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Quick Impressions of the NI Assembly Elections May 7, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in Democratic Unionist Party, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Northern Ireland, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers' Party, Workers' Party.
55 comments

Results so far (early hours of Saturday morning but should be updated regularly).

A very good day for the DUP; a very bad one for the UUP and TUV.

SF has done well, SDLP not so well.

Alliance has done very well, including topping the poll in South Belfast.

DUP/SF increasingly dominant – around twice as many votes as their UUP/SDLP rivals.

Greens in with a real chance of a seat in North Down.

Dawn Purvis nearly certain to lose her seat, and Brian Ervine won’t retake it for the PUP.

Very good election for the PBPA, although I’m not sure there will be enough transfers for McCann to take the seat looking at how close the SDLP candidate ranked 7th is after the first count, and vote of lowest place SF and SDLP candidates. West Belfast result also eye-catching, more than doubling the vote to 1661 (4.8%). Please correct me if this is a mistake but looking at Belfast City Council’s list of candidates for west Belfast constituences, I don’t think the PBPA is standing in the local council elections in west Belfast, making it harder to judge to what those votes are overwhelmingly a core PBPA vote, or if some have been leant to them by éirígí/IRSP-type voters given that these parties aren’t standing in the Assembly election, but are standing in the council. I heard one estimate that put éirígí on around 1,000 (I think for both Upper and Lower Falls combined, but forgot to ask) although the council counting will be much slower than the Assembly.

Results in south and east Belfast for the left could have been better but the PBPA will think it did quite well in south Belfast. This is fairly worring given that they would have in the past been places the left would have looked to for growth.

The Socialist Party will probably be most pleased with its 384 votes in west Belfast (1.1%) out of the constituencies where it ran, while the south and east Belfast votes are fairly static.

The Workers’ Party vote in east and south Belfast is pretty static, but more than doubled in North Belfast (possibly the most sectarian electoral area in NI) to 332 (1%), its highest vote there since the early 1990s and had the highest number and percentage for more than a decade in west Belfast (586, 1.7%).

The total vote for the WP, PBPA, and SP is close to 7,500, (1.1% of the overall vote), with most of it going to the PBPA as expected. If you were to take Dawn Purvis’s 1,700-odd votes as primarily left votes (and there are reasons not to), about 1.4%. This gives a pretty sobering assessment of where the left stands in NI, especially when you remember the disproportionate percentage of the vote achieved by two candidates.

The council elections results are going to be more interesting still in light of these results, especially in Derry.

Meanwhile back at the House of Commons December 16, 2010

Posted by Tomboktu in British Politics, Democratic Unionist Party, Irish History, Northern Ireland.
22 comments

[I think the link is unstable.]

Nigel Dodds in the London House of Commons debate on the Loans to Ireland Bill, yesterday evening.:

He couldn’t resist the opportunity for a dig:

However, it would be remiss of me and the people for whom I speak not to point out that the loan is being made merely months before the 90th anniversary of the secession of the 26 southern counties from the United Kingdom. For probably the vast majority of that time, and certainly in the past 30 or 40 years, politicians and others in the Irish Republic have spent most of their time denying the relationship between southern Ireland and the United Kingdom. However, the loan and all that has been said prove the interdependence of the Irish economy and the Irish Republic with—and, to a large degree, their dependence on—the United Kingdom. There are those who go around saying that the United Kingdom should keep out of their affairs and all that, but I think they now realise that in many ways the dependence is very great, and not just on Europe, but on the United Kingdom in particular.

But then he got around to speaking sense:

It is also worth spending a minute or two recapping how we came to this position. For many years, people referred to the great Celtic tiger that was the Irish Republic’s economy, and that includes those now in government, as has been pointed out. Those who raised issues about the way in which that economy was lauded were criticised as being driven by petty political considerations and told that their criticisms were not justified. There were those of us who pointed out that there were domestic issues to do with the great concentration on property. However, a recent editorial in The Guardian summed up the position well:

“Politicians kept consumer demand buoyant with generous public spending, while rewarding developer friends with public works contracts. Ireland’s narrow elite ran the economy like a casino and awarded itself free chips. No one, save a few lonely economists, had much incentive to call time on the party. By 2007, around one in five Irish jobs depended in some way on the property market.”

