Time to take stock, or let another generation suffer

I started this piece with the intention to put it on Slugger, but it has found its way to the News Letter and has been published today (will add link when available).

A man was murdered by the IRA on the streets of Belfast. Peter Robinson called the murder of Kevin McGuigan a ‘watershed’ moment yet the DUP response amounted to boycotting the Executive. Who will notice or care if an executive which isn’t doing anything anyway doesn’t meet for a while?  Now  Sinn Fein chairman Bobby Storey was arrested in connection with murder. The DUP response is to seek an adjournment of the Assembly.

Is that it?

Neither an Executive boycott nor an Assembly adjournment removes Republicans from government.

The political wing of a still armed and active IRA retains Ministerial posts because the DUP – and the DUP alone among Unionists – partner them.

Suspending the Assembly, as Peter Robinson demanded yesterday, does not change that reality.

TUV isn’t hung up on keeping the Assembly but let’s consider some practical outworkings from the DUP proposal. If Mr Robinson’s suggestion is agreed his Ministers, along with Sinn Fein’s, will remain in government. Only now there will be no Assembly to hold Ministers to account. Nor, interestingly, will there be any committee meetings. Meaning that the ongoing inquiry into NAMA will be suspended as well.

What is needed isn’t an Assembly suspension. It’s the removal of the representatives of an armed and active IRA from government.

The events of recent days show that both decommissioning and Sinn Fein/IRA support for the police was a con.

Mr Nesbitt on announcing his party’s exit from the Executive claimed they wanted to go back to the 1998 vision.

Going into opposition was the only viable alternative for the UUP; they have meekly sat as doormats (along with the SDLP and Alliance) in the Executive since 2007. In terms of attempting to normalise politics through forcing the opposition issue they will find support.

However, the 1998 vision that Mr Nesbitt has alluded to does not include opposition or the right to change your government. It does include Sinn Fein/IRA in government. That 1998 vision, with the St Andrews post-it note attached, is the key problem to providing sustainable, durable and democratic devolution for Northern Ireland.

A system which teeters on the brink of collapse because one of the parties of government  is linked to murder is neither democratic or capable of delivering anything approaching normal politics.

Our and future generations deserve good government. They deserve a government they can change at the ballot box and one which is held accountable by an opposition which can form an alternative government after elections. Whatever ones opinion is on the Belfast / St Andrew’s Agreement, there has to come a point the need for fundamental change is recognised.

The fact that a murder linked to a party of government has given new impetus to this issue should cause every DUP MLA to search their conscience.


  • Nevin

    “Whatever ones opinion is on the Belfast / St Andrew’s Agreement, there has to come a point the need for fundamental change is recognised.”

    Richard, you have a problem: David Cameron – and the House of Commons

    I would, however, make an appeal in this respect to Democratic Unionist Members, Ulster Unionist Members, Social and Democratic Labour Party Members and the Sinn Féin Members, who do not take their seats in this House. As someone who sat on the Opposition Benches and watched while the peace process was put together and the power-sharing arrangements were put in place, it was one of the most inspiring things that I have seen as a human being and a politician to see politicians put aside their differences, put aside concerns about appalling things that had happened in the past, and decide to work together. The appeal I would make to all of you is, please have that spirit in mind. It was an amazing thing you all did in Northern Ireland when you formed that Administration and that Assembly. We will do everything we can to help you, but let us think of the nobler processes and the great noble principles that were put in place in the past—and let’s do it again.

    Hon. Members: Hear, hear.”

    What can the the TUV do which will persuade the Prime Minister to change his mind? Remember that he made this statement yesterday in the House of Commons and his views will probably be endorsed by the Irish government.

  • samay

    Just don’t get it…….the IRA and the UVF have existed for generations, are in existence now and will exist for generations. So, what’s new that we deserve this big mess? There are major issues much more important that we need to sort out or to begin sorting out right now! It’s a 50 year project and we need the vision so badly. Certainly, we will not be getting it from present incumbents on the Hill. A radical rethink required from someone who will put their head above the parapet.

  • Richard Cairns


    The first port of call is to persuade the people of Northern Ireland that a) these institutions will lurch from crisis to crisis due to the institutions we have (easily done); and b) there is an alternative to the present arrangements.

    Both the British Government and Irish Government want the path of least resistance, to keep the show on the road as long as possible. If the people of NI can demonstrate through the ballot box that time has come for change, then the Prime Minister will have to act.

