#Soapbox: Laying bare the dysfunctional nature of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing institutions

Jamie Bryson is a well known anti-agreement Loyalist activist with an interest in law, politics and writing. He is author of “My Only Crime Was Loyalty”, an account of his role in the Union Flag protests and his subsequent lengthy and complex criminal trial. 

Time to reduce MLA's?Photo by: Dom0803

Time to reduce MLA’s?Photo by: Dom0803


The recent political crisis has laid bare the dysfunctional nature of our power-sharing institutions. The DUP have for so long extolled the virtues of the “better deal” they claim to have got for the Unionist people at St Andrews. In reality, it was the Belfast Agreement for slow learners.

One ironic moment did arise during the recent political crisis, when the DUP called for the Secretary of State to suspend the institutions, only to be reminded that the power to suspend the institutions was conceded at St Andrews and thus would require fresh legislation.

I have been a long term opponent of the Agreement, for a variety of reasons, but one of the most toxic elements of the agreement is mandatory coalition. An in-built veto of fear, which effectively ensures Sinn Fein a right to a place in the heart of Government, lest they become disenfranchised, and the IRA dog- or butterfly- barks again, or flies back.

That is not democracy; that is a perversion of democracy to appease those who would seek to subvert the basic principles that denotes any civilised democratic system of Government.

The Sinn Fein tactic is transparent and to any strategic mind has been laid bare by recent events. The agreement is a method whereby Sinn Fein can use the apparatus contained within the provisions of the Belfast and St Andrews agreement, to agitate against every vestige of British culture and to chip away at the “Unionist state”. They do this under a contrived notion of ‘equality’ whilst running a parallel process of reaching out.

They nip at Unionism from behind with one hand cloaked in the glove of equality and “building the process” and extend their other hand in friendship proclaiming reconciliation. The purpose of this is simple- Sinn Fein wants to present themselves as the peace builders, the equality seekers and the pioneers of a new shared future for all people.

At the same time they use those themes to justify agitation against every vestige of Britishness and when Unionism becomes resistant to such attacks on traditional and cultural expressions, Sinn Fein then denounce Unionists as bigots who are unwilling to share power with Nationalists.

And there lies the crux of the matter- Sinn Fein’s long-term strategy is to present themselves as the peace makers whilst presenting Unionism as sectarian supremacists unwilling to share power with our Nationalist neighbours.

Sinn Fein demand trust, yet are unable to embrace the trust that would allow a system of voluntary coalition. Such a system should, of course, contain in-built mechanisms to ensure cross community support. But so too should it contain the basic architecture of democracy- the right to an opposition and the right to vote a party out of Government.

I am opposed to Sinn Fein, but I respect their mandate. If they receive adequate votes to be in Government- a Government that exists without the veto of fear- then they deserve to take their place. Of course they must do so without any threat of violence or coercion and thus they must sever themselves from any current IRA structures.

Political leverage cannot be allowed to be gained via the threat of “going back to the bad old days”.

The only people surprised to hear that the IRA still existed were the DUP and UUP, who incidentally had achieved a false mandate on the basis of a tissue of lies fed to the electorate, which fooled people into believing the IRA had disbanded and disarmed.

The DUP and UUP are at the same fun fair on identical hobby horses, they both put Sinn Fein into Government whilst the IRA remained in existence. The fact they trotted around at different times in the merry-go-round makes little difference.

Within ten years it is likely that Sinn Fein will have little or no MLA’s or Ministers who were actively involved in the IRA. Therefore excluding the younger members of Sinn Fein on the basis that they support the previous actions of an IRA- which they had no part in- would be ludicrous. If we were to proceed down that road then Jeremy Corbyn would be thrown out of Westminster!

If there is a genuine desire to build a better future then a system of Government must be put in place that is in line with the basic principles of democracy. Political advantage previously gained by the leverage of IRA violence- such as mandatory coalition- must be rolled back.

The DUP have no clear vision on how to provide a better alternative for Unionism- they are inextricably wedded to the system of Government and apparatus that sprung from the Belfast Agreement and St Andrews agreement, which to all intents and purposes rewarded the cessation of IRA violence with political advantage and a place in the heart of Government.

If Republicanism is interested in a real peace and genuine reconciliation then they must be willing to trust in their Unionist neighbours- and vice versa- to enter into a system of Government whereby we have a voluntary coalition for those parties with a large enough mandate to agree on a program of Government and with the right to an opposition for those not in Government.

The onus is then on those in Government to demonstrate fairness and equal treatment for all citizens of Northern Ireland. If they doubt Unionist sincerity then what better way to test it than permitting real democracy without the comfort blanket of mandatory coalition.

If our system of Government is designed to cater for mutual distrust then how can anyone ever expect trust and reconciliation to spring from that Government? Is it any wonder we are stuck in a perpetual cycle of crisis and stalemate?

