To what does A Fresh Start commit the Executive in 2016?

2016 calendarAfter false dawns in January 2014 and January 2015, the DUP and Sinn Féin seem as committed as they will ever be to the subset of political and social hot potatoes bagged up in A Fresh Start with a seasoning of centenary commemorations and celebrations.

Yet the oven is unlikely to be turned up to its full temperature given the leeway parties will need to contest the Assembly election this spring … and Sinn Féin need to contest the Dáil election expected at the end of February. If there’s a way to heat potatoes in a slow cooker [Ed – Irish stew?] the political chiefs chefs up on the hill will find it.

The DUP may drop a few Assembly seats from their remarkable haul of 38 (30% vote share) in 2011, and Sinn Féin may gain a few MLAs on top of their 29 (27% vote share), but the two parties that produced A Fresh Start will definitely be the two implementing it in May.

The post-election choreography will be distinctly different this year. The Programme for Government will be agreed before d’Hondt is run to select ministries and ministers are nominated. There’s a limit of a week between the Assembly first sitting post election and d’Hondt having to be run, so legislation at Westminster may be needed to extend this to two weeks.

At the end of the PfG deliberations, the UUP and SDLP – and to a lesser extent, Alliance – will have to conclude whether there is more political capital in refusing to be part of the Executive for the next five years, or whether they want to at least begin the new term by sitting around the table (with the option of later withdrawing).

There’s also the not uncontentious matter of selecting a new speaker to replace Mitchel McLaughlin who is not standing for election in May. And there will be at least one more vacancy in the Speaker’s team with deputy John Dallat not returning the new Assembly. (Robin Newton is only a few weeks younger than Mitchel but the Principal Deputy Speaker has given no indication that he has any plans to stand down.)

In the meantime, we can expect Arlene Foster to settle into her new role as DUP leader and First Minister, and speak more about her priority for education. (Sinn Féin were rumoured to be happy to take Economy or Finance ahead of Education in the next running of d’Hondt.)

A three person panel was to be appointed by the Executive by the end of December with the task of bringing a report before the end of May 2016 with recommendations for a strategy to disband paramilitary groups. The (post-election) Executive will publish an action plan and timescales for implementation of the strategy by the end of June 2016. Only after this strategy is agreed by the Executive will the UK Government provide an additional £25m over five years (matched by the Executive) to to tackle continuing paramilitary activity.

A Fresh Start commits the Executive to establishing the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition by March 2016. They’ll have eighteen months (September 2017) to report back.

Other Fresh Start commitments …

  • A compact civic advisory panel was to be established by June 2015 to bring civic voices and civic views as advise to the Executive. A Fresh Start recommits to establishing the six person panel, but no time frame is specified.
  • Proposals to devolve parading to NI Assembly were originally to be tabled at Executive by June 2015. A discussion paper “is currently being prepared” and no timeframe is specified in A Fresh Start for OFMDFM to bring it to the Executive.
  • An Independent Fiscal Council for Northern Ireland is to be established by the Executive (once its membership and terms of reference are agreed with the UK Government).
  • The next budget will provide additional funding for independent advice services in recognition of the complexity of welfare and tax credit changes. The amount of additional funding was not specified in A Fresh Start (nor was the existing level of funding). [Ed – At the end of 2016, welfare devolves back from Westminster to Stormont.]
  • Will we start to see the fruits of the UK Government’s additional £60m over five years to support the Executive’s delivery of confidence and relationship building measures within and between communities, contributing to the conditions that will allow the removal of peace walls and the creation of a shared future?
  • In the Stormont House Agreement, the UK Government promised contributions of up to £500m over 10 years of new capital funding to support shared and integrated education. Individual projects were to be agreed between the Executive and the UK Government. A Fresh Start allows this capital money to go beyond education and also support shared housing projects (subject to individual projects being agreed by the UK Government).

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think unless there’s a very bad election the speaker’s chair will go back to the DUP. Robin Newton perhaps favourite at this stage. Sinn Féin contenders, Alex Maskey may fancy the job. SDLP could perhaps put up Patsy McGlone or Sean Rodgers, UUP Roy Beggs Jnr. and Alliance maybe Trevor Lunn if he’s standing again. I think it’s fairly safe we can rule out the so called “naughty corner” taking the Ceann Comhairle role here, only one perhaps who could probably do the job in my opinion would be John McCallister.

  • hugh mccloy

    It will be a tin foil hat year, all the promises of the fresh start wiped out with a new executive, which of course will be the same people as the last one.

    SF will drain off every penny on the 1916 commemorations while they still say they are the only republicans party in ireland.

    DUP & UUP will work together more to keep FM spot that’s for sure.

    SDLP and Alliance face being wiped out if they don’t get a good election.

    personally I am looking forward to the canvass

  • Granni Trixie

    Your selection of most of the individuals you name as likely contenders seems pretty random – any rationale?

  • Brendan Heading

    Sinn Féin were rumoured to be happy to take Economy or Finance ahead of Education in the next running of d’Hondt.

    Technically, this is very straightforward. All it takes is for the DUP (presuming they are still the largest party, which they probably will be) to pick Education instead of Finance in the d’Hondt running.

    Politically, it is not straightforward unless SF and the DUP are able to reach an agreement behind the scenes. Not only does this require the DUP to go along with the symbolism of handing the single most powerful Stormont department to SF; it also requires SF to concede defeat over their education reform agenda – specifically their efforts to end selection at 11 – and return it to a party which has made a number of public declarations in favour of grammar schools and selection.