  • Zeno

    “The political wing of a still armed and active IRA retains Ministerial posts because the DUP – and the DUP alone among Unionists – partner them.”

    Everyone knew that. Anyone who thought the IRA had given up their arms and power was being naive or ignorant. The problem only became a problem when the PSNI announcement threw the cat among the pigeons. That and that alone made the Unionist position untenable. Before that they had plausible deniability which was provided by SF (the IRA have gone away) and John de Chastelain et al (the guns are gone). The PSNI left them naked. Nesbitt realised that but Robinson is now hopelessly waiting for the police to dress it up again.

  • Nevin

    Richard, the electorate has seen too many lurches since 1998 to be unaware of their existence; they don’t need further persuasion.

    How can the electorate demonstrate a need for change? The 2014 local election results don’t reflect a major change from 2011 and the new councils are no less partisan than those that preceded them.

    Any additional seats for the TUV at an Assembly election would probably come at the expense of DUP ones and this, in addition to possible gains for the UUP, might simply reverse the roles of the OFMDFM ministers.

  • Sharpie

    Nice side stepping of the international dimension of the issue. Our local problem is an international one and can only be fixed on that basis – to ask just the politicians here to resolve it is unrealistic. As you are fond of pointing out its the constitutional issue that people here cannot let go of and we have to recognise that and can only do that in a wider context.

  • Nevin

    Sharpie, where’s the side-step? I’ve said that London and Dublin are most likely to be in agreement with regard to the continuance of the institutions established post-1998. They will bat the ball back into the Stormont court.

  • Zig70

    Meanwhile, the police who say they know who did it and which illegal organisation they belong to haven’t charged anyone because they have no evidence. Ruff, ruff. It’s the structures that are the issue, the bloated waste of money on the hill that could be run by a handful. The Cameron can’t come here and argue that austerity is necessary to melt out to the poor at the hands of politicians while that farce continues. #nostormontsalary

  • Dan

    The deceit of the Labour, Irish and US governments in turning a blind eye to terrorism in the early days of the agreement is the reason the Belfast Agreement has failed.
    They betrayed the people of NI in refusing to sanction the guilty.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I got to hand it to the TUV, thinking putting Sinn Féin out of government is some altruistic gesture for the next generation.


    Was this man, Gary McDonald, on the Day of Action opposing the Social Democratic and Labour Party’s (and Alliance’s) involvement in a voluntary Stormont Coalition with unionists?

    “Voluntary Coalition is only okay when we’re in it!” Is that the message?

    This isn’t for the generation of young protestant and or unionist people who are disillusioned with voting, this is for the generation who grew up with James Craig’s Stormont totalitarian elite, who want an unearned power grab.


  • Twilight of the Prods

    Sharpie – you’re right about inter-governmental steering and nursing -we’ll need that for a longer time than Dublin and London want

    You’re only half right about the constitutional issue. Its worse than that: our politics isn’t just constitutional, its almost wholly communal. We’re bred for it. Guess that only backs up the point about international cajoling. Trouble with that is – they are disinterested in long term management.

    We are a knee deep bog, and we don’t supply votes or money to governments in Dublin or London either. We are a drain of political time, without supplying economic or strategic interests, or even votes for parties that are likely to win state wide elections. SF is only a partial exception to the latter.

    We’re more likely to get a ‘call out’ ambulance response from the governments, periodically at points of real crisis.

  • Sharpie

    Is it not clear that the institutions need redesigned? The structural dimension of this (a legislative floor of compulsory action – mandatory coalition, equality legislation etc) is far behind the general mood of the population and ineffective in any case (see “legacy of the past” debacle). Those in control of the local structures cannot redesign them effectively without engaging the population to help and they are not able to do this (for a start there is no mechanism, secondly no compulsion, thirdly no appreciation of the potential). That means it falls to the external stakeholders to make this work. You can’t just shove all the kids into one room and tell then to sort it out or none of them will go on the trampoline – resentment and huffing and belligerence is the outcome.

    These people really believe that they hate each other and are not to be trusted and they play that game really well.

  • Sharpie

    The electorate will change when something unexpected happens and when choice is available. Look at the recent Corbyn phenomenon as well as Aylan Kurdi’s photo response. Intention exists – timing and opportunity have to align.

  • Sharpie

    Guilty in Northern Ireland was and remains a moveable feast. Everyone thought they could get out of the mire in 1998 – make a clean start and forget the past. Unfortunately the past has caught everyones ankles and is pulling everyone back down into the mud. The drip drip of allegation and counter allegation shows that very few were pure and very few had honourable intent.