But he had to come back to the digs:

We in Northern Ireland have had our disputes with the Irish Republic, but relations are now much better than they used to be, and we do not take any satisfaction from the crisis that has enveloped it. Someone asked where the Irish Republic stood in relation to recent debates on Europe. People will remind us in this House of the Irish Republic’s attitude during the long years of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland, when the Republic became a safe haven for terrorists and refused to extradite wanted criminals to Northern Ireland for justice. Some of our constituents are now saying, “Why should we help them, now that they are in this situation?” They also remember the Irish Republic’s role in the formation of the IRA, back in 1969. They say, “We see all these inquiries, but what are we doing about that?” That is understandable, because lives were lost and families were bereaved as a result of the activities of Governments of all shades and opinions in the Irish Republic. All of them played a role, whether Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour or all the rest of them.

Joke of the Day November 19, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Democratic Unionist Party.
3 comments

Ian Paisley Lord Bannside in the House of Lords

Accompanied by his wife, Baroness Paisley, the former Free Presbyterian moderator joked that Lady Paisley had been sent, like John the Baptist, before him.

Robinson Says NO! May 10, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Democratic Unionist Party.
12 comments

Peter Robinson, according to the BBC, won’t be resigning as either leader of the DUP nor as First Minister after all, despite his humiliating defeat to Naomi Long of the Alliance Party. Martina Purdy reports that not one MLA spoke against Robinson remaining leader in a meeting of the DUP Assembly team, and one privately stated that Robinson’s best was yet to come.

It’s a strange decision this, but logical in other ways. There is no doubt that Robinson’s standing within public opinion has been badly damaged by the financial scandals of the last few months. But, there is also little doubt that the DUP is generally happy with his performance as First Minister, and that his only failure to get elected was an aberration in an otherwise very satisfying election. So it could be that the DUP – which doesn’t like to be seen to be reacting to pressure from others – reckons that Robininson will have enough support to keep his own seat in east Belfast at the Assembly elections next year, and that his personal relative unpopularity will not cost them any more seats, especially in light of the fact that both the UUP and the TUV appear something of a busted flush. Or it could be that he may hang on, and then resign shortly before that election, and they are giving him room to do this, and go in a dignified manner. Or it could be that no other individual could take over with such support. Under Ian, it was definitely Ian, then Peter, and then a raft of lesser leading lights, whose standing came near neither of those two. I don’t think there has been time for a successor to grow their authority naturally in the way that Robinson did, and this could be a factor. Or it could be that no-one wants to take over with a potentially resentful Robinson who felt that he had more to give, and that he had been forced out, hovering in the background. Or some combination of all these. My own inclination is that he is liable to be gone within a year or two regardless, and that this is about a managed transition. It might have an impact on unionist re-alignment if the noises coming out from the UUP are right that they would find him harder to get behind than someone like Dodds, but we shall see. Certainly it can be business pretty much as usual, and that is what the DUP has opted for for now.

Spotlight on the Robinsons January 8, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland.
88 comments

I’ve never had much time for the Robinsons myself, though it is undeniable that Peter is a supremely talented politician. His role as electoral strategist in the rise of the DUP to the ascendant unionist party proves as much, and there is no doubt that he has been the real driving force behind the DUP’s embrace of realpolitik and power-sharing. Without Paisley’s own conversion, it would never have happened, but Robinson undoubtedly played a major role in setting the terms for the DUP’s acceptance of power-sharing and in negotiations with the other parties. There have always been rumours about the Robinsons, whether about goings on within their marriage (which Iris blamed on British intelligence in an interview with the Sunday Tribune) and about their finances. Their expenses, like those of so many other MPs, also raised eyebrows. Spotlight did not beat about the bush, accusing Iris of breaking the law over financial dealings, connected to her desire to help a young man a third of her age who later became her lover.

It accused Iris of breaking the law by not declaring her financial interest in a public contract, and in taking £50,000 from two developers and not declaring it. The programme also said that Peter Robinson had failed to inform the authorities of these events, in violation of the Ministerial Code of Practice. The allegations were largely made on the basis of over 100 text messages sent by Iris Robinson to her former advisor, Selwyn Black, and statements from Kirk McCambley, her former lover.

The laws covering local government state that once Mrs Robinson had a financial interest in the business, she was obliged to declare it at any meeting she attended where it was being considered. She failed to do so.
Spotlight reported that she also broke a cluster of other rules in the Code of Conduct for councillors – as many as five elements of the code.
Mrs Robinson told adviser Selwyn Black about wanting to help Mr McCambley. As an MP, she was also legally obliged to declare the £50,000 she received from the developers in the register of members’ interest at both Stormont, where she served as an MLA, and Westminster. She failed to do so.