    I imagine that a DUP education minister would move quickly to restore government support to schools wishing to run transfer tests.

    Are the rumour mills suggesting that these are details which have all been sewn up, I wonder ?

  • Pete

    Why would the DUP be willing to give up Finance, though?

  • Finance DUP – Economy SF – Education DUP works (or reverse the first two choices)

  • chrisjones2

    They wouldn’t …but SF may want rid of it so they avoid the blame

  • chrisjones2

    My forecast is a slightly stronger SDLP – if only by reason of a temporary dead cat bounce this year – and for Alliance to wither slowly on the vine alongside NI21 the Kippers and possibly (and sadly) the Greens

  • chrisjones2

    ….. Jim Allister would be a good candidate

  • Romper Stomper

    “Sinn Féin may gain a few MLAs on top of their 29 (27% vote share), ”
    I’m not entirely sure that’s an inevitability

  • sadie

    Givrn the allegations of financial midconduct by certain DUP policians they should not begiven control of Finance. In any other so called democracy. given their track record they would be booted out.

  • Granni Trixie

    To wither you have to have got started which NI21 never did at all – from the word go they made mistakes and it was downhill from then. Alliance however has survived, over the years often holding the balance of power. And before you snear bear mind that we are talking about a context where most parties exploit sectarianism – onky look at the fact that it took two sworn enemies to unite in EB to oust Naomi. Her 16K votes can surely be seen as green shoots?

    For sure The new phase of self government in NI is a disappointment to the public with expectations of what power sharing would mean not realised. The parties who will do best are those who get their supporters out to vote.

  • Pete

    What financial misconduct has been confirmed?

    I had thought it was all unproven allegations?

  • “Sinn Féin may gain a few MLAs on top of their 29 (27% vote share)

    Where are they going to make these gains? I fail to see any constituency where they are set to make a gain, bar upper-bann which even then they wouldn’t be favorite for a 2nd seat.

  • Brendan Heading

    A BBC Spotlight documentary a few months back revealed details of various controversial practices in terms of Assembly expenses on the part of several parties, especially the DUP and SF.

    Regarding NAMA and the various allegations around that – this is presently under investigation by the NCA but I believe that no prosecutions of any politicians will proceed.

    It is for the electorate to say who should, or should not, be “booted out”, and they will have another chance in a few months’ time.

  • Brendan Heading

    I did not think it likely that they would, but the opportunity to “fix” the mess in education caused by SF’s dogmatic approach to academic selection may be tempting for them.

  • Brendan Heading

    Alliance have gained vote share gradually, and more or less continuously, since 2003. Given Naomi Long’s 42% score in East Belfast over the summer I’m not sure on what basis anyone can credibly talk about “withering”.

  • Brendan Heading

    The DUP and SF will rotate the Speaker’s chair between themselves. I struggle a bit with the idea of Alex Maskey announcing from the chair that the Queen has granted Royal Assent to an assembly bill.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Newton and Roy Beggs are obvious as they are in the Deputy Speaker positions now. Maskey I think may be the new Mitchell, he’s chaired a committee, both he and Patsy have a fairly good reputation on the committee phase, I’m thinking the SDLP and Sinn Féin may want to move newer faces into committee chairs. Alliance I’m just guessing, but when you rule out Long, Farry, Ford, Little, Bradshaw, there really isn’t much left. From the naughty corner only an independent would take a speaker role, a small party would be sacrificing its voice.

  • Gaygael

    I have been saying this for. On this.

    And I would posit that east Antrim is at risk, with possibly a seat in west Belfast at risk depending how the transfers pan out between PBP and SDLP.

    Upper bann is their most outside chance.

  • Kevin Breslin

    More likely than Ciatriona Ruane, future Northern leader Connor Murphy, Michelle Gildernew, Martin Ò Muilineoir, Dathí McKay, Cathal Ò hOsin, Pat Shennan, Phil Hazzard, Barry McElduff, Maeve McLaughlin etc.

    Did you think they would sacrifice “New Belfast” to be Principle Deputy Speaker?

  • Gaygael

    I don’t see the SDLP having any bounce. It seems it was the Eastwood camp that leaked the ‘5 losses’ document. Big al talked about (pie in the sky) potential gains. Eastwood has not. It seems to be a dig in and hold on strategy for this election. He has been very quiet. They will be on defence in Derry and Belfast to hold onto what they have.

    I can’t see alliance withering just yet. I think they have potential gains in east Antrim, north down, and north south and east Belfast. I don’t see anywhere where their seats are at risk. If they pick up one or two of those gains, that’s a good result for them.

    I think ni21 are a busted flush, but that doesn’t mean basil won’t still scrape through. It depends how much of that UUP from 2011 vote is a personal vote.

    UKIP haven’t seemed to be covering themselves in glory. Moving mcnarry to west Belfast is exceptionally risky, and risks loss in strangford and failure to gain in west. East Antrim looks one of their best bets for a gain after nearly 11% at Westminster. They need to hold on to at least one. I expect they will rue losing Henry Reilly when he takes the DUP seat in south down.

    As for the greens, north down should be held. South Belfast is within a shout, and east Belfast with that huge non-unionist vote for long will provide plenty of opportunity to be in the mix for a seat there.

