Comprehensive CSI talks needed now

Fundamental to the recent unrest in Northern Ireland, and indeed the recent census results, is something I quoted here last week: we are all minorities now.

It is an essential point. Even rounded up, no religious denomination has a majority, and no national affiliation has a majority in contemporary Northern Ireland. We are a fundamentally diverse and pluralist society. This is important – if a communal politician speaks only to a single bloc, they are speaking to and on behalf of a minority.

We in fact need political leaders who speak for the bulk of society, not a minority interest. We need political leaders who have some capacity to think and feel for Northern Ireland as a whole, not for one particular minority segment. Otherwise they will continue to speak across each other, continue to excuse and even encourage outrageous (and even law-breaking) behaviour, and… innocent workers will continue to suffer, the hospitality trade will collapse, investment jobs will be withdrawn, tourism will decline to nothing, professionals will leave – in other words, our economy will inevitably be destroyed.

And ask yourself this: when is the last time you saw peace and stability in the context of a destroyed economy? Let us be quite clear about that.

So let us then be quite clear about this: An Assembly which does not address good relations/CSI/Shared Future (or whatever you want to call it) should cease to exist – because if it cannot address these issues, it will destroy our economy.

Too much effort is being put into the “institutions”, and too little into their purpose.

What is needed is a comprehensive CSI strategy – not the backward nonsense OFMDFM has concocted – which directly takes on the tough issues: flags, yes, but also parading, the past, and recognition of “every space a shared space”. Only by a comprehensive agreement (let’s call it that, for it will be no easier than 1998 or 2006) from talks incorporating all of these can we move on.

Without a CSI strategy (indeed a CSI Agreement) taking on the tough stuff, the above applies – no economy, no society, no point in our kids staying here. It’s that important. It must happen now.


20 thoughts on “Comprehensive CSI talks needed now

  1. madhava says:

    Here here

  2. paul says:

    ian as an alliance party member/former political rep ypu call for talks.ian its your party that walked out of certain talks a few short months ago its your party the alliance party that this week twice as boycotted certain talks now yoy are calling for other talks ian i think its a damn cheeck what alliance are doing and its doing you un told damage.

    • Those talks (both previous CSI and current Commission) were/are anything but comprehensive, as well you know.

      Neither Unionism nor Nationalism has shown any capacity to deal with pluralism – even though we are a fundamentally pluralist society. Indeed, both openly oppose it – in other words, they oppose the society we actually live in, pretending that communalism is a legitimate way forward. It isn’t.

      • James Campbell says:


        You are sounding very AP. You cannot justify walking away from talks on the basis that they are not comprehensive. They can never be comprehensive, so walking away is just throwing the toys out of the pram -“As we can’t have everything ,we shall have nothing!”. Personally, I believe that Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem should apply. After considering that Theorem, S Hawking said: ” Some people will be very disappointed if there is not an ultimate theory, that can be formulated as a finite number of principles. I used to belong to that camp, but I have changed my mind.”

        The power for good in a minority (especially a minority holding a balance of power) rests in its rationality. AP showed rationality in its compromise position on flags. In walking away from talks it has shown the worst sort of irrational introversion.

  3. Glad to have you back, James.

    What route should AP take, in your view?

  4. James Campbell says:

    God knows. My own political experience is restricted to trades-unionism at the regional and employer level. There was always something there to manipulate. I once gave a talk to the local Round Table; and got them to accept that, in large organisations, trades unions were essential to sound employee relationships. They were persuaded of employer benefits – employee benefits would have left them unconvinced

    AP will not get everything and may never get much. But if it achieves a little it may go on to achieve more. A few months ago I saw a televised confrontation (no other word for it) between S Farry and an assembly committee. He forgot that, as a representative of a minority presenting to a group largely hostile to his message, he needed to persuade and assuage. Instead he got into a row with a Unionist and failed to address an amiable enough question from a Sinner. There is no way that sitting shouting at opponents that they are all wrong and blind (with a strong undercurrent of crassly stupid) not to accept AP education policy. A lot of AP preaching is Fascist, certainly illiberal and probably offensive to human rights.

