Opposition: A new dawn or a trip back down memory lane to majority rule?

It has been the story of the day so far as radio pundits have been debating opposition and whether it is time that we dismantled the current system of government in Stormont.

Now, arguments in favour of this idea are

  1. We normalise our system of government.
  2. The government would be a coalition of the willing.
  3. There would be some coherence in policy amongst ministers.
  4. Protections can be built in to ensure that no one side can abuse power (Weighted majority voting).

Arguments against are

  1. We are just not there yet as a society.
  2. We saw the last time what happened when parties were excluded from government in the past.
  3. It is good to have a system that allows a variety of parties to come together.

But if we did move to a normalised system of coalitions built on numerical strength in the Assembly what would it look like? 108 MLAs, means you need 55 seats for a majority.

Unionist MLAs-55 (DUP/UUP/McCallister, Allister, Sugden and McNarry).

Nationalist MLAs-43 (Sinn Fein and SDLP)

Others-10 (Alliance, Agnew and McCrea)

Possible Coalitions?

DUP, UUP and Alliance- 59 seats. This would be broadly Unionist, but Alliance would pull it to the centre.

DUP/UUP minority government-51 seats. It is quite feasible for the DUP/UUP to form a minority coaltion government and seek from the floor a confidence and supply arrangement from one of the other parties. In 1997, Bertie Ahern did this effectively and Garrett Fitzgerald in 1981 did the same.

DUP/UUP/SDLP-65 seats. This would give an Executive a huge majority in the Assembly and should any weighted majority come into play it should just about clear a 60% threshold.

DUP/Sinn Fein-67 seats. This would be a very strong government and would pretty much be able to do whatever it wanted even in a weighted majority system as it would have so many MLAs.

Sinn Fein/SDLP/UUP-56 seats. This would command a majority on the floor of the Assembly and could get some legislation passed but if in a weighted majority would have some issues. However, it could easily solve these with deals with Alliance, Agnew or McCallister.

In any of these scenarios it would be hard for any one party to dominate or completely steer the agenda. Obviously it is hard to predict the future, but those 10 MLAs who sit in neither camp would definately end up playing a much greater role the formation of a government that they do that the moment.



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  • But this would need competing policies and an acceptance that there is no right to be in Government, but most of all ‘policy’ a coherent library of thought which would distinguish one Party from another. Or perhaps it would more easily group parties into natural coalition partners. What they could not all do is all claim the good bits were their responsibility (as each of previous elections) and promise everything because everyone is in the same boat.

    Then there is the question of smaller Assembly/Government. Which would come first. Or why not all at once. Smaller government, fewer politicians. And the prospect of perhaps being able to change the pack rather than just shuffle it every few years.

  • Eastern Exile

    And of course this is based on a simple majority. What if we had a system where you needed a majority of seats to form a government but at least, say, 30 per cent of the governing coalition’s seats had to belong to either Unionist or Nationalist parties? That would safeguard even further.

  • kensei

    Why would Nationalism give up its veto? That makes no sense. Why would St voluntarily give up its place in government, potentially forever? That also makes no sense. The only things worth giving those things up for is a loosening of the constitutional settlement to give the Irish government a bigger and more formal role. Unionism can talk about this, but they simply won’t swallow the price.

    The sensible suggestion has been a forced coalition of the majority parties in the two largest blocks (or all if required for overall majority) plus current background safeguards. That allows proper opposition to develop and movement within each block. In about 100 years if everything is going swimmingly then we can talk majoritaranism.

  • Gopher

    “Why would Nationalism give up its veto?” The problem is “nationalism’s” veto (whatever it is on any given day) is in the hands of one man (probably a generic historical truism) which is hardly optimum for anyone not least the evolution of people’s beloved “nationalism”. Presently you have stalemate and the unionist veto which will be added to by an electoral veto of over 50% of the electorate not voting. In da North nationalism is on the buffers and the only way off is for someone like Marty to do a Jan Smuts otherwise it’s 100 years of much the same.

  • kensei

    There is no mystery to what the veto is. Nationalism can kill anything stone dead with a oetition of concern and the rules attached. If I remember right, this means St present at least a couple of SDLP MLAs are needed. Still it is a powerful device. Why would we give it up?

    You might say that you could retain it and have voluntary coalition. A petition of concern on a confidence measure and what happens to the government?

    I’ll take my chances. 100 years is a long time.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I don’t understand this article at all. Absolutely no one is suggesting straight-out majority rule.

  • Gopher

    What exactly are you trying to veto?

  • notimetoshine

    The old we aren’t ready excuse is simply a cover for incompetence and dysfunctional government. SF/DUP don’t want opposition it would mean they are accountable. The current system is not workable and hasn’t being for some time.

    And I am sure we could have a cross community opposition, or other rules to counter issues with majority rule.

    Worrying about the past history of the assembly and past wrongs is shocking, how long will our history stop us from a semblence of functional government?

    Our current system doesn’t bring parties together it forces them together, at the expense of good government.