I have to say that I don’t regard Spotlight as being the most reliable of sources. Far from it. And this programme showed signs of being rushed – the Robinsons’ statements on Wednesday (here and here) do seem to have caused the programme to be broadcast ahead of schedule. It seemed to me that the programme suffered for it, with several things that might have been elaborated on left hanging. I’m thinking, for example, about the question of the relationship between Iris Robinson and property developers. A programme put together on a more leisurely schedule might well have included a great deal more on this issue. Nevertheless we may surmise from Iris’ withdrawal from public life that there may well be something in what it says. Unlike programmes about people with convictions who would never win a libel case, and so can be safely accused of all sorts, the Robinsons would have a good chance of winning a court case. The fact the BBC lawyers allowed the programme to go ahead certainly suggests that they feel they are on solid ground.

So on the assumption that people by and large believe what was said in the programme, where do we stand now? Iris’ withdrawal from public life has certainly been well-timed, and instantly defuses a lot of the nastier potential outcomes for the DUP, and possibly for Peter too. Instead of a possibly drawn out battle to hang on to her seats, with mounting damage over time, we have no response, on the grounds of ill-health, and no urgent political imperative for one from her in the near future given that she has moved on. That can only be a help to the DUP. The slow fall of the Paisleys, partly due to Ian Jr’s relationship to a property developer, cannot be repeated here, with Iris already gone. But can Peter survive? The programme did after all accuse him of failing to act properly. It seems to me that he can. He is supposed to have advised that the money be paid back, and so even if he didn’t report it himself, he can claim that he took steps to rectify what had gone on. That has proven enough for most people to survive the expenses scandal for example. This is clearly not the same situation, but it seems to me that he can make a viable claim to having tried to clear up the mess created by his troubled wife the best he could. If people within the DUP and broader unionism want Peter to survive then he can survive these claims. Part of the issue will be if the more religious elements of the DUP and its support base can be convinced that he wasn’t being blatantly dishonest, and that seems to be a case he can make. If there was already a groundswell of discontent with Peter, or a long-term leader-in-waiting as he himself was, then he would be in more trouble, but that isn’t really the case. The absence of one clear alternative leader such as Peter himself was with Big Ian also militates against a coup. However, if more stuff comes out that impacts upon Peter’s reputation, then he may well end up in serious trouble.

More broadly, does this story have anything to say about the nature of northern politics? Or to put that another way, should we be looking in the north for a similar nexus between the political class and developers as exists in the south, or for a similar level of general corruption? I’m not sure the situation is that bad, but the two leading dynasties in the DUP have had links with property developers that have led them into political difficulties. Is this a problem confined to the DUP, or elements of it? I seriously doubt it. I’m not sure though that the situation is as bad as it is in the south, although the longer the local executive is in place the more likely it is that such links will strengthen. Part of the issue here is the ruthless and populist nature of the two dominant parties in the north. SonofStan on another thread raised a comparison between the DUP and Fianna Fáil. We might well say that in the north, we have two Fianna Fáils, one nationalist and one unionist (with the possibility of the real thing entering the fray at some point too). Anyone can see that the politicians from both parties enjoy the trappings of power, and they have both been forging strong links with Business in their respective target audiences, as well as promoting a weaker form of social partnership in meetings with trade unions. The SDLP and UUP have always had strong links to the business community, and no doubt they will continue. Of course, links to the business community do not in and of themselves mean a culture of corruption. But there is no doubt that a key part of the transition from the number two parties within their target audiences to number one has been the success of both the DUP and PSF in forging alliances with the business and professional classes, and other “respectable” institutions. Their politics have increasingly reflected and will continue to increasingly reflect these class interests – be it through PPP or other forms.

Iris Robinson’s sex life is of no interest to me, and is not a political issue. What are political issues however are corruption among public representatives and public servants, and the ways in which our politicians serve the interests of Capital. Whatever the truth of the allegations in the Spotlight programme, or the ins and outs of the activities of the Robinsons and the Paisleys, this broader class question is one we cannot and must not lose sight of if we are to build a left alternative in Northern Ireland. Neither Green nor Orange populism will solve the problems faced by working class people north and south.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Songs (Allegedly) January 6, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Democratic Unionist Party, Music, Religion.
237 comments

With Iris’ resignation and rumours rife about the Robinsons, another of the DUP’s heavy hitters looks like he may soon be singing the (gospel) blues (but not perhaps in Ulster Scots).