    The trouble with the AP is that it doesn’t understand politics as a medium of consilience. It isn’t bravery to confront where there is innate defeat. Take a look at the policy documents on the AP site – it’s like dipping into the mind of a castrated Savanarola: “You are all sinners and must do what I say or be forever damned” in a squeaky voice

    AP needs to find issues where it can gain allies; and perhaps persuade opponents. It needs to give up comfort blankets (such as integrated housing) to which it might come back in less turbulent times. There are less theoretical, more immediate problems where it could be an honest broker.

    Take the question of parades. There is no way to resolve the problem of “parades” and all the associated historical and cultural baggage. Yet some communities have managed to engage in compromise, whereby parades take place but with a modicum of respect for the non-paraders. You won’t achieve anything just by banning urinaters or placating the easily-offended. For some urinating in public is a cultural right. But these groups are in the minority and working with the rest might achieve a little. This is what the Liberals and Lib-Dems did in cities such as Liverpool and Newcastle before they joined the Con-Dems and opted to become hermits.

    There is a lot of middle-ground in NI but the AP has failed to occupy it. It appears from my isolated viewpoint that its success has been based on the failures of other parties and policies rather than on their own policy virtues. Until the AP can persuade the neutral observer that they can achieve things by listening (like they did, perhaps with the flag issue) rather than preaching conversion, the will remain sterile outriders. “Emphatic” and “Empathic” use the same letters but have different meanings.

    At school we learned that the word “Eist” had two mutually-exclusive meanings. “Listen” and “shut up”.

  5. James, IJP,

    I find the above quite interesting and also a road map for APNI in general.

    Look, IMHO when it comes to pols people often vote for people that they can relate to as well as those that share their own perspective and goals. They even give them something of a free reign on whatever they decide to do and much like a parent, they don’t keep an eye on everything they do unless they really misbehave. It really is only the likes of ourselves who keep everyone under a microscope and analyse EVERYTHING they do.

    I like what APNI stands for, I like how you guys are fairly civil and middle of the road in good ways. You are willing to compromise and you know often enough how the wind is blowing, however, I feel that if you guys really want to effect change and gain some kind of traction you need to be a bit more like what James has noted above; a little less on the high horse and saying everyone is as ‘bad’ as each other, kind of playing to a media gallery (whom I happen to feel have little influence on voters, otherwise why would print media be losing readers every week for instance?) when instead you guys should know that nobody likes to be lectured, nobody likes to hear how they made the wrong decision from a pol, it just doesn’t get a voter to want to vote for someone. No one votes out of shame from their previous decision, they at worst simply abstain.

    • Again, find it hard to disagree.

      More action, less talk?

      • You know me IJP, I am a Nat and make no apologies for it. I am fairly left leaning too yet how often have we found some common ground on a lot of matters and we got detailed too? I am surprised more pols do not do this tbh

    • Btw, I have constantly argued that a party looking to win over voters should be cautious to attack another party directly – by implication, it suggests that those who voted for that party were stupid.

      It has to be a bit cleverer, for example: “Those who voted for Nesbitt thinking X, will share our disappointed he has turned out Y. We promise we will deliver X.”

    • James Campbell says:


      Unlike you,I don’t like what APNI stands for. It is a lobbying party, reflecting the joint prejudices of its ruling class. It is a latter-day Ascendency, more-or-less willingly divorced from the interests and aspirations of the people it needs to enthuse. Like the Lib Dems over here it is middle-class, it follows its own tail, and oozes a sense of entitlement. “If only everyone believed as we believe there would be no problems” will not cut the mustard.

      Three of the principle problems that confront NI are related to aspiration: in respect of education, economic welfare and mutual respect. APNI has not engaged with reality in any of these areas. Look at the website – the policy documents are at best political frottage (and often out of date). To get people to believe in you, it is necessary to say what you believe in and what you believe in must reflect what the latent followers believe in.