    Though the people of NI vote for our current shower so maybe they deserve what they get.

  • kensei

    Anything we don’t like.

    Particular measures are irrelevant to the discussion unless you think there is nothing unionism has done or could do that nationalists would 1) hate 2) strategically undermine them or 3) be really damaging to nationalisms long term goals.

    If you don’t understand the power of vetoes or their political value, study the last 4 years of US politics.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Kensei has hit the nail on the head that NI21 and its fellow travellers kept ignoring – why would Nationalism give up its veto (given its history)?

    This is also the reason no one is suggesting straight majority rule. Everyone continues to advocate a special system taking account of the need, in effect, for some sort of minority veto.

    My answer, for what it’s worth, is that it is possible to maintain a Nationalist veto while moving the system away from permanent gridlock. I’ve gone into detail on my own blog and here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/86441513/W_1410_Draft%20-%20Assembly%20Reform%20Bill%20proposals.pdf

  • kensei

    If you have an independent regulator to judge petitions of concern, then you basically completely neuter them in quite a dangerous fashion – how could they be truly independent? Why should unelected officials override elected ones? What if the response to it is for one side to take down the Assembly?
    But you well know this because fundamentally you want to break the minority veto. The Unionist veto can never really be undone as long as they have enough votes to form a majority. Nationalism should run a mile unless you are prepared to answer the question – what are you giving me I don’t have right now? Any answer suggesting working governance fails, since 1) you can’t guarantee it 2) competent government on a Unionist agenda is worse than gridlock.

    Any of the other suggestions – weighted majority, undoing designation, voluntary coalition all aim to weaken the minority veto. They also almost always give Unionism the option of never, ever having to deal with SF. You can dress it up, spin it around but dig down to the heart of it and that’s what you get. Which is attacking the foundations of the agreement that gave some stability in the first place. We’ve proved conclusively that having even a small number of important decisions over the heads of a significant part of the populace and locking out one group is a bad idea. Tested to destruction.

    So, what does Nationalism get for giving up its veto? The only equivalent I can see is some level of joint sovereignty. Need not be “joint”, but the Irish government is going to need a significant formal constitutional role. I don’t care if you need they to provide funds, but they might. I’ll use the veto I have at the moment to stop anything less. Direct rule doesn’t scare me for a variety of reasons, not least because it’ll de facto mean more Irish Government involvement.

    Reckon you can sell it to Unionism?

  • notimetoshine

    Kensei tell me does it always have to be sectarian head count politics? What’s the point in having this cross community guff if the job the assembly/executive is there to do isn’t being done?

    You ask what does nationalism get? I know this is hard to fathom for those caught up in orange and green nonsense of politics here, but the assembly has an important job to do apart from being a forum for identity politics.

    I wonder whether nationalism or unionism for that matter might possibly want at least a semblence of effective government?

    Obviously of course issues that the assembly is there to deal with take a second seat to all this I mean we couldn’t have real government that would be too much like hard work.

    Once again this nationalist unionist bumpf overrides any possibility of effective reform that is is sorely needed to allow the assembly to so what it is supposed to be doing.

  • kensei

    I’d like a unicorn. When you find me one, I’ll give you non sectarian headcount politics in NI. Any party that has failed to take account of the sectarian headcount has failed. Even holier than thou Alliance plays the sectarian headcount game all be it in a slightly more subtle way. That’s why they pull most votes from light unionists.

    People here still get very exercised over matters relating to the National Question – and it’s been Unionists going bananas over flags that is the most visible recently, rather than Nationalism. It’s the electorates right to prioritise as they wish. And if others don’t turn up, tough, they don’t matter and should get everything they deserve. If you want to move beyond sectarian headcount, you must first acknowledge it exists and finding a mechanism to neutralise it or park it as an issue.

    The first go at this has been the mutual veto. It’s just about held things together, but it has severe issues as illustrated by the present deadlock. If you want rid of it, you can propose perpetual motion machines and alchemy as you wish, but they’ll go nowehere. Nationalism has a veto. It is extremely valuable for a vast variety of reasons. You want to replace it with something else, then you need to give me something that is valuable to nationalism. Otherwise we will use said veto to stop you doing things we don’t want. Unless maybe the SDLP gets in again as lead nationalist party and tries something suicidal.

    Got a solution! Great. Hopefully it’ll work better and we have a better basis to go forward on schools and hospitals and the rest. Hopefully the new structures will allow mutual self interest to work, so if something generally moves us forward and doesn’t impact the national question it’ll get done, or stuff that really could work for either situation will get done, or we can generally horse trade.

    Moaning about it will not work, unless you can convince an awful lot of like minded people to vote.