Ian Richard Kyle Paisley farewell… DUP realos, fundis and the future March 4, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party.
18 comments

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It strikes me watching Channel 4 News and reading that Ian Paisley is stepping down in May that this must be the source of considerable anguish and unease in many quarters this evening. Cast your mind back to a time before those balmy Spring days last year, before we gazed upon former adversaries sitting down together and breaking bread, or cracking jokes, travelling the world and enjoying first class lounges at various airports, or whatever it was that they were doing. Think back even before the famous right-angled table which brought together the unlikely combination of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams.
Think back to a time when the media was engaged in the task of DUPology, something akin to Kremlinology, but arguably more difficult. When – as happens in such cases – various attributes were projected, often with little or no basis in fact, upon individuals within the DUP. We were told that there were, as it were, fundis (incidentally, I’ve always detested that term when applied inappositely to the Irish Green Party, but the DUP isn’t the Green Party). For them there was no countenancing a deal short of a return to something close to 1965, or perhaps earlier, perhaps 1956. Or earlier… perhaps 1695. We saw Gregory Campbell on this evening – a fine example of same. Ian Paisley himself was meant to be one such. Then, it was whispered, that there were realos. Peter Robinson was promoted as leader of that faction. These were they guys who when push came to shove were aching to be in power, keen for the merc’s or Jaguars, and perks. Willing even to deal with the… well… with Sinn Féin…

And then, with one bound our hero broke free and proved himself to be not merely not a fundi, and hardly even a realo, but a super-realo. Ian Paisley (for it was he) eschewed such categories in favour of a protean transformation from Dr. No to … something else entirely. It has been as if he spun a web which allowed everything to transcend the actuality and move somewhere else. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, this was a man for whom rhetoric was all, from the first utterance of a negative to the softer words in the more recent past. And that rhetoric was surprisingly skillfully employed to entangle both allies and opponents.

The discourse shifted. Because now people began, as the haze lifted, to wonder just how solid was the DUP behind him. And still – perhaps – that remains unclear. Is Robinson (still odds on favourite to take the helm after 27, count them, 27 years as Deputy leader) truly a realo. Or more of one than had been hoped. How will that realo stance assist him as the thorny issue of devolution of policing becomes even more of a live issue as we move towards the Summer.

What also of the fear that the fundis are implacably opposed to the current situation and without the authority of the iconic signifier of rejectionist Unionism somehow supporting the structures of the GFA that the DUP will bend and break upon the workings of that agreement. Because it’s not as if Unionism doesn’t have form on these situations, taking steps forward only to retreat in disarray. These are dark thoughts, and perhaps unlikely to come to pass. Yet there are forces on this island which thrive on uncertainty and instability. That are waiting in the long grass to do away with stability and push the situation somewhere, anywhere. And there must be many many wondering what happens next, for better or for worse. Gary Gibbons on Channel 4 News recounted an anecdote of an SF MLA who said to him some months ago that if he saw Paisley keel over he’d be first in line to give mouth to mouth resuscitation. That very story speaks volumes about his centrality to the process and the fragility of that process. I never thought I’d be sorry to see him go.

Sinn Féin’s nine months of madness continues December 26, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Democratic Unionist Party, Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Northern Ireland, Republicanism, Republicans, Sinn Féin, The North.
43 comments

Beginning with a public apology to WBS for leaving him so long to carry the site by himself, something he is more than able to do I should point out. But the strains of moving house in December caused more than a little difficulty in the Little household.

It’s a pity, because when I read this fantastic story  where, as I’m sure people already know, Sinn Féin’s former Unionist Outreach official Martina Anderson argued that immigrants were the wrong sort of Catholics I would have given a great deal for a good broadband connection. Beneath the lunacy there is a serious point that nationalist areas continue to be more economically deprived than unionist areas and there is, I suppose, a legitimate concern that Polish immigrants might skew the numbers due to their ability to get jobs when the Sinn Féin voters of West Belfast cannot. But the manner in which it was made, and Anderson’s failure to realise that it is Sinn Féin’s habit of thinking along sectarian lines (Not the same, before the crypto-provos that I was amused to see inhabit the site descend on me, as saying it is a sectarian party) that created the problem in the first place.

It is difficult to think back to the position Sinn Féin enjoyed in the second week of March. They had just achieved another triumph at the ballot box in the Northern Assembly elections, managing to give the SDLP a kicking on one of their flanks, and a motley crew of alternative republicans a kicking on the other side. The party leadership had delivered an endorsement of policing by the members little short of unanimous and they faced into an election here in May with every chance of doubling their seats in Leinster House and livening up their Dáil team. There was an expectation of a dividend from Southern voters for the Assembly being re-established and the image of Paisley and McGuinness sitting down together drawing a line under so much of the negotiations impasse. If there was a slight cloud on the horizon political anoraks might have noticed Adams’ appalling performance on A Week in Politics the night of their Ard Fheis, but few people watched that show and surely they would have sorted out the problems, such as not knowing what tax rates his party was proposing, by the election.

