Insist on Executive solidarity. It’s the new antidote to nationalist fears and DUP over confidence

I’ve exploited  my posting rights to reply to the thread started by Chris Donnelly  which includes comments by Mick and Pete Baker.

. Pete wrote:

We are long past the point of the need, or desire, for a collective approach to the programme for government.

There’s every “need” for a collective approach, Pete; it’s the only way to manage a dependent welfare state and mixed economy. “Desire?”  Right after the election the DUP FM and the SF dFM repeated their pledge to adopt it. Why dismiss it so soon? Isn’t this writing off a lot before it’s even started?

Lets look at what has actually happened. Mostly some post-election nervousness over nationalist fragmentation and irritation at Arlene Foster’s euphoria. Many middle of the road  nationalists felt more secure with an inclusive Executive, the system that emerged from the GFA.  It turns out that the shift to a two party coalition facing an opposition  has created as much fear as hope.

With the SDLP going into opposition there are fears that the breach in  basic nationalist solidarity will be exploited by temporarily rampant unionism. It’s no accident perhaps that strong criticism of SF’s  unfamiliar passivity has come from Chris Donnelly in the sectarian cauldron of north Belfast.

Eloquent  critics fear current SF behaviour is a symptom of new and unfamiliar weakness.They saw how interminable splits weakened unionism  down the decades. After the substantial gains of the last twenty years, but with a lot left to do, they don’t want the same to happen to nationalism.

But in practical terms, how would this actually happen?

People are jumping to conclusions and overreacting on the basis of very little evidence. McGuinness carries out politburo policy. No change there. The reconciliation gesture at the Somme was expressed in republican terms  What they say about Brexit has only temporary relevance, although they have criticisms of how the EU works which are angled at their natural constituency for later.

It isn’t difficult to develop an ideological position for SF post- Assembly election.  See The Detail post on “Sinn Fein’s new language”.

(Matt) Carthy said unionists had nothing to fear from Irish unity which could accommodate their feelings of Britishness, and that if Britain voted to leave the EU, there would be “democratic imperative” to allow a referendum on Irish unity…

The only type of United Ireland that interests me in is one that is agreed, inclusive, pluralist and which is constructed by all our citizens, from whatever background or tradition.”

Carthy’s position  echoes  John Hume’s “agreed Ireland” which envisaged  moves to a united Ireland at a unionist pace  and so accepted the possibility of no pace at all.  Carthy’s similarly soothing words to unionists therefore give cold comfort  to nervous nationalists who fear a revival of  unionist majoritarianist arrogance.

So is this the sellout? Hardly. The difference between Hume in his pomp and today lies in facing up to the implications of  a Catholic majority. This may become an underlying theme of the new mandate. But it has to be approached tactfully.  The ” trajectory” towards unity is  by no means inevitable and anyway it hasn’t yet picked up momentum, if  it ever does. It may always be twenty years away. The chances of it paying out an early political dividend are low.

So let’s move to more immediate tests down the track in real politics, like the response due soon to the panel report  on ending paramilitarism and the implementation of the Shared Education Act which they haven’t talked about but has big changes already funded and in the pipeline. If the Executive parties get it off the ground at all, this agenda will produce a shift in political debate which has  concentrated  so long on identity struggles, as if we were still under direct rule.and lacked the powers to govern cooperatively.

Then hopefully  they will have established the mutual confidence to tackle the deferred agenda on mutual recognition of traditions,parades management and dealing with the past.

The Executive room is not just another party battle ground. It has its own more important function, as the place to  answer  the cross community clamour for delivery  which all too often has been swept aside as a distraction from the old zero sum game, rather than the real deal that it has become.

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  • Neil

    It seems simple enough to me, as a former voter. SF attempt “outreach” on a fairly regular basis, and without fail when they do so the hand of friendship gets slapped away, probably followed by a thread on this very site explaining why that outreach is pointless/not genuine/to be written off. Sooner or later that kind of behaviour looks needy and pathetic. There is no reciprocation so voters will eventually be turned off.

    SF have come to agreements as you’ve said on the other thread which promised an ILA. They also had the agreement on the Maze until Robbo felt the pinch and pulled the ladder up. Not to mention various other projects like roads, community facilities and bridges. The recurring theme is the bad faith of the DUP. Are we to expect SF to come to more agreements based on nothing more than the DUP’s handshake as it’s bond, which is worthless? Once again, consistently getting your eye wiped by your opposition and going back for more of the same is seen as pathetic. And it is. As Kensei says on the other thread, time to find the DUP’s soft spot and stick the boot in it as hard as possible.