  • WindsorRocker

    It must be remembered that it was Nationalists who brought up the flag issue before Unionists started going “bananas” over it……………

  • kensei

    Well if you have all the sweeties, and I suggest that you give me some sweeties and you don’t want to give you sweeties but I get someone in authority to make you give me some sweeties then you might behave like a petulant child…

    Seriously though, the whole thing illustrates the problem with the arrangements. Unionism wouldn’t budge, but in this case it hadn’t a veto. Nationalism got support for a compromise position – designated days and went over their heads. Result: an old lady sticking her head through the door saying “No surrender” and traffic chaos. If Unionism had a veto, nothing would get done as they wouldn’t horse trade for it, regardless of pain elsewhere. Nationalism would probably have sucked it up, but they should have to.

    So, going over the heads of people doesn’t work. Having mutual vetoes doesn’t really work. We need a system that includes people but encourages them to make deals. A weighted majority just becomes veto unless there is a major change to the electoral calculus, but it favours unionist veto more. What’s the solution? Dunno.

  • notimetoshine

    How utterly depressing. This is why I don’t vote. I suppose the people of NI deserve every crap service, job cut and financial pressure if they want to vote like that. Of course no one dare say it to people but maybe they should.

    I’ve said it before emigration seems to be the only option, one many young people are taking. If you have any sense you move, if your financescircumstances don’t allow it you stay and suffer under the thumb of sectarian biogtry and petty ideology.

    And just to clarify, do you think hospitals schools etc come second to identity politics?

  • WindsorRocker

    The minority veto should be protected on issues where nationalists are outvoted by unionists because of a unionist/nationalist issue. The idea of judging the petition of concern would keep it to communal issues rather than permeating every facet of Assembly life on issues like Same Sex Marriage, Fiscal policy etc. On those issues where there is no “communal” angle, then some form of weighted majority voting could ensure clear, coherent decision making. Say hypothetically welfare reform passed with a weighted majority against the wishes of SF/SDLP, that’s not a communal issue. If welfare cuts are a defining issue that commands enough opposition within the unionist electorate then one of the parties will take it up and democracy will take its course.
    I can’t see what nationalism has to fear from a system that will prevent anti nationalist decisions being taken but allow non sectarian issues to be resolves clearly one way or another like in any other parliament.
    I’d see it almost as a parallel decision making process, one for the non communal stuff, one for the “orange/green” issues.
    In that case for SF to be involved in the non communal stuff, it would have to make itself attractive to mainstream economic politics much in the same way that any aspiring party of government in any democracy would have to do to be considered for a coalition.

  • WindsorRocker

    Forced coalition will never allow proper opposition. Forced coalition allows those in government to pretend they are opposition when it suits them. Forced coalition allows them to blame everything on “themmuns” across the table when challenged by the “proper opposition”.
    Forced coalition doesn’t allow for any common purpose or motivation when in government and being faced with hard decisions.

  • Brian Walker

    There little harm I suppose in trying to escape the present
    bonds. The irony is that it is as difficult to change the present system of government as it was the last one. But then – whoops! – one day it was gone.

    In real world terms, though, it’s power sharing or nothing, although it could change from the present “mandatory” to “voluntary” with a weighted majority without designation blocs which be mandatory in another form. It could leave a little more room open for a third force . But you can play with the Assembly rules all you like. You can tinker with the system, reduce the number of both Executive and Assembly, and limit blocking mechanisms, whatever. Systemic change without new ideas and policies will make little difference – except probably to reduce the range of party choice.

    If you go into opposition what are you going to oppose with? Perhaps the hope is that an alternative waiting in the wings would force the DUP and Sinn Fein to raise their game and develop a genuine public interest. Very well, wouldn’t it be
    better to start developing the ideas now which could become an alternative programme and persuade enough voters to switch to it? Otherwise political reform without ideas is just fantasising.

  • kensei

    Not voting. Excellent response that is an incredible driver for change in a democratic society (however notionally you might feel that designation is). People who don’t vote deserve every “crap service, job cut and financial pressure”. I have twenty times more time for the flegger that marks his X beside the box he wants than non voters.

    I don’t think schools et al come second to identity politics. I know they come second to identity politics because I’ve watched them come second to identity politics time after time after time. I can read a history on Northern Ireland and replay nit again since 1921. My personal feelings don’t come into it. For sake of declaring my interests, I’m exceedingly less likely to vote for a Unionist candidate, even if there was one that matched my political viewpoints rather than being generically right wing. I might drop them a transfer.

    You might think that stupid or depressing, but you don’t get to chose my vote, or the votes of all the other people who might care to a greater or lessor degree. Man can’t live by bread alone, and never has. There is no point pretending otherwise. Unionists tend to get up to all sorts of things I wouldn’t like. I mean, there is a giant crown on a roundabout in Larne. Someone paid real cash money for it.

    You could outvote them, at least in places. You could join a political party and use the internal selection processes to move the party in a direction you like better. You could argue the issue is really neutralised unless there is a referendum. Or a dozen other things. Some might work. Not voting, I guarantee, won’t.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Two things.

    1. On the contrary, you want to maintain Sinn Féin permanently in government. Also, you want to deny those of us who reject any designation a fair and equal say (referring to me as “Unionist” rather gives the game away there).