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  • Ernekid

    I’m genuinely curious what Jamie would prefer to a consociational powersharing arrangement?

    Unionist Majority rule? Does he want to go back to the days when Stormont was little more than a men’s club for Official Unionism where to get elected all they had to was bang a drum and tell the plebs that the uppity Fenians were out to get them?

    Direct Rule? Where an over promoted backbencher for Flydale North rules over the uncouth locals like an imperial viceroy?

    A government with flags that has a flag that flags a flag?

  • Zeno

    The reason SF get so many votes is because of the Unionist Bogeyman. The reason the DUP get so many votes is because of the Republican Bogeyman. Both sides perpetuate the idea that it’s all themuns fault. If one or other of them ceased to exist (SF/DUP) the other would struggle for votes. They need each other to remain in power.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I have been a long term opponent of the Agreement, for a variety of reasons, but one of the most toxic elements of the agreement is mandatory coalition.

    This old whinge again.

    The reason why mandatory coalition is necessary is because Unionists have a long, and consistent, history of refusing to voluntarily share power with nationalists, dating back to the time of partition and continuing up to the present.

    Back before the local government reforms (which introduced mandatory elements to local councils) unionist controlled councils consistently and repeatedly blocked the nomination of non-unionist members to any council positions. Famously, Belfast unionists refused to support even an SDLP Catholic Lord Mayor up as far as 1996. In its final term the Lisburn council allocated all the major positions to other Unionists, excluding all non-Unionists.

    Mandatory coalition exists because Unionists cannot be trusted to share power. It will continue to exist as long as that situation remains the case. Trust has to be earned, and unionism has yet to even begin trying. Whining isn’t going to change this reality. Try acknowledging your non-unionist neighbours instead.

  • Jag

    First up, well done to Jamie, he’s on a journey, his articulation has transformed over the past three years, particularly during the last 15 months. His position may not have changed but at least it can now be engaged with.

    He says the Republican agenda is to chip away at Britishness. He might be right, but it’s a fact, as Catholics become the majority in Northern Ireland, Britishness faces greater cultural competition from those who regard themselves as all-Islanders or Northern Irish.

    And there’s a flip side to the dastardly Republican machinations to obliterate the Britishness of the place: Unionists plan to keep this place in a state of perpetual financial dependence on Britain, out of fear that if this place can stand on its own two feet, it will merge and be absorbed into Ireland. In that vein, devolution is bad, central control from Westminster is good, a local Assembly is bad particularly when it recognises the divisions of the place with its present make-up which is described as “mandatory coalition”.

    So, Jamie, fair points perhaps well made above, but no-one is fooled by the Unionist approach to prevent local independence, which will facilitate reunification and that is the inevitable destination of the journey this whole place is on.

  • chrisjones2

    Well the simple answer is that i want a government that is fair AND WORKS

    To date Stormont has been neither of these

    I don’t care if its Direct Rule or Joint Authority so long as these criteria are mot

  • Jag

    Off-topic perhaps, but would anyone give odds of Sinn Fein resigning from the Assembly triggering elections now? With the DUP and UUP at each other’s throats, with the DUP treating the institutions with unprecedented contempt, there might never be a better time!

  • Zeno


  • T.E.Lawrence

    Voluntary Coalition – Government. Some permutations based on current MLAs
    SF/DUP = 67 DUP/UUP/SDLP = 64 DUP/SDLP/ALL = 60 SF/SDLP/UUP = 55

  • Zeno

    I’d settle for a monkey that can flip coins to make decisions to replace the Assembly.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The DUP and UUP may be at each other’s throats but SF will still need a governing partner on the other side of the election; unionism falling apart does not help them.

  • Jag

    And the reality if there were voluntary coalition – DUP/UUP/TUV/UKIP – 55

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I’m not convinced at all by Jamie’s “journey”. This is a person who has run away from every opportunity to be tested at the ballot box since he became prominent in the flag protests in 2012. The last time he claimed it was because he was becoming a father – but being a father certainly seems to have come second to his interests in chasing down the DUP and their alleged associations with NAMA.

  • Sliothar

    Yeah, but is there a crown on the coin or a harp?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Cannot work has to be a coalition government with a partner in Government who is not designated Unionist !

  • Kevin Breslin

    I agree that’s wishful thinking, the only way SF can be helped is if they get more voters out themselves.

    They can’t say Unionists are going to bring down the Assembly out of paranoia, one minute and then present the fact that UUP and DUP being at each other throats as an achievement on their part the next.

    In a PRS-TV election Unionists can attack Unionists as much as they like as long as they transfer “within the community”.

    That doesn’t work in an inter-community tussle unless there’s a bigger common purpose that transcends the single community issues.