      Michael Foot, a giant compared to the APNI leadership, was a disaster for the Labour Party precisely because he spoke to himself and those who thought like him. Humility is a virtue.

      • Thanks for the response James, allow me to tackle a few points in order.

        Look, in general I have to agree with a large number of points raised regarding being vague and seemingly unworkable or coming across as above the fray when in all honesty it would seem that large numbers of APNI pols simply are unwilling to roll their sleeves up and get involved or tell the rest of us what they actually want.

        On another of IJP’s threads I noted that they are vague, aspirational and maybe even nonsensical on policy. I highlighted the fact that for something like a pet like of mine, the Irish Language and education, they have at most 2 stanzas on the matter and have lumped it in with their policy on sign language. Now, tbf, sign language is not controversial in the North so why so little on Irish? Is it because they don’t want to rock the boat for either side?

        I also think that at times people place too much attention on policy documents (I know, I am slightly contradicting myself above) when they need to sieze the future and become electable with the general public. Here I agree with you, they are preaching to the converted in a major way when they need to get out of their rather cosy, righteous position and tell us what they really think.

        However, I do in general like APNI as they are willing to compromise. I have well noted objections to how they go about many things or how they sit on the fence way too often but in all honesty, there could be a lot worse out there.

  6. paul says:

    i note ian john mccallister speech last night where he more or less rules out ever joining alliance he says in his veiw because you are and i quote have no position on the union he does not see you as what he says is an alternative.he says that in nice about way ian if you got off the fence you might of had both basil and john in your ranksin the alliance party and both basil mccrea and john mccallister but not now because of your pathetic stance.until you get off the fence on the union you are denying yourselves a lot of good folk.

    • As European candidate, I said several times: “We were the first party to advocate power-sharing within the UK, and I see no reason to change that position”.

      I think if Basil or John approached the party and offered to join in return for those words in a future manifesto, no one would have any problem.

      Given it took the Conservative PM nine full days to respond to the latest outbreak of violence, I think we can say with certainty that he has no interest in the place. If it had been in, say, Leeds he would have reacted within hours! Anyone contemplating moving in that direction will have noticed.

  7. paul says:

    John mccllister — gave a clear hint that even if he leaves the UUP or is himself expelled at some point he will not join the Alliance Party.

    He said: “With greatest respect to friends and colleagues in the Alliance Party, I do not think that they are that alternative. To be non-committal, agnostic or neutral on the Union does not advance pluralism or a shared society.

    “I am a unionist precisely because I believe that the Union provides the best constitutional context for pluralism and a shared society

    extract from speech last night looks like he would join the ni tories alliance is out of the question ian and thats says something when both basil and john say that because alliance party neutral position on the union is totally unacceptable to them both perhaps the aliance party had better very quickly clarify your position in put in your manifesto and make a public statement because basil and john wont be joining you if you dont.

  8. Clare says:

    I think even if Alliance did make a definitive statement on the union it still wouldn’t change the position on either of these people.
    It’s fairly clear which was they are going. They will both go independent, in much the same way as McClarty did. McCallister is closer to the Conservatives than McCrea and I would expect him to be open to offers from them.
    But you could understand the reservations of anyone joining the Conservatives, you yourself were hung out to dry by London, Ian. But maybe they have learnt.
    Left/ right politics is preferable to orange/green but it would never happen overnight and McCallister could be committing political suicide if he jumped that way too soon in my view.

    • As I’ve said, Camerom showed no interest at all in NI during the purge, and then hung the RUC out to dry. Good luck selling that in NI!

      Independent, objectively, makes a lot of sense. If they are determined to retain the “Unionist” label, I suspect that is what they’ll do.

  9. paul says:

    ian to be honest i cannot undestand nor beleive that it looks highly likely both basil mccrea and john mccallister will join the NI tories i simply cannot understand it im gobsmacked

  10. paul says:

    my understanding is that both will never join alliance neither them or there supporters and a new liberal proggesive pro union grouping will be formed with possiblebilty that the ni tories and others will merge into it will effect alliance if anybody if u ask me

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