    By the way, you’re darned right I want Sinn Féin out of government. Corrupt terrorist apologisers who fundamentally lie about the economy shouldn’t be in government. Of course, nor should lying moralistic flag-waving disrespectful sleaze balls. The option to get rid of all of that must exist.

    2. On the contrary, the independent Commission would be like the one that oversaw decommissioning, or the one that oversees equality, or the one that oversees parades – all supported by Nationalists. So let’s end the nonsensical use of these “petitions” to block the democratic will.

    And no, I’m not prepared to wait 100 years to live in a democracy. I’ve every sympathy with why you would reject anything remotely like majority rule, but I’m not sure why democracy scares you. Perhaps it would lead to prioritisation of real issues over pet projects…

  • kensei

    This is spectacularly to miss the point on a number of levels. One, and most importantly, there is no decision that is not communal in Northern Ireland. I’m going to ignore how “non communal” cuts might well hit the communities in a differential fashion, but that should be a consideration. Democracies work only by consent of the governed. Otherwise you get, I dunno, thirty years of low level intercommunal warfare. If SF and the SDLP are strongly against something and people keep voting for them, then the Nationalist community is against it. Your solution is to disenfranchise them. You get away with that a few times, maybe, if people aren’t exercised on it. If you keep doing it, then you will feed resentment and wind up in trouble. Unionism doesn’t get to impose its will about anything. This is the deal that was struck in 1998.

    Second. Nationalism has its veto. That is the status quo. You wish for Nationalism to give it up or weaken it. Whether I fear the alternative you suggest is irrelevant. I have something you want. What are you prepared to give up for it? If you have nothing, we don’t have a conversation. Unionism has difficulty with this concept in general. The British Government has had to coerce Unionism into deals more times than is healthy. The flag vote in Belfast was also a function of Unionism refusing to negotiate and figuring the orange card could be played.

    I’m happy to deal. I’d like a more formal constitutional role for the Republic, a mergings of Strands 1 and 2. There might be other things I might bite at, but I can’t think of them. What are you offering? It has to be something I think is a worthwhile trade.

  • notimetoshine

    OK so I don’t engage in the voting process but then if I did who would I vote for?

    I come from a broadly nationalist background but the SDLP are withering away and have no direction and SF I cannot trust because they are/were the political wing of terrorists. Im not going to vote uupdup because my choice of lifestyle would offend them. Alliance betrayed their ideals.

    So who do you vote for? It’s all very well and good castigating me for not voting but then you have to have someone to vote for.

    Like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Maybe direct rule with direct democracy referendums on big issue a is the way forward. We could leave stormont open so that all the identity issues can be discussed as nauseam without interfering with services and government in general.

  • Robin Keogh

    As a republican I know I am probably out on my own here but I do believe the consociational arrangement has had its day and it is now time to play a new tune. I find it hard to believe that Unionism would fall back into the days of old, there are too many up and coming bright sparks in Unionism to ever let that happen again. If they did; it would only have the effect of mobilising nationalist voters and given the fact that they will be a majority soon, quite frankly Unionists would be shooting themselves in the foot if they reverted to the old ways.

    The problem at the minute goes beyond tribal politics. In terms of social issues such as welfare and human rights etc. Unionists are on the right while nationalist are on the left. On the left the only party that is likely to converge in coalition is the SDLP while on the Right neither the UUP or the DUP are up to that task. The PUP are the only Unionist group that might fall to the left but they don,t have the numbers and are unlikely to ever get them.

    I think it is time to stop fearing the worst. The assembly is stuck and the only way to unstick it is to present them a challange. I understand it is hard to trust political Unionism and I am the first person to give out about them. However, I honestly believe the time is right to renegotiate and establish a new representational system with proper government and opposition.

  • kensei

    1. Nope, I don’t. I proposed that there be a forced coalition of the biggest parties in each block. That means people could vote out SF and replace them with the SDLP, or FF if they move up, or any other party that chooses to designate nationalist. As it is, the SDLP is basically irrelevant. The electorate could put SF there is they want to. Any other suggestion is a lie.

    Saying something must exist does not make it so. Disliking people really hard and wanting something really really badly is not enough. You can’t get want you want via winning elections. God knows you’ve tried – whose banner is it this week, Ian? – so you instead want to do it via non elected means.

    And you’ve a cheek to accuse me of disliking democracy.

    2. Majoritarianism isn’t democracy. We have special arrangements to reflect that. The examples you cite are of limited scope with particular problems – and I’d hazard a guess that nearly any party would take a veto on those matters if there was one going.

    I’m sorry if you didn’t realise what you signed up to in 1998. I’m sorry if the populace didn’t either. But the democratically voted constitutional arrangements was that both sides had to be happy to move forward on any measure. With goodwill and good faith, that can work. We have neither, so it doesn’t. But changing it requires consent under present arrangements.