    Unionism can still make a small majority without needing to be too cross community, The block of “Nationalism and Others” can not.

  • Kevin Breslin


  • T.E.Lawrence

    Has to incorporate a Nationalist or Unionist Party !

  • T.E.Lawrence

    No Forced Marriage – Each side has to marry a partner or partners from the opposite side thus creating a Government and Opposition ! I think we may just have the correct form of Power Sharing !

  • Redstar

    If you are really curious about what Jamie’s views are heres a hint.

    He says there’s no such thing as a loyalist terrorist. Those for example who chopped up Catholics whilst they were alive, stopping for tea to taunt their victims- Jamie tells us he’s proud of them and their actions.

    That’s enough for me when it comes to this bigoted cretin wannabe

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The danger for the unionist parties with these sham votes is losing votes or transfers to non-unionist parties such as Alliance and the Greens.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    You can fantasize all you want. You can’t have a government that doesn’t have Sinn Féin in it. That’s really all there is to it.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Out of my 2 permutations above SF are in Government

  • Zeno


  • Kevin Breslin

    I assume you mean sham fights rather than sham votes … yes that is true, or indeed to the other unionist parties who are not fighting them.

    The DUP is at war with the structure of the Assembly, the UUP is at war with the functionality of the Assembly. Sinn Féin, Alliance and the SDLP are left being the defenders of the Assembly, but arguably they would do better in the Assembly trying to be reformers of it.

  • Sliothar

    Two tails? Do you not think we’ve enough of tails wagging dogs on this patch without the addition of another two?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I agree with the sentiment … but

    1. I’m fairly sure saying each side has to marry a partner is still a statement for a “forced marriage”, you might mean “automatic forced marriage” to be specific, but that is still forcing people together through routines rather than mutual and common interest or cause.

    2. There are a lot of “forced” coalitions out there not by protocol but by the need to have some form of functioning partnership – I’m fairly sure the Grand Coalitions of Germany and Ireland would not have happened on the basis of party preferences. There’s a whole cost-benefit equation to work out where necessity must be put before desire.

    3. The institutions would not have had long periods of consistency if they were completely “unwilling partners” call this metaphorical co-habitation if you will. I’m happy enough to give Sinn Féin and the DUP credit for the effort they made to work together but… Once the budget shrunk and the relationship became more stressful the DUP-SF diarchy almost completely folded and each went back to their “families”, the sisters in law SDLP and UUP pretty much did the same too and Alliance was the casual acquaintance that hung around everyone trying to fit in wherever it could.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am a SF member and activist Jamie. A member of South Wicklow SF. My role at the moment is to help get one of our local councillors elected to the Dail. The SF you describe bares no resemblance to the people i deal with on a weekly basis. Sure we all want to bring about Irish Unity and yes we believe in social equality and a fairer distributive process of national wealth; but the equality agenda is not a smokescreen for anything, it is a genuine commitment and one of the main reasons i joined Sinn Fein.

    When you talk about voluntary coalition, you have to be honest about exactly what you mean and you also have to be honest about how likely a Unionist or Nationalist government would honestly operate in a fair and open way and not invent straw arguments against the other side simply to destabilise and whip up the mob.

    You might also have to find a way to gel two parties from opposite sides of the community who have diametrically opposing views on economic policy and the welfare state. It is incredibly hard for two parties – one right, one left – to form a stable government in any jurisdiction, never mind the Northern marshland of polariasation.

    Your view that SF want to eradicate Britishness is pure nonsense and it is this very language that gives succour to extremes on both sides of the divide. Political nationalism taking decisions that accomodate the self identifying tenets of their voters is not a poke the prod exercise. Its an attempt to try and bring such identities onto an equal footing with unionism.

    If you are serious about wanting a shared and equal future, suggest the irish and union flags fly side by side, suggest the irish language be given an ellivated status, suggest a loyalist/republican forum that would work together in the heartlands of both communities, suggests the two governments investigate full on joint authority. suggest genuine equality. The population shift means unionisms traditional base is now a minority too; Sharing a cake does not mean u get the sponge and the icing while i have to be satified with only the marzipan. Sharing a cake means half for you and half for me, anything less is unnacceptable.

    You might be surprised at the response if for once somebody in Unionism came foward and said, enough already, lets talk until we have a final settlement, then maybe your preferred government might come into existence.

  • gendjinn

    If Unionism is right about the benefits of an opposition then they should collectively walk out of the administration, give Nationalism 4 or 5 years to run things, then go to the people based on the success/failure of their policies.

    If Unionism is right about the benefits of an opposition then they would be swept into power by both Unionist & Nationalist voters.

