The time approaches for Westminster to impose a settlement

The time has come to put cards on the table.  The British government should publish its funding proposals and refuse point blank to entertain a return to direct rule or even a suspension of the Assembly. If necessary it should impose a financial settlement.  This would reverse the natural rhythm of devolution whereby the centre responds to the region’s proposals. The local administration it turns out, hasn’t got any. There is no reason whatever why the British government should remain semi-detached. They did not do so over the Smith committee in  Scotland  when the Treasury was heavily involved  in devising joint responsibility for taxation  with the future of welfare and  the block grant  still in play.

Simon Hamilton seems to have done some sums worth say £200 million p. a.  for welfare,  the equivalent of the Treasury loan. Publish them. They were prodded into agreeing the rest of a budget. Perhaps it can happen again. £200 million out of 10 billion is manageable, hardly worth the shame of failure.

The obsession with tactics has got to stop. These little groups  have  no idea how they are becoming despised.

The breath taking sense of entitlement which even the smaller parties exhibit is the most urgent matter of the past to lay to rest . “The legacy of thirty years of conflict” they parrot is now a dud argument. There are plenty with worse pockets of poverty in GB who abominate “Tory cuts” every bit as anyone in Northern Ireland. These will be put the UK voters in May. The British government could extend its own borrowing powers to Stormont at almost zero rates of interest.  But who would trust this lot with them?

There is an excellent case for devising a strategy for dealing with the past that costs less than Adams’ figure of thirty million plucked from the air, to be paid for by the British government as the sovereign power , as Labour seems to favour.  Other than that, Cameron is right to throw their failure back in their faces. Unlike the GFA nearly 15 year ago, this time the British government wants nothing from Northern Ireland that the highest per head block grant in the UK doesn’t basically cover. But the British government has some hard thinking  to do.   As with Scotland which  nearly lost them the Union, their  detachment has been counter productive, even   though  they recently  bumped up the NIO  to deal with slow burning crisis. Cameron should never have come on these terms and departs looking perfunctory and rather silly. And what was Kenny doing other than handholding when finance  was the dominant topic?

Sinn Fein won’t walk away.  Without a transparent plan to replace the old footsie at the conference table, they won’t risk the smell of failure that will seep south and render them unfit for government  there too . If the local parties finally flunk it, no one will have much sympathy  for them in any part of Britain and Ireland and the people will continue to lose out.

  • mjh

    The British Government won’t impose Direct Rule and it won’t suspend Stormont. Certainly not this side of the General Election. It just doesn’t need the hassle right now.

    For the same reason it will not impose a financial settlement – which would risk an almost certain slide to Direct Rule. The local parties can muddle through until after May.

    After the Election it is hard to see any alternative Government wanting to invest political capital and energy in the politically unrewarding task of sorting out NI politics. That’s what devolution means. They won’t let the children do themselves any serious injury, but if they cannot sort out between themselves how to share the toys in the playpen, Mummy and Daddy are not going to do it for them.

    The only way that Direct Rule comes back is if Stormont collapses itself. It could happen – but neither the DUP or SF (the only ones who could do it) appear to want that.

    I don’t think Cameron and Kenny were worried about looking silly. Cameron especially will be happy to drive home the message that devolution of power means devolution of responsibility.

  • chrisjones2

    hardly worth the shame of failure

    SF are shameless

    I agree with mjh – the British and Irish should just let Stormont rot. If it collapses then the blame lies here and both David and Enda will be happy to say that

  • Deke Thornton

    I wonder, as he got on the plane this morning if David Cameron had exactly the same thoughts as Reginald Maudlin 40 years ago. (sans large whisky of course).