    SF have been rolling over for far too long. It would be acceptable if they could get something in return for it, possibly, but as it stands they go out on a limb or (mixing the metaphors) do the leg work, and get sweet FA in return. What little they’ve managed to achieve in the past number of years will now be undone by the new DUP ministers. SF are categorically not finished or even in that deep trouble right now, that much I agree with, but I suspect unless they get their sh*t together soon, they will be. SF need to remember why people voted for them in the 90s and 00s.

  • Brian Walker

    Neil, , you put the case very well that the DUP have to answer. Foster has to do better than refuse “ to rewrite the history of terrorism.” History isn’t only for her to write and the election is over. But this is no reason to give up on the Executive. Difficult as it may be, I’m arguing for a shift in political focus from confidence building symbols to confidence building substance. This may seem more congenial territory to the DUP but it will l require plenty of trade-offs to test the effectiveness of power sharing

  • Granni Trixie

    There is much to criticise PR for but “pulling up the ladder” as regards the Maze project is not one (even if the way in which he did so leaves him open to criticism).
    How consensus on building a ‘peace centre’ in Hblocks was initially achieved we will never know. Surely it was obvious that this was an own goal, bolstering HS as central in Republican narratives.
    Given we are where we are, what I would like to see is some deal between the big two to enable the development of the whole site to proceed before it rots away. Must be do-able?

  • Neil

    What specifically the DUP reneged upon is not really relevant to the point I’m making. I’m not getting into the rights/wrongs/desirability of the Maze or anything else, merely pointing out that under SF, Nationalism is left keeping up their end of various bargains only to have the rug pulled out from under them by the DUPs decision to renege on whatever deals they make.

  • Granni Trixie

    Fair enough. But is this way of working not further evidence that expectations of “powersharing” are not being realised? |You imply approval of negotiations which share out this and that concession. Your criticism seems to be that SF have not adequately exploited their negotiating position whereas I am looking for evidence of each party compromising to do what is best for the country.

  • Brian

    I suspect we may be at cross-purposes on this. Always a danger in the comment zone – I tend to regard it as a free-thinking space rather than one for definitive conclusions.

    Anyway, my objection to your “collective approach” is that it appeared to be all-embracing.

    It is true that for the DUP and Sinn Féin there is a need for those two parties to work together as a coalition. Whether they truly desire to do that is another matter.

    But there is no imperative for any other party to assist them. And even less for the media/bloggers – apart from the usual suspects…

    As you noted, we now have an Official Opposition in the Assembly. That’s a game-changer.

    In the meantime I’ll remain sceptical about the DUP and Sinn Féin’s prospects for “mutual confidence”, and the imaginary trajectory towards unity.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “Many middle of the road nationalists felt more secure with an inclusive Executive” Well they certainly did not vote that way! They left the SDLP hanging by a thread in some places and we ended up with the 2 Party Carve Up Junta ! We are where we are and the best this so called “middle of the road nationalists” can now do is throw its hat fully in supporting and being a proactive member of Opposition with others like minded !

  • Neil

    No, my criticism is centered on the various reasons I believe SF are losing votes. I approve of very little, that’s just my nature. SF have been made a fool of a bit too often for my liking, hence my reluctance to go out of my way to give them a vote.

  • ted hagan

    What’s important to McGuinness and Sinn Fein is the face they present to the world beyond the DUP. McGuinness is no dope and is well aware of this and is prepared for the knockbacks. Sinn Fein will bide their time..

  • 90sKid

    Well said, anything Republican, nationalist, irish, catholic or left wing is slapped down. The shinners can’t deliver, so why vote for them.

  • Brendan Heading

    Is the fight today really coming down to an Irish language act (howsoever that is defined) and the conflict centre at the Maze ? Would delivering on these two things really get nationalists rushing back to the polls to re-endorse Sinn Féin ?

  • Zig70

    Indeed, several posts now claiming to know what moderate nationalists think and for my money, wide of the mark.

  • Brian Walker

    By”collective” I meant collective as in collective responsibility which is now easier in a two party coalition, plus one. I would expect less of individual ministers doing solo runs and having to be slapped down.Scepticism is still justified until proven otherwise, I agree.