The Games Politicians Play

Not long after the murder of Kevin McGuigan and even before the PSNI’s assessment of who was involved had been announced, I remember thinking to myself that this was the excuse Peter Robinson now needed to jump ship. With the NAMA scandal whirling around him, failure to implement the Stormont House Agreement and ever-more questions about his leadership, this was a superb opportunity for him to bring down the whole house of cards using an age-old manoeuvre or diversionary tactic, or what became known as Lynton Crosby’s dead cat strategy.

And this is what I find so frustrating. A man was murdered in a Belfast street and here we are three weeks later with politicians on both sides of the border falling over themselves to see who can take the toughest stance for nothing other than party-political gain. Just this morning, Stephen Nolan expertly called out Jim Allister for the sheer hypocrisy of his position regarding the DUP and UUP working with Sinn Fein in Government, with Nolan reminding him that he was a joint signatory of a statement regarding the Twaddell dispute, along with both the PUP and UPRG. Nolan was also quick to remind him that Sinn Fein received a 26.3% share of the vote in the last assembly elections and his desire to see them removed from the executive would by implication disenfranchise their 178000 voters.

The UUP, at the behest of their leader, have decided to withdraw their one solitary minister from the executive because they feel they cannot work with Sinn Fein any longer. Except in business committees, the wider assesmbly and local councils. Apparently Mike wants to see some honesty from Sinn Fein for a start, over the existence of the IRA before he considers going back in to Government. Now that’s a very open-ended pre-condition! Belfast Barman wrote an excellent piece on the UUP leader’s position on these pages a few days ago, and it’s certainly well worth a read.

Mike Nesbitt

And what of Sinn Fein’s opponents over the border? With both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael eyeing the upcoming elections, they are doing their damndest to halt Sinn Fein’s growth. Eamonn Mallie even said that “the response of Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin to the Chief Constable’s remarks about the IRA is more hysterical than that from Unionism”. Fine Gael Justice Minister Frances Fitzerald also came perilously close to censure for accusing Sinn Fein for knowingly benefitting financially and otherwise from criminality.

Ironically it is Peter Robinson and the DUP who have taken the most measured response to the crisis, although I’m sure this has as much to do with intra-unionist rivalry and fear of the perception that if they did bring down Stormont they jumped because the UUP pushed them. The DUP leader has however made a ridiculous request for the suspension of the assembly for the purposes of all-party talks, something which would be almost unthinkable in another legislature.

So where are the modern day John Humes? When I say this I mean those politicians who are willing to risk both their own and their party’s reputation for the greater good. Hume risked everything by talking to Gerry Adams back in the late 1980s, with the likes of Seamus Mallon dead against the strategy. Indeed both Adams and Martin McGuinness have also risked their own lives to deliver the 1994 and 1997 ceasefires, along with decommissioning and that 2005 statement that has been endlessly dissected over the last few weeks. David Trimble, who oversaw the collapse of a once-dominant UUP following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (Nesbitt was quick to remind us of this last week and yet not so quick to take a leaf out of Trimble’s book, as his latest piece of opportunism attests), was another who put country before party, with the previously anti-agreement DUP waiting in the wings.

I had a brief but interesting debate with another resident of this parish about the grandstanding by some within Unionism and Sinn Fein’s opponents in the south about this whole issue and he said we shouldn’t be surprised when politicians play politics. But should we not have higher ideals? Politics should be about public service first and foremost; it should not be about personal reward, monetary gain or one-upmanship. In a deeply divided society, is it too much to ask that our elected representatives act for the greater good? If not then re-introducing the IMC (and much else?) may be a way of ensuring that the murder of Kevin McGuigan, just like the OTR letters, are not used to further stymie politics here.

  • eireanne

    Mr Cameron’s press release is interesting “He reiterated his commitment to the devolved institutions and to tackling any remaining paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland”.
    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-and-secretary-of-state-for-northern-ireland-met-leader-of-dup-1-september-2015?

  • Zig70

    I bet Gerry knows who killed the cat. Though seriously, I can’t believe you write about NI and quote Boris on distraction politics.

  • Gripler

    The UUP reasonably walked away from a feeble form of government that was doing nothing for them.
    With all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that’s gone on, it seems that not having Danny Kennedy in charge of sewage disposal threatens our very being

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Stock answer drafted by the mandarins at the NIO.

  • “And this is what I find so frustrating. A man was murdered in a Belfast street and here we are three weeks later with politicians on both sides of the border falling over themselves to see who can take the toughest stance for nothing other than party-political gain.”

    No. That’s not where we are. Not by a long shot.