    That’s if Unionism is right about the benefits of an opposition and their intentions are honest, trustworthy and sincere. If.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Yeah agree Kev no matter what way you look at it it is still a forced marriage only with a bigger field to marry one of the opposite sex, however with a majority rule system never coming back to govern NI , I can’t think of any other system that will work ! but always open to ideas from any political opinion out there !

  • 23×7

    For this to become a reality we need the moderate parties SDLP, Alliance and others to disband and form a liberal cross community party acting as an official opposition.

  • LiamÓhÉ

    “Sinn Fein’s long-term strategy is to present themselves as the peace
    makers whilst presenting Unionism as sectarian supremacists unwilling to
    share power with our Nationalist neighbours.”

    To be fair, that is how it looks from where I am – the “unwilling” bit. Send in another monitoring group, sure, but the posturing looks hypocritical, and sitting a DUP on the till while not taking seats is contrary to the spirit of the agreement, but…

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Kevin, yes, sorry, I meant sham fights.

  • murdockp

    the issue both of you miss is the fact that the number of people who call them selves neither unionist or republican is greater than the total of unionists and republican / nationalists combined. I. e. the majority of the population

    time you all looked arround and realised most people don’t really care

  • Deke Thornton

    Spot on!

  • Robin Keogh

    Yet 90% of the active electorate at any given time vote for nationalist, unionist or republican parties

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “The DUP have no clear vision on how to provide a better alternative for Unionism- they are inextricably wedded to the system of Government and apparatus that sprung from the Belfast Agreement and St Andrews agreement, which to all intents and purposes rewarded the cessation of IRA violence with political advantage and a place in the heart of Government.”

    Here’s an idea Jamie; MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR SINN FEIN.

    So far the various unionist ‘strategies’ almost always work in SF’s favour.

    Do you regard them as masters of spin and PR?

    Then work harder to deny them PR points e.g. Twaddell, Bonfires, lampost flags, offensive murals etc etc

    You know this though. You know it makes sense. But because people are telling you to do this then commonsense and objectivity be damned; “no surrender!” and instead see it as ‘making loyalism cuddly’.

    SF know you and all the other unionists will do this and the pantomime continues.

    If you don’t like SF’s tune then refuse to dance.


    You were supposedly a Northern Ireland fan, yet NI’s international team is more British in flavour than ‘Northern Irish’; it has no flag (officially) so uses a tarnished flag that sits well only with loyalism, not Northern Irelandism.

    They use the UK national anthem, not a northern Irish regional anthem.

    How can you get the people of NI to follow a team that appears like an English ‘Mini Me’? And if people can’t get behind the team then why would they get behind the existence of the state?

    Nationalism is in a vulnerable position right now, a few common sense changes in the attitude of unionism could make life very difficult for it (nationalism).

    But this won’t happen as long as unionism is not allowed to be a political ideal but rather forced to remain as some sort of Orange-Ulster-Zionism.

    We need some unionist leaders to ‘lead’ as oppose to freeing Barabas every time the crowd demands it.

    Political unionism created Provisional Sinn Fein. Political unionism helped PSF to grow. Political unionism is Sinn Fein’s best ally.

    Rather than blame the set up (as shaky as it is admittedly) aim for the root of the matter and start to cause SF to worry a little bit.

  • Cruthin

    Unionists have a risible predilection to perpetually hark on about “democracy and the rule of law”. The fact is Northern Ireland is not a democratic country, as it was not brought into existence by democracy, but by the threat of all-out war by Unionists in 1912.

    Post partition, Unionist’s sustained an oligarchical and autocratic system of misgovernment for 50 years, abusing their political power and causing the civil rights movement and violent backlash from militant Republicanism. Since 1998 Unionists have been coerced into a mandatory coalition with their political opponents, as they simply would not contemplate or accede to a voluntary coalition.

    The system of governance in NI is unique and different from other devolved assemblies of the UK, as we have a unique history and are effectively still a British colony. And yes Unionists, not the British government, are the colonists, as it is they who keep 6 counties of Ulster and Ireland under British rule.

    The UUP pulling out of the executive was simply a cynical and opportunistic strategy to attempt to regain their former glory as the largest Unionist party in NI. The DUP’s decision to resign ministers and walk away was merely a competitive response.

    If Villiers decides she’s had enough and pulls the plug on the executive by re-introducing direct rule, that shall provide many Unionists with satisfaction, but it’s goodbye to the coalition, mandatory, voluntary or otherwise for the foreseeable future.

    Unionist’s have been playing the ‘let’s delay the inevitable by all means necessary’ game for many years, and this latest farcical manoeuvre once again reveals both Unionist parties for what they are; political dinosaurs exploiting some internal housekeeping within the PIRA, feigning shock and outrage that such an organisation still hasn’t really gone away, and myopically locked in a party political power struggle.