  • Richard

    ‘As Ian Paisley said to me during our first meeting “Martin, we can rule ourselves, we do not need these direct rule ministers coming over here telling us what to do.” I agree with him.’ Martin McGuinness 30 April 2012. However, the coalition of Ulster nationalism and Irish Republican has so far proved unable to cope with the responsibilities of self-government. Like young children, they expect Christmas presents from Santa-the-Brit, irrespective of how badly behaved they have been during the year, and clearly do need a bit of parental discipline. The world in Westminster and Dublin has moved on from the Blair era philosophy of ‘any deal is better than no deal’, and it is difficult to see Osborne busting the austerity agenda, and Dublin trying to persuade him to do so, with any more freebies, at least until after the next election. Will Stormont fall? Only SF has any real interest in this, so they can preserve their anti-austerity stance and blame the Brits for subsequent hard decisions. This time, though, their traditional strategy of taking an intransigent stance which drives the Unionists into doing something stupid will, I suspect, fail. Whatever happens, they will carry the blame. Martin McGuinness today complaining that Cameron was unwilling to put up enough money to compensate for 4 years of Tory cuts? Come on!

  • notimetoshine

    I’m no fan of Cameron and his government generally but well done that man, it seems there is finally a crew in London prepared to play hardball with our esteemed representatives. At last a London government is not just throwing money about trying to appease those cretins in stormont. The only thing that concerns me is that I question the ability of our political establishment to handle difficult circumstances bugetary or otherwise.

    Interesting side note having listened to various parties representatives they all seem to be coming out with the same thing that the parties need to address the issue and engage and a settlement is possible. One wonders then what they have been doing up to now?

  • Mister_Joe

    Of course, he who pays the piper calls the tune, even if he’s a bit slow.

  • Gopher

    Well now we have our Mexican standoff, the DUP, SF, and the Government. The Government arnt going to blink not in an election year and NI has absolutely no leverage on them to do so. So that leaves the DUP and SF. I would contend given the mood of the electorate that the process has been exhausted and the DUP dont have the luxury of impotent electoral oppostion like SF, to remain onboard the farce without a deal after Christmas will be electoral suicide in 2015. Unionists can buy into the UKIP brand and they cant be hit with “its the tories” and Jim Allister is beginning to look messianic due to the chronic incompetence of all parties at Stormont. I think Peter will be left with no alternative to bring the show to a close.

  • ted hagan

    Strange article and seemingly written from an English perspective. I think our politicians should go for all they can get from this dastardly British government

  • So – we’re saying we’re too stupid to govern ourselves and we need the grown-ups of Westminster to do it for us? No money from Westminster – except you’re threatening independence or a pointless weapon of mass destruction needs renewing. Grown-up thinking indeed.

  • tmitch57

    Brian,
    Since June 1967 various parties (academics, the American Jewish Left, the Israeli Left, the Europeans) have been calling for an imposed settlement by either Washington or the UN in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Successive administrations have resisted for a number of reasons: fear of retaliation from Jewish voters or today from Evangelical Protestants, the national interest, the precedent it would set, etc. But probably the most compelling reason is that in an imposed settlement the local parties don’t buy into the solution and hence aren’t committed to making it work. Both sides would look to break out of it at the first opportunity. This applies even more to the Northern Ireland conflict than to the Middle East. The reigning paradigm in the Middle East is still the two-state solution, but in Northern Ireland you have a one-state solution where the parties have to work together for it to work. Now bribery is a different matter. Both Kissinger and Carter used bribery in the form of American economic and military aid to get Israel to give up strategic Arab territory. London and Dublin could make financial inducements to the local parties if they agree to compromises. But to simply impose a settlement would be to produce a cry of “Perfidious Albion” from both Republicans and unionists. They wouldn’t be committed to it and it wouldn’t work.

  • chrisjones2

    to remain onboard the farce without a deal after Christmas will be electoral suicide in 2015

    I think that is nonsense. UKIP have no presence or traction here

  • Gopher

    Any unionist standing on an anti Stormont ticket will do considerable damage to the DUP electorally. Stormont has totally lost the electorate the unionist electorate has options whilst nationalism does not. The anti agreement mantra does not word any longer because it’s patently obvious there is no agreement.