    Again I don’t “fear” anything – though Unionism with too much power has a pretty bad record – and I’m goading, really, that’s not going to work. Not on me, a nobody on the internet, and not on any political party with any sense. We are back to the realities of power and negotiation. I have something you want. What are you going to trade me for it? I have to want what you are selling. Still no answer.

  • Tacapall

    Will any change to the make up of the power sharing arrangements at Stormont be put to the people for approval ?

  • Robin Keogh

    You can also vote for independents or the greens. You can also stand yourself if you think u might have an impact. If you dont like the choices out there remember this, by not voting you are running the risk of allowing the party you dislike most winning more influence, as a matter of interest, what party do u dislike/distrust the most?

  • kensei

    The answer to the SDLP withering away, if that is your only objection, is to vote for them and help them to not whither away. Consider also joining them, if you really care. There are also branches of FF dotted about, I believe. You could join them and push for them to stand candidates .

    There are any number of independent candidates. Independents do very well in the South, and returning enough of them would send a message. But you need to convince others to vote likewise.

    Worst case, vote for your least worst option. In PR elections you can rank them. Get others to do the same. That’ll make a small tangible difference. Not voting will have none. The parties and media can talk about legitimacy and crisis and everything else, but the parties get the same amount of power on 1% turnout as 100%.

  • kensei

    I’m all for negotiating. I love negotiations. The rumours, the intrigue, the reporters standing outside buildings not being able to report much, the pressure and last minute deals. MMMM political junkie crack.

    But only a fool takes political enemies on trust unless he believes them incompetent, and only an idiot gives away something valuable for free. So negotiations would need to come out with something exceedingly valuable to Nationalism for giving up its veto.

  • Robin Keogh

    I would imagine that if their was a root and branch review of the GFA and the St Andrews agreement, I think it would only be right and proper to go to the people with it.

  • notimetoshine

    I dislike them/distrust them quite equally albeit for different reasons. The greens are alright in their own way I suppose but green politica can be very iffy on the economy. Some of the independents could be promising but none at and a out.

    As much as anything else voting makes very little difference in the assembly in terms of voting on policy rather than sectarian head counts.

  • Robin Keogh

    But maybe its time to put Nationalism to the test. Maybe we should ask the people to come out and put SF or the SDLP in power by voting with their feet. Changing the arrangements would stir up the pot and mobilise more voters into the polling booths. Moreover if a Unionist Dominated government or a Nationalist dominated government messed up, maybe then we might see folk begin to vote across traditional lines.

  • Robin Keogh

    Bringing an issue up democratically and voting on that issue democratically is a fair distance away from where the crazy feggers are.

  • Tacapall

    Indeed Kensei surely who has the right to call a border poll must rest with the Stormont government in any new arrangements.

  • weidm7

    I for one would not trust political unionism not to go back to their bad old ways, we only have to listen to the recent DUP conference to see how much they respect nationalists. And regular majority rule would effectively mean SF would be forever excluded from power regardless of how many seats they had (apart from an overall majority) as no unionist party nor the SDLP would ever go into government with them, and an Alliance/SF coalition seems incredibly unlikely. The only way compromise could be established and movement on nationalist issues like the Irish language is if SF have a veto themselves, forcing compromise from the other side. Obviously this doesn’t work a lot of the time, but it would be even worse if SF had no power whatsoever. I mean, just look at pre-60s Stormont, it would be just the same.

  • notimetoshine

    Well FF are an option, I was at their launch a few years ago and was pleasantly surprises. Though I wonder if they will contest in the north could be very tricky.

    I suppose my other main concern is the democratic deficit in the assembly. Regardless of who I vote for i vote on policies not flags and with the system of the petty fiefdoms of our individual ministries all I could guarantee is the flag my politician likes but certainly not their policy on education or health.

  • Robin Keogh

    Why is that?

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont agree that the SDLP would never go into power with SF. If the numbers stacked up they would do a deal.

  • kensei

    Sure, if you are a dude on the internet. Of you are a political party you are interested in how you can advantage your party and the people it represents in the short and long term. In fact they’ve so!e duty to do so.

    I’m not sure let’s take a punt and test ourselves is a viable strategy and I’m not sure I’d bote for someone who proposed it.

    Actually that’s a lie. I’m certain I wouldn’t.

  • Tacapall

    Irish votes for Irish laws.

  • kensei

    Well they do actually have different policies and do try to carry them out. SF have pissed off the DUP quite a few times and vice versa.

    Rather than viewing it as a binary choice, which is more appropriate to FPTP, view it as tilting a set of scales. The more votes for a party with a particular policy, the more likely that is to happen in coalition. Pay attention on what a party says it is likely to go to war on.

    This isn’t unique to NI, BTW. Lib dem voters and to extent Tories didn’t entirely get what they voted for.

  • Robin Keogh

    so out of 108 MLAs, if 55 voted in favour of a poll would that be enuff?

  • Robin Keogh

    I don’t agree at all, nationalism will have a majority voting population in about 15 years, perfectly reasonable to change the system now and let the SDLP and SF work to get the voters out.

