Inability of OFMdFM to compromise has allowed the “No Go” politics of the street to re-occupy a central space

It’s no go your maidenheads, it’s no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tyre and the devil mend the puncture.

Louis MacNeice – Bagpipe Music

One of the optical illusions of Northern Ireland’s now regular summers of trouble is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the power sharing executive on Stormont hill. This was an actual feature of the politics that developed from the early sixties through to the outbreak of serious public disorder in 1968/9.

By the time the SDLP walked out in July 1971, mainstream politics had effectively sidelined itself, and over the next thirty years, the struggle for real power deferred to a protracted and violently destructive stalemate out on the streets.

After six years in power, neither of the established parties in OFMdFM seem willing or capable of striking a deal that will stick with the various troubled localities. Over the last couple of years we’ve had tactical sniping at the very institutions put in place to keep public order.

The vexatious relations between the First Minister and the Parades Commission, and SF’s repeated gaming of the PSNI when they inconveniently arrest one of the party’s own ‘friends of the Agreement’ undermine both institutions, and any hope that, to paraphrase the First Minister promise, that the sons and daughters of the Planter and Gael would one day feel a shared sense of security.

It’s a long way from November 2011 when Peter Robinson’s upbeat speech at his party conference was heralded by the raucously optimistic opening lines of The Call’s ‘Let the Day Begin’. Mr Robinson went on to say…

…the real battle is not about the past, it’s about the future. We must always be sure to fight the next campaign and not the last one. Our greatest threat is not political opposition – it’s inertia. The path to success hasn’t been painless, but the testing times have only served to strengthen us. We can look back now on everything we have achieved – and we can see that what we did, actually strengthened and enhanced our party position, it didn’t weaken it.

This is not a time to rest on our laurels, it’s the time to move forward. Opportunity is sitting on our doorstep. As a party, we must be the very best at everything we do. And that means we must plan and prepare, we must set out our strategy and deliver on our goals. Whatever our opponents do, we must be one step ahead. That means a process of continual improvement at every level. As a party we must set demanding targets and deliver on them.

Less than two years later, and there is no sign of ‘travellers on an open road’. The missing element from the DUP/Sinn Fein package has been compromise. Those very checks, balances and vetos that Robinson talked about as an admission that the DUP and SF could not agree, as well as trivialising the role of other parties in the Executive, made an already rigid system even more rigid than it had been before.

What’s happened in lieu of the subsequent lack of agreement on the core principles of running a broad administration has been a return to political drift, in spite of the presence of agreed ‘indigenous’ governance. Compromise is the ultimate dirty word in Northern Irish political parlance, and yet without it no two parties can ever hope to drive the highly tensioned machine bequeathed them by St Andrews.

Such compromise is difficult, if not impossible for two parties which were inveterate and competing idealists during the conflict. And, as Roddy Cowie notes:

Compromise involves settling for something that falls short of ideals; and where there has been serious conflict, the ideals are almost bound to be at least partly moral. That means our simple picture needs to have a third agency added – moral judgement.

Moral judgement is neither cold calculation of self-interest, nor raw emotion: it is a framework grounded in deep-seated feelings, and extended systematically by reason.

Just being reasonable is not enough, because compromise involves accepting that we have to go against at least some parts of that framework, and restructure it so that the rest retains a kind of integrity.

When people make light of that problem, the effect may well be the opposite of their aim: they sound as if they are making light of the moral issues, and therefore moral people have a duty to stand against them. [emphasis added]

David McCann at identifies at least one common element, the observation of No Go politics retains a strong appeal, on both sides…

We often hear talk about a ‘shared future’ in Northern Ireland. It has to be the most used and abused phrase in politics in this province. Yet I fail to see how we are ever going to get there if we pursue with the logic of ‘no go’ areas. Do we really want a city where the mayor is regarded as an enemy simply because he comes from the other community? [emphasis added]

The inability of these two parties to strike a detailed, structured and politically robust compromise has enabled the “No Go” politics of the street to re-occupy the national and international media spaces. It may be that  St Andrews was a misstep along the way in which insecurities about the future squeezed out the space for necessary future compromise.