    The SDLP used to claim they were the biggest nationalist party, then they claimed to be bigger than alliance then Alliance have no representation west of the Bann now they can claim nothing. The DUP if they don’t get a deal and remain in Stormont are on that slope

  • ted hagan

    Strange that someone should applaud a Tory austerity plan that will cause more suffering in Northern Ireland. An odd sort of masochism to endure for the sake of seeing Stormont ‘put in its place’.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Agree Ted – we need to be out there planting some more of those money trees.

  • barnshee

    ” a Tory austerity plan”

    In what way is it an “austerity plan” when those funding NI( well beyond NI`s contributions) stick to their funding promises ?
    Why in any event should NI be funded far beyond its tax base ?

  • barnshee

    ” we’re saying we’re too stupid to govern ourselves”
    Too stupid to live within our means – too stupid not to ameliorate our behaviour to reduce demands on society. Too stupid to realise the party`s over. Indeed too ” stupid govern ourselves”

  • Comrade Stalin

    My opinion on this vacillates but at the moment I’m in “let the local parties crash it” mode. For democracy to work properly, the electorate need to be exposed to the consequences of how they vote. If they want biting cuts and a crap economy, they can keep voting the way they are.

  • Trap 6

    I would like to know the sticking points, the specifics, before imposing anything.

    As someone who backed the Good Friday Agreement generally, the specific outworking of that deal has seen some changes which in particular I would not support. I feel that general goodwill for change by a small majority of unionists at the time has been exploited by the British government who using bi-laterals with Sinn Fein and the SDLP got the specifics of that deal on their side. This was allowed to happen due to the DUP and UUP fighting among themselves around the time of the GFA allowing the implementation of that deal to be steered by nationalists, SF & SDLP, who thanks to the IRA underpinning its demands, got the best outcome, the specifics on their side.

    For instance, I generally backed police change and reform, I would never give specific backing to complete removal of the union flag from the service nor would I back the bureaucratic monster it has become, an inefficient bureaucratic money eating monster. Not to mention 50:50 recruitment.

    Another, parades, by all means set up a Commission in general, but the specific outworking of that has seen to it that the law has caved in to illegal criminal forces within Ardoyne, dissident republicans in Ardoyne.

    Even creating a law on flags, designated days at Stormont, I think this was inappropriate as well, legally speaking, I really doubt the need to introduce legislation on the constitutional flag. The result of that has opened the gates for further regulation of the British identity within Northern Ireland.

  • ted hagan

    So sayeth a Tory toady

  • barnshee

    where would you get the money?

  • ted hagan

    I’d get the money from the same place they dip into when they need money for a putsch on Libya or a war on Isis

  • ted hagan

    Maudling was a total prat – well done Bernadette McAliskey for biffing him – as is Cameron

  • ted hagan

    Unionists got the best deal. They remain part of the UK. What the hell more do they want? Where else do they fly flags incessantly in the UK? Where else do they march up and down parading their beliefs all summer long? Get wise.

  • barnshee

    You are welcome to try –however I think you will find the safe is closed and David has the key

  • Trap 6

    Where else do they fly flags incessantly in the UK?

    Rochester.

    Remaining a part of something is fine, it is the life within, the living within that part of the something which matters most to people. Remaining part of the UK was never under threat, therefore completely remodelling Northern Ireland PLC within an inch of institutionalised political neutrality has been a massive error of judgement by the British government. As the majority who had identified with the British way of life in Northern Ireland suddenly had to come to terms with the regulation, at times bordering on criminalisation, of a previously legitimate culture, one previously fostered by the state.

    The unintended consequence of that has been the stigmatising of loyalists and criminalising of working class unionists in particular who fail to understand why the flag of the country cannot be flown 365 days a year seeing as constitutional sovereignty supposedly remains unaffected.

    This answers the question often posed by republicans as to why Unionists cannot give leadership on political neutrality, as a small majority of Unionists gave support for peace in general, but never gave support specifically for the regulation of British identity in Northern Ireland nor for some of the changes mentioned above, the specifics.