  • Thomas Girvan

    The present system does not work.
    It needs to change. Stormont is just a money tree that gives a bunch of pretend politicians the illusion that they are proper legislators.
    Let’s face it, the whole thing has been built upon bribery.
    It is time to start from scratch and either go to direct rule or create something that will give us a meaningful government.

  • Starviking

    I think a good way to make petitions of concern more difficult to enact, but still do-able in cases where there is genuine concern, is to allow non-assigned MLAs to ‘shift the boundaries’.

    Instead of the desperate measure that the AP had to take back in the 2000s of temporarily re-assigning as Unionist, we could have non-assigned raising or lowering the bar by using their ‘votes’ to shift the numbers needed.

  • Morpheus

    Northern Ireland is not in a position to have a ‘normal’ opposition yet – in fact we are not even close and we won’t be close while the electorate votes along tribal lines. When that wall comes down then we will live in a more normalized society and then we could consider it.

    But from the off the blindingly obvious question is “would we even be talking about this if the numbers didn’t go in favor of political unionism?” The answer: “hell no”, therefore this to me is nothing more than a last gasp attempt to take Northern Ireland back down a very dark memory lane.

    Day 1 of ‘normal politics’ means that political unionism will form a ‘voluntary coalition’ and then offer a fig leaf to Alliance (probably that they can keep their ministries) in case their votes are needed in any ‘weighted majority’ needed to pass anything they deem important. If this weighted majority is set to a level whereby nationalist votes are needed for anything to pass then what difference is there from today?

    The DUP – the big dogs when it comes to a unionist coalition – showed us exactly what will happen in ‘normal politics’ – what was it again Gregory? Oh yes:

    “On behalf of our party let me say clearly and slowly, so that Caitriona
    Ruane and Gerry Adams understand, we will NEVER agree to an Irish
    language Act at Stormont and we will treat their entire wish list as no
    more than toilet paper. They better get used to it.”

    So on day 1 at 9am we have a unionist pact, 10am: end to cross border initiatives, 11am: start work on ending the GFA, after lunch “16 of the 20 areas with most social deprivation are Catholic…let’s start work on the other 4.” And it doesn’t matter how badly they perform or behave they can be assured that they will get back into power time and time again because otherwise ‘they will get Marty’ – the tribal tomtoms will beat louder than ever before because this time they are preserving their own power.

    Oh yeah, that sounds like something nationalism would like to sign up to. Pass the pen.

    Paranoia you say? Persuade me otherwise. Show me the hands of friendship that were not whipped back in as quickly as they were put out there. Political unionism had the job for 90+ and fecked it up and I see nothing to persuade me that anything has changed in the mindsets of the decision makers.

    We need to build up trust, trust that the interests of EVERYONE in Northern Ireland will be top of the list – they can start to build trust by using the Petition of Concern as it was intended.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Now, arguments in favour of this idea are … naive.
    1) We normalise our system of government. – Not if the politicians remain abnormal, Switzerland has a “normal” government without an opposition, Ukraine has an “abnormal” government with an opposition.
    2) The government would be a coalition of the willing. -Not if they are unwilling to form one in the first place.
    3) There would be some coherence in policy amongst ministers. – You assume less parties in government will mean more coherence when one party can easily be incoherent enough for the rest.
    4) Protections can be built in to ensure that no one side can abuse power (Weighted majority voting). – Protections will be attacked on the basis that it gets in the way of the other 3 points above.

  • Sharpie

    This is the first discussion where I have seen people imagine a different form of Government. Sinn fein and DUP have no selfish or strategic interest in radical reform of the institutions. Any reform ail only work against what they have.

    It is fairly obvious that a different set of arrangements have to achieve:

    1. Decision making or else sanction (which doesn’t exist right now)
    2. Cross Community support

    There are loads of alternatives. The first easy one would be to maintain mandatory coalition but to remove any issue of concern (perhaps as identified by a petition of concern or up-front agreement) and place it with a different agreed decision making / deliberation forum that has a mix of politicians and “elders” and the public who can probe and negotiate for agreement with an ultimatum for agreement or decision by arbitration.

    A second one would be to devolve much more power to Local Authorities who by and large work well on a cross community basis – certainly are effective at managing to achieve much more consensus on a localised level. There would need to be work to do capacity building but hey – that’s cheap.

    A third possibility is to incentivise new political movements to form – kind of the way that external governments help foster the “opposition” in other countries. It could help create the leap frog of experience and resources needed to get a political movement underway. This is built on the idea that there is appetite for this but strangulation of emerging movements is one of the few things the status quo agreed on.

    Another is to formulate a “grand debate” involving all of the country in designing scenarios of what the future could look like, have them vote on the most preferable, and mandate politics parties to start trying to achieve it. For more on this have a look at the Mont Fleur Scenarios that kickstarted the constitutional debate in post-apartheid South Africa.