And then, it all went horribly wrong and has been continuing to go wrong since. The election result in May has already been analysed to death but the party has lost a number of councillors since then in the South. Some for political reasons, some for personal ones and some for ‘personal’ ones. I reckon a number of people saw the bandwagon was running out of steam and decided to get off before it collapsed altogether. The DUP have bitch-slapped them around the place on the Irish Language Act, which the Shinners concentrated their attentions on while ignoring economic issues. Caitríona Ruane has proved an unmitigated disaster in education with her handling of the classroom assistants dispute set to enter the textbooks of administrations on both sides of the border about how not to handle an industrial dispute. Her proposed alternative to the 11+ is confused, scanty on details and poorly thought out. There is no sign of any momentum for devolution of policing powers and indeed the resignation of their Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA and former Agriculture Spokesperson Gerry McHugh along with the refusal of Sinn Féin councillors in Strabane to sit on the Policing Boards shows that the anti-policing section of the party retains some pull. Conor Murphy hasn’t done a bad job on water charges, approaching it in a sensible fashion regardless of what the far left thinks, and Gildernew has managed to hold the fort in Agriculture as well, but there has been nothing spectacular from Sinn Féin in the North. Except for attacks on Margaret Ritchie of course, which seems to have a lot more to do with attacking the SDLP regardless of what they’re doing than anything else.
Down here, the party has reviewed itself thoroughly and decided that it did nothing wrong, or at least its leaderships did not. It is telling that despite Fine Gael’s success Kenny fired Phil Hogan and a question-mark remains over Kenny’s leadership. Rabbitte and the authors of the Mullingar Strategy in Labour have been cast aside. Sinn Féin’s upper leadership remains intact and the move of key northern activists like Declan Kearney into positions of authority in the party in the South suggests that Adams, having listened to the opinion of Southern members for the last six months has decided to ignore it and continue to centralise control in the mistaken belief that someone other than him, and he alone, is responsible for the party’s disastrous election campaign. The murder of Paul Quinn brought out the standard Sinn Féin approach of blackening the name of the victim with accusations of criminality that seem unproven. What seems more clear is the eager desire among their political opponents to hi-jack the Quinn’s case to attack Sinn Féin, but they would have no campaign to manipulate were it not for Quinn’s murder and how Sinn Féin handled it.

WBS has already looked at the coverage of the Sinn Féin conference and the only thing I would add to that is McDonald’s comment that Sinn Féin does not have an ‘open door’ policy on immigration is no policy shift. The Shinners, despite the accusations of far-right lunatics on Stormfront, have never had such a policy but the party’s strong support for immigrant rights has often seen them cast that way, though like WBS I don’t think it affected their election performance. What interests me is the conference in Dublin Airport, at which the press were not welcome, held a couple of weeks beforehand. Criticism of the leadership, and of Ruane’s performance in education in particular, was much in evidence and my Southern SF based source who attended was slightly surprised to see the extent of the internal criticism of Ruane from Northern colleagues.

For the Shinners, they have two opportunities to get themselves back in the game in 2008. The first is their Ard Fheis in March. The reality is that the party is still shaken and still lacks energy. The Ard Fheis is also the most likely time and place for leadership changes to be announced with members of the current leadership not contesting positions and newer, probably Southern, people being put forward for one or two of them. It will also be interesting to see if there are candidates against leadership choices for the main positions from the grassroots. If there are to be some of the serious internal reforms the party needs and have yet to appear, this is the place for them.

The second is the EU Reform Treaty. This brings me neatly to a favourite topic, which is the madness of Vincent Browne who argues at the back of the current edition of Village that Sinn Féin has not made its position on the EU Reform Treaty clear and it is his opinion they are likely to back it. Ahh Vincent, take thy head out from the Mahon Tribunal and read a paper. Sinn Féin’s party leadership, and McDonald & Adams in particular, have been making clear their intention to not simply oppose the Reform Treaty, but to lead the opposition to it. Most recent press statement from the party on it is here. What makes Browne’s error all the more mystifying is that the former Sinn Féin European Director Eoin O Broin now writes for his magazine. This referendum campaign gives Sinn Féin the opportunity to portray itself as the ‘real’ opposition to establishment centrist politics and even the possibility of fighting a winning campaign, which would be a massive boost to a party going into Local Elections in 2009, and European Elections where only a miracle will save their seat in Dublin.

As for the party in the North, it’s not my area of expertise but I suspect the DUP and the Northern Ireland Civil Service will be allowed to continue to drive the agenda on important issues while Sinn Féin shout about the Irish language or wrestle with the conundrum of whether Polish Catholics are ‘real’ Catholics or some sort of ‘provisional’ Catholic. There is an old saying that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King. Lacking such a person, I suspect for Sinn Féin in the North it will be whichever one of them has the stick.

