“Civic Conversation” deflects from task of overhauling DUP/SF

We in Northern Ireland live in a representative democracy (albeit an imperfect one) in which we elect our own legislative Assembly to make domestic laws and manage domestic public policy on our behalf.

In that Assembly – the one we elect with our full preferences included within the system – the DUP and Sinn Féin have between them 67 out of 108 seats, 62% of the total.

Im sorry, but far too many people are wasting their time trying, no doubt with fine intentions, to engage in political debate without first considering that quite straightforward point, with its straightforward implication – if the DUP and Sinn Féin agree to something, it happens; and if they (either of them) don’t, it doesn’t. End of!

Frankly, we Progressives can set up all the civic conversations, social media network sessions or academic gatherings we like, we will have no serious effect on public policy in Northern Ireland – none whatsoever – until we face that fact.

We can talk all we like about “Opposition”, or civic forums, or compromise on flags, or devolving tax powers, or reforming education, or funding hospitals… but until we reduce the DUP and Sinn Féin to a minority, we will make precisely no difference whatsoever. We may agree with each other on a fantastic new form of welfare provision, or a wonderful new parades management system, or plans for the regeneration of town centres… but here’s the thing, we have absolutely no influence to *do* any of it!

With a few honourable exceptions, the DUP and Sinn Féin are not made up of reasonable, rational people. One thinks the world was founded 6000 years ago; worse still, the other thinks the IRA’s terrorist campaign was legitimate. Both are engaged in rewriting history, ignoring and even endorsing blatant breaches of the Rule of Law, and generally seeking power for its own sake. Get this people – you are *not* going to persuade them to change their ways by reasoned debate! If you want to deliver an alternative, they must be defeated and removed from power at the ballot box.

No one wants to knock enthusiasm or even exuberance – but they must be well placed. Currently the DUP and Sinn Féin are getting an easy ride because they have 62% of the vote and the remaining 38% (by no means all Progressive types either, by the way!) are divided all over the place and only dividing themselves further.

The *only* task relevant to Progressives currently is to ensure the DUP and Sinn Féin are deprived of their collective majority in the Assembly as soon as possible. Anything which is not a move to that end will only put back the day sensible, competent people actually get to run the place. Is that what you want? Then it’s time to focus!


7 thoughts on ““Civic Conversation” deflects from task of overhauling DUP/SF

  1. Ian, you have a narrow definition of democracy. Many examples worldwide of civic action developing social policy, especially in regards to equality. Civic norms are usually not codified in legislative acts, but are essential in progressing a cohesive society.

    There is value in encouraging those who wish to pursue small ‘p’ politics. Of course those that follow this pursuit mustn’t delude themselves that they’ll change specific policies, per se.

    But as I also like to argue, community relations and our shared future is too important to be left to the politicians alone. There is an intertwined relationship between elected representatives and wider society that your posting under-appreciates.

    • I don’t think anyone who reads this blog regularly would think I have a narrow view of democracy. But here I specifically used the phrase “representative democracy”.

      I have written before that Northern Ireland is not a democracy. In terms of voting, we have never had (or taken) the chance to change government at the ballot box at any level; in terms of the Rule of Law, we have always elected politicians the majority of whom are prepared to shirk it when it suits; in terms of applying the law, certain people are simply beyond the law (Gerry Adams most obviously).

      This is why civic conversations consisting of members of the 38% talking to other members of the 38% are pointless. Under Direct Rule they could have had some impact influencing vaguely rational Ministers from GB; now, they will have none at all. Members of Sinn Féin and, particularly, the DUP have been openly scornful, demanding to know where proponents’ mandate is. Theirs is the simplistic view of democracy of which you speak – but they’ve still got a point.

      Put another way: nothing can fundamentally change in Northern Ireland without majority cross-community support. To get that, you need the DUP and Sinn Féin. So they both have a veto until the people deprive them of it at the ballot box. It may not suit a lot of people to admit it, but any “civic conversation” must therefore have that as its goal – otherwise it’s just another talking shop.

  2. martyntodd says:

    It is absolutely true that voters give the DUP and SF their overwhelming mandate of, between them, 62% of the seats in the Assembly. They won around 60% of the votes cast in the last Assembly elections to win these seats.

    However, because of the poor turnout at the last Assembly elections, the total vote gained by the DUP and SF together was 34% of the electorate. Two conclusions from this are;
    1. That the DUP and SF are dictating to two thirds of the electorate from a base of one third of the available votes
    2. A small increase in the number of people voting next time and a small decrease in the percentage of votes gained by the DUP and SF could give the middle ground parties a much bigger say after the next elections

    • If people don’t vote, then whether they like it or not they are implicitly and knowingly endorsing the status quo.

      Like I say, 22 May is the first opportunity to try to bring the number of seats held by either DUP or Sinn Féin to below 50%. Let us have a “civic conversation” about achieving that!

  3. Harry Cullen says:

    Very true, enlightment by electorate is probably not our generation and in reality Ian it will be the generation of post trouble children

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Comrade Stalin says:

    I agree with this whole article Ian. I might add a quick point.

    The legacy of direct rule, which probably had origins in the old Stormont system, is that people perceived (perceive?) that there is a disconnect between the people they vote for and the decisions made in government, as if somehow the two are unrelated. Of course, voting between 1972 and 1998 was inconsequential; Secretaries of State and the NIO consulted but no local politicians had to seek a mandate for decisions made or faced losing their seats for getting it wrong. Instead they criticized and complained in public.

    The problem I have with attempts to come up with other ways of influencing or making decisions is that they are, unwittingly and with the best of intentions, attempting to insulate voters from the consequences of the choices they are making at election time. In some cases people barely disguise the fact that they want to set up bodies such as the Civic Forum to give a say to all the people who failed to get elected. I find it quite unbelievable that the irony escapes some people; they are trying to get around the electorate’s choices.

    The reality is that we voted for a government of people like Edwin Poots, who would rather chase pointless discrimination cases through court at the public expense than implement real reforms to deal with the crisis at A&E. That’s the government we want. Voters have the choice to either snap out of this idea of ticking a box to declare support for a tribe, or vote for candidates who commit to changing the way things are run. The electorate must have its feet held to the fire and must understand that nobody is going to ride in and save them from themselves.

    It seems to me sometimes that, to borrow the old Ben Elton joke about the Conservatives, voting for the nutcase parties seems to be like watching Baywatch; nobody admits to it but it’s obvious that everyone is doing it and we are surrounded by people who are doing it and lying about it. There is no “silent majority”; the majority voted for this government. The imperative upon those of us who want to see reform is, as Ian says, to make the current administration a minority. As we all know this is much easier said than done.

  5. […] long term corollary of the clash two large and interdependent emotion driven tribes was well expressed by Ian Parsley earlier in the […]

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