Bringing Northern Ireland’s political process in line with the UK

It’s exactly a year to the day since Jo Cox was murdered. The Labour MP, who represented the Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen, was shot and stabbed in the village of Birstall.

People in many areas are marking this day, not by remembering her killer, but by holding events to celebrate her life. Whatever your view of Westminster, or politicians, the murder of Jo Cox was an attack on democracy. It was also a terrifying manifestation of the desire by some people to silence women.

In contrast, the other anniversary being celebrated this week is a direct answer to both of those things. Fifteen years ago this week Mick Fealty started this blog. During that time it has added to and shaped the reporting and commentary on politics in Northern Ireland – and elsewhere.

And now, more than ever, it’s a vital resource.

Another election on these islands has meant the political wind has changed direction again. Suddenly Northern Ireland has reappeared on the horizon, and those of us who’ve spent a long time following the twists and turns of politics here have been watching in amusement, and then horror, as (most) journalists and commentators across Britain have scrambled to catch up. In fact, no harm to them, but it feels at times as if we are not even speaking the same language

As talks continue between the DUP and the Conservative Party, aimed at allowing Teresa May to form a government, the UK national media has been awash with “Who are the DUP?” articles. It’s as if the party, which has been represented at Westminster since 1974, had only just appeared. But as the BBC Newsround website helpfully explains: “Because the DUP are a party that only stand for election in Northern Ireland, you may not have heard of them unless you live there”.

Many of those articles have focused on the DUP’s social conservatism. The response from Northern Ireland has been to roundly criticise a Britain only now waking up to the fact that life here has been influenced by this party for decades. But the DUP has never disguised its beliefs, and yet again, a sizeable chunk of the electorate in Northern Ireland – 36pc – chose to vote for those beliefs. That is their democratic right, and criticising a party for views you don’t agree with risks insulting their voters. This is democracy.

However, the GB media and electorate might want to take a closer look at just how democracy operates here in Northern Ireland. One of the key issues for voters in Northern Ireland is the continued secrecy around the funders of political parties.  Currently, a donation of more than £7,500 must be declared to the Electoral Commission, who checks if it is from a permissible source. But that information is not made public, as it is in the rest of the UK. The argument against greater transparency has always been that donors will be put at risk – a hang-over from the days of the Troubles.

All the parties support bringing NI in line with the UK. The Alliance Party and the Green Party in Northern Ireland voluntarily publish their donations. Recently Belfast City Council voted in favour of an Alliance Party proposal to reveal the names of political donors.

Green leader Stephen Agnew has consistently called for greater transparency and the pressure group Friends of the Earth have long campaigned over the issue.

I looked at this issue on BBC Hearts and Minds back in 2012  and at that time, new legislation was expected in 2013. As the late Liam Clarke reported in The Belfast Telegraph in 2013 the situation was then due to be reviewed in 2014. But even when the legislation DID change, the secrecy remained, as the then Secretary of State Teresa Villiers failed to act on it. Last year, The Detail used a legal loophole to reveal the extent of funding accessed by NI candidates for the general election in 2015 and discovered anomalies in reporting donations.

Now, after the Brexit referendum, the strange case of the DUP funding a pro-Brexit advert in London has raised serious questions about this state of affairs again.

If the DUP and the other Northern Ireland parties are in favour of transparency, why haven’t they pushed the Secretary of State to do something about it? And if Northern Ireland is now back on the UK-wide political agenda, let’s see some genuine interrogation by the media there, into how politics operates here.

  • epg_ie

    It seems unlikely that the UK media will get that far if the deal is looser than expected.

    But criticising a party for having views I don’t agree with is the meaning of democracy, isn’t it? Especially if they have exerted an undemocratic veto power.

  • chrisjones2

    Criticise away but we need full; transparency on all the accounts, donations and expenses. Some of what is published at elections for example seems risible

  • Zorin001

    I agree with you here Chris, full transparency for all parties or else what’s the point?

  • ted hagan

    ’36pc choose to vote for those beliefs’;
    Many vote this way because they believe the DUP best secures their position in the Union, not necessarily because they believe in the party’s ‘beliefs’.

  • Madra Uisce

    Except the DUP dosent secure anything. What secures their place in the Union is 50%+1 when that changes the DUP won’t matter a damn. The DUP did what they always do and yelled themmuns and sectarianism did the rest

  • ted hagan

    The whole state is riddled with sectarianism, it’s not just unionism. Do you not get that? Reading many of the posts here just tells the story.

  • Madra Uisce

    Exactly so. But Unionism is responsible for founding this state and were the sole arbiters of how the state developed during its first fifty years and they chose to develop it as a sectarian cess pit. That was their choice and they bear the responsibility for it.