    We all know what has filled political vacuums in the past. If the UUP and DUP don’t get back to the table and begin acting like mature adults instead of puerile political amateurs suffering from amnesia, the dissident element within militant republicanism shall be only too happy to exploit the situation to fulfil their own agenda.

    NIs power-sharing institutions are dysfunctional, as the traditional political dichotomy here makes NI a dysfunctional society by it’s very sectarian nature. If you want an effective system of governance which provides voluntary coalition, effective opposition and a democratic parliamentary system which provides adequate representation for all political persuasion, you must first start by dismantling the power structures and political arrangements which have put past and current systems of governance in place as a means of permitting a national minority to sustain a segregated 6 county British colony in their own interests.

  • Jack Stone

    You don’t think that it is possible that Sinn Fein remains not because of Unionists but because it had councilors working on the ground who reached out the voters that feel left behind by the process? I mean why are middle-class families in the Republic turning to Sinn Fein, there aren’t any Unionist bogymen there? What makes Sinn Fein more appealing than the SDLP to Republicans or the TUV to Unionists? Could it be a combination of populism, progressive politics and good old fashioned handshake grass roots policy? I mean, if you were right Zeno, why would the strongest Sinn Fein constituencies be young people who cannot remember the “bad old days’. If, by your argument, it is relying on themuns to drive their support, wouldn’t their popularity be driven by people who fear the return of the gun to politics?

  • murdockp

    90% x 58% turnout is 52% voting for the unionist and nationalist and republican parties and it is fair to say there are a lot who vote for these who are indifferent but don’t want to waste thier votes on also ran. also European and non eu nationals cannot vote.

    I still think it is fair to say 50% of adults who live here don’t care.

  • murdockp

    I would have said the opposite in that it is republicans who want to spend at a level that ensures continued britishNess.

    surely if you want a united Ireland you have to align public services and expenditure to the irish republic which means culling £ 2k per man women and child from NI budgets

    republicans are a strange group if you look at them from a distance.

    they hate the brits but love their cash.

  • Robin Keogh

    Possibly but it might also be fair to say that maybe 50% of the people are bored with manufactured crises and unionist intransigence. Its definately fair to say that nobody can assume to know what non voters think unless each and every one of them are asked individually.

  • murdockp

    Noted, I do think it is fair to say that the politicians are out of step with the NI population in terms of policy and how they behave.

  • Robin Keogh

    The world over mate

  • murdockp

    As a catholic, could you imagine the economic devastation SF and SDLP would unleash on our already broken economy?

  • NotNowJohnny

    Is there anything wrong with SF seeking to “chip away at the ‘Unionist state’ “? Was it not the creation of the ‘Unionist state’ that was a significant contributory factor in the problems that engulfed Northern Ireland in the post 1968 period? Surely the objective of all parties should be to create a Northern Ireland which is neither unionist or nationalist? No?

  • murdockp

    However, things here are just a little more sinister that than modern democratic countries.
    You only have to read the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 which is one of the few pieces of legislation this lot have ever brought into law.

    The definition of sexual services in is straight out of an Orwellian / Huxley dystopian novel.

    I find this sort of legislation frightening, which suggests to me we actually do live in a dystopian state yet the lemming / brainwashing in every one of us fails to see it.

  • NotNowJohnny

    You’d be happy with joint authority where the government of Ireland partner is Sinn Fein?

  • barnshee

    we have already established the source of ” keeping this place in a state of perpetual financial dependence on Britain, and its not unionists ” The “unionists ” will be delighted if NI is forced to subsist on the tax generated in NI

  • Zig70

    Jamie asked the question ‘Why aren’t Unionists allowed to rule on their own and why wouldn’t we trust them to? That’s a fair enough question. It been a while since GFA, I’d have expected to be further down the road to normalisation. Do we need to make recent Irish history compulsory at school so that kids have a better understanding of how we got here?

  • Jag

    At this stage Barnshee, we all know that Northern Ireland just doesn’t have a proper set of national accounts. Corporation tax, VAT and such which is generated in the province is paid to the Treasury in the UK. We all know there’s a headline deficit of £3bn in the annual subvention but the real deficit/(surplus?) is less than that because of taxes etc on economic activity in the six counties which isn’t recognised in our accounts because its paid to the Treasury in London.

    If Unionists really wanted NI to stand on its own two feet, it would be putting data collection measures in place to properly account for real revenue and expenditure. The Shinners are slowly coming around to this need; savvier Unionists have known it for ages. The writing is on the wall though.