A long way from the heady days of March 7, 2007.

The former Moderator and Moderation. Dr. Ian Paisley (for it is he) step forward… meanwhile you have to have a Party (Conference) when you’re in a state like this *… November 7, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The North, Ulster, Unionism.
16 comments

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As reported in the Irish Times on Monday:

Dr Paisley was guest of honour at [an international conference on dispute resolution organised by the Irish branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in Dublin] which focused on commercial dispute resolution including arbitration, mediation, conciliation and adjudication. Joe Behan, chairman of the Institute said it was a great honour to have Dr Paisley present, “whose election to the post of First Minister is due to the resolution of what was once seen as an intractable dispute”.

“In the past when we thought of Northern Ireland we thought of conflict. Now we think of resolution, hope and a bright future. Dr Paisley’s commitment, determination and unfaltering negotiation skills played a significant role in bringing about resolution,” Mr Behan said.

Yes indeed, that commitment, determination and unfaltering negotiation skills… No, that doesn’t scan quite right. Perhaps we should ask the good Doctor just how was this exemplar of mediation and conciliation achieved?

Dr Paisley said he could have chosen not to enter into Government with Sinn Féin until all issues in relation to the future of Northern Ireland were resolved, but he decided to compromise and focus on the issues which were an “absolute necessity”.

Which were…

“That everyone must accept the police service of Northern Ireland as the legal law enforcement force; everyone must accept the fact that we as a people must obey the law; and everybody must support the law.”

And so the Gordian knot was cut.

However, Dr Paisley told the conference, he was still surprised at the speed at which a deal was done once these core principles were accepted.

Indeed, and he’s not the only one.

“I agreed I would move and we did move. I didn’t think we were going to move at such speed but we did. I don’t know what happened. The vehicle went faster than ever before and I am here today as proof positive that Northern Ireland has a Government, Northern Ireland has an Assembly, and Northern Ireland is going to go down further and further the road of peace and prosperity.”

It’s an anodyne sort of vision isn’t it? Good, but not exactly heady stuff.

Actually one of the most interesting aspects of the Paisley’s speeches at the moment is how secular the language is. He said that he:

…looked forward to the day when everyone on the island shared a common denominator.

“To see that the people on both parts of this island have fair play, live with the protection of law and order and go forward to give their children a better place in this island, and I believe we should dedicate ourselves to this task.”

Who, who on earth, could disagree with any of that? From left to right, nationalist to Unionist, Dissenter and otherwise. No one. That old time religion has been parked – at least for the moment. It’s a business like attention to detail. Which is fair enough.

Some are suggesting – particularly on the wilder shores of Unionism (and within the UUP, which sometimes appear to amount to much the same thing these days) that Paisley is now an Ulster nationalist. Perhaps. But I suspect that this is simply a mark of his ability to pitch towards audiences the sort of message that he wants them to hear. And yet, the DUP has always presented a somewhat un-ideological attachment to order and the rule of law as part of its political ‘myth’, a ‘myth’ that has flown perilously close to a rather different reality on occasion. That can lead to a pragmatism of sorts when the necessity to fulfill previous political declarations becomes necessary in order to avoid charges of hypocrisy. I’m not ignoring the amount of self-serving or wishful thinking in all this, something common to all political projects, but… the inextricable logic of the situation led to the DUP having to deal at some point. And on a slightly different tangent, there is something of the Ulster nationalist (small or large ‘n’) about a project which wrestles back power from the ‘elitist’ English in London and in a firmly populist manner relocates it to Stormont. It’s not Irish Republicanism, but there is at least a hint of the old Dissenter spirit there. Whether there is enough petrol in the tank for the ‘vehicle’ Paisley talks about to keep running smoothly is another intriguing question. Certainly there must be quite a few who wonder what the future will be in a world where his personality is no longer around to keep the show on the road. And I’ll bet some of those few might be in the most unlikely of places.

Still, having said that I can’t say I entirely disagree with the assessment of David Ford, leader of Alliance (and one has to say that it was strange to read about Alliance in yesterday’s paper. What a strange party that is really) when he noted at their party Conference that:

“Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness will appear at nearly anything, state the obvious in a neatly crafted sound-bite, smile for the cameras, look serious or light-hearted as appropriate. But they haven’t done anything. And anytime we have questioned them, they have failed to answer questions.

