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…

  • mickfealty

    It was SF in OFMdFM who brokered the quantum, and there were significant failures in oversight over safety. Had it gone without a hitch, do you think it would not have been sold loudly by SF reps the length and breadth of the island?

    Every big soccer club in England faces a dilemma when it comes to increasing capacity, United, Everton and Liverpool all had enough space to expand, City, Arsenal and Southampton all had to move. It seems no one in the loop considered all the parameters in regards to Casement.

    I appreciate that SF were caught between lobbies, but that’s what being an accountable representative entails. DUP pols have been hung for a lot less.

  • mickfealty

    “Tis but a scratch.” “A scratch? You’re arm’s off!” https://youtu.be/dhRUe-gz690

  • Skibo

    I would consider your argument on the increase in numbers if it was substantial but we are talking about a further 5400 at its max and now down to around 3400. Hardly a massive increase.
    have the DUP really been held accountable? The only Unionist politician I remember losing his seat was Peter Robinson and that was mainly his alleged close dealings with developers and of course some interesting claiming of expenses through Westminster.
    It will be interesting to see if how Ian Paisley books his holidays has any effect on his overall vote come the next election!

  • Skibo

    Ask Conor Murphy what?

  • Skibo

    I think the actions taken by Daithi showed a level of honesty and integrity that is lacking in politics in general.
    It has done his reputation no harm at all.

  • Nevin

    “Gladstone and the Liberals were forming a political alliance with the IPP.”

    Funny that the only occasions when side-deals were done with the representatives of Irish nationalism in the Home Rule debacle was when the latter were in the position of king-makers.

    “the reality that nineteenth century nationalism both violent and constitutionalist was non-sectarian in form.”

    Daniel O’Connell got short shrift when he travelled north. He was identified with the Catholic Association and with the Repeal of the Union movement.

    Michael Davitt, Parnell’s IPP associate was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a gun-runner so SF, PIRA’s political wing, would have something in common with Michael. Following your bizarre logic unionists took their cue from Michael Davitt!

    You mention Redmond twice yet fail to acknowledge that Redmond and Midleton were each rejected by their respective (mainly Catholic) nationalist and (mainly Protestant) unionist colleagues.

    The Protestant Loyal Orders had their counterpart in the Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians – but you don’t mention the latter in your ‘spoof’ history.

    James Craig summed up the ‘confessional’ nature of politics in the island of Ireland in 1934:

    The Hon. Member must remember that in the South they boasted of a Catholic State. They still boast of Southern Ireland being a Catholic State. All I boast is that we are a Protestant Parliament and Protestant State.”

  • Easóg

    Ask their voters. The AnG demand is from the ground up.

  • Easóg

    Is that good or bad – that the level is ‘mutch improved’?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, I always find it interesting that you should accuse me of a biased and selective approach to history when your posts show not only out of context selectivity, but an evident problem with even constitutionalist nationalism here!

    You mention Daniel O’Connell, but your valorisation of notorious northern opposition to Catholic Emancipation begs the simple question, do you believe that refusing Catholics the same voting rights as Protestants should have continued? O’Connor was fully supported by numerous liberal Protestants (north and south) in his emancipation campaign, so it is important to distinguish who actually opposed emancipation, and why.

    You also do not contextualise the rejection of both Midleton and Redmond into the historical ladder which explains it. Midleton was elected as the leader of Irish Unionism on walter Long’s retirement to the pique of Carson who wanted the job himself. carson’s espousal of the UUC interestingly only dates from his row with Midleton. Carson crafted Midleton’s rejection, which you have never analysed, relying as you do on partisan accounts which distort the good sense of Midleton’s proposals to avoid partition in 1917. You also fail to examine just what were the direct and indirect outcomes of the successful Unionist campaign to destroy constitutionalism in Ireland, the outcome of which was the rejection of Constitutionalism in the person of Redmond. You leave out the simple fact that his personal popularity and the popularity of his constitutionalist policies before 1914 describe the prospect of a very different, non-violent Ireland to that which Unionist belligerence has led us. Again, you suggest that Redmond and Midleton were inherently “rejected” rather than placing this in a pattern of time and context which undermines your thesis entirely.,

