Stormont’s path blocked by antithetical cultural incentives (not constitutional ones)

This is a presentation I gave last Thursday on where we find ourselves (or rather where the DUP and Sinn Fein find themselves).

I don’t go along with Alex Kane’s view that powersharing is dead (not least because something like it would have to take its place). Nor, like Alex, do I believe powersharing is the cause of the impasse.

The deeper question is that crashing Stormont proved to be the most popular move Sinn Fein has made in ten years. Its base wants it wrecked because they follow the party’s line that unionists are to blame for its confessed inability to deliver inside the institutions.

Sinn Fein’s problem is as Deaglán de Bréadún notes in the Irish News that “the long-running Stormont stand-off has damaged the party’s image, raising questions about their political competence and commitment to the peace process.”

But, Professor John Garry noted a few years back, the problem also exists at a much deeper cultural level: which drops the main consociational bodies into two very different camps:

Sinn Fein attract votes from Catholics who want a United Ireland and from Catholics who perceive themselves to be Irish. SDLP attract votes from Catholics who quite like the status quo devolved power sharing Assembly and who see themselves as Northern Irish rather than Irish.

Those ethno-national indicators do some work in terms of predicting choice. And the performance-based political accountability stuff doesn’t do any work.

Now the converse is true in the unionist block. The ethno-national indicators that I’ve just mentioned – constitutional preferences and national identity – they don’t do any work but there is some evidence of the performance-based accountability doing some work.

It’s the deeper divergences in these views (not necessarily the views themselves) that’s creating the two parties in search of a single government scenario outlined in the presentation.

Both parties bouyed by the coalescence of authority around an office they jointly control (now The Office of the Executive, formerly OFMdFM) have no difficulty asserting party authority at election time.

However, the cultural rewards and incentives run against each other so that Sinn Fein is rewarded handsomely for alienating moves, whilst the DUP’s Unionist voter expect them to knuckle under and demonstrate they are competent…

The result is vastly contrasting levels of resilience whilst being in government. This is a problem whether they can agree their first few post-agreement choreographed moves, or not.

It is only a matter of time before they trip over their shoelaces (or mutual vetoes).

Extended thoughts on Facebook Live…

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