    It’s not the still-extant Provisional IRA structures that are the immediate cause for concern, although “stupid” questions could, and should, be asked about their ultimate purpose, it’s the involvement of those Provisional IRA ‘structures’ in the events leading up to, and including, the murder of Kevin McGuigan, and the continued denials [of that reality! – Ed] which have followed.

    And pay close attention to those involved in the Provisional IRA investigation into the murder of Jock Davison that preceded the murder of Kevin McGuigan, which police have stated they believe involved members of the Provisional IRA.

    The men who carried out the inquiry included a man who has been associated with the Restorative Justice movement, a former or serving adjutant general of the IRA who has been targeted by MI5 for surveillance in the past, its director of intelligence who himself had a recent death threat, and a former OC of the Belfast Brigade.

    Director of intelligence… Northern Chair of Sinn Fein?

    But, then, you start by admitting that “even before the PSNI’s assessment of who was involved had been announced, I remember thinking to myself that this was the excuse Peter Robinson now needed to jump ship.”

    And you were wrong on even that assumption…

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “So where are the modern day John Humes” ? There are none, but there are two Political Parties the SDLP and Alliance who could also take the step of pulling out of Executive Management and joining the UUP on Opposition Benches of the Assembly Chamber which would be the real game changer of NI Politics ! and the real meaning of country and people before party !

  • murdockp

    Cameron hasn’t even got the balls to intervene in Syria which the sorry sight of hundreds of refugees reminds us.

    intervene in Northern Ireland, I don’t think so. last tim he was needed he hosted a rave at chequers

  • August Hampner

    “A man was murdered in a Belfast street”. I find it hard to have any sorrow for the types of men who have been killed. 2 less in our society to worry about. These were men who were linked to the murders of countless people. Live by the gun then die by it. Anybody who lives in a Republican area knows fine well that the PIRA still exist and still control the area. Steven Nolan really had the UUP leader in a dizzy trying to work his way out of the hard fact that they stand by loyalist terror groups. Groups that still continue to recruit.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    So where are the modern day John Humes?

    John Hume pulled down the Prior assembly in 1983, with the intention of bringing devolution to an end, so I guess you could say his ideas are currently quite in vogue within the UUP.

    Hume risked everything by talking to Gerry Adams back in the late 1980s, with the likes of Seamus Mallon dead against the strategy

    This is a popular, but false, interpretation of events.

    Hume did not believe in powersharing or in working with the unionists, so he crashed earlier attempts to do so in pursuit of joint authority. The Hume Adams dialogue served different purposes for different people. Hume thought that ending IRA violence would make joint authority and cross border encroachment easier, and he was keen to secure his place in the history books as the man who ended IRA violence – events after the ceasefires show that Hume had no plan with what to do next other than endlessly call for dialogue. Adams needed a respectable middle class figure to lend authority to the IRA’s political wing and help make it electable, and Hume was his ideal pawn.

    I see elements of this mentality in Mike Nesbitt who is more concerned about carving out a role and a place for himself. It’s not at all clear that the UUP will benefit from his decision – powersharing certainly won’t. I really think we’ve had enough of Hume’s inspiration.

  • Kevin Breslin

    So where are the modern day John Humes? When I say this I mean those politicians who are willing to risk both their own and their party’s reputation for the greater good.

    Tsipras, arguably … and it’s difficult for me to say this as an SDLP person might be more “Hume than Hume” (or “Adams than Adams” to some extent if you prefer) … he makes the difficult decisions alright and tries to get a mandate to make even more.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The “Balls” … Was it not the DUP along with the Lib Dems, Labour, SDLP, Alliance, PC, Respect, SNP and Herman who ALL voted against the Syrian invasion? Even UKIP were against it.

    Cameron was for an invasion but needed the backing of Westminster, I doubt his own backbenches would back one now.

    We saw in Iraq there was a Balls Up, in Afghanistan there was an even bigger Balls Up.

    Removing the “Assad Regime” would’ve been an even greater open door to ISIS.

    So for Once, I get to say rarely spoken words on my side of community

    Thank God The DUP had Balls for once!

  • whatif1984true

    The UUP have faced irrelevancy for so long I’m sure they will relish their time in the spotlight. Hopefully things will roll on. Time may be our only solution. Anyone who believes that those who banded together on both sides have all of a sudden stopped associating together are naive. Those in the paramilitaries are people who went to school together, live close to each other and socialise in the same venues together. Their position in their local communities was more elevated in the past but it remains.

    A suspension of Stormont will suit all the parties, it gives them the opportunity to wash their hands of many decisions and to let them fester in the only mode of operation they know – as the OPPOSITION. In Suspension they can ALL be The Opposition.