    You mention Davitt’s membership of the IRB as if this was similar to the modern SF/IRA relationship, but this is a bizarre misunderstanding of the historical realities on your part. Joe Biggar was a member of the IRB in the very early 1870s also, but even a smidgen of more research would have shown you that IRB policy was to expel anyone engaged in Constitutionalist Nationalist activity from around 1877. This was because such membership was recognised within the IRB as a “Trojan Horse” for constitutionalism. Joe and others had joined the IRB in order to steer its policy away from violence and to direct all political activity in Ireland to Constitutionalist politics. In fact, the very opposite of what you are suggesting!!! Even without IPP members within the IRB this policy was so successful by the 1890s that separatist and physical force nationalism shrank steadily to ensure that when only the UUC and UVF began their activities did separatism begin to revive from as low as just over a thousand members across the whole of Ireland.

    You are also seemingly credulous of the rhetoric employed publicly by Unionists such as Jimmy Craig and Lord Cushendun to rally the faithful, and ignore the hyperbole and exaggeration which marks such utterances, as well as showing a habitual tendency to lift comments entirely out of time and context. Was Jimmy talking about the Ireland of the early 1930s, Dev’s Ireland? He was hardly talking about the situation in 1912 or the policy of the IPP, which you appear believe runs seamlessly into the Ireland created by the Covenant and partition.

    Of course Jimmy Craig held quite different views outside of the spotlight:

    ‘Lord Craigavon himself said to the local Civil Service mandarin G.C. Duggan in 1937 “Duggan, you know that in this island we cannot live always separated from one another. We are too small to be apart, for the border to be there for all time.” ‘

    I quoted this four months ago on Slugger, and have already effectively answered you on most of the issues I’ve rehearsed today at some other time in our exchanges. I cannot ensure that you check the actual history, but would suggest that if you are to effectively discuss such matters a considerable amount of research is still required on your part, over and above single (usually Unionist) source impressions and perhaps some familiarity with the manner in which the historical context affects things would also help:

    “In order to be able to adequately deal with any conflict or dispute, it is necessary to understand its historical context. Is this really a new situation, unconnected to anything that has happened in the past? Or is this connected to past events for one or both parties?”

    The unfolding of patterns and the interrelatedness of things is the very texture of history, and each and every statement anyone makes must be set against its time and context. Without this attention to its setting its actual historical significance may be seriously distorted.

  • Pang

    Good point, but northern nationalists haven’t been 2nd class citizens for a long time but the divisions still run v deep. Changing the border won’t magically fix those divisions. Those deep divisions are the problem not the location of the border.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not so sure the bear won’t get to SF first 😉 I think you also underestimate unionist collegiality in the early post-GFA years before everyone ultimately lost patience with SF’s constant scratching away.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Victims are not ‘designated’ by anyone but the people who hurt them. But as to the definition of victim for the purposes of getting compensation and apology, it’s only SF holding matters up. Everyone else finds it absurd to regard terrorists as victims such that they or their families deserve compensation.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The ILA was not in the main part of the SAA, and was not agreed with the DUP. The UK govt tried to do a side deal with SF on it, hence it’s in an
    annex. They couldn’t deliver on it though, which both they and SF must have known at the time – so it looks like the Annex was a face-saving exercise for SF.
    What does POG stand for?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So by putting forward a policy you know the other side won’t buy, you are being “positive”? And the other side are negative? It seems to boil down to getting your demand in first – that qualifies you as positive, in your rationale.

    An observer might simply not that there is a lack of agreement. One side complaining ‘I said my bit first’ is kind of irrelevant.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    no, I think we can negotiate Irish language measures (and I’m open to it being legislation if that helps) that will deal with it – it’s a bit of a non-issue really, it just takes people to sit down and go through things in an empathetic way. Irish needn’t be a problem for anyone. I’m sure the Irish-speaking community doesn’t want the language abused by ethnic atavists any more than the rest of NI does.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    If you want me to explain it – the DUP did not agree a standalone Irish Language Act as you claim. That would kind of explain it. Didn’t you know that?