Or perhaps, and more simply, it may just be that the sort political culture (driven as much new civil custom and habit of mind) that’s capable of hammering out the sort of new and morally robust compromises Cowie suggests are necessary has still to be imagined, never mind arrived at…

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  • Ruarai

    Some good stuff there, Mick. But one point of contention: The DUP and SF have much to answer for, yes, especially their role in not simply failing to resolve and deflate the ever-growing communal tensions but in actively hyping them, particularly in North Belfast.

    However, they cannot be blamed for everything and an example of misdirected blame, in my view, is this line: “trivialising the role of other parties in the Executive, made an already rigid system even more rigid than it had been before.”

    No. The problem with other parties on the executive is not how “they are treated” – in life one is treated largely on the terms upon which one grants others – it is that they are there in the first place.

    What on earth do the SDLP and UUP expect SF and the DUP to do with them – make them look more competent, relevant and attractive than they can make themselves?

    Granted, some of the treatment is rough. Simply giving the Alliance a ministry being the most obvious example. But politics is rough; so it goes.

    The real problem sustaining and entrenching the the One Party State, i.e. the DUP-SF power carve, is the inability of their opponents to oppose this. Opposition cannot be a mental state, an actual platform is required.

    The DUP-SF scorpion was never going to carry society over the water. Time for others to stop croaking about being treated unfairly and, instead and at long last, provide the massive majority of people who don’t support street mayhem and douchebaggery with a political alternative.

    The problem is now, clearly, the lack of alternative to the DUP-SF cold war.

    Without an alternative, it won’t stay cold forever.

  • Mick Fealty

    To clarify, I was trying to say the SAA trivialised the role of the other parties… Thouhh P&J shows how much they csn be captured by their own inability to compromise.

  • Crow

    Without doubt, Robinson knows where the PUL community must travel to in order to secure the future but it continues to be unclear as to whether he:

    1. Doesn’t know how to get there
    2. Doesn’t want to get there
    3. Knows it can’t be reached or
    4. Wants to leave it to his succesor in a year or two

  • Seamuscamp

    The problem isn’t the refusal to compromise; it’s the inability to perceive that mutual compromise might be possible. Victory is the only option. We don’t need truth and reconciliation; we need forgetfulness.

  • Brian Walker

    A huge amount of intellectual energy had gone into this fine post. Myself though, I wonder if a holistic approach is the right one. I’d be inclined to isolate the whole issue of demos etc. from “normal “ politics but pay it great attention. The aim would be to increase pressure to negotiate to the point of compliance and to refuse officiously to take offence at the passage of the other.

    For let’s hold onto the fundamental difference with the Troubles. Unlike 1968 – 72, “normal” politics continue, the regime is not existentially threatened, the whole of society is not engulfed. After all these years, even since 1998 and Drumcree and so on, the element of shock is limited. Yes of course it shows that communal bitterness has not gone away. It is not all “mindless,” to be written off as mere “sectarianism.” Territorial struggles are going on, gorges rise at the sight of obnoxious commemoration, paramilitary mischief is still going on. Yes too, the main parties face both ways. But let’s not fasten on the odd depressing event as a harbinger for collapse. Let’s go easy on invoking the poetry of the past (though I love it).

    If I were Richard Haas I would urge the Parades Commission to give notice of quitting and dump the lot on to the Executive. If I were the Executive leaders I would appoint joint ministers for parades, isolate them from the rest of the executive and fire them if they can’t reach agreement.

    Agreement mightn’t always stick on the streets but at least the Executive would have done their best. Either way, the trouble is containable. We’ve just got to believe that.

  • Kensei

    The problem with “shared space” is it inevitably means some sort of neutral space. Unless we are prepared shared spaces that are truly shared, able to be used for things we find difficult or unpalatable, then you are immediately and irrevocably into the logic of areas for one side or the other, and no-go naturally follows.

  • Kensei

    And we don’t have enough of a shared understanding to facilitate that. Even if we could somehow isolate what is unacceptable from what is merely unpalatable, it still seems to me there is too big a bridge to cross. How can you reconcile the view of the IRA expressed via the parades at the weekend with typical getalongerist attitudes, nevermind a unionist? There is also a certain attractive logic behind not throwing things in people’s faces.

    I’ve no idea how you square the circle. I suspect some sort of truth and reconcilation process would help, but apparently veryone is dead set against that for various reasons.

