Allister on Robinson, Paisley, TUV’s Future, Irish and Opposition

As the TUV annual conference approaches this weekend, I caught up with the party leader Jim Allister. We talked about his work on the Social Development Committee, the Irish language and his relationship with other parties in the Assembly. (Note I did this interview before Gregory Campbell’s conference speech)

I began by asking him how he planned to expand his party and build on the gains they made at the 2014 election.

Allister told me that the 2016 Assembly election will be a critical moment for the party in terms of how it can expand its support base. He believes that in order to push the agenda of creating a normalised government with an effective opposition that more TUV representatives can help deliver that goal. Allister pointed out to me, that with just one MLA, the party had already achieved some success in making the functioning of Stormont a front page issue and that if the people want progress “give us the tools and we’ll finish the job.”

Looking back through history, I put it to him that other Unionist parties who had broken away did not last very long, yet his party has lasted 7 years, why were the TUV different to other parties?

Allister said to me that the TUV’s success was largely down to the failures within the current system; he told me that at times he feels like he doesn’t need to register any criticism as the current Assembly speaks for itself. Allister argues that the institutions are essentially built upon a rotten foundation which cannot be sustained as the basic right of voting a government out of power does not exist in Northern Ireland.

As Allister was talking I couldn’t shake the feeling that I heard all this before, I put to him sure Ian Paisley would have told me that ten years ago.

He was quick to respond “that’s part of my problem,” as he argues that Unionists were mis-led and betrayed by the DUP, which makes people suspicious about any politician today who tries to hold to the principles articulated before 2007.

So, what did he make of Unionism under the leadership of Peter Robinson and the DUP?

Allister quite happily pointed out that in fact following the last election, the DUP were actually a minority party within Unionism now. The TUV leader told me, that Robinson quite rightly recognised earlier this year that Stormont “wasn’t fit for purpose” which he argues was right off the “TUV’s script.” Had he been in Robinson’s position he would be telling the British government that the mandatory coalition experiment has failed, but we now need to move to a system of voluntary coalition.

Yet, under that scenario could Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance not gang up and Sinn Fein get the First Minister’s post?

Ever the realist he told me, McGuinness is effectively the joint First Minister at the moment and there is nothing stopping Sinn Fein taking the top post in name under the current system. But, ultimately for Allister, he says you either live by the rules of democracy or you don’t. He also pointed out that due to the history of Northern Ireland that some form of weighted majority on budgetary issues might be needed in order to ensure that there is no abuse of the system and give some cross-community aspect to government.

We moved onto the upcoming Westminster election, I wanted to know would the TUV be standing candidates in all seats or would they be entering into pacts in some areas?

The TUV leader told me that they will be standing candidates in a number of areas, although he would not tell me if he would stand again in North Antrim. In marginal seats however, the party is willing to enter into pacts with other parties in order to maximise the Unionist vote in places where vote splitting might give a seat to either a Nationalist or Alliance party representative.

Whilst Allister has a reputation of at times being divisive, I wanted to ask him about Steven Agnew’s comments to me that the two will work together and co-operate on a number of issues and told him of my shock that this happens, he told me;

What should be surprising about that? I have spent my professional career co-operating, negotiating…with people on other sides of the arguments in the law. It’s no great challenge for me to negotiate and find common ground on issues where that is sensible and necessary. There is a small coterie of MLAs here who are outside the Executive parties, who are seeking to be some pale semblance of opposition and it makes eminent common sense to me that amongst that coterie of MLAs there should be such co-operation as is possible.

I wondered how did he find working with a Sinn Fein Chairman in Alex Maskey on the DSD Committee in Stormont?

Allister told me that he “simply accepts” Maskey’s role in chairing the meetings and that he is able to sit and wait his turn to speak and ask questions.

When I went on to discuss his most recent work on the committee over the Jenny Palmer/NI Housing Executive issue, Allister told me that he finds Ms Palmer to be “transparently honest” and “courageous” in how she had dealt with this affair and interacted with the committee.

As he spoke with such disdain about how he claims the DUP had treated Cllr Palmer on this issue, I wondered now that he was nearly 8 years out of the party did he regret at all leaving in 2007?

Swiftly he told me no, as he told me that would have meant abandoning his principles and “I didn’t come into politics to do that.” Allister went further telling me that he does have some regrets about joining a party that eventually went into government with Sinn Fein, but clearly stated that he has no regrets about leaving the DUP over that issue.

As we were on his former party, I wondered what his impressions of Paisley and Peter Robinson were.

On Paisley, Allister still feels sad that he entered into government in 2007, despite everything he had said over the previous three decades in politics. He believes that Paisley should’ve stuck to his guns and refused to go into government with Sinn Fein and that way he would’ve retired with his legacy intact. As we pressed on to the current DUP leader, Allister told me that Robinson is a politician to his “finger tips” and he feels that he was definitely well ahead of Paisley in attempting to get the party into government.

I concluded by asking him about Gregory Campbell’s remarks in the Assembly about the Irish language, what did he make of Gregory actually saying it and Sinn Fein’s response to it?

On this issue, Allister believes that there is some doubt over Campbell’s words as he argues that as Culture Minister he gave several million pounds to Irish language bodies. However, whilst he had little regard for the remarks made by Campbell and did highlight his respect for people such as Patsy McGlone, who are fluent in the language he rejects what he calls “Long Kesh” Irish, that he feels is used for political purposes. Allister told me that he feels Sinn Fein “love to be offended” at times and that they rose to the bait offered by Campbell.