  • Brendan Heading

    without explaining your rationale there’s nothing I can take away from your contribution here Kevin ..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Pete, I seem to remember one politician, Cyril Smith, easily seeing off the “allegations” against his conduct only a few years back. Law is far from perfect and Law and Justice are seldom readily synonymous terms. Simply because something cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt it does not mean that the people absolved are actually spotlessly innocent, and I often feel sorry that we did not adopt the “Nonproven” legal formulation form our Scots Planter guests in the seventeenth century, as a more accurate measure of evidence in many. many situations.

  • Robin Keogh

    A few seats will probably change hands but i doubt there will be any high drama. SF might lose a seat in WB and possibly replace that in Upper Bann. DUP are under threat from a revived UUP but again i imagine the losses to be small, one maybe two seats. Alliance are strong, i dont see them losing any ground anywhere, in fact they could pick up an extra seat in EB at the expense of DUP. SDLP have nothing to gain anywhere unless they can get the Nationalist vote out. A good election in the South for SF might trigger a better nat turnout than we have seen over the last two elections and improve the combined percentage share but there are no obvious seat gains in the offing.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Jim being speaker would basically kill any force he had as an opposition or a representative of the people stone dead. It would be like he never left the legal profession for the most part.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Basically, Alex Maskey has his own reputation for making milestones for Sinn Féin, he’s unlikely to be a minister, MP or rise above chairperson but becoming a Ceann Comhlaire or Priomh-Leas/Leas Ceann Comhlaire. Only other route may be a job in the South.

    I really don’t see who might challenge him here. There has to be a SF speaker/deputy speaker.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The only party to do so I think were the UUP, and they grabbed DETI. Economically we were more secure back then.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Alliance are the biggest threat to Agnew, but Agnew’s seat coming down to the wire. Given it is perhaps the only seat Alliance lost at the final count last time, I think it would be foolish to not mark it as an Alliance possible gain. North Down usually has a low turnout, so transfers are critical. Supporters of parties may judge these two on a left vs. centre basis. DUP transfers of all things if their third candidate gets eliminated by the UUP may help Alliance get two. Basically 2:2:2 DUP, UUP, Alliance.

    It’s always close, the Green seat in North Down isn’t safe, though it’s likely they can hold onto it boosting their Supercouncil allocation.

    I think the SDLP would surprise a few people, there were a few people at the doorsteps complaining about nothing but McDonnell. Really comes down to party resources and organisation. Most likely SDLP gain I’d guess is probably Fermanagh-South Tyrone. I think they’ll hold the five with a lot more application.

  • Kevin Breslin

    It’s concentrated to a fairly small region around the Greater Belfast-Lisburn hinterland though for the most part. I think there were even some nominal losses in the Supercouncil elections. I don’t think they can take things for granted in peripheral regions. Like a lot of the “3 smaller parties” there would be questions about the success they’ve had and the change they offer rather than who are they up against. The biggest problem is apathy after all.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nothing wrong with making mistakes, this was mostly a young party on a learning curve. They had a reasonable European campaign on their message and on their major players, but the party itself was too loose, too arrogant and had very little common ground that all its members could stand on.

    Basil should have after recruitment seen where his party’s midpoint was at on issues.

    I actually can see Basil on the point of deciding not to allocate as unionist, another largely pro-Union party that has done this is the “Local Conservatives”. Although deciding to keep himself designated probably best reflects the will of his mandate.
    As a nationalist I would question what the designation system really protects that can’t be done with a supermajority. Definitely outdated ugly scaffolding, but demand creates supply.

  • sadie

    Thats exactly the problem the electorate will vote as they always do, in mostly their orange or green camp. They do not seem to have grasped the reality that these politicians mostly do very little to truly move the country forward. Most of them are in politics for the wrong reasons.’Boot them out’, not very democratic, but whats democracy got to do with it.

  • murdockp

    All the seasoned politicial commentators all talk about power consolidation, pacts, seats to be won and lost. Very few of you focus on policy, and of the few that do, very few of these focus on achieving economic growth in NI.

    However in answer to the question what will happen in NI n terms of policy, the answer is absolutely nothing. The next six months will be winning seats and no policy delivery and the last six months of the year will be formulating policy and jockeying for position and then there is the election over the border which in my opinion will make or break Sinn Fein.

    All the politicians will be distracted by the 1916 events’ Peters departure and bonfires in July and Cameron’s indifference.

    Meanwhile the Ni civil service will despite attempts to modernise it and make it smaller continue to grow.

    It really is a sad state of affairs.

  • Gaygael

    Yes. Alliance are hoping to pick up a second in North Down. The last time there were a lot of independents too. Alliance also split poorly, 11.1% versus 7.5% and closer may have helped them to stay ahead of Agnew.
    I would suggest the Green and Alliance vote holding up so well despite Lady Hermon and the council results in 2014 suggest there is a much better chance.
    In WM2010, Alliance and Green scored a combined 8.7%. A year later, at Assembly 2011, that went up to 26.5% and 24.7% in council 2011 on the same day.
    In Council14 Alliance got 15.2% and Green 8.1% NI21 got 3.6 which is likely to return to UUP/Green/Alliance.
    In WM2015, Alliance and Green scored a combined 14%. My gut would safe Agnew is safe and 1 alliance is safe. Might there be enough for a second alliance? Just maybe.
    Re the SDLP I don’t think it as easy as blaming McDonnell. Eastwood has produced no real narrative as yet. There was early gumpf about ‘progressive nationalism’ but he shot that down by reaffirming anti-choice policy immediately and then nominating a man to replace 1 of 3 men in Foyle.