  • Good piece, Slugger.
    I say this as no strong supporter of the Union nor as someone with any sectarian affiliation.
    Once you accept that the GFA was part a strategy to insidiously weaken the position of northern Protestants as a precursor to an all-Ireland arrangement, you can understand much better what is happening & why.
    If you doubt this belief, follow the money.
    SF are the strongest advocates of the current set up & have been its most loyal & consistent supporters, once the deal was done. We now have the bizarre scenario where the strongest supporters of the status quo in the north are SF. Why?
    Because they know that the longer the current position is maintained the unionist position becomes weaker and weaker. Stormont under the GFA has been turned into a mechanism to destroy the unionist position in Ireland when once it was its bulwark. You have to admire the ingenuity of those who designed this Trojan horse & it wasn’t SF.
    I hate the GFA because it is so devious & it has deceived an entire community who have been persuaded to dig their own graves – politically speaking. It’s an awful spectacle to watch.

  • Smug Old Fool

    In what other democratic part of the world is it normal to “share power” with those trying to smash the state completely?

  • Many ‘countries’ came into existence through violence. That’s not the issue.
    The issue to be resolved is how to make unionists/protestants feel at home on the island of Ireland. Their fear of the ‘Irish’ fuels all our problems.
    There is no way you could have expected northern protestants to agree to an all-Ireland state in 1920. They rightly knew that the Roman Catholic Church would be running the place.
    But that has all changed now. The south is a very different place. The RC church is nothing like the force it was & many aspects of Ireland are now increasingly secular. However until republicans formally accept that they failed to reach out to northern protestants in 1920 and as a result they were right to stay out at that time because the state that was created was a sectarian one, governed not by a democratically elected government, but by a Catholic clergy, there will be no reduction in northern protestant fear & through that an inability of theirs to come to terms with the future.
    Bottomline: SF has never behaved honestly towards northern protestants. They are always working a move. Once they start to deal openly & with integrity they will see a change begin within northern protestants.

  • Paddy Reilly

    I always say, they’re loyal to the half crown, not the Crown.

  • Reader

    There are a variety of UK 1 pound coins. The one in my hand at the moment has a head with a Crown on it on one side of the coin, and a shield with a Harp on it on the other side.
    Use that one.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Hi Cushy – You ever think that an all Ireland state would have been very different if Unionists had cut a deal in 1918? Conceivably, they could have held the balance of power in every election since then or at least alternated between power and opposition. They could helped build a country where the minority British tradition was recognised throughout the island and the siege mentality of Northern Unionists could have been diffused as would the violent tradition of a section of Irish nationalism.
    In any case, it would have been a totally different dynamic to that which existed in the Irish Free State and its successors which could not have been so influenced by the Catholic Church (or indeed the OO as in NI). The idea that the Catholic state of the 26 counties which existed for decades would have been replicated in an all island state is highly unlikely.

  • Sliothar

    So, it has to be a UK coin then? Well, there could quite well be a few objs to that, if you ask me.
    Further, is the crown above the harp or, as in the shield of the UK, harp on bottom left – you know, well down the pecking order? These are deal breakers, mark my words.

    I think the only way out of this quagmire is to have talks about coins before we even get around to talks about talks about talks about… zzzz…

  • Mike the First

    I actually support the main point you’re making, AG, but this bit is nonsense:

    “You were supposedly a Northern Ireland fan, yet NI’s international team is more British in flavour than ‘Northern Irish’; it has no flag (officially) so uses a tarnished flag that sits well only with loyalism, not Northern Irelandism.”

    How exactly do you see it as “more British in flavour than ‘Northern Irish'”? Anthem, yes, GSTQ, which I would change. Other than that – team colour as emerald green, badge as a Celtic cross adorned with four shamrocks, plenty of specific celebrations of the NI team, its current players and past glories from fans and IFA alike, a Northern Irish flag (I’ll come onto that below) not the Union Flag. Can you explain what you meant?

    ” it has no flag (officially) so uses a tarnished flag that sits well only with loyalism, not Northern Irelandism.” ”
    Again, I’m open to change on this – it would be a harder wrench for me than replacing GSTQ for NI games, as the Ulster Banner’s “emotional” response for me is “Northern Ireland”, not loyalism. I think I know what you’re trying to say, but saying the Ulster Banner only sits well within “loyalism” is wrong – to many, many people, it’s simply the flag of their country (regardless of official status). Including the sometime number one golfer in the world, it seems. I also hate the way the NI football team is singled out on this – the Ulster Banner is used for NI in ALL sports (those which have a NI representation), not just football but netball, volleyball and golf, for example, as well as the Commonwealth Games team.

  • Mike the First

    “Hi Cushy – You ever think that an all Ireland state would have been very different if Unionists had cut a deal in 1918? Conceivably, they could have held the balance of power in every election since then or at least alternated between power and opposition.”
    Bit of a counterfactual this, but if Unionists had “cut a deal” (with Sinn Fein?) in 1918, then (more likely than not) the old Sinn Fein wouldn’t have split (not over the 1921 Treaty, anyway), so they wouldn’t have held the balance of power. They would have been a fairly powerless bloc of 20% in a parliament dominated by a party holding 75-80% of the seats.