One very striking aspect of the Alliance conference was the emphasis on anti-sectarianism. It had a refreshing robustness (and is it me, but is this most gentle of parties, whose very raison d’etre is based on…well conciliation… getting a dig in at the St. Andrews Agreement?), although with only seven MLAs and since it operates along with two others as the effective ‘opposition’ there are distinct limitations. In a way, and as a party of the centre ground it represents just how that centre ground has narrowed as the big battalions of the DUP and SF have squeezed both it and the SDLP and UUP. Yet it survives, perhaps even very slightly prospers.

Meanwhile, over at the SDLP Conference all is angst and gloom about a future where they might be the Northern franchise of Fianna Fáil, or perhaps not.

Mark Durkan said that…

…his party had transformed politics across Ireland through co-operation with the main parties in the Republic and forecast that new political associations would form over time.

“Ireland would not have got to this new dispensation without the SDLP,” he said, “and the SDLP could not have succeeded in that enterprise without our strategic collaboration with all southern parties.”

He said the new dispensation “would create new possibilities for political realignment, both within the North and across the island”.

“We are very comfortable that other parties, not least some of the southern parties, are now recognising this too,” he added. “They have – or will be – establishing their own channels for considering these questions. The SDLP have been – and will be – engaging with them.”

Which leaves everything nice and open. Particularly since he refers to ‘all southern parties’. But then, seeing as Ruairi Quinn was on site at the Conference and reminding the SDLP of the assistance given by the Labour party over the years perhaps it was merely politic to keep it as inclusive as possible.

Now, I’m all for whipping up enthusiasm amongst the troops, but really, he made the unusual assertion that:

“In some ways, we are the most powerful party in Irish politics”

His justification?

Because we have changed the policies of every other party on the island. Without changing a single principle of our own or sacrificing a single value.” The party was “proud both of our roots in the North and of our role in the life of the nation”.

Well yes, if one measures power by influence on the existential issue. But beyond that? Surely not.

Still, the SDLP should in fairness be proud of the part it played. And indeed the opportunity was taken to note that:

Founded out of the non-violent civil rights movement, he said his party did not have to apologise for having been formed in the North. “We challenged and changed the conditions that led to our foundation and attitudes that opposed us for so long. From our station in the North, the SDLP set the compass for all the main parties in the South through the darkness and turbulence of the troubles.”

Announcing a detailed examination of the potential of all-Ireland associations with other parties, he said: “We will engage with each other and with others on the basis that we have always been and always will be constitutional nationalists and democratic republicans.”

Unlike some others he could name… no doubt.

Meanwhile…

Mr Durkan criticised both Sinn Féin and the DUP over their role in government since devolution on May 8th, portraying both parties as inconsistent, complacent and guilty of policy U-turns.

But here is the problem in political terms. Having right on ones side is all very well. But…as something more akin to political business as usual takes root in the North the actual mundane nature of that business is difficult to actually get to grips with. The SDLP, like the UUP (who sent observers for the first time to the Conference – such a pity that this fellow feeling didn’t break out…oh, picking a date entirely at random… thirty years earlier or so…), are stuck halfway between government and opposition. It’s a difficult place to be, both in and out of the government and hence note the complete absence of an ideological charge and instead a process based critique. That’s fine, but it’s not really the dark red meat of political argument. Nor does it play to anything other than a rather vague dissatisfaction. We’ve had an object example of how that sort of dissatisfaction doesn’t appear to have any real traction… at least when times are reasonably good. I’d certainly change the tune if I were they. And another thought strikes me. The talk from Fianna Fáil has clearly been utterly destabilising on the SDLP. And how could it be otherwise when only FF ‘match’ with the SDLP. One wonders how seriously all this has been thought through, particularly from the Dublin side.

Perhaps Alliance have it right. Pick on a genuine problem, sectarianism. Run with it as best as is possible and remain in an oppositional mode for as long as it takes. I can’t see them supplanting any other group, but who is to say that in combine with the less than enthralled ‘centre’ ground parties, the SDLP and UUP, they might not forge a coalition that would make even our newly moderate former Moderator seem…well, just that bit extreme again. But then again, the good Doctor is a wily operator and I suspect no one will outdo him… even in moderation.

* apologies to the Psychedelic Furs…

They terrify me… Stormont and the return of devolution May 8, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster.
8 comments

“I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they terrify me.” … or so goes a quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington about his own troops. Was there something of that at today’s events in Stormont? The good humour appeared unforced, the palpable delight on the part of Blair and Ahern evident. But beyond that a certain sense that they were still not quite, not yet, prepared to believe that there amongst them was Ian Paisley? And also a degree of – well, not terror – wariness as to how things might go. Not that they thought things would go wrong, but rather that somewhere somehow someone, and that someone having the initials IP, would speak with perhaps a little more frankness than the day required.