  • NotNowJohnny

    How do you know? Well, you knew that direct rule would bring some sense to Northern Ireland so who knows what else you know as regards direct rule. I should point out that we’ve had 33 years of direct rule since 1972 and “bringing some sense to this place” is not a term everyone would use in relation to it. Which begs the question why it should be any different now?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Two different senses of British, is the confusion. NI is not 100 per cent ethnically British of course. But it is 100 per cent legally British, as it is in the UK.

    Unionists do not think nationalists are ethnically British. When a unionist says Northern Ireland is British, there are two senses – it’s in the UK and thus is British (“of the UK”) sovereign territory; and it’s British in a non-exclusive cultural way as somewhere where many British people live and call home. It is also in that latter sense Irish (and Northern Irish, and European etc). In that latter sense, it is a British place as well as being an Irish place, the two being human cultural projections onto the land, which co-exist.

  • NotNowJohnny

    You still haven’t explained it. And I’ll now invite you to quote me where I claimed the DUP had agreed to it,

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think I’m in the white space bottom left! No wonder it feels cold in here.

  • NotNowJohnny

    The ILA is part of the SSA so that removes that from the list. The list is now a single item. As for the maze you will be aware that the maze was the subject of an agreement with the DUP until peter Robinson did a spectacular u-turn. I wasn’t even aware that the maze was a red line in the current talks. (Is it?) So it seems your list of everything Sinn Fein is (in your view) insisting on getting only includes two things and both of those already form parts of previous agreements made with Sinn Fein. Even the most biased commentator could hardly come yo the conclusion that this list supports your view that Sinn Fein is insisting that it gets everything that it wants.

  • Toye native

    The Belfast agreement was really set up to get terrorism of the streets, the republican movement went for it, so their comrades can get out of jail early.
    When catholics stop voting for SF in large numbers. Unionists will stop voting the DUP in large numbers, that’s just the way it will be , rightly or wrongly

  • Toye native

    I agree that you are not anti unionist, and a supporter of socialist values and many more like you.
    But still a large bulk of SF supporters support them simply because they are anti unionist

  • Toye native

    Moderate unionists already support, alliance or the greens.
    There is still thousands of die in the wool unionists who don’t vote, the dup could pick them up

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I wasn’t attempting a full list, that was your request only.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The Belfast Agreement was negotiated between interest groups here and the two governments to achieve many things. A lot of serious current thinking about social organisation in conflict societies went into its making. Just one thread, the political scientist Brendan O’Leary’s important work on Consociationism went into the idea of power sharing. It was far, far more than simply getting the gun out of our politics, it was an attempt to address at root the reasons why NI was always a failed state politically. Just for interest Brendan’s important Dalriada proposal offered a framework for keeping NI and Scotland in both the EU and the UK after exit, but of course pleased no- one no matter how sensible it was.

    The question you really need to ask yourself is why do Catholics vote for SF in large numbers? The see-saw vote which has swopped SF/DUP for SDLP/UUP topped in 2007 and the SF vote kept pace with the Unionist switch to the DUP. Your solution is reminiscent of the logic of Sir Boyle Roche at his most confusing. One could as well say that if the Unionists stop voting DUP then nationalists might stop voting SF. But extreme intransigence always begets the same in return. “You put down that nuke,”
    “no, you put yours down first…”

  • Skibo

    Well then why doesn’t the DUP get down to business and get it negotiated?
    If it is such a non issue why did AF say never in her time? Why didn’t they allow discussions to happen when Caral Ni Cuilin put forward a paper for discussion?
    You are right, the Irish speaking community does not want the Irish language abused but I think it is a bit crude to call the DUP ethnics!

  • Skibo

    You seem to have a more rounded analysis of what makes this place tick than most DUP politicians.
    I agree that at present the North comes under the British jurisdiction but the legitimacy of the way that jurisdiction was created is contested. The fact of that jurisdiction in it’s present form is not.

  • Skibo

    Toye I would be very very surprised if there are any die in the wool Unionists who do not vote. I think there are people on both sides who are agnostic to voting itself but the very fact of being an ardent Unionist is you must vote to maintain the Union. Anyone else who doesn’t vote is open to persuasion but you will normally find that such people will put facts and figures and money in their pocket over who they pay their taxes to.