  • Sharpie

    Truth belongs to the beholder and no one else

  • murdockp

    so you are happy they did nothing as the refugee crisis grows. history will show the west should have gone in. the mess was started by us and it was right that we cleared it up to even if you don’t agree with Blair bush at al.

    hundreds of thousands dead and displaced because we are are are afraid of ISIS, the old good men do nothing quote springs to mind.

  • Newton Emerson

    No, on the Hume point Catcher is indisputably correct. Hume’s proposal from the Hume-Adams dialogue was for Northern Ireland to be governed by a six-person executive – with no assembly – comprising three elected members plus an appointee each from London, Dublin and Brussels.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The UUP reasonably walked away from a feeble form of government that was doing nothing for them.

    Party before country ?

    With all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that’s gone on, it seems that not having Danny Kennedy in charge of sewage disposal threatens our very being

    It’s the collapse of the executive and the introduction of direct rule, bringing water charges and job cuts, which is the issue.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m glad they didn’t make the refugee crisis even worse by adding more terrorists for people to flee from. Jeffery a man who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment said it best:

    “This is a tinderbox, the last thing you do is throw a match into a tinder box!”

    Like him or not this is a guy who was in the firing line, not a cheerleader for the liberal presses.

    Iraq wasn’t cleared up, the Iraqi invasion created ISIL and inspired all the Western defectors that joined them and probably created them.

    Rather than Al Queda, we get a group Al Queda, Hezbullah and Islamic Mujahadin attack for all the Muslims they kill in the name of their cause.

    The thing is Assad are backed by the Russians and the Free Syrian Army are backed by the U.S. and ISIS are fighting against both sides in the Syrian war, and the Kurds are fighting all three.

    But hey If it’s broken, break it more!

    What’s the plan for peace and hearts and minds in Syria and ending a four way conflict?

    Total Genocide? Threaten suicidal Islamic nationalists with a nuke right next to the Holylands?

    How’s about thousands dead and displaced from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey etc. because some people want to go in to play army guys and shoot strawman Bond villians!

    Funny how the western media talk about going to war to exert testicular fortitude, seem no different than killing for a jihad to get heavenly virgins.

  • eireanne

    have you got a link for that please Newton?

  • Newton Emerson

    It’s mentioned here as a submission to the Brooke/Mayhew talks (search for “six-member commission”) but this was Hume’s position during Hume-Adams also, and was made public in 1990, as far as I recall. http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/bmtalks/murray/murray98.htm

  • Sharpie

    Do you not think his real contribution was to set an agenda that enabled all parties to become involved in a talks process based on his mantra of “all the peoples of these islands”. The dialogic approach was invitational rather than prescriptive – it just took a long time and many repetitions of his mantra before people begrudgingly acknowledged he was right – and boy could we do with someone pushing that line again, from whatever quarter.

  • Newton Emerson

    Well I think that’s how he’s now perceived, so he may have had that effect – but his actual intention post-Sunningdale was to cut out unionists and ‘externalise’ the problem by involving Dublin in putting US and EU pressure on London. That all turned out to be a bit over-the-top and Adams ate him for breakfast.

  • Bolshevik Brainwashing Corpora

    ” sheer hypocrisy of his position regarding the DUP and UUP working with Sinn Fein in Government”

    I keep hearing BBC morons shouting “hypocrisy” but I fail to see any point here given that none of the groups discussed are in government. Even Jim Allister has talked to Sinn Fein/IRA members in Stormont too.

  • paulgraham7567

    Agree. This is a position I believe could actually help push SF/DUP to the extreme fringes, where they belong. Extreme right and left parties do not represent the vast majority of opinion in NI. If we saw Alliance/SDLP/UUP co-operation, could we not support that?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I believe it would also increase voter turn as a lot of people have just given up on NI Politics as the present system is just not working. We are dangerously heading towards less than 50% Election Turnouts !

  • William Carr

    the BBC (and everybody else ) is very right to shout hypocrisy at the TUV and the other unionist parties.
    they are in a pact with criminal gangs (not just talking as you well know) the hypocrisy comes when they are quite happy to make common cause with drug dealers and crooks but will not work with Republicans.
    the truly wondrous thing is that the political wings of the UVF/UDA command very little support among the working class protestant population, understandable when you consider the damage these people are doing to working class communities and it is the inability of these groups to get elected that is the excuse given to justify working with them.
    true wee Jim has talked to shinners in Stormont but cites the fact that they have links to the IRA as a reason not to enter deals with them but the PUP/UUP links to loyalist terror groups seem not to matter, that is the hypocrisy everybody is talking about!