  • cynic2

    But the entire system as designed by SF and the DUP just to facility a lack of agreement. It is dysfunctional by deign

  • cynic2

    “Without doubt, Robinson knows where the PUL community must travel to in order to secure the future”

    So does Guinness but there is little sign of it from SF either. Take Castlederg.

    We could have had efforts (and it would have been hard) to mourn the loss of people on both side and support the bereaved on both sides in a spirit of reconciliation. But no. SF chose to glorify those who would have killed their neighbors had fate (and poor bomb-making) not intervened. They even put up poor wee Barry , hopelessly out of his depth on The Today programme, explaining why he saw them as heroes not criminals.

  • Here’s the thing: the DUP and SF did agree on a way forward to manage parades but the OO said “No” and Robinson reneged.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “We could have had efforts (and it would have been hard) to mourn the loss of people on both side and support the bereaved on both sides in a spirit of reconciliation.”

    How would you do this?

  • Seamuscamp

    Much of this comment ignores an optimistic side. Focus is entirely on who did what, without a hint that there were a hell of a lot of people who didn’t do whatever it is. Undoubtedly there wasn’t a love-in atmosphere (just look at the “Famine” singing in Derry on YouTube) but most people, whatever their persuasion, didn’t go looking for blood.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s true Joe, but Garvaghey and Lower Ormeau residents also rejected it. Truth is that no one particularly trusts OFMdFM to get their sleeves rolled up to do the kind of dirty work that it would take to get this mess sorted out.

  • I didn’t know that, Mick, and it is regrettable. I suppose since both of those groups had “won the battle” means that they thought that the Parades Commission was best for them.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Truth is that no one particularly trusts OFMdFM to get their sleeves rolled up to do the kind of dirty work that it would take to get this mess sorted out.”

    I see from a Nevin posting that Martin Mc Guinness was in Castlederg:

    “West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty – 09 August 2013 said: “Last night after meetings in Castlederg involving local people and Martin McGuinness a decision was taken to cancel Saturday’s protest [against an Apprentice Boys parade.””

  • Red Lion

    OFMDFM have failed on this issue.

    Is it time for London and Dublin governments to get back on board with the daily muck of NI politics to focus minds??

    I think so. Stormont has failed on parades, it offers nothing on this issue and is in fact part of the problem. London and Dublin have got stuck in to seeming intractable issues when they knocked heads together to broker the GFA. They can do it again.

    They could be a breath of fresh air, a fresh source of energy from which the protagonists could draw inspiration. For the Parades Commission and Stormont sure as hell ain’t working.

    I would also like to see a little bit of power being given back to central government see how that shakes things up a bit for our exasperatingly dysfunctional devolved assembly.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s a poker game McS…

    The protest was against what exactly? An AOD parade that no one had objected to until the High Court threw out a PC determination in favour of a local band parading in Lurganboy Road in the town, which they described as “overwhelmingly Protestant”?

    It should be noted too that the main event, the Tyrone Volunteers Day (copyrighted by Tyrone Sinn Féin Commemoration Committee) was the only parade being run directly by a political party with a ministerial position within the current power sharing Executive.

    I presume, but I’m less sure, that the protest that was called off was also being organised by said senior government party.

  • I see that the head of the Police Federation has called for a 6 month ban on contentious parades, and the SDLP leader supports this.
    That is a joke on two fronts:
    1. Who decides which parades are contentious?
    2. More importantly, parades would be banned during the 6 months when there are few if any parades.
    To be really effective in concentrating minds, it would need to be 12 months which would include most parades.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “It’s a poker game McS”

    Its not a game as their is no competition1 in it. Republicans have the same right to march as everyone else. Its a fact of life which everyone has to accept!

    “The protest was against what exactly?”
    Now you write “AOD parade that no one had objected to ”

    What you mean that no one held protests about. If you wanted to find out if people actually objected then it would be simple to put it to a vote. If you did the vote in Castlederg this year to would be NO!

    “only parade being run directly by a political party ”

    Fermanagh and south Tyrone

    “A competitive activity”

  • That would be 12 months and all parades.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “That would be 12 months and all parades.”

    I cannot see the British Government ever allowing the stopping of Remberance parade in any part of the UK.