    The guilty of Northern Ireland have rarely been sanctioned – you can take that back beyond Cromwell. My despair comes from a resignation that there is no black and white, no solid ground, and no thing upon which to build trust and stability. Whatever the future is, it has to get used to bobbing around just above the mud – not very stable but balanced.

  • Dan

    I recall Ahern assuring that once the Agreement was approved, any return to paramilitary criminality would be met with a resolute response. It simply would not be tolerated.
    Yet it was, by both Governments, and the US.

    They told us the inventory of decommissioned weaponry would be published.
    It wasn’t.

    They deceived the people, and squandered the potential for an honest peace.

    They are doing the same thing this very day, and it’s doing none of us, except the politicians in jobs, any favours whatsoever.

  • Nevin

    Sharpie, London and Dublin were the chief architects of the institutions and they will wish to keep them in place, if for no other reason than as lightning rods.

    A population which is split on the main issue, the constitutional question, wouldn’t have a shared ‘general mood’ about political change.

  • submariner

    The people of NI will do what they have always done at the ballot box and vote the bigots and extremists back into power.

  • 23×7

    Indeed. We have a cohort of politicians who are no longer fit for purpose continuously focused on petty victories rather than the big picture. The population here are crying out for a liberal cross community party that will act as an official opposition and eventually lead. That means the SDLP, Alliance, other liberal parties and interested others should get their fingers out of their collective ….., disband or resign and form a new party to get us out of this mess.

  • Sharpie

    The last time I felt any goodwill in the process was when Martin McGuinness sympathised with Peter Robinson when his wife was bed hopping a teenager for money and before that it was the night Ash and U2 got Hume and Trimble to hold hands at a concert. Every other engagement has been ya boo or “look what they did / didn’t do”*) *delete as appropriate.

    I don’t know why goodwill was never extended – It’s as if Unionists are quite happy with every piece of news that confirms their conviction that republicans are dastardly and waiting in the shadows to jump on them and prove themselves to be the evil orcs that they are perceived to be. Republicans seem to revel in every instance of Unionist outbreaks of piety (whether its parading or the current fake outrage) and seem to enjoy winding up unionists.

    I am not a republican but I cannot recall one instance of graciousness extended in their direction and then one wonders why they are the way they are. I am also prepared to accept that republicans are not the evil protagonists they are portrayed to be and that unionists have some genuine grievances. I also accept that Unionists are not all right wing small islanders who are paranoid and hark back to a glorious image of empire and supremacy and also that republicans have a legitimate right to profess their aspiration for a reunification and reinstallation of self determination. In other words neither is right and neither is wrong or both are right and both are wrong. They still need to say that to each other.

  • Pat Mac Murphy

    You are Seamie Bryson… and I claim my £1 prize.

  • Nevin

    Are you not from Northern Ireland, Sharpie? First of all, we’re spoilt for choice and secondly over ninety per cent of voters tick a unionist or nationalist box.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Remember when we had a wise, neutral outsider to facilitate political agreement and he laid down the entry rules for taking part in politics in Northern Ireland, to ensure fairness to all? The Mitchell Principles. All involved in negotiations affirmed their commitment back in the 90s:

    1. To democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues;
    2. To the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations;
    3. To agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission;
    4. To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to
    use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the
    outcome of all-party negotiations;
    5. To agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party
    negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful
    methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they
    may disagree; and,
    6. To urge that “punishment” killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions.
    Can we really say SF is adhering to these now? In particular, look at (6): they are committed to taking effective steps to prevent punishment beatings and killings. The McGuigan murder is only the last of many and it seems incontrovertible now that SF has not been taking effective steps to prevent these attacks happening. They can’t just throw their hands up and say they condemn the killing but it’s nothing to do with them, as Gerry Kelly has tried to. Point 6 commits them to action. I need hardly mention point 2 also – that they are committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. Yet seem to have known their friends in the IRA weren’t fully disarming and have done nothing about it.

    They have reneged on their promise to the people and we need to stand up against allowing the people to be hoodwinked and played in that way. That’s why this is a genuine issue, tempting though it is for some nationalists I’m sure to imagine it’s somehow been manufactured by unionists. It is real and it is based on the persistent breaching by the Republican Movement of the promises they have made. If we want high standards in public life, we can’t just shrug and move on when there’s this level of breach of trust.

    Those who want it swept under the carpet again are failing to defend the peace process and failing to defend the rights of citizens to hold politicians to account