  • ted hagan

    And Germany was a Nazi state not so long go.
    Life moves on.

  • runnymede

    It’s funny but I remember no events to celebrate the lives of Airey Neave and Ian Gow,

    I wonder why?

  • Madra Uisce

    LOL are you serious. This place is more sectarianized than it ever was. It will never change until it is consigned to the dustbin of history

  • William Kinmont

    When 50 plus 1 percent occurs it is essential that the Dup or at least whoever represents unionists matter very much otherwise the sectarian cess pit (I dont like the description) will continue. Designations will have changed and many flags waved to nobodies advantage.

  • Madra Uisce

    They will matter as much as nationalists do now

  • William Kinmont

    Attitude of consigning to the dustbin won’t change sectarianism.

  • ted hagan

    It involves those with entrenched views opening their minds just a little, to stop parroting the same old predictable slogans and to step out from the tribe.

  • Madra Uisce

    Did the election totally bypass you

  • William Kinmont

    Why so many bypasses Ted’s point baffles me

  • ted hagan

    The election depresses me.
    March: ‘We won, boo sucks to you!’
    June: ‘Well we won this time, so boo sucks to you’
    Ad infinitum.

  • Madra Uisce

    Exactly. But that is all its ever going to be as long as partition exists. You have the unbelievable spectical of working class Unionism voting enmasse for a deeply conservative party because of themmuns. The DUP unfortunately are nowhere as stupid as some of their electorate appear to be

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Time to catch up – May has been shouted at and called a coward when she eventually got round to visiting some of the fire victims – she had to be bundled out a side door under police escort. Her lack of empathy and flexibility which make her unfit to lead are clear to even the blindest of tories.

    Any illusions that this trembling creature is in any condition to conduct the Brexit talks must surely now be seen as delusional.

  • William Kinmont

    Removing partition solves sectarianism how? Possibly just possibly if properly handled as it is approached it could be the vehicle for helping to remove it but not if it’s a UI at all cost attitude.

  • jporter

    Could you describe exactly how voting for the DUP secures our position in the union?
    I’d love someone to explain this to me.

  • George Fleming

    Unionism was not responsible for founding this state and the
    singing of “The Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921.”

    Members of the Irish Free State Government along with members of the British Government.

    Ulster Unionists were not involved. Read below:

    The Anglo-Irish Treaty (Irish: An Conradh Angla-Éireannach), commonly known as The Treaty and officially the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, was an agreement between the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and representatives of the Irish Republic that concluded the Irish War of Independence.[2] It provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State within a year as a self-governing dominion within the ‘community of nations known as the British Empire’, a status ‘the same as that of the Dominion of Canada’. It also provided Northern Ireland, which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, an option to opt out of the Irish Free State, which it exercised.

    The agreement was signed in London on 6 December 1921, by representatives of the British government (which included Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who was head of the British delegates) and by representatives of the Irish Republic including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. The Irish representatives had plenipotentiary status (negotiators empowered to sign a treaty without reference back to their superiors) acting on behalf of the Irish Republic, though the British government declined to recognise that status. As required by its terms, the agreement was ratified by ‘a meeting’ of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and [separately] by the British Parliament. In reality, Dáil Éireann (the legislative assembly for the de facto Irish Republic) first debated then ratified the treaty; members then went ahead with the ‘meeting’. Though the treaty was narrowly ratified, the split led to the Irish Civil War, which was won by the pro-treaty side.

    The Irish Free State as contemplated by the treaty came into existence when its constitution became law on 6 December 1922 by a royal proclamation giving the force of law to the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Irish_Treaty

  • ted hagan

    I said those who vote DUP believe it secures their position within the union because it is the strongest unionist party in the same way those who vote SF believe it will lead to a united Ireland.
    I don’t support either, but does it really need explaining?
    Maybe a DUP supporter needs to answer that.

  • jporter

    Actually it does need explaining. Our position in the Union is secured, subject to a border poll. So what difference does voting DUP or SF make?

  • Nationalists cease to be for one. Their aim will be achieved. People can stop voting SF and vote for more traditional left/right parties.

  • John Collins

    I wonder why their fellow Unionists, as in Conservatives, do not have official commemorations for them

  • William Kinmont

    i hope so. i have assumed the unionist blocks natural instinct will be to abstain in protest initially . Getting them to engage Is not important for achieving UI but it is to make it fully successful.

  • George Fleming

    “But Unionism is responsible for founding this state”

    Not so, the formation of todays Northern Ireland began by the signing of the “Anglo Irish Treaty” 1921 by members of the British government and members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (forerunners of Sinn Fein) No members of the UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) were involved Read here:

    “The agreement was signed in London on 6 December 1921, by representatives of the British government (which included Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who was head of the British delegates) and by representatives of the Irish Republic including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Irish_Treaty

  • Patrick Jones

    They have had but in a more subdued way.