  • McS,

    That did cross my mind but as I said, “concentrating minds”. A solution would allow the ban to be rescinded.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “concentrating minds”

    I think it would be better to offer a vote on a complete ban if no agreement can be reached between the political parties.

  • ayeYerMa

    As long as there is a prominent political party with one of their main aims as to glorify their terrorism, then there can’t be compromise, nor should there be compromise with people still illegally involved with terrorism (see the Terrorism Act for definitions of what that is legally SUPPOSED to mean I.e. glorification/stated support of proscribed terrorist organisations past/present/future).

    The entire set-up is a creation of the UK government’s wholly unnecessary appeasement process, and one which means the Assembly is essentially incapable-by-design of deciding anything on contentious issues and little more than a talking shop. Political commentators need to stop blaming the “OFMDFM” for what is a mess created by a UK government that doesn’t uphold its own laws. Frankly, I don’t blame SF/IRA for taking the piss.

  • Gopher

    Best opening post in a while here. Might even be some actual debate on politics. Anyway the MLA’s are being paid (alot) on the understanding that they take the politics off the street into the debating chamber at Stormont. This they singularly have failed to do and now Stormont has turned into an ineffectual talking shop and the politics are being decided on the street because our elected representatives cannot make decisions even less enforce them. Perhaps we should pay the rioters, protestors and marchers for representing us. Perhaps I should lobby them for the scrapping of air passenger duty or building a John Lewis store. Infact why do we have an assembly if the parties cannot formulate and execute policy.

  • @aYM,

    “The entire set-up is a creation of the UK government’s wholly unnecessary appeasement process…”

    Historically, counter-insurgency campaigns have been won by a combination of good intelligence, flexible appropriate tactics, and a good deal of appeasement aimed at the potential recruiting base of the insurgency. As in Malaya in the 1950s or in Palestine in 1938-39. Or you could just attempt massive repression as the British used against the Kikuyu in Kenya. But those latter methods don’t work so well in Europe.

  • Mc Slaggart

    ayeYerMa (profile) 13 August 2013 at 12:15 am

    “As long as there is a prominent political party with one of their main aims as to glorify their terrorism, then there can’t be compromise, nor should there be compromise with people still illegally involved with terrorism”

    “Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.”(John Wayne). SF are in “government” and making complains about it will not change that fact.

  • Zig70

    Let’s not get caught up in vox pops. The parades commission has the support of the majority. Maybe not the majority involved in parading but it is the most sensible option and lets the politicians get on with running the place. I’d like to see the PC getting more support.

  • redstar2011

    Yeah zig, its been a roaring success

  • redstar,

    If you stand back somewhat and look at it dispassionately, it has had significant success in reducing violence, notwithstanding some recent events. It is this success that makes certain antisocial elements opposed to it. The times they are a changing and everyone needs to get aboard the train.

  • FDM

    ayeYerMa 13 August 2013 at 12:15 am

    “As long as there is a prominent political party with one of their main aims as to glorify their terrorism, then there can’t be compromise, nor should there be compromise with people still illegally involved with terrorism”

    Comments like the above have helped to change my mind within the last 24 hours, or at least it has helped it come to a determination in that time frame.

    Recent events over the last year from: the spurious grievance catastrophe surrounding the fleg protests, the hysteria over the increasingly numerous OO parades and their “right” to affront their neighbours, the paranoid effusion of violence over an anti-internment march in Belfast and the Castlederg commemoration and most importantly the overt attempts by the PUL community [notably in recent days post Castlederg by the DUP] to revise the history of the conflict into a single anti-Irish/nationalist/republican/catholic narrative. The implication of the latter being the most serious threat to our collective peace in my view since the GFA in 1998. A situation unless overted that could actually drag us into a wider civil war. That is my stark analysis.

    The outlook I see is bleak when our representatives on media platforms in recent days ask for “a bit of sanity”.

    I have tried over many years to present at least very stark evidence to people who hold contrary opinions in an attempt to change their perspective. Even when the evidence is black and white they overtly refuse to accept the truth that differs with their SET view of reality. I have been attempting in my small way to move people from their fixed positions by trying to show them that there is certainly another way to view the conflict. You would have thought that it was obvious that a conflict necessarily needs at least two sides. It is very hard to fight with someone in an empty room. Regrettably these words, arguments, evidence are all to no avail.