    As the specifics have been hammered home in favour of Nationalists by the IRA which was active up till 2005 and which would not go away even once the peace deal was signed, so atavistic forces were allowed to linger on as far as possible so long as it suited Sinn Fein’s agenda and Nationalists.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Why talk rubbish ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    They just tried. And failed. Next plan ?

  • notimetoshine

    Couldn’t agree more, however what would the cost be of a crash and burn situation? I am concerned about the damage to an economy that is delicate and not growing the way it should be in comparison to the rest of the UK or to the republic for that matter.

  • notimetoshine

    Look the austerity plan is a reality you may not like it, I’m not exactly a fan either but its where we are at.

    But I applaud it because we have been sheltered from the ineptitude of our great and good by the London fall back. Its time our politicians woke up and realised that there are hard decisions to be made and that we have to learn to live within our means without using the we are a post conflict society etc etc excuse to protect unrealistic spending and subvention.

    At the end of the day the people of NI voted these people in, its high time their realise what those votes mean.

  • ted hagan

    Go lick Dave’s arse

  • ted hagan

    What the hell is Northern Ireland plc?

  • Comrade Stalin

    You first.

  • ted hagan

    At a time when the rich are thriving, when suddenly the price of property in the London area is soaring, when at the same time food banks are in huge demand, when there is a massive and growing divide between the super rich and the less well off aand impoverished, when the wealth around London is at obscene proportions, no, I don’t buy it, not from this sleazy, nasty pernicious Tory government

  • notimetoshine

    Well the rest of the UK has bought it they may not like it but they bought it. Sleazy nasty and pernicious eh? Well all rhetoric aside we have to deal in realities. And if you think that London is going to bow down to a peripheral region you are sadly mistaken. Apart from anything else I don’t think the british electorate would stand for it. We have to share the pain. As I have said realities not rhetoric. I can’t see a westminister government appeasing our political establishment any longer. It’s not feasible and for us in political terms we need our government to start taking some responsibility.

  • ted hagan

    I wonder where the “better together” campaigners would be if by some fluke Northern Ireland poiticians decided they wanted greater independence?

  • puffen

    Given that our partners in government have no incentive in making the difficult decisions that a sovereign government must make for its citizens whom are alive, and yet to be born, can we expect anything else, wee Jim has nailed it right.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    As opposed to a Labour idiot.

  • Ian James Parsley

    The UK spends more money repaying debt interest than it does on defence (including every “crisis” you care to mention). Considerably more.

    You’re welcome to try the Real World although, the way things are going, I wouldn’t really blame you for staying where you are.

  • Ian James Parsley

    The UK Government deficit is now the highest in the EU.

    Basically, there hasn’t been any “austerity”.

    A few of these Nationalist austerity bashers should take a look across the border occasionally!

  • Ian James Parsley

    There is already quite a considerable cost.

    Some in the community sector have been told they will take a 20% pay cut for a start.

    But that, I fear, is what we voted for.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Spot on, and you are correct to use the straightforward term “govern ourselves”.

    This is being presented as a crisis of finance. Actually, it’s a crisis of democracy. Those we elect don’t want to govern.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I’m not sure where I am with Brian‘s proposals – instinctively I agree.

    It is worth repeating a point earlier in the thread, however – this is not fundamentally a financial crisis.

    It is, in fact, a democratic crisis. We are electing people who can’t (or at least, don’t want to) govern.

    It’s a simple point. We the people need to face up to it.

  • Morpheus

    50:50 recruitment in the PSNI was a successful tool used to ensure that the police service became representative of the community it serves and changed it into a service that everyone could accept and get behind. In that regard it it was highly successful on any scale.

    Parades. Are you seriously trying to suggest that all those opposed to the parade in Ardoyne are dissident republicans? If so I recommend a trip to the aforementioned PSNI.