  • Morpheus

    If anyone wants an example of how un-normalized Northern Ireland is as a society then all we have to do is look at this story:


    A few weeks ago we had justified – and I repeat, JUSTIFIED – moral outrage splashed across the wide media spectrum, social and mainstream. Where is that moral outrage this week? Where’s the support for Natalie Graham and Migle Seilute? Where is Natalie’s trips to the Dail? Has Peter Robinson met her yet? What about Enda Kenny? Are Natalie and Migle not as deserving?

    It simply reinforces that victims are used as political footballs as and when required,. When it suits to champion their cause the politicians are out in force but when it is not politically expedient then….nothing

    Come back when a victim is a victim is a victim and they get help based on the fact that they are victims, not political footballs

  • Mister_Joe

    I find it hard to believe that you find it hard to believe that Unionism would fall back into the days of old. For every up and coming bright spark you can find for me I can find for you a curry my yoghurt type.
    Apart from reducing the number of MLAs to 72 and a corresponding change in the number required for a petition of Concern, I think any other changes or discussions would be best left until another 3 electoral cycles have passed. There are still too many on both major sides with hands that are not clean.

  • Mister_Joe

    “Given its history”! No need to mention the history of Unionism then?

  • Ian James Parsley

    To respond in general to some comments – Nationalism is going to have to take some responsibility some time. It’s no longer good enough to respond to absolutely everything with “Ah well but Unionism…“.

    Northern Ireland is poorly governed. Nationalists bear a significant responsibility for that, because they are part of the government and they were the primary drivers of the arrangement which isn’t working. It is time they recognised it and joined the rest of us in discussing what we are going to do about it.

  • Mister_Joe

    Northern Ireland has always been poorly governed and, unfortunately, that will continue to be the status for another generation at least. I can’t understand why you say “(Nationalists)..were the primary drivers.” It took at least two to do that convoluted tango.

  • Comrade Stalin

    We will get a meaningful government if we vote for one. That we choose not to is a problem that will not be solved either by tinkering with the system or by switching to direct rule.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Unionism would go back to the old ways if it thought it could get away with it. That they choose not to is nothing to do with any kind of epiphany.

    We saw this at work only a few months ago. When councils were re-electing their chairs/vice chairs and mayors, not a single unionist-controlled council supported a nationalist candidate.

  • Michael Eden

    It must have been a slow news day, today. Get real, people.
    The Nationalists will never vote for a return to Unionist rule.
    Most Nationalists don’t even recognise ‘ northern Ireland ‘
    and are not going to sit in a toy parliament playing ‘ opposition ‘
    It’s never going to happen, so stop this idiotic talk and discuss
    something important like child poverty or Santa Claus.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Yes, this is true. The two Unionists who had the epiphany left mainstream Unionism, which is telling.

  • Ian James Parsley

    It took three to tango, which may explain a lot. But it was the SDLP who led on designations and d’Hondt – i.e. on the fundamentals of the gridlock. It should be the first to recognise it!

  • Zeno3

    “I don’t agree at all, nationalism will have a majority voting population in about 15 years”

    I find that hard to believe. Maybe you mean Catholics?

  • Zeno3

    If you want things to remain the same keep voting. If you approve of the goverent we have keep voting. But If you want it to change, stop voting.

  • kensei

    If Unionism was a good faith partner, the arrangements would work much better. Fornexa!ple, if the DUP was prepared to do regular commoner garden horse trading and not have a senior member state that Nationalist policies would be treated as “toilet paper” then maybe we’d get much further. No system can survive if one side is acting in bad faith or hasn’t come to terms with power sharng.

    And “Nationalism” doesn’t have to do squat. Nationalist parties have to keep getting votes and tryimt o advance their policies. As long as that is the case they can carry on doing what they want. Wishing real hard it was otherwise doesn’t help.

    Perhaps try getting to go along by appeal in thos terms rather than holding them and their voters in contempt. I mean, I hold pols that flit between parties with contempt, but I try to make my arguments separate from that.

  • Robin Keogh

    No, i meant exactly what i said

  • Paddy Reilly

    They don’t. That is why they are not in office,

  • Zeno3

    In that case maybe you should define “a majority voting population” Currently 22% of the electorate vote Nationalist. A majority usually means more than 50%.

  • Ian James Parsley

    And again I’m hearing “Ah but if Unionism…”.

    Classic evasion from facing up to Nationalism’s failings on this issue.

    Here’s a thing: terrorist apologists who lie about tax evasion don’t exactly make for “good faith partners” either.

    To rephrase slightly that old, boring but nevertheless accurate cliche – you don’t make peace with those you trust. And democracy is necessary for peace. So we need a real democracy – with no inequalities discriminating against those who wish to represent everyone rather than a specific “community”, by the way (how’s that “Trojan horse”?)

    Ultimately there are those on both traditional sides scared of real democracy (including fair application of the law and universal payment of taxes, even the ones they don’t like). They need to ask themselves why – and no “ah but ifs…”

  • Robin Keogh

    No, a majority is over 50% of those that vote. As u will know.