  • Korhomme

    Did you see May’s interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight? May came over in full Maybot mode, reading the script, not answering the questions, and seemingly heartless. A general view is that May is ‘toast’, the only question is when she goes, not whether. The interview is here:

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/17/theresa-may-avoids-questions-on-personal-response-to-grenfell-disaster

  • ted hagan

    Yes, and a decision on whether to hold a border will likely be judged on that representation.

  • ted hagan

    So SF is solely a sectarian party then?

  • Zorin001

    Even the Mail online has turned on her after last night, I know that it has a different management team than the Dacre led paper but still; if a Tory loses the Mail then they are finished.

  • Casper

    Add to that an independant person to Chair any talks between N.I. parties.

  • Casper

    Is Teresa May really a robot? I have never seen a PM so incapable of giving a sensible, fluid answer. It’s.. all.. very stuttery… and forced.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Runny, you have perhaps unconsciously touched on why this might be so with your wording (“celebrate”).

    A few of my wider social circle went to school with Neave’s children. I was working in a London film studio with a young woman who knew him personally when the news of his murder came over the radio, and she broke down with sincere grief. The consensus over succeeding years was for a very private and dignified remembrance. And, most importantly, for sensible efforts to ensure a genuine settlement for Northern Ireland where both political camps could not seriously claim some hubristic victory over the other. People from Neave’s social milieu would be appalled to have their own experience used as a political toy by, say, the DUP, certainly they would be entirely against having his memory turned into some vulgar “celebration” such as most inappropriately has been recently attached to poor Joe Cox’s memory. For heaven’s sake, man, “street parties, picnics, bake offs………”

  • Simian Droog

    Amazing that this isn’t more of a scandal. I guess nothing the DUP does is really surprising any more….

  • jporter

    But it’s the result that matters – and as we will get to vote on that issue ourselves, voting DUP or SF up to that point has no effect whatsoever.
    Essentially the only reason to vote for the main parties is to bring forward or stall a border poll. If anyone thinks voting for them has any other effect than that, they are deluded.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    May is, of course, in the ambitious position of personally representing those very policies of privatisation, cost cutting, and austerity which ensured that the cladding offered “value for money” rather than sound fire protection. Her “Hard Brexit” has always been a euphemism for free play for de-regulation of current European standards, the pre-requisite of a expansion of her Neo-liberal economic position, such as Trump is envisaging with his potentially punitive review of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

    If he , and May, are successful the earlier economic free for all which destroyed pensions and savings with the 2007 crash will look like simply a preliminary sketch when such policies are put into play, and the erosion of general standards across the board which they herald will ensure that the thinking which permitted the culpable skimping in the recent work on Grenfell Tower is replicated at every level of government thinking.

  • ted hagan

    I’m in two minds about this. Had it been Thatcher, she would have been addressing the crowds within hours, scoring as many political brownie points as possible. Perhaps, just perhaps, May didn’t want to be seen doing this.
    Can’t see her lasting any length of time though. She’s clearly not up to the job.

  • ted hagan

    Mail Online is generally even more scurrilous than the Mail.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It’s the blatant “transgressiveness” of these scandals which make them even political plus in certain quarters:

    http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/transgression-used-to-be-an-artistic-tactic-now-it-belongs-to-the-far-right-1.3115697

  • ted hagan

    I don’t see where you’re going with this.

  • ted hagan

    No, I have no doubt she has empathy. It’s the showbiz trick of displaying empathy that she lacks.

  • Zorin001

    I’ve always had a hearty chuckle that Dacre’s Mail attacks the internet in general over Pornography while the Mail Online appears to be the number one site on the web for pictures of barely legally teens in their bikinis and underwear.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Ted, look at the difference between Corby (and even the queen), and May. She had to be told to meet survivors, instead of, (as any normal person would) just doing it.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Exactly put, Seaan.

  • whatif1984true

    Reversing who is minority/majority does not end sectarianism and triumphalism. It will probably just fan the flames to a roar again….unless we manage to reconcile the 2 tribes before it happens.

  • El Daddy

    Sorry there George, few details wrong there.

    The delegation was made up on the Irish side by the party in government, Sinn Féin, and lead by its founder Arthur Griffith. The IRB was a seperate organisation which infiltrated Sinn Féin after 1916, as Sinn Féin was deemed responsible for the Rising despite having nothing to do with it, and the IRB felt they could use SF as a political vehicle. Griffith was not a member of the IRB, though Collins was its President.

  • whatif1984true

    That includes the naysayers and defeatists who have no hope.

  • whatif1984true

    Best awful option?