  • Cagey Feck

    Ugh, I’m really sick of this argument. ‘People who don’t vote, do so because they don’t care/hate both sides’… bottom line is, you can’t assume anything about them, the info isn’t there.

    If you HAD to make an assumption about non-voters’ attitudes, wouldn’t it be as valid to say ‘they don’t vote because they are happy with the way things are’?

  • barnshee


    “The only people surprised to hear that the IRA still existed were the DUP and UUP, who incidentally had achieved a false mandate on the basis of a tissue of lies fed to the electorate, which fooled ” SOME” people into believing the IRA had disbanded and disarmed.”

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Howdy Mike

    You’re right, I was quite tunnel visioned in that respect i.e. I took the two points that do overlap with England (bearing in mind that ‘English’ and ‘British’ are interchangeable in a fair whack of the world), in this case GSTQ and the Ulster Flag aka ‘ornamented St George’s Cross’ aka ‘almost the English flag’.

    An anthem and a flag tend to be a key part of a country/state’s identity yet we share ours with another constituent part of the same country.

    (Yes I know some countries share flags but no-one gives a monkey’s about Luxembourg. Why should we be a ‘Luxembourg’ to our ‘Netherlands’ (England)?)

    “Again, I’m open to change on this – it would be a harder wrench for me than replacing GSTQ for NI games, as the Ulster Banner’s “emotional” response for me is “Northern Ireland”, not loyalism. I think I know what you’re trying to say, but saying the Ulster Banner only sits well within “loyalism” is wrong – to many, many people, it’s simply the flag of their country (regardless of official status). Including the sometime number one golfer in the world, it seems.

    To many people, fair enough. To a perhaps similar number of people, it is a loyalist symbol, also fair enough?

    But those many people who support the flag will come from less than half of the population (I’m assuming that the number of people excited about the Ulster flag from the nationalist community are negligible and could you see Rory McIlroy getting upset if NI had an alternative flag?).

    That’s a pretty poor foundation for a national flag.

    You may not see its use by loyalism as tarnishing the flag but in that case you’re a bigger man than me;

    I have rambled-on here ad nauseam regarding how the Provos have tarnished the image of the tricolour making it unsuitable for a would-be united Ireland, by using the exact same principles I must condemn the Ulster Flag similarly.

    I’m not happy about reaching such a conclusion but it IS a loyalist flag of sorts and I can’t see any more than half of the population being excited about it and that’s being generous:

    Fact is, it’s not our flag officially AND it’s not loved by all the people of NI (though no one flag ever will be) AND for a significant number it has very negative connotations. associations and memories.

    That in my mind tells me that we need a flag for Northern Ireland.

    Otherwise Northern Ireland will exist only at the behest of a minority who support it and another minority who are apathetic.

    I prefer the scenario where the majority support it and believe that we should work to achieve that and the Ulster Flag is an obstacle to this.

    As for the NI football team being singled out, well, they are our most popular export in terms of sports teams, so it makes sense that they receive the most attention.

    A woman from my grandmother’s women’s Institute club represented NI at international level lawn bowls.
    Had she been supportive of a new flag I doubt it would have warranted much of a response from the media.

    Contrast that with a similar suggestion from a sportsman from the boxing or footballing fraternity and you have yourself a topic that would have the blogosphere set alight.


  • Tochais Siorai

    Not in a PR parliament, Mike. Sinn Fein would have held nothing like 75-80% of the seats, maybe about 35%, 40% tops, Labour 15-20% – remember they didn’t contest 1918 & the old IPP or its successors would still have still garnered up to 20% of the vote, maybe more. And there would have been other minor players playing a role which would probably have become bigger as SF fragmented as happened with factional parties in the the Free State like Clann na Talmhain and the Farmers Party. And there is little doubt they would have – there were too many factions within the original Sinn Fein from Communist to Fascist and all ports inbetween to survive as a single entity. They would have fragmented in some way before too long as they did in real time of course so it would have been a whole different ball game. It certainly wouldn’t have been simply a 80-20 SF – Unionist, it was much more complex and perhaps fluid than that. Unionism would probably ahve struggled to hold a 20% bloc but other parties would have had a more ‘unionist’ outlook.
    There would have been all kinds of alliances, neccessity being the mother of invention and all that.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Surely nearly any arrangement apart from direct rule would ultimately weaken the unionist position?

    Even if it went back to majority rule then sooner or later all the issues that unionists are concerned about would still come to be ?

    They could hold them off as long as demographics and apathy allow but eventually that majority will disappear, so, what would have been a viable alternative?

    I’m glad we didn’t go back to direct rule as the ungracious behaviour of some unionist politicians must surely take root in the mind of some nationalist voters in which case when they become the majority why would they cut us slack?

