Haass’s challenge to Stormont’s consociational security system doomed to fail…

Confused? You will be. Yesterday’s debate about an agreement that was never reached ended in a narrow vote against Haass. Two odd things about that vote. One, the leaders of the two major parties were still to have their post Haass talks. Two, a vote against would not have amounted in any concrete statutory terms to a hill of beans.

Why? Because pretty much all decisions have to be agreed by the tribal chiefs (or tribunes as they have been referred to in the past) in OFMdFM before they can be actioned.

The Assembly has oversight responsibilities in committee, but the Assembly in plenary cannot overturn anything that is not agreed to by the DUP, or by Sinn Fein if they can squeeze one more seat in the next Assembly election.

This is the very real headlock both Castle parties have the other three in. And, short of a radical change in electoral fortunes, that is not going to change anytime soon. Their inability to agree over Haass is merely another reflection of their broad inability to agree anything of political import over the last six years.

That serial missing of minds derives on one hand from a deeply cautious pitch for government by the DUP which effectively precludes joint action on anything likely to cause controversy within their own narrow base, and at times a wildly extravert pitch from Sinn Fein largely on issues for their own similarly base and will create difficulties for their opponents.

The result is that the so-called moderate parties are being drawn to act or respond to issues and narratives which have limited or no traction to their own middle class bases. The one exception being East Belfast where it is clearly in Naomi Long’s interest to pick a direct fight with Peter Robinson over the flags controversy.

Her party leader spoke more directly and sceptically to the centre of the mission, when he said he hoped that when the party leaders met (after the Assembly vote) they should show “genuine ambition and not just the illusion of activity”. [Good luck with that David! Tell us how it goes? – Ed]

The pitch and toss of the political ship over Haass is a struggle between two parties gain the upper hand in the public space. Since the proposal offers unionism nothing on flags or parading, but Sinn Fein a summary and public execution of the HET, Martin loves it, and is telling the world that the DUP should do precisely what Dr Haass once pleaded dFM’s party should be allowed not to do, and have the FM split his own base.

In all likelihood Peter will seek to ‘love’ it out of existence (as a functional programme) by talking it into yet another abstract cloud above the fine Scottish baronial towers of Stormont Castle. Some elements may make it into existence, but given the little these two have managed to agree on, do not hold your breath on that. It could be detrimental to your health.

Meanwhile both David Cameron and the US Vice President spoke directly to one senior party political leader presumably to share with him their considered view of what he should do, although thus far that much has only made clear by UTV:

Another attempt to take Stormont’s bastion of consociationalism by stealth looks likely to fail. Ha, unionism. It hasn’t gone away you know?


  • megatron

    (i) I now know what consociation means – thanks Mick

    (ii) The people who actually vote want mutual vetos.

    It results in deadlock – ok but that is better for the moment than progress a majority of one section of this divided community agrees with.

    I am not as upset about it as you Mick – life goes on for me (best to note that in south armagh I am relatively unaffected by parades, flags or the past – though same could be said for everything Stormont does).

  • Mick Fealty

    Of course, inertia is by far better than what we had before.

  • Dec


    Confused by your verdict ‘offers unionism nothing on flags or parading’ which is supported by a hyperlink to an op-ed by Samuel Morrison, TUV press officer, (who helpfully describes himself as ‘Protestant’ on his twitter profile) who clearly measures progress by the ability of Orangemen to walk up Garvaghy Road how many times they want and Unionists to overturn democratic council decisions whenever they don’t like the outcome.

  • streetlegal

    The DUP have played their card in the game of Haass. We are still waiting for Provisional Sinn Fein to play theirs. It has been suggested that Martin McGuinness would be happy to let the whole thing drop just to hold on to power at Stormont. But others in the leadership are pushing for a harder line response – which is what British Intelligence reports anticipate – with Downing Street making plans for the collapse of the Stormont Executive by the summer of this year.

  • redstar2011

    Hmmm, interesting Street legal.

    As a Republican I wouldn’t trust Mmg as far as I could throw him.

  • Mick Fealty


    What leverage does Martin have? This is why the whole theatrical event is its own end. PR games.

  • Dixie Elliott

    I’ve heard there was a meeting very recently in Rathmor Derry at which members of the local SF ‘discussed’ bringing an end to their commemorations.

    When you hear of anything being ‘discussed’ within SF it’s certain that they were being told.