    I recall watching the film “Last of the Mohicans”. Not a fantastic movie, but rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, there was one great line in the movie. I should have taken it to heart. Talking about white settlers Hawkeye has a conversation with the British General’s daughter Cora Munro. The text is here…

    Hawkeye: My father warned me about you…

    Cora Munro: [interupting] Your Father?

    Hawkeye: Chingachgook, he warned me about people like you.

    Cora Munro: Oh, did he?

    Hawkeye: He said “Do not try to understand them”.

    Cora Munro: What?

    Hawkeye: Yes, and, “do not try to make them understand you. That is because they are a breed apart and make no sense”.

    The determination I have come to is the same about the PUL community. It is depressing, extremely so and a plague on both our houses because of it, but that is where we are. Literally there is no moving them from their fixed mindsets. In my opinion they are not interested in truth, nor the search for it. They aren’t at all interested in accommodating the people they share this island with. They are not interested in changing their minds when presented with unquestionable fact, such is their blinkered and filtered vision of reality. All they seem to want is to return to some time in the early 60s. Well thats great.

    So I for one will not be attempting anymore to change their minds, for it is an exercise in futility. Rather than attempt to wear down the rock, we should simply concentrate on being the wave that moves over and around the impediment regardless.

    It means the short to medium term future for the north of Ireland is indeed bleak because of the festering hatred that continues to not only survive but thrive in our communities. A situation that seems to be reaching pandemic levels in the PUL community. If you disagree with that can I point you to the last 12 months and the destruction that has been wrought upon the population, the infrastructure, the economy and the brand image of this place almost exclusively derived from one section of our community.

    Like Hawkeye I will simply from this point on say “I will not try to make them understand me, nor try to understand them. They are a breed apart, and make no sense.”

  • redstar2011

    I know where your comming from but am totally opposed to it or any new body even attempting to pick open old wounds.

    Garvaghy, Lower Ormeau etc, sorted. Forget them. It would be madness to talk about a parade under any circumstances in a place which has had none for 15 years

  • Greenflag

    @ Mister_Joe ,

    ‘That would be 12 months and all parades.’

    Too short Joe -Make it 10 years and all Parades with the exception of a week long festival permitted to each of the tribes in a remote rural area of NI held simultaneously anytime from November to April 1st (excluding the Christmas period ) . I made this suggestion on another post but it did’nt attract many takers 😉

    McSlaggarts point re

    ‘I cannot see the British Government ever allowing the stopping of Remberance parade in any part of the UK”.

    can be addressed by permitting each of the tribes to devote one day of their allotted week to specific Remembrance Day events .

    The official day in November just like St Patrick’s Day and July 12th would be commemorated by Church services only -i.e no parades – just prayerful Christians remembering and respecting their dead with quiet restraint and dignity

    By 2024 enough tolerance might have evolved among the communities such that the eh normal ‘necropolitical parades can be resumed without threat to public order or major expense .

    I genuinely believe that would be the ‘fair ‘solution and would give the OO among others time to reevaluate their contribution to a shared future for all in Northern Ireland rather than just forever annually just drum each other into the past ?

  • Greenflag, I did note your suggestion on a number of threads and thought that it had much to merit it, but, unfortunately, didn’t comment. I think i was awaiting “unionists” to shoot it down, particularly the OO and their destructive “kick the Pope” bands and, later in the day, drunken nihilistic yobbo hangers on and their SOT apologists.
    As you say, there should not be any problem in exempting non-contentious parades such as the Remberance parades and, say, Boy Scout parades and equivalent girls ones on application. Fancy dress parades associated with community events too, or the Mayday parade..

  • Greenflag

    @ FDM ,

    ‘Rather than attempt to wear down the rock, we should simply concentrate on being the wave that moves over and around the impediment regardless.’

    In the eternal battle between sea and rock the sea always wins .