  • Pete

    I remember in 2011, I remember reading comments online from people asking the DUP to take Education to “sort out the mess” etc, and the DUP tended to reply by saying that they would rather take Finance.

    They may have changed their view, but I do think the DUP will probably want to stick with Finance. I could be wrong though!

  • Granni Trixie

    But if the timing and impact of Nama investigating goes a certain way could anti corruption become an election issue even if no legal cases proceed?

  • Granni Trixie

    So far, but that does not mean that rumours are not Impacting on public and Internet discourse.

  • Croiteir

    If I were the DUP I would not allow finance out of my control

  • Croiteir

    Re affirming anti-choice – whats that when it is at home and why is it anti nationalist?

  • murdockp

    None of the politicians from any party is up to the job.

    For example What other government in the world sanction three stadia when only one was needed same with schools and hospitals. Waste, waste and more waste

  • Kevin Breslin

    I hope you would respect the fact that no woman chose to stand for the Foyle vacancy for the SDLP this time around, the three main female contenders Shauna, Brenda, Angela did not fancy taking it. The SDLP nominated Mary Bradley, Annie Courtney and Helen Quigley to stand for the Assembly in previous years. Nothing is stoping anyone from putting their name forward if they are a member and reside in the constituency.

  • SDLP supporter

    Elections are rarely definitively ‘make or break’ but I agree with you that the elections in the South are of vital importance. They have a functioning state to run there, they have to broadly balance income and expenditure and it’s not the kindergarten we have in the North. As you have said previously, the one income source the Executive has control over-rates-they have done nothing about, and I’m talking about the burden on business. Kenny will play the ‘do you want to blow the recovery?’ card and his biggest advantage is that there is no-one else up for the job of alternative Taoiseach.
    The DUP DETI minister talks about 40,000 jobs from reducing Corporation Tax, but that is nonsense, that ship has sailed. NI is deadlocked: some massive event like Brexit would blow everything apart.
    Elections always produce surprises and, sadly, my own party has always had unexpected losses in Assembly elections since 2003. They should be looking at gains, certainly in Fermanagh South Tyrone, possibly in South Down and Newry Armagh, but also in places like Strangford, Lagan Valley and South Antrim, but the necessary infrastructure isn’t in place. It’s about credible candidates and intelligent door-knocking.

  • Brendan Heading

    It goes without saying that no party should take its position for granted and this is especially true for smaller parties.

    It’s a fact the world over that progressive political parties seeking fundamental reform tend to do better in cities and seldom make progress in rural areas.

  • Brendan Heading

    I think it’s interesting how we haven’t heard much from Eastwood yet since he was elected.

    That said, Mike Nesbitt’s success proves that you don’t need a “narrative”. Presentation and the impression of a firm hand seems to count for a lot.

  • Brendan Heading

    NI21 was a party in name only. From what I can remember they had no formal constitution, policy paper, rules for selecting candidates or executive members, etc. This meant that they were allowed to mean different things to different people. The decision to change policy on the union on the day before an election is symptomatic of a party directed by a leader who shoots from the hip.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m afraid I don’t subscribe to such prejudices against rural people, if a movement is progressive it should take rural people along with it. If a movement marginalizes a big section of our society I cannot see as progressive. It’s easy to ignore rural regions, not progressive.

  • Brendan Heading

    It isn’t a “prejudice” Kevin. Look up a political map of England, say, and notice how Labour’s support is mainly clustered around cities and how the rural constituencies are almost exclusively Conservative.

    Nobody is “marginalising” anyone. Rural areas have different interests to urban ones.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well the party was able to select candidates and executive members when it was Basil, John and Tina. When that triarchy effectively became a monarchy, possibly diarchy with Johnny taking John’s place. I disagree it didn’t have structure, the problem I feel is that it had to restructure around what it had left. Mainly with Johnny McCarthy and Jayne Howson.

    We should expect a new fresh political party to have some infantile traits and to make mistakes , but grow, develop, learn and improve, even experiment when it didn’t know what to do.

    NI21 could fake it until they make it, like many of our young people have to do to do jobs they are not prepared for, or to do work that may not have been undertaken before. It’s pretty much the culture of the post recession millennial age.

    It is a party that needed to differentiate itself from the Greens, Alliance, UUP etc. If it was a copy cat party why bother?

    It’s small enough not to need layers of leadership that other parties have until they can find the people willing to take on the responsibility, and people who can be trusted and respected in that responsibility.

    Do you think our non-voters care about designation, do you think they care about party structure, do you think they are going to analyse candidates in two different regions? Do you think they care if the party has more non-professionals than professionals in it?

    This is just devil within the detail stuff, people are crying out for opportunities.

  • SDLP dont have a seat in East Antrim to start, I dont think that they will lose a seat in WB, the PBP will gain from SF, not from SDLP. The risk believe it or not for the SDLP seat there is from Unionism who are edging towards a quota….but again its more likely SF lose 2 in WB than the SDLP to lose thier seat.