    Reap what you sow and all that jazz (not you personally obviously, but unionism in general).

  • Mike the First

    Thanks for the reply AG – plenty of food for thought there.
    On the “ornamented St George’s Cross” bit – I would argue it’s not so. It’s a de Burgh cross taken from the old provincial Ulster flag; yes this had (and has) a yellow background, but the yellow and white seem to have been pretty interchangeable back 100 years ago. Unionist postcards from the Home Rule crisis for example occasionally feature a white background with a gold shield, and all this prior to partition.
    I agree that it would be a good thing to have a new official NI flag. As I say, it would be a wrench for me and many others, as the Ulster Banner does bring that simple emotional response of “my country’s flag” (rather than any political tendancy). I think the knee-jerk reaction of DUP/UUP figures to the idea a couple of years ago was utterly stupid – all that stuff about how the Union Flag is our only flag and shouldn’t be replaced. As if England, Scotland and Wales don’t have their own flags!
    Until then, it’s hard for sporting bodies alone to change it, especially unilterally. It would be easier to do with the anthem, and that should be done, but we’d need certain politicians to drop the hysteria that would be injected into the debate.

  • Mike the First

    Interesting TS, a fascinating counterfactual.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “On the “ornamented St George’s Cross” bit – I would argue it’s not so. It’s a de Burgh cross taken from the old provincial Ulster flag; yes this had (and has) a yellow background, but the yellow and white seem to have been pretty interchangeable back 100 years ago

    Duly noted.

    If I might be allowed to offer my two-cents worth of historical bin-hoking it seems to be a case of completing the circle i.e. both crosses have the same/similar creation myths (finding a bloody cross on a silver/golden Saracen’s shield during the crusades).

    Now, here’s a question for ye:

    IF the Green and White army started flying ‘new flags’ or their own ‘Norn Iron’ flags do you think this would start a ripple effect that the politicians couldn’t ignore or would the bearers of such flags be alienated/Lundified?

    I’d ask the folks in the OWC website but I appear to be banned/refused entry. Can’t think why…

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Well done Slugger for giving a political opinion on a highly regarded political forum which can be questioned by debate. Always insisted on bringing all political opinions into such a forum for discussion and agreement/disapprovement/debate.
    Would be great if Slugger could post up an opinion from another Republican view point different from what others call as Main Stream !

  • Mike the First

    The GAWA do fly “new flags” – look at any NI match and you’ll see loads of green flags with the IFA badge on them, and green and white chequered (Fermanagh GAA!) flags among the NI support.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


  • C Mac Siacais

    Oh you wearisome bunch of men! The elephant in the room is the failed British policy of plantation in Uladh’s Tír. Successful up to a point in that it injected sufficient ‘undertakers’ to secure a tenuous British grip on the plunder of Ulster and ethnically cleansed enough natives to ensure a Godly garrison. It was singularly a failure in that it didn’t extirpate enough natives and so left a smouldering discontent among the displaced and a wary laager mentality among the so-called Protestant defenders of Ulster (reduced from Nine to Six Counties) Quis Separabit?Well the British of course who separated the Brethern of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal. We poor unfortunates are left to pick over the bones. A Shéamais a cháca thréig tú muid ar pháírc an ár and left the Dutch pretender to prance on his black steed, turned white by the mythologisers. Come July we are picking at old sores and stirring the displaced natives to fresh 1641s.
    Get over yourselves and listen to my friend Seaan Uí Néill a man of eminent sense, even if he prances on occasion in his single coloured kilt!
    Oh and just to digress can you spare us your awful Poppy fest of fools who died in droves in Flanders field, for WHAT!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Sorry, are you talking to me….?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    AG, “It’s a de Burgh cross taken from the old provincial Ulster flag; yes this had (and has) a yellow background, but the yellow and white seem to have been pretty interchangeable back 100 years ago”. I hate to be uncharacteristically pedantic but the heraldry requires a few slight corrections. De Burgh ALWAYS has a yellow field, so the shift to a white field is significant. It is not de Burgh! I imagine that some unprincipled person slipped in the St George’s cross (both my de Burgh and my Scots blood steam on this, and that’s not taking into account how the O’Neill pints react) to de Normanise and entirely Sasanachise the use of the Cross. Grrrr……..

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Much obliged Mr Ui’N !

  • SeaanUiNeill

    SOF, I think you’d find that the Republican party in the United States feels quite similarly about the “liberals” (ie, the Democrats)!

    But I’m being facetious, even if that’s exactly what my oh so solemn (American not Irish) Republican friends in California constantly tell me. So seriously now, how would you arrange the matter to ensure a possible period of peace during which someone, somewhere here might just begin to grow up politically and begin to address some real political issues?