    Flag. The constitutional position of Northern Ireland did not change one iota – any changes needs a referendum, do you remember one? The flag of Northern Ireland has not changed one iota – it is still the same unofficial flag that it has been for quite some time. What changed was a flag flying policy in a single council, nothing more, nothing less. The change brought the policy into line with Stormont – no fuss made there – with numerous other unionist dominated councils – no fuss made there – in line with legal advice, in line with Equality Commission advice, in line with the flag flying protocols recommended by The College of Arms and in line with the majority of councils throughout the UK. These reasons are why the designated days policy is used at Stormont and now at Belfast City Hall. I realize that your comment is about Stormont as opposed to Belfast but surely you can see the sense behind it now?

    You mention criminalising of working class unionists below. This came about after the DUUPers, in an attempt to distract the electorate from the fact that they did absolutely nothing to prepare them for a potential change in policy in the preceding 10 years of debates, distributed 40,000 leaflets onto the streets of East Belfast which resulted in multiple arrests, multiple convictions, death threats, attempted murder of a police officer, intimidation of political representatives etc. The criminalization of the working class unionists lies squarely on the doorstep of political unionism who lacked the intellect to turn this situation into a win for unionism using the above rationale.

    But if you really must blame someone for the changes to flag flying policy then blame those who have gone before who have used and abused the flag to such an extent that it is contentious whether you like it or not. Blame those who used it to hammer home the place of others in NI society, blame those who used it as a territory marker, a weapon, a disguise etc. They are the ones who fecked it up for future generations.

    The GFA was about putting the future of Northern Ireland in the hands of the people of Northern ireland and bringing equality for all , despite the barriers and workarounds put in place. There’s nothing to fear from it.

  • sk

    Your point of view is articulated well there, Trap 6, and there is no doubt that the process to facilitate the nationalist identity in Northern Ireland has been painful for the unionist community. But when you have taken everything for yourself, giving a little bit back is always going to be painful.

    The problem, as I see it, is that Unionists demonstrated an incapacity for cultural magnanimity when they were in the ascendancy, and that attitude is now going to to cost them.

    Unfortunately, the price is neutrality.

    Nationalists are well aware that Unionists are disinclined to grant their culture/identity any kind of official recognition. Nationalists further recognise that the only way to circumvent such intolerance is to essentially neutralise public space and start again from scratch. This changes the rules of the game, and brings about a situation whereby if unionists want their identity to have any visibility in civic life, then it requires a quid pro quo gesture to the nationalist community.

    Not a bad strategy, from a Nationalist point of view. A bit of generosity from both sides in previous generations might have avoided such an unfortunate situation, but we are where we are.

  • Trap 6

    It is a democratic crisis but that is a bit abstract, the problems that I see are attitudinal and ideological ones but also systemic, the system of decision making up at Stormont, where everyone has to agree or nothing happens compounds it all.

    Attitudinally, Republicans think Unionists are superior and quite possibly somewhat ironically this brings about a haughtiness of its own whereby they believe Unionists are beyond collaborating with and only get prepared to deal if the British and Irish governments are involved and deliver ‘compromises’ over the heads of Unionists, as has been standard fare. This is peace building at its best delivering Unionists faits accomplis. Unionists, attitudinally, think republicans have no love for this place at all and are quite prepared to run it into the ground while taking as much money from the British government as possible, when this happens Northern Ireland becomes neither effective nor efficient, Unionists get short tempered. Even at the micro level, in the public sector, which I would argue is full of nationalist ideologues, this cohort tends not to work that hard because they treat the State not as an employer worth working for but as something to exploit for an easy life, where they turn up and do very little and get compensated for past grievances i.e. the British state owes us for past misdeeds type thing, employment and working hard is for somebody that gives a toss about the future of this place, ruthless managerial initiatives leaning the public sector is the stuff of ruthless prods and must be resisted. Therefore, Unionists too think there is little point trying to collaborate with republicans.

