids catch-22.

Unless, as Patrick Murphy suggests

Perhaps not enough MLAs have the necessary skills and knowledge to make Stormont work.

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  • The Belfast Agreement offered a transitional arrangement away from violent conflict by taking the existing sectarian divisions as the basis for a new political order based on consociationalism or power sharing. This could have served as a transition to a new non-sectarian future. Unfortunately, either deliberately or through oversight, the Other category was left powerless in important votes thereby giving no incentive for individuals to vote for parties that lacked power. This froze the conflict at the same state as it was when the agreement was signed except that the leading sectarian parties changed as a result of decommissioning by the IRA in 2005. So now instead of “moderate” sectarians we have extreme sectarians, who, however, are quite able to work with one another just as the Official IRA, the INLA, and the loyalist paramilitaries cooperated in defrauding the government in construction schemes by carving up Belfast. It is time for an intervention by the two governments to rewrite the rules to give more power to the Other category and to provide for an official opposition at Stormont.

  • Currently, the balance of power between catholics and protestants is only enforced at the top table of the executive. But the people at the top rely on a communal party political system to put them at the top table in the first place. The only way to cure this is to enforce fairness at a lower level. If it’s legitimate to propose gender quotas for political parties, then it’s legitimate to propose religion (or community) quotas.

    We already monitor community membership for fair employment purposes. Time to start monitoring it for political parties, and require that parties stand an equal number of fair-employment-protestants and fair-employment-catholics (Others would not count towards either total).

    But it will probably have to be imposed, because turkeys won’t vote for christmas. Time for a mass movement?

  • aquifer

    “Perhaps not enough MLAs have the necessary skills and knowledge to make Stormont work.”

    So we should let them stew up there until they prove themselves to be useless, and then we throw them all out at once. That is how democracy should work. Happens all the time in real countries.

    Reducing the number of MLAs is a red herring to persuade us to give them a second chance.

    Like a street drinkers request.

    Best to walk on by.

    Or bring out the water hose.

  • Starviking

    Seems to be the natural result of Tony Blair’s policy of appeasing the extremes at all costs during the peace process.

  • Pete Baker[quoting P Murphy]
    ‘The role of government is, not to look pretty, but to govern’

    Aye there’s the rub [as birthday boy W. Shakespeare put it]
    because it could be argued that this particular case isn’t like governing real countries. The peace process skewed tthe order of things so that the telling point of why they are at stormont at all is, for both London and the electorates here, not to govern for the sake of it but to be[for London ‘in the tent rather than out’ and for their electorates, to keep themmuns under control. That is the whole raison d’etre of the ruritanian farrago up there.

  • Dec

    “Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.”