    If we look at places like F/ST…were on local election figures SDLP have enough for a MLA seat, could be a gain at SF expense.

    in N/A they were 600 votes of a 2nd seat, and they have made small gains in that respect since then, so possibility of a 2nd there. In other places like Strangford, long sought after, but always narrowly missed, they have a good chance. South Down could finally give up a 3rd for SDLP if Unionist vote is split enough.

    There are places for SDLP gains….. there is no constituency, bar upper bann where SF have a chance of winning an extra seat.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Labour Party movement was founded by Robert Owen, a rural person. Its first leader and its first Prime Minister were also from rural regions. There are a lot that work and need a Labour Party and who want a Labour Party.

    In France, the Socialists dominate the poorer countryside regions to the south west and the right wing parties dominate the urban areas.

    Focusing on the cities for “progressiveness” will only lead to concentrating on the bigger population centres and ignoring the “progress” made in harder to reach areas. We’re not talking about the 15% of the UK population that really do live in the countryside, we are talking big towns, villages even small cities, creating a race to centralizing around the largest conurbations.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Sinn Féin have a chance of winning seats in every constituency, but their chances may be very slim.

    We know unionists are voting SNP, Sinn Féin could get a few sympathetic votes if they doubled down on a bit of bread and butter politics that’s relevant to the constituencies, but unlike in the Republic they’ll need to focus the 6 county campaign on the fiscally constrained Stormont system.

  • Brendan Heading


    Labour Party movement was founded by Robert Owen, a rural person. Its first leader and its first Prime Minister were also from rural regions. There are a lot that work and need a Labour Party and who want a Labour Party.

    None of this addresses my point that Labour’s representation is substantially – not exclusively – focused on urban areas where the Conservatives tend to represent rural areas.

    The pattern is similar in the US. If you look at a map of the US in terms of precincts, you’ll see a vast swathe of red all across it, even in years when Democrats sweep the board. This is because generally the Democrats do better where the population is denser.

    I suspect you are having trouble disputing this if you find it necessary to refer to people and events of over a century ago, or to countries which have a very different political culture to ours.

  • Brendan Heading

    I disagree it didn’t have structure

    I’m happy to stand corrected. Can you explain NI21’s structure to me ?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think you are completely wrong on a few matters, the Tories have been capturing urban areas like Preston, Macclesfeild, UKIP is strong in Hartlepool. One of the Weakest Tory votes came in Rother Valley, So the right and the far right can be just as capable of spreading in concentrated population centres.

    Labour’s political hinterland is thinly spread, Tories are getting 30% in Labour’s Northern strongholds even with UKIP doing well there, Labour are dropping down below 20% in many Scottish and Southern English, and even Midlands seats. Labour might be third party in Scotland, and third in several northern town constituencies too.

    The North-South divide is probably a better divide than urban-rural. It’s a lot more likely Tory MPs are being elected in Southern cities than Labour MPs being elected in rural wards North of Yorkshire though even outside cities they have MPs in.

  • Kevin Breslin

    85% of the U.K. Population Is urbanised, if Labour specialised in urban areas they would not be on 30% overall.

  • Brendan Heading


    I’m really sorry about this, but I don’t know whether you are deliberately ignoring my point or if you misunderstand it.

    Rural areas (or, more loosely, “areas of lower population density”) tend to be conservative. The key word is “tend”. They are not all conservative.

    This is a rule of thumb, not a fact. As such you cannot disprove it by citing exceptions which are permitted within the rule of thumb. The only way for you to disprove my point is to show that most rural constituencies are not conservative.

    You can’t do this, because it is false. A simple examination of the electoral map of Britain, even when Labour swept the board in 1997, shows a vast sea of blue with red clustered around the urban areas. It’s a similar pattern if you look at the USA.

    And yes, I know that most of the UK population is urbanised. I’m not making any claims about how the population votes – we are talking about how regions vote, and specifically about how Alliance tend not to perform well outside of more densely populated urban areas (which in NI means greater Belfast).

    Do you understand my point now ?

  • Gaygael

    Hi john. I think both yourself and SDLP supporter are being overly optimistic. I haven’t heard any of the SDLP leadership (since big Al’s departure) talk about gains.

    I referred to east Antrim and west Belfast as risk of losses for SF, not SDLP.

    The SDLP five losses have been well trailed here before. And as have those much sought after gains. My point is that Eastwood is not talking about gains. It suggests that this election will be digging in and holding on.

    If strangford didn’t pull through in the glory days of the SDLP, I don’t see it happening now.

  • Gaygael

    He was elected on the Saturday. On the Monday, he reaffirms that the SDLP anti choice position would not change. This is hardly progressive. SDLP current policy is that even in cases of fatal feotal abnormality, rape, incest, threat of death to the mother, that a woman should NOT be allowed a choice. Hugely out of step with opinion on this island and with other PES parties.
    That’s not progressive.

  • Gaygael

    I wouldnt suggest alliance are progressive. It certainly has progressive members but it isn’t a progressive party.

  • Brendan Heading

    It depends on what your definitions are .

    To me :

    “progressive” = trying to change society because it is broken
    “conservative” = not trying to change society because it mostly works fine

    The conservatives in the Northern Ireland context are the large and small unionist and nationalist parties. The progressives are everyone else.

  • Gaygael

    That’s a fair point. And they will be changing the personnel in this cycle. Let’s see.

  • Gaygael

    If no women stood it suggests an inherent problem.
    In 2011, the party of civil rights nominated 4 men in Foyle. In 2016 it has nominated 3 men. I doesn’t suggest much (add the anti choice status quo) of what progressive nationalism means for women.