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  • Zig70

    Fairly lightweight? I’ve issues with Jim’s politics. I’d see him as quite sectarian and I’d be interested to see if he sees it that way and where it comes from. Does he actually see the TUV as a major party of the future and how is he going to get there?

  • Ernekid

    I think Jim is an awful sectarian dinosaur but I respect him as a parliamentarian as he managed to get a PMB through the Assembly which is no mean feat, he also does a great job in scrutinising the Executive. It’s such a shame he’s filled with venomous hatred

  • Bryan Magee

    I have a lot of respect for him too, in particular I think he serves a very good function in scrutinizing the Executive.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If the TUV are pro-voluntary government, why has Allister not explained his actions as part of the DUP when trying to wreck the voluntary Sunningdale coalition of the UUP, SDLP and Alliance when there was scope for a formal opposition?

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Allister has expressed some regrets over the actions at Sunningdale.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Allister is my personal favourite NI politician, I think the fact that he is a lone wolf able to scrutinise all parties in equal measure is a useful aid to the NI public.

    I’m not quite sure he is as sectarian as some people think he is, I would encourage more thoughtful analysis on his views and contributions.

    There are some issues I would disagee with him on, however as some other contributors have outlined I would like him probed more on these matters.

  • Neil

    Obviously his I disagree with quite a lot that comes out of the man’s mouth, but he is refreshingly competent.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “… he rejects what he calls “Long Kesh” Irish, that he feels is used for political purposes.”
    I’m not his biggest fan but Stormont certainly needs him.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Lets not forget how highly rated he was an an MEP!

  • HopefulPessimist

    I think he’s an arrogant self-serving venomous little prick who thinks he’s too clever by half. So there must be a good chance that the TUV will eclipse the DUP in the way they previously did the UUP as unionism constantly seeks the lowest common denominator.

  • banana man

    “did highlight his respect for people such as Patsy McGlone, who are fluent in the language”

    Jim must be going soft in his old age definitely wouldnt have expected him to say something like that. i suppose his comments about not giving a seat to alliance puts an end to hopes of Naomi Long holding EB?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Does anyone remember the Tsarist officer’s (tapped on pipes) comment to Rubashov in “Darkness at Noon” when he heard about the Great Purges? “The Wolves Devour one another”. I’m very, very leary of Jim no matter how hard he tries to bring out wrongdoings in others.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    “arrogant self-serving venomous little prick”

    Is this the type of informative debate we can expect on Slugger from our Nationalist residents?

  • HopefulPessimist

    I’m not a nationalist.

  • Tacapall

    “Allister is my personal favourite NI politician”

    Well that wouldn’t be surprising Joe the sack cloth and ashes lark is only for the fenians. Jim is quite happy to be classed as one of the wolves when theres a possibility of a vote being up for grabs. –

    “Panel members, l-r, Isaac Andrews, UPRG, Jim Allister, TUV, Billy
    Hutchinson, PUP, Nelson McCausland, DUP, Tom Elliott, UUP, Rev Mervyn
    Gibson, Orange Order, Jim Wilson, Red Hand Comrades”

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Of course you’re not and you do know about the man playing rule on here.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    He’s a good man.

  • Tacapall

    Yeah Joe in your world certainly not mine. I know you stick your head in the sand when it comes to the hypocrisy oozing from the mouths of those who seek to impose their own crazy mixed up brand of morality on the rest of us but dont expect us to stick our heads in too.

  • Dan

    Yet again the selective moderation on Slugger is highlighted.

  • notimetoshine

    As much as I am odds with some of Mr Allisters opinions he does a bloody good job. He seems to be the only one calling the assembly and the executive to account for their utter incompetence. He seems to take a lot of bile from DUP supporters and nationalists and quite a few slugger controvutors. But most people including many commentators on slugger seem to be happy wallowing in the playground rows of likes of Campbell and Adams analysing them ad nauseam rather than addressing the functional deficit in stormont as Mr Allister does. Maybe because he asks some difficult questions. If I lived in his constituenxy I can see myself voting for him and I’m not exactly the traditional tuv voter….

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Hands up Joe, I honestly wasn’t aware of that but I’m glad to hear it. If the public were getting their money’s worth then I’m all for it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    But he does not appear to have learned the key lesson. Which is that when Unionists reject the deal on the table, they end up stuck with something worse. And they can’t stop it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Seriously Joe, how do you know he’s a nationalist ? Don’t you think there may be unionists who might have a really low opinion of Jim Allister ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m at the point now where I listen carefully to Allister’s contributions in the assembly. He has a knack for identifying misconduct, impropriety, or holes in the government’s position, and probes incessantly and expertly with the gimlet eye of a QC to get answers.

    Civil servants do not like Jim Allister. His office, going all the way back to when he started as an MEP, generates a constant stream of paperwork as he writes letters asking about this or that to try to find weaknesses. But this is how it should be. Civil servants and opposition politicians are not supposed to be friends. The civil service should operate knowing that a nosy MLA is going to ask them to explain themselves in front of a committee.

    I’d also characterise Jim as consistent. Excepting the occasions when he is stirring the pot, his approach is consistent and is clearly informed by a well-defined set of principles. That’s more than can be said for a lot of people up on the hill. Of course part of this is the luxury that comes with being a one-party opposition MLA. But I think the Assembly would be a worse place if he wasn’t there.

  • Joe_Hoggs