    If true we’ll see SF ending their commemorations at a time when their leadership have begun to attend commemorations for British war dead….

  • redstar2011

    Why does that not surprise me in the least Dixie

    Mmgs masters told him to ditch Bloody Sunday commemorations so certainly other Republican dates will be ended too

  • Morpheus

    “What leverage does Martin have?”

    What leverage does Martin need? His party took an active role in the discussions, they voted to implement the proposals and the party came out of the whole sorry exercise saying to the world’s media ‘ah well, we tried but look what we are up against.” (when I say world’s media I really mean anyone who gives a crap)

    Meanwhile it’s ‘as you were’ for everyone else – the Parades Commission is still there, no movement for the victims, no movement on the flag at Belfast City Hall, no move movement on Camp Twaddell, flags remain in tatters on lampposts and the unionist politicians look like they have pandered to the extremists yet again. Worst of all they consulted with these 2 halfwits:

    Marty walks away looking like a leader who tried, Peter Robinson, not so much

  • Mick Fealty


    PR in other words.

  • tacapall

    “Meanwhile it’s ‘as you were’ for everyone else – the Parades Commission is still there, no movement for the victims, no movement on the flag at Belfast City Hall, no move movement on Camp Twaddell, flags remain in tatters on lampposts and the unionist politicians look like they have pandered to the extremists yet again. Worst of all they consulted with these 2 halfwits”

    Not to worry Morpheus its all covered, Marty knows what the future holds –


    “Councils to be given powers to ban peaceful protests that might disturb local residents”

    “They can be used by councils, following consultation with police, to restrict any activity deemed to have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”.

    Norman Baker, the minister responsible for crime prevention, said: “The Coalition Government is simplifying the complex array of antisocial powers introduced by the last government. This power will make it easier to stop the behaviour of those who act antisocially, turning our public spaces into no-go zones”


    “Former heads of state gather in Rome, encourage EU to spy on ‘intolerant’ citizens”

    “The tolerance watchdog group wants “special administrative units” to monitor citizens of all 27 EU member states if they are determined to be “intolerant.” Specifics are included in a report titled the “Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance.”

  • Charles_Gould

    Excellent question from Naomi at PMQs today. Well posed, useful.

  • redstar2011

    Yes ” consistent” Naomi

    Voted against cutting CS / teachers/ pensions at Westminster but- errrr reckons she will vote to cut them in the Assembly……

  • Charles_Gould


    It can make sense to oppose things at Westminster: Westminster determines the overall “size of the state” or the size of the public sector cake.

    Stormont divides up the cake.

  • Charles_Gould

    ……in other words the opportunity costs of given policies are different in each legislature. To expand pension spending at Stormont requires 1-for-1 reductions elsewhere, as the block grant is fixed, not the case at Westminster where.

  • redstar2011

    Explain that to low paid workers.

    If they had not only balls but even an ounce of integrity they would spare the grandstanding when it doesn’t count and grow a pair when it does

  • redstar2011


    And you wonder why a massively growing section of the population sees Stormont as a pointless rubber stamping gimmick which is basically nice work if you can get it for MLAs!!!

    No relevance or benefit in the real world of peoples lives when it counts

  • BarneyT

    Mick…I’ve felt that this whole business with Haass was always going to shine the SF brand. The DUP don’t do compromise very well and SF would have known this.

    SF I believe were first to condone the proposals and I believe ratify it? They backed an agreement presented by a respected US official. This proposal was reasonable in extreme….so reasonable it had all but Bono clamouring to endorse it and encourage its implementation.

    In some ways, the rest of the western world is aligned with SF with regard to the Haass proposal and this will only strengthen the SF PR wagon south of the border presenting a statesman like demeanour.

    I believe they went up 3 points before the official endorsement. This will only serve them positively in the ROI…and they must surely have known that unionism would not agree and that political unionism would be instructed not to. They would also have known that a SF agreement presently little risk as it would not take hold given unionist opposition.

  • notimetoshine

    Incompetence, bigotry and sheer uselessness, the three overriding themes this article seems to show.