  • Kevin, lets not go mad here, Sinn Fein dont have a chance of winning a seat in every constituency, and even less of getting gains.

    Strangford/North Down/East Belfast/Lagan Valley they have no chance of gaining a seat (SDLP have a strong chance in Strangford, an outside chance in Lagan Valley)

    They have seats in the other 14 areas, so lets take out ones with no realistic chance of gains.

    North Antrim (Nationalist vote is maxed, would be an SDLP 2nd if a miracle happens)

    South Antrim (Nationalist vote maxed, if there is a 2nd again it would be an SDLP gain)

    East Antrim (One nationalist seat, already SF)

    North Belfast (3 nationalist seats roughly, 2 with SF, 1 SDLP, SF only running 2, so they wont gain)

    West Belfast (SF vote maxed, excellently. PBP will gain a seat if their vote turns up, will affect SF seat more than SDLP, who should retain)

    South Belfast (2/3 Nationalist seats, SF no realistic chance of beating SDLP here)

    South Down (Chance of 5 nationalist seats if Unionist vote splits and doesn’t transfer, again SDLP would gain, not SF)

    Newry/Armagh (4 Nationalist seats, SF have 3… closer to losing one than gaining)

    Mid-Ulster (4 Nationalist seats, 3 safe SF, 1 safe SDLP)

    Fermanagh/South Tyrone (3 nationalist seats, SDLP if they get their local election result out will gain at SF expense, will be interesting battle there)

    West Tyrone (Same as Mid-Ulster)

    East Derry (2 safe Nationalist seats, wont change)

    Foyle (SDLP more likely to lose to the PBP, than for SF to get the 3rd, strongly suspect SDLP will hold 3)

    so that leaves

    Upper Bann (SF have the votes for 2, SDLP just about under a quota, alliance votes will see them over the line again however)

    SF have one constituency they may gain, none in the other. The SDLP can realistically aim for 16-18 seats

  • Robin Keogh

    The elections of 2007 and 2011 were said to be make or break occasions for Sinn Fein. They werent and neither is this one. If we get a magic moment and win enough seats to be in government – fantasitc. If we do well and increase our seat numbers – terrific. It we stay still and return with the same number – need to do better next time.

  • Croiteir

    It is progressive – we moved away from abortion over the centuries – it is hardly progressive to retrench into the barbaric. But even if you were correct – which you are not – it is not a nationalist or unionist differentiator.

  • Gaygael

    Access to reproductive healthcare and bodily autonomy are core to my understanding of progressive politics.

    Current policy puts the SDLP at odds with almost all other PES groups across the continent, and most labour and social democrats. If the SDLP just wish to be a conservative Christian democrat party, then become that. I believe there is space for it within nationalism in the north. The untenable position is trying to ride 2 horses.

  • Croiteir

    Glad to hear you now agree that maintain the rights of all people, born or unborn, does not you a unionist make. I am glad that the SDLP maintain those progressive policies.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m not being mad, I’m being mathematical. I don’t rule out anything. DUP winning 5 seats in West Belfast might happen with a few defections, but the odds may be as high as one person winning the lotto jackpot five weeks in a row buying one ticket a week.

    Effectively, I don’t like to use the phrase No chance for future events

  • Robin Keogh

    Thats a fair analysis. There might be some seat swaps within the unionists family due to the amount of parties in the field but with no competition within the nationalist constituency there is little reason no reason to expect a surge to the polls. The lack of alternatives within nationalism might actually explain the current apathy. WB will be worth watching, with another all Ireland party (pbp) in the field, we might see an increase in turnout there.

    Demographically of course the picture is different in the medium term. East Derry, Upper Bann, South Antrim, FST, Strangford, Lagan Valley could all deliver a nationalist seat at the expense of Unionism within ten years. That depends again on turnout and assuming voting behaviour stays the same. By then with FF in the picture and a continued decline in the Unionist voting population we might see parity in seats between the two traditional voting blocks.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I don’t think it does, I think you are trying to hard to lump women into a monolithic box here. People vote for politican’s policy not for a politican’s biology, so objectively I don’t think the SDLP women choosing not to stand for Foyle will have any significant impact. If they had any major issue with the SDLP’s stance on internal or external policy that they felt they couldn’t change on the inside they would leave.

    Unfortunately you seem not to be treating women as individuals here who can think for themselves. I wouldn’t want the commitment of being an MLA so I empathise with men and women who choose not to put themselves forward. You didn’t need a nomination to put yourself forward, so if someone didn’t stand it was because they choose not to. You seem to suggest it would be better for the SDLP to force these women to stand against their own will and judgement on what they can commit to.

    Foyle is a constituency with a slight female majority electorate and the SDLP wins it reasonably comfortably. Before you pigeon hole women and what they think it’s women in Foyle that are making the local party what it is there.

  • Gaygael


    Realistically the SDLP can aim for 2-4 gains. I’m not convinced. You are ignoring the SDLP’s own internal report suggesting that of their current 14, up to 5 are at risk. If you are dismissing that out of hand, that’s fair enough but probably misguided.

    I would suggest that strangford is a no chance. If it hasn’t happen so far, it is very unlikely to happen this time out. The SDLP would need to be scoring close to their 2007 total to have a chance here. That seems very unlikely.
    I also don’t think Lagan valley is a serious runner.
    You yourself say north Antrim would be a miracle. And say little about south Antrim which suggests it’s unlikely too by your reckoning.