  • ted hagan

    My criticism would be that May didn’t react quickly enough to deal with the practical problems following the disaster, which is a more important test for a leader’s mettle and which she failed. But I don’t doubt her personal empathy with those who suffered. The media focus should be on the victims of this awful disaster rather than on distractions.

  • ted hagan

    Well, that’s that sorted then. Why bother with a public inquiry?

  • Korhomme

    Austerity, deregulation (the bonfire of the regulations), privatisation and (increasing) inequality are essential components of neoliberalism. I have done a few posts here about this, and Jonathon Freedland wrote about this in the Graun yesterday:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/16/grenfell-tower-rebuke-right-rampant-inequality?CMP=share_btn_tw

    Is it not now apparent to any sentient human that neoliberalism is a failed theory? The Great Crash, and now this horror can be traced directly to the application of this theory. Or, is such evidence the sort of thing that some politians neither want nor need?

    And isn’t Brexit the ultimate paradox; many of those who voted for it were, in reality, voting against the baleful effects of neolliberalism, yet what they will get should Brexit succeed is even more of the same.

    As for the Maybot; this will make a fascinating psychological study, but now isn’t the time. And is there more than just psychology?

  • Korhomme

    There was a lawyer on Newsnight recently; she had advised the victims of a previous high-rise fire. Her point was that a public inquiry can be moulded by the government to produce whatever answer is required. Rather, she argued, what is needed is the independence of the coroner’s inquiry.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    The media can quite easily focus on both aspects. The causes of the fire, and the reactions to the fire. Do you not think it important that the PM of the UK, and her party, are subject, as should be usual, to detailed scrutiny of her/their actions, especially at present, when they are supposed to be also conducting Brexit negotiations. May’s lack of leadership qualities leaves a very large question mark over her ability to negotiate effectively. She should, as the survivors of the fire have demanded, go.

  • runnymede

    Seaan – I couldn’t agree more. I think this ‘celebration’ is wholly inappropriate and is actually partisan politics dressed up in platitudes and sentimentality. That was what I was trying to imply with my oblique remark…

  • George Fleming

    Thanks El Daddy, my SF IRB quotes may be off centre, but the point of my post was to show that Irish Republicanism and the UK government were “responsible for founding this state” not the Ulster Unionists.

  • El Daddy

    The founding of the state wasn’t the issue anyway, it was partition, which had been in place before the treaty. Partition itself was always going to be a problem since the Larne gun running leading up to the enactment of Home Rule.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you runny, a decent answer after my own sour, angry bark. About my anecdote, what I did not know at the time was Ronnie Bunting Jrs involvement in Neave’s death. My grandfather served with Bunting’s father who remained a family friend, he, and his family were familiar to me in childhood, right up until he fell for Paisley. So the terrible irony of having links with both people was not lost on me later when I found out. Two lives destroyed in the mangle of ideology.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ted, there have been no public enquiries into the scandal of the steadily developing de-regulation free for all of the last three and a half decades. If Trump’s review is successful, morgages will again be sold freely to those virtually living in cardboard boxes (check the Dodd-Frank law out), put into worthless “bundles” and sold on to cover my pension and yours. Vote Conservative by all means, but don’t ignore the fact that their removal of protections in the interest of reckless private profit will impoverish (literally) all our lives.

    I’d choose to live in a world where I have some protections myself, rather than one where we’re all set for the inevitable de-criminalisation of virtually every form of theft.

  • jporter

    It’s simple – logic dictates that voting DUP or SF has none of the effect that those parties say it has, or that the voters believe it has.

  • lizmcneill

    Every form of theft by the rich from the rest of us.

  • NotNowJohnny

    It’s an old unionist party trick. When there’s an election in the air, claim the union is under threat and then claim that only by voting for the strongest unionist party can you preserve the union. The unionist people continue to buy this cr@p in huge numbers despite the fact that under the DUP’s watch, unionism has been greatly weakened. What does that say about DUP voters? Make of that what you like.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And of course, liz, every indignant attempt to challenge this, to create a space in which ordinary people can have their own lives, can be turned to the advantage of some elite or other. It’s all a matter of degree. When the exit vote occurred last year, I mentioned on Slugger was that the safeguards of the European Court of Human Rights being removed along with those of the European Court of Justice as one very serious concern of mine, the tiny EU protections afforded for our environment simply being trashed another.

    I was “reassured” by another poster that such things would be entirely safe (“in this day and age”), but as the exit committee at Westminster has made its intention clear it is laughably obvious they are not. As with the Ashers business last year, the ability of people to assume that while they are blowing up the house for everyone else, their own little room will not be touched, utterly terrifies me.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Korhomme, a strong argument for some sanity in an increasingly mad world!