  • “Meanwhile it’s ‘as you were’ for everyone else – the Parades Commission is still there, no movement for the victims, no movement on the flag at Belfast City Hall, no move movement on Camp Twaddell, flags remain in tatters on lampposts and the unionist politicians look like they have pandered to the extremists yet again. Worst of all they consulted with these 2 halfwits”

    It took the IRA some seven years after the GFA to disarm and the loyalists two or more years after that. There were probably some people killed and others maimed by these arms still in republican and loyalist hands. So worrying about the lamppost flags should be kept in perspective–unless you’re a flegger. The DUP can more credibly disown Camp Twaddell and the flegs movement than Sinn Fein could the IRA, yet look at all those baying here for the two unionist leaders to sign up to everything in the Haass “agreement.” I think the difference is that at least Robinson feels obligated to actually carry out whatever he signs up for.

  • Neil

    What like the Maze?

  • Charles_Gould

    Redstar: The SDLP are better than Alliance in terms of Labour values.

  • Mick Fealty


    3 points up, but little to show. Politics is the art of the possible, and the doable. As a power play, this was rather more PR than a convincing show of force.

  • Charles_Gould

    Presumably it demonstrates that consensus is needed and that grandstanding is pointless in terms of getting things done.

  • latcheeco

    “The rest of the western world is aligned with Sinn Fein”
    Only the best Slugger quote ever. Hub of the universe I tell ya!

  • Morpheus

    “Morph, PR in other words.”

    Yes Mick very positive PR…right before an election. SF managed to come out of this looking like the sane ones yet again and their stock has risen even further with the British, Irish and American Governments while the opposite is true for the unionist parties. Donaldson telling every man and his dog what was going on in the ‘confidential’ negotiations, Gibson, Bryson, Frazer – what were they thinking? Foot, gun, bang.

    Even more important than that the people of Northern Ireland can look at the document which our leaders help put together and see that although it was not perfect it was a start to help us out of the quagmire we are currently stewing in.

    I mean seriously, who objects to a code of conduct to help prevent scenes like this:

    or this?

  • quality


    Please define a ‘labour value’ and how a party can be ‘better’ at it than another?

  • Mick Fealty

    Well Morph, if you believe that that is the only possible way to end the problem then of course. But there is – in broader society as well as politics – a huge difference of opinion in that regard.

    Thus no agreement.

  • Morpheus

    I didn’t say that it was the only possible way to go Mick, I said it was a start. But hey, if we need more talks then we need more talks. This time however they should start as soon as possible with an end date of say, May 1st and they should be under the glare of the public and media – streamed live so we can all see for ourselves if they are indeed working on a compromise sow e can move forward or simply engaging in eye-poke politics. It can be like an audition before the next elections, X Factor style, so we the public can decide if the politicians are worth voting for or not. That way Jeffrey doesn’t have to made a farce out of confidentiality (Naomi Long even said on Nolan he was talking about stuff they hadn’t even talked about at the table!) and there will be no need to send copies to Bryson/Frazer for approval because they have the same access as everyone else.

  • streetlegal

    Provisional Sinn Fein does indeed have leverage. The DUP have gambled that the Executive can continue to stagger on without cohesion or consensus – that Martin McGuinness will take what he is given and like it. But there are more things going on within Provisional Sinn Fein that make such a compliant approach unsustainable. That is why these ‘lack of cohesion’ issues are likely to come to a head during the next few months – with a collapse of the Executive the inevitable outcome.

    A walkout by Provisional Sinn Fein is unlikely – a complete stalemate looks more likely. This will force David Cameron to send in an English commissioner to take over public administration in N. Ireland. This commissioner would be a safe pair of hands with the right background – a public school man – Eton preferred, naturally.

  • Mick Fealty

    Stalemate? What do you think we’ve had for the last dice years?

  • fordprefect

    Charles Gould
    I don’t know where you are coming from about the Alliance Party, Naomi is voting against it in Westminster, but voting for it in the “Shithole” on the hill. Seeing as Alliance are aligned with the Lib Dems, that should tell everyone all they need to know about Alliance’s “principles” about anything. Remember the old saying, “these are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have other ones”. That goes for all the parties in the “Shithole”.

  • fordprefect

    “It took the IRA some seven years after the GFA to disarm and the loyalists two or more years after that”. Really!? I know people will say that “dissidents” swiped a load of IRA weaponry before it was put beyond use, but I can’t for the life of me remember anyone saying/witnessing the destruction/putting beyond use of Unionist weapons.

  • Reader

    fordprefect :but I can’t for the life of me remember anyone saying/witnessing the destruction/putting beyond use of Unionist weapons.
    Apparently some Canadian general saw something:
    Selective memory?