    Where are the 2-4 realistic potential gains?

  • Gaygael

    I don’t equate a foetus with a living woman.

  • Croiteir

    Neither do I – but lets get back to the declaration on whether you have to be a nationalist to do so. Still stand by the equivalence

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’ve not dismissed the word tend, however there is a trend that Tories including some rural Tories are now working to ensure there are more Tory towns and cities. The Conservatives in the North and urban regions outside London are on the up, and the Labour Party in the North and urban regions is in decline. Who is costing Labour urban votes? UKIP one of the most sntiprogressive parties in the UK! Labour took Scotland for granted and now it’s taking Northern England for granted.

    The aversion some in the Labour and let’s face it the Alliance Party to many rural areas is extremely disruptive to their growth and connectivity. How can it be progressive to limit yourself? How does Alliance of all parties justify carving up areas into progressive and antiprogressive stereotypes?

    There is no real measure of how progressive these areas are simply on the basis they don’t vote for a party that tends to be elected in richer regions over poorer ones.

  • Gaygael

    Kevin, if you don’t see nominating 3 men in a constituency as a problem, I don’t know what to say. Obfuscate all you want. I feel that it’s incumbent on any party that styles itself as a progressive party or one that purports to support equality, to take proactive steps to redress women’s under representation in politics.

    As an aside, Big Al used the relative success of the SDLP in getting a solid % of female elected councillors in 2014 as part of the SDLP success in 2014. This concern for female representation seemed to disappear for Westminster 2015 and latterly with co-options under the new progressive leader.

    By the way, the SDLP are not the only party guilty of it. In east Antrim and north down, alliance have selected all male slates. The unionists parties don’t really seem to care for this issue. SF nominated 3 men in Donegal.

    Do you know if the SDLP have a policy on quotas?

  • Gaygael

    Is part of the brokenness in our society the under representation of women in politics?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think you seem to be writing directly at yourself here. You accused the party of effectively discriminating, I told you the facts that it was an open contest, as was West Tyrone. There is still a large number of women in the SDLP, including in important roles like the party chair Geraldine Cosgrove the one who circulated the invasion to candidates and those who are involved in Elections and Organisations committee work, they are as heavily involved in drafting policy on elections as the Party Executive and leadership.

    We’ve had women standing in both areas and I’m confident that we will have again. But quotas don’t force women to volunteer, no matter how well it seems to work in your imagination. Quotas are not the real answer to redressing the low involvement of women in representative politics, they are just a panacea in my view. You need to get women into party politics first and I am confident that Colum and many of the senior party figures will do that.

  • Gaygael

    I was pointing out the incompatibility of the anti choice policy with progressive politics.

    I don’t think it’s really relevant in the unionist nationalist discourse.

  • Gaygael

    I didn’t accuse the party of discriminating. I pointed out that the leadership didn’t consider the importance of co-opting a woman.

    All of the evidence suggests that quotas are the best interim solution until a critical mass is achieved. Legislated quotas force parties to act (not women). Leaving parties to do as they please results in the DUP nominating 16/16 men for Westminster 2015. And the SDLP nominating 3 men in Foyle for assembly 2016. I hope you could be persuaded of the impact of quotas, or at least targets within the party.

    I also hope your confidence in the new leadership is well placed. Colum (a Foyle based MLA) had a chance to ensure that a woman replaced a retiring man in his own constituency, to sit alongside 2 other men. It seemed it wasn’t really on the agenda of the party locally, or at leadership level. It’s disappointing and doesn’t augur well.

    Although I’m focusing on women, there is a wider point that our representatives should better reflect the society they purport to represent. I would love to see more diversity in our assembly as a whole and that the diversity as best as possible reflecting our society.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Party leaders don’t interfere with these contests, other than their own, and there wasn’t even a contest because no other people volunteered. It would be the same issue if a woman volunteered and no one else contested it e.g Claire Hanna replacing McDonnell.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There is a lot of derailment here, but I’d like to thank Alan on what is a broad compilation on New Start. The fiscal council is something I hope will generate debate. The civic body is disappointingly weak. Why the UK government has a veto over shared housing is suspicious to me and I have very little confidence that the money allocation will actually bring more integration on the ground.

  • Gaygael

    You are entirely missing the point. I’m sure the party leadership can use its influence in who the local group nominate/co-opt/elect particularly if it in the party leaders local constituency.

    You can downplay it, or claim it’s because women didn’t put themselves forward, but it’s a huge frustration that we still have to persuade people from a social democrat/labour party that adressing unrepresentative politics is something that is their responsibility.

    How is the party doing so far?
    Foyle – 3 men
    FST – Ritchie mcphillips. 1 man.
    West Tyrone – Daniel McCrossan. 1 man.
    N&A – Justin McNulty and Karen McKevitt. 1 man 1 woman.
    Lagan valley – Pat catney. 1 man.
    South down – Sinead Bradley, Colin McGrath and Sean Rogers. 2 men and 1 woman.
    S Belfast – Claire Hanna and Fergheal McKinney. 1 man and 1 woman.
    S Antrim – Roisin Lynch. 1 woman.
    E Antrim – Margaret Anne McKillop. 1 woman.
    N Antrim – Conor Duncan. 1 man.