  • Mister_Joe

    Democracy is necessary for peace? How’s about Pax Britannica?

  • kensei

    “Apologising for terrorism” and “tax evasion” (proven, btw?) Is not really in the category of problem as what unionism does. Will republicans make and stick to deals? If the answer is yes, then the institutions would more or less function.

    Again your are letting your personal dislike get in the way of objective analysis. There is no point in a both sides to blame stance if it isn’t true. Unionism really seems worse in this regard.

  • Robin Keogh

    But then u fall back into the problem of forcing parties with dyametrically opposing political views and policies into coalition…it simply does not work

  • Eastern Exile

    Not necessarily. Under the current seat distribution it is hard to see how it would work, short of a DUP-Sinn Fein coalition. But say the SDLP picked up 18 seats at the next election (Increase of 4 all from SF). If the DUP maintained their 38 seats they and the SDLP could govern together (SDLP with 32 % of seats in that coalition). Ok- so the parties have very different views on the constitutional question but I think it’s fair to say they could work together in government.

    Would they want to? Perhaps not- but you could then have a minority DUP government operating on a confidence and supply basis with in-built vetoes to stop them surviving solely on UUP support. For example legislation and certain executive decisions could not be passed without the support of at least 50 per cent of both nationalist and unionist MLAs.

    Would the prospect of working with the SDLP then seem better? Probably.

    This could eventually lead to a much more normal system of governing. All pie in the sky stuff of course but not completely out of the realms of possibility.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Apologies that I can never find the thread I want to respond to!

    Essentially again, I hear a lot of excuses for inaction. What about some courageous action? Always easy to criticise other proposals – not so easy to come up with your own…

  • Thomas Girvan

    The present system does not work, it does not allow for people to vote a government out of power and to vote in a party/parties with a manifesto for government.
    I agree that tinkering with it is no solution.
    They should go back and create a system that will work.
    Either that or scrap it, and go back to direct rule.
    We are getting to the stage now where nearly half the electorate don’t vote.
    There are too many vested interests among the main parties to press for change, and you are right ,we get what we vote for.

  • Morpheus

    There’s your problem right there: “So we need a real democracy – with no inequalities discriminating against those who wish to represent everyone rather than a specific “community”

    It is blindingly obvious to those who want to see it that other communities will not be fairly represented – I give you Operation Toilet Roll, I give you a massive social housing shortage in North Belfast, I give you the lack of a…what’s the phrase again, “Famine Road”, I give you the rejection of progress at Haass, I give you walking out of all-party talks because of a single contentious parade…and let’s not forget the upper echelons of the DUP are dominated by members of an organisation who in a survey as recently as 2011 said that only 6% of the respondents would be happy for their son or daughter to marry a Catholic and “most Catholics are IRA sympathisers”

    Will the gay community be treated as equals?

    I can’t speak for everyone but I would say lot of work needs to be done before we are even close to being a position of saying that political unionism will represent everyone rather than a specific “community” – wouldn’t you agree? Trust has to be earned and
    * “curry my yoghurt”
    * “we will NEVER agree to an Irish language Act at Stormont” and
    * “we will treat their entire wish list as no more than toilet paper. They better get used to it.”
    * an “irrational” lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland
    * Sammy Wilson’s reference to ‘fairy’ cakes in the Ashers Bakery debacle
    * Peter Robinson trusting Muslims to go to the shops
    * public support for a Pastor who described Islam as “heathen” and “satanic”
    * a bill to exempt religious people from equality laws
    etc. do not help in that regard and that’s just in the past few months!

    Here’s a revolutionary idea – how about implementing the GFA in it’s entirety as it was intended? How about using the checks and balances to ensure cross-community support are used as intended? How about signs of good faith so they can learn to trust each other?

  • Zeno3

    Oh I get it. It’s because the Nationalist Vote is falling slower than the Unionist vote, and not because of any growth in support.

  • Robin Keogh

    Now u got it

  • Zeno3

    it won’t really matter, nothing of any consequence can be implimented by a party that doesn’t have popular support.

  • Robin Keogh

    See, u always get there in the end Zeno

  • Morpheus

    And another thing, take a look at how the DUP/UUP treat their fellow political parties and their own electorate:



    Ready for Government? Represent everyone?


  • hugh mccloy

    Why are the established parties even part of the solution, its clear that new governance will only come with new people and new parties, even reading this is still a power grab in most comments.

    As a wise man once said and a quote i used in my letters many times “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them”

    What this county needs is a wave of independent politicians gaining ground, getting into the mix and forming government from the chaos

  • WindsorRocker

    Mandatory coalition of diverse groups allows each party to blame “themmuns” for everything going wrong even while exercising power.
    Voluntary coalition changes the mood music dramatically. The coalition partners will have taken the leap and will have to make it work lest their original judgement of entering that coalition be seen as impaired.
    Having a weighted majority or thresholds of community support would allow for the best balance between decisive government action and protecting either “side” from a simple majority government that excludes them totally.