  • jimbob622

    Pulis can do a job alright, very hard to like the style of football though and you could certainly argue it isn’t good for the game. SF are no brazil 1970 either but tbf i never said they were. Not sure who they are…….

  • jimbob622

    If Nationalists are incompetent it is incompotence in the face of DUP intrasigence. Not sure what one does about that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I wish they would. They are not the people who should be leading unionism in my view.

  • Toye native

    Most loyalists I work with (young ones) never have voted. When it comes to young woman from working class loyalist areas, don’t know one that votes, then there is those 4 out ten protestants who don’t vote , because there is not YET a unionist party liberal enough for them. But still wouldn’t vote for a UI

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You accused the DUP of “refusing to agree to not using the petition of concern to prevent the implementation of what was set out in the St. Andrews Agreement and instead choosing to override the will of the majority of MLAs in the Assembly as regards the introduction of a stand alone Irish language bill”
    “Set out” implied it was in the main part of the SAA the DUP were party to. The Annex was not part of the SAA proper, it was a side document between the government and SF.

  • Ruairi Murphy

    What a response.

  • NotNowJohnny

    No no no. I chose those words very carefully. Despite this you have chosen to misinterpret them in a way that suits your position.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Ruairi, I like to be detailed enough to avoid the ambiguities which “ short and pithy” can entail in complex things!

  • Nevin

    Seaan, you’ve merely indulged in your familiar anti-unionist rhetoric. So nothing new there then! I mentioned Michael Davitt in the context of gun-running and IRB membership – and you ramble off into a diversion about Joe Biggar. Redmond and Midleton wandered off into no-man’s land and were rejected by their respective camps. You slabber on about Midleton and ignore the hatchet job done on Redmond – and have the cheek to lay a charge of distortion!

    I’m both pleased and relieved that I avoided the call of the unionist, nationalist and socialist hallions who helped set this place alight in the late 60s whereas you hitched your wagon to the latter group. Perhaps I should put your fake history down to a blow on the head back in the day.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, again failing to even notice the points I’m raising, I see. I’d still recommend some real research to understand context! As Wittgenstein told his Cambridge viva examiners, you’ll perhaps catch up with me some day! But as Yeats dismisses Von Hugel, “ blessings on your head…..”

  • Nevin

    Why don’t you try some real research instead of cherry-picking to suit your long term and passing fads, Seaan? Your anti-unionist prejudice is so transparent; it was a simple matter of observing patterns of behaviour and noting some of the bits left out.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the various protagonists cleaned their own stables instead of finger-pointing at others? Jimmy Dyson is so much more useful than a Tony Dyson!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, I critique Unionism’s role in landing us in this mess! The recognition of Unionism’s miscalculations and mistakes will always be the first stage of any meaningful clean up of our politics, as they are the source of much of what we live with. You bring my efforts to clarify our history up as if it’s somehow a bad thing!

    But I note you have failed to seriously answer me on even one tiny point and simply try and score with undigested quotes, general accusations of bad faith and with open insult when I try and offer you detailed and contextualised answers to your comments. Your response pattern speaks eloquently for itself!

  • Nevin

    “I critique Unionism’s role in landing us in this mess!”

    Seaan, that’s just a fancy way of camouflaging your anti-unionist prejudice.

    “I note you have failed to seriously answer me”

    I have sufficient dog-wit, expertise and experience not to indulge your diversions.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Which translates as having no answers. “Aesop, Fox, grapes…” but……Blessings, Nevin…….

  • Nevin

    Seaan, your prejudice is your responsibility, not mine, not anyone else’s.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And , Nevin, honest debate is the responsibility of us all! As I’ve suggested to another poster, it’s a great help to be able to distinguish between a pane of glass which can be seen through and one which reflects! Prejudice”, eh, ho, hummmm……

  • Nevin

    I dabble in genealogy, history and politics so I’m accustomed to shining light into dark corners – and to listening as well as talking.

    One MLA described me to a friend as ‘a dangerous bastard’ – which I took as a compliment! Said MLA later recognised me at Stormont but couldn’t remember my name. I said who I was – and named by friend. That was the end of the conversation!