    As for giving up on the PUL -it’s understandable -but one must never give up and it’s unwise to generalise from a few commenters on slugger that the entire PUL community is bereft of common sense . As to changing people’s minds ? A futile exercise I’d have thought and not just with the PUL community .All one can do is point out the facts and continuously reassert them . People change their minds ‘themselves ‘ anyway if they want to or see any advantage . Try persuading a hardened smoker to stop the habit ? The internal psychological mechanisms by which one changes one’s mindset across all areas of life is not entirely consequentional on the application of reasoned logic to the subject at hand . I did not become an atheist overnight or as the consequence of one moment of blinding insight or revelation .

    But what one should never do is back off in the face of utter loyalist intimidation or factual error as it relates to history or scientific fact etc . Then one points out the falsehood with facts and figures or with common sense and leave it to the readers as to who is making sense and who’s a ‘gobshite ‘.

    For what it’s worth it seems to me that your view is appreciated by many in the PUL community though they might not say so or post publicly .

  • FDM

    Greenflag 13 August 2013 at 9:54 am

    “it’s unwise to generalise from a few commenters on slugger that the entire PUL community is bereft of common sense”

    Now that I have not done. Sure I took heed of the contributors here. However the behaviour of mainstream unionism in the form of the DUP/UUP/TUV to loyalism in the PUP, the “I can’t believe its not unionism” Alliance Party Nothern Ireland and the new addition in the form of NI21. All added to the fleggers and the street destruction mafiosa.

    AP have been completely hypocritical in recent days. Naomi and her advisers on twitter condemning Castlederg this week and yet they issued NOT A SINGLE WORD about the UVF parade in April. The outrageous hypocrisy of these people is galling.

    To people like the self-declared “liberals” like Alex Kane who seemed to preface every statement this week about the recent violence with a statement/inference/implication that it is all republicans fault. When he is not doing that it is some ridicuous barb to get a rise from the same.

    If this is their liberal wing, the lord have mercy on us all.

    There is no hope for them so why waste my intellectual efforts. Dropping the rock, tired of carrying it.

  • Greenflag

    @ Mister Joe ,

    What started off as a tongue in cheek suggestion re parades now in hindsight makes more sense the longer I think about it 🙂 .

    BTW I can agree with your non contentious parades as long as they don’t include official representation by the Orange Order or their political/cultural counterparts .

    As to ‘ i was awaiting “unionists”

    Shure you’d waste less time waiting for Godot 😉

    The time has come when serious consideration will have to be given to an outright ban on all parades throughout the main cities and towns of Northern Ireland . The rapidly changing demographics among the younger age cohort as referred to by Ian Livingstone’s blog will by itself ensure that the OO comes to it’s senses or disappears from public view permanently as being too disruptive of public good order.

  • “Inability of OFMdFM to compromise has allowed the “No Go” politics of the street to re-occupy a central space”

    Mick, we’ve had some soft language from Peter, Martin and some of their associates during the period of their cohabitation in the OFMDFM but I suspect that was aimed at wooing the soft electoral vote as they tussle for the FM chair, following changes made to FM selection in the St Andrews Act.

    Both Peter and Martin are heavily committed to their respected but opposing constitutional aspirations; Martin seeks change and Peter opposes it, as you would expect. The burden of the imminent commemorations impinge on this tug-of-war so I’d expect matters to go from bad to worse as each tussles for advantage. They are both prisoners of the 1998 Agreement that London, Dublin and Washington encouraged us to sign up to.

  • OOPS I meant to say respective, not respected. Perhaps that’s because I have respect for the two aspirations 🙂

  • Greenflag[10.07] ‘….will ensure that the OO comes to it’s senses or disappears from public view…..’.
    Especially apt, since their stated raison d’tre for contyinuing with their coat trailing [celebration of a battle 300 years ago and Orange/Protestant domination here] is now no longer relevant since their real agenda is to claim domination now, [and since their core parades are, one after the other banned or compromised] and it’s proved that they can’t any more, show their control of NI by marching when and where they want, means the marching is redundant. Their day is already done and game lost forever.

  • aquifer

    Great. We live in a democracy. When SFDUP reach their limits we sack them.

  • Zig70

    FDM, I think your comment on american Indian cultural attitudes would be a parallel if the two sides were different Indian tribes having to share a reservation. I think we need to defocus the national question which isn’t going to do anything but wait for demographics.

  • Zig70

    And the Parades Commission is an example of how you do that. Decouple the toxic bits from your main business. The problem here is some parties like to use the toxicity to get votes.