    Of those 16 nominated so far, 5 are women. That’s running at under a third.

    Mid Ulster – Mcglone must be staying. 1 man.
    East Derry – Gerry mullan must be likely. 1 man
    Upper Bann – Kelly again. 1 woman.
    W Belfast – Attwood again. 1 man.
    N Belfast – Alban again. 1 man.

    If those above are nominated, that changes to 6/21 candidates. 28.5%

    No idea re North Down, Strangford, E Belfast.

  • Croiteir

    I am pointing out that the so called progressive – and that is really only a marketing term – is not progressive but regressive

  • Kevin Breslin

    This is utterly laughable the comment that a social democratic leader “can use their influence” to force an unwilling person to stand for election. The very essence of social democracy is that branches elevate people not the leadership put their own “Emma Pengelly” parachuted candidate against the will of a branch and undermine the equal opportunity that everyone has to stand.

    If you are trying to pursuade me that a leader dictating who stands is better for social democracy than having a regional or constituency branch choose then you are asking him to undermine one of the core principles of the SDLP, one of the principles that its senior female figures actively support.

    I’ve had only one vote in these contests and I did choose a woman, a woman who ran a far superior campaign, made a far better speech, a woman who didn’t want to be given a job because of a quota system but because she earned it.

    I think when there are candidates like that quotas are a bit counter productive.

    The party is social democratic, it elects representatives at the branch level not from the leadership level, ergo that is why Colum Eastwood had very little influence over the contest, effectively all he could do was persuade his wife or a female friend to stand and to be honest they all had the right to say No.

    Some female members have other careers, Brenda Stevenson for example works in a Health care trust, another member is working in Scotland. We have to make the conditions accessible to women, but I don’t think quotas do change these matters by themselves. They are in my view a panacea.

  • If a party did not prepare for a possible worst case scenario then I wouldn’t be worried, I suspect both SF/DUP would have done similar papers, though they have control over their elements. I certainly wouldn’t put SDLP seats in jeopardy. SB (2nd seat which is always at risk) UB (Their most likely loss, if they are to lose one) I would put it at 2 losses.

    Fermanagh/South Tyrone, 60 short in 2011, local elections 21014 showed more than enough to take seat back.
    Newry/Armagh….. 600 short in 2011, they have made small gains here since both in WM and Local elections, will be tightly fought.
    South Down, Unionist votes going everywhere could provide cost them a seat, SDLP more than enough for 3 in WM and locals.
    Strangford, you may dismiss it, but the changing demographics make for over a nationalist quota, which makes it only a matter of time before it happens.
    South Antrim I simply don’t know about, depends on the candidate and their work on the ground. The quota is just shy of 2 seats.
    Lagan Valley, Luck of transfers on the day.
    My main gripe was to say that SF will make gains without question, they don’t have anywhere bar Upper Bann to make a gain that I can see, I could be mistaken.

  • Gaygael

    I wasn’t talking about forcing someone to stand. I was talking about using the leaderships influence to ensure that women are better represented.
    In the next breath you talk about equal opportunity, seemingly blind to the fact that men and women do not start these competitions at the same line.

    And then the usual guff that women don’t want seats because of quotas. Might as well take the alliance line of meritocracy. You know, as Julie gill are said, ‘all these men are here on merit’
    It disappointing that a social democrat can’t see that quotas are one of the key planks required to redress our dire representation of women. Maybe talk to some of your PES partners?

  • Gaygael

    We fundamentally disagree then. If the SDLP maintain policy that women should not be allowed a choice even in cases of fatal feotal abnormality, rape and incest, then it will wither.

  • Gaygael

    Well the party itself suggested three others. North Belfast, where alliance are 1% behind. West Belfast, where it may hinge on the PBP surplus/transfers to keep the SDLP safe and of course upper bann.

    In FST, there was a major drop in WM15, although I do see this as due to the divisive nature of the contest. I do think this is a very outside chance for the SDLP to pick up a gain, but unlikely.
    Newry and Armagh is also unlikely. The SDLP have not held two seats here since 1998.
    South down 3rd has been a pipe dream for many years. Unionism has a safe 2 seats here, and I don’t imagine that changing just yet. The personnel may change, but there should be enough inter unionist transfers to see 2 of them back. Which two is the question.

    As for Strangford. I know that demographics are changing and the departure of Kieran McCarthy from alliance may help the SDLP but I just don’t see it unless there is a very robust campaign and a perfect storm. The drop to 6.9% at the recent Westminster suggests not.

    South Antrim is very unlikely. Only marginally less so than Lagan valley.

    I agree, SF have limited chances for gains, and anyone repeating that they do, needs to provide some rationale as to where. I keep saying that I feel they are at risk in east Antrim and west Belfast, with only upper bann as an outside gain.

  • Est Antrim is interesting, I would have them keeping that seat, again it has a seat nationalist seat, cant seem them loosing it.

  • Gaygael

    I think that with alliance running two again. If they balance well and are ahead of both the nationalists they can pinch it. Sdlp transfers favour alliance here. 700 went to alliance and 500 sf.

  • Croiteir

    It will wither for other reasons – not this

  • Gaygael

    I think it will wither because new blood and younger people are hugely disappointed at this stance in particular.

    You may disagree. Why do you think it will wither?

  • Croiteir

    Because they are stoops who sup the soup – like Pat McCarthy