It passed without incident. Choreographed probably to within an inch of it’s life. A number of small issues around the edges. Seamus Mallon AWOL, David Trimble working on his barge?

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So there they are. McGuinnes, Ahern, Blair, Hain and Ian Paisley. Even the seating is revealing. Although I was impressed that Paisley and McGuinness sat beside each other during the speeches. Did they look entirely happy? They certainly did not. Did they look antagonistic. Well no, they didn’t. To be honest they looked businesslike, although perhaps McGuinness is a little bit retiring in his current incarnation – but then again, who isn’t when set against a Paisley who caught off-mike asked “I don’t know why people hate me, I’m such a nice man!” ?

And now Stormont is back up and running.

This seems to be a real step forward, very simply because it seems the only serious way for something like normal politics to manifest itself in the North and then on the island as a whole. That depends upon an engagement between Unionism and Republicanism both on the macro and micro level, people getting to know each other, to work together and to make the sorts of connections, develop the sort relationships which engender trust.

It’s education in other words, which to my mind is at the root of socialist thinking. Education, engagement, progress are the means by which we change a society. Hence my aversion to an over emphasis on purity of philosophy or ideology. Those have proven to be poor substitutes in the past for real progress. There is no evidence they would work in the future.

But if one is to recognise the utility of pragmatism, then it’s necessary to be uncynically and realistically pragmatic. Interesting to hear Edwin Poots, DUP Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure about how ‘excited’ he was. To be honest there was a lack of spin in his comments, an openness which may well be a good sign. These are ordinary people who have suddenly after extremely rigid political positions been thrust into positions of responsibility. Perhaps too ordinary. It will be interesting to follow Mr. Poots progress in that Ministry over the next number of months.

But, let’s drag this south of the border for a while. How does this play on an electoral level? David Davin-Power said something very interesting on the news today, that Fine Gael were concerned because the Bertiegate issue wasn’t playing with voters. I’ve warned (well, that’s a bit pompous of me, sure who’s listening?), I’ve suggested that there is a terrible level of complacency amongst the opposition if they think that Fianna Fáil are a spent force. Ever since the first election I truly remember (I have a vivid memory of being in a shoe shop in Coolock when the 1977 results were coming in, and yes, I remember Seamus Brennan’s voice too *shudder*) I’ve learned never to underestimate them as a force. Another anecdote. The first year I was working with the WP I remember meeting an old school mate who was a member of Fianna Fáil. He took one look at the WP leaflets in my hand and laughed, then pointed out that FF were the real party of the working class. Problem is, it was – and is – very largely true. No other political formation has such strong roots into the urban and rural working classes. These days, there is some competition in the shape of parts of Labour, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party and some of the Independents. Yet the party with the largest share of the working class vote remains FF and that share gives it enormous power.

So, already Bertiegate has no traction. We have seen the FF poll rating go up slightly, Friday will tell us more as to whether that is a sustained increase. FF can call upon a growing sympathy, and now at the very moment Ahern needs it he has photocalls aplenty to point to. Wait until the Boyne and the symbolism of the First Minister of Northern Ireland and the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. Even today the Lemass/O’Neill meeting in the 1960s has tremendous symbolic importance. Who is to say that the Boyne meeting won’t be as significant? And it doesn’t go downhill from there because next up it’s the Houses of Parliament in London.

One thing that came through extremely clearly was the genuine camaraderie between Ahern and Blair. This isn’t a matter of calling in favours. This is their joint victory lap. And that it coincides with an election, one that has proven ‘difficult’ so far? Well, all the better.

At the same time, the actions of the Progressive Democrats has been odd and this is a real problem for Fianna Fáil, if only because it breaches the monolithic, well nearly monolithic, facade of the outgoing Coalition. How to present yourselves as the credible governing force if your partner is running towards the exit sign, then wheeling around and running back towards you. Marvelously inept. At best.

And tonight we have Enda Kenny on the RTÉ news telling us that the Irish people are, if I paraphrase correctly, ‘sick and tired’ of the whole thing and want to move onto matters of substance. Perhaps that is true. But it’s also true that Politics.ie has been hopping with those who would support him making most interesting pronouncements on this very issue. I think that’s a pity and a tactical error which clearly wiser voices within Fine Gael have decided to rein in.

There are differences between both the primary options available to the electorate and other less publicised options. They may not be huge, but they exist. And beyond them we have a tranche of progressive parties who are entirely drowned out by the events of the last week. They are worthy of examination in a serious and coherent fashion away from rumour and innuendo and competing charges of smear.

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