    Ideologically there is the constitutional divergence and associated cultural differences these are massive gaps, unlikely to be plugged any time soon, but there is also a massive gap in socio-economic thinking, Unionists tending to be more right wing in thinking and neoliberal in approach to finance and the economy, nationalists left leaning and pro welfare, on the face of it social democratic, taken together that’s representative of the people, what the people think out there, it would be fair to say. Some want it right wing, some left leaning.

    Then there is the system of governance in place which means that everyone has to agree before moving forward, based on the above, the ideological gaps are so wide it’s just not going to happen, probably not helped by over-representation and too many MLAs spoiling the broth.

    So what do you do? I think if there’s going to be austerity of sorts here our political masters must feel it first and outside intervention should come from the British and Irish and whack Stormont down in size in all the right places.

  • Comrade Stalin

    there is no doubt that the process to facilitate the nationalist identity in Northern Ireland has been painful for the unionist community.

    There certainly is doubt.

    A few parades have been restricted and a few flags fly less often. It is part of the problem that these changes are presented as if loyalists are being herded into camps and systematically starved.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I’m struggling to keep up with some of that but I suspect you’re absolutely right.

    I’ve written before about how both Unionists and Republicans regard this as their country, and the other side as “guests” in it. This adds to the basic democratic crisis which is that none of them wants to govern (including making the tough choices and compromises that come with that).

  • Trap 6

    What are you struggling with exactly? Republican and Unionist attitudes towards each other are bad, soured, their ideological differences are big in approaches to social and economic policy and you have a political system – all party government – that requires agreement by all parties otherwise nothing happens. So it’s a mix of bad attitudes, diverging ideology and a decision making system that doesn’t work in that context, where everyone has to agree in order to get agreement.

    It is a democratic crisis in reaching agreement but in many ways it reflects the attitudes out there, I think a recent study showed attitudes are not great out there and there is to be fair a left / right split within Northern Ireland on approaches to the economy and welfare.

    Problem is how to close the gaps whenever the gaps appear to be genuine and representative of the people.

  • Ian James Parsley

    The fact it reflects attitudes out there is the democratic crisis.

    If you elect people who refuse to govern, you know what…

  • Trap 6

    That’s not true, there is refusing to govern and believing in different governance models, two different approaches to governance, which cannot be squared off easily, the unionist neoliberal and the nationalist social democratic. These approaches are reflective of the wishes of the people, what are you suggesting? Some sort of bastardisation of the two, a compromise, if so put it out on the table. Would I be wrong in suggesting that you are neoliberal on welfare, if so, what would you offer nationalists to get that off the ground?

    What you’re actually asking for or hoping to see in Northern Ireland, stripping out the bad attitudes linked to the past and flags and so on, is something like an effective governing Labour and Conservative coalition of sorts, now would that be likely to happen in Britain? If no, surely you are expecting too much out of NI’s political system which creates and enforces this sort of unworkable political arrangement.

  • Ian James Parsley

    You may be misunderstanding me. There is no solution while those two parties retain a majority between them in the Assembly. I’ve said that for some time.

    The “democratic crisis” is not unique to Northern Ireland. Even Sweden’s government has just been brought down over its budget by mad populists too many people voted for.

  • Trap 6

    I’m quite susceptible to populists myself.

  • notimetoshine

    Well considering how signifocant the community sector is to society here that is worrying. However my concern is the impact on the wider economy. It is some what selfish but I think it holds true for many. If there are many redundancies, wage cuts etc, this will likely create a lot more competition for jobs. Assuming that foreign investment stays the course the growth these companies provide will be negated by a glut of qualifies unemployed people thus making job seeking harder and pushing wages down. This would not be good. Especially as our economy is already delicate post recession.

    But as you say we voted them in

  • ted hagan

    Yea well Sergio, thanks to a bit of shaking, we might have have just won a little more from the money tree, judging by latest reports, so, who’s the clever chappy now, eh?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Clearly you Ted going cap in hand with your begging bowl to those nasty Tories. You must be proud.