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From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
Date: October, 2014
By: Editorial

Flanagan Makes Mischief In The North

Flanagan Makes Mischief In The North
Charles Flanagan, the Irish Foreign Minister, launched a "scathing attack" on Sinn Fein in the North as part of Fine Gael's conflict with Sinn Fein in the South, in an interview with the Sunday Independent (Sept. 7). The attack was nominally on both Sinn Fein and the DUP for having "failed the North". He called on "those with a mandate" to "take the tough budgetary decisions that have to be made in government". That made it an attack on Sinn Fin for not doing what the DUP wants it to do: cut social welfare benefit. He wants Sinn Fein to cut social welfare in the North so that it can't criticise him for Fine Gael's austerity policy in the South. He calls its refusal to submit to DUP policy a "failure to create a functioning democracy in the North".
It is true that Northern Ireland is not a functioning democracy. It never has been, and it was never intended to be.
Under the old Stormont system, which Fine Gael denounced repeatedly and which its predecessor, Cumann na nGaedhael, made war on, there was a superficial semblance of democracy. The party that won an election governed those areas of public life that were devolved to the Six Counties by the Government of the democratic state, the United Kingdom. Because that system was widely recognised as being a travesty of democracy, a new system was set up in 1998 which did not even have the appearance of being a democracy.
Under the new system the majority party cannot govern as the devolved authority. It is recognised that the Northern electors do not constitute a body politic capable of sustaining even a Local Authority on the principle of majority rule. It is recognised that there are two body politics and that devolved government can only be conducted by agreement between them.
Party conflict in the North is not between the two communities, but within each of them. Sinn Fein and the DUP do not contest seats against each other. Sinn Fein contests seats with the SDLP. The DUP contests seats with the Traditional Unionist Voice and the Ulster Unionist Party.
The SDLP agrees with Sinn Fein that the social welfare cuts should not be implemented.

Fine Gael supported this system when it was established by referendum in 1998. It was perfectly clear at the time that this was how it would function. If it has now changed its mind and wants a majority-rule travesty of democracy in the North in place of what it agreed to in 1998, it should say so. What it should not do is make mischief in the North in search of party advantage in the entirely different conditions of the South.
We were hoping that, with the ousting of Gilmore, and the end of Stickie feuding against the Provos, Dublin might take the trouble to figure out what Northern Ireland is and deal with it rationally on its own merits. That was apparently a foolishly hope.

The issue of social welfare cuts in the North did not arise within the politics of devolution in the North—the only kind that exists. It was foisted on the North by Whitehall. Although the decision not to cut welfare benefits when they were being cut in Britain was made within the authority devolved to Stormont, Whitehall decided to override that authority. In line with its austerity policy, it imposed a cut of £1 billion a year in the North, over four years, starting in 2011. But on top of that, Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne demands that welfare cuts be implemented in the North, largely on the same terms as in Britain. And when that wasn't promptly complied with, he imposed a fine of £87m for 2013/14. In other words, Belfast was absorbing the cuts imposed by Britain but, because it was protecting welfare, Westminster is fining it this October. The fine for the 2014-15 period will be £114m, with more in subsequent years This is money taken out of its Budget allocation from London. In this way it is cutting the Northern Ireland Budget.

Northern Ireland does not have its own Budget as such. It never had. It is in the matter of raising revenue an integral part of the British state, though excluded from the politics of the British state. We assume Foreign Minister Flanagan at least knows that much about the North. And yet he talks about "their failure to create a functioning democracy in the North"!!!
"Bread-and-butter issues are not being acted upon in a manner that they should be in a functioning democracy", he said. But a functioning democracy raises the money that it spends. So is he proposing that the devolved government should become a state?
He says: "the people of Northern Ireland deserve a functioning assembly". So why did Fine Gael agree to an arrangement in which "a functioning assembly"—we presume he means a Parliament to which Government is responsible—could not develop?
He says that "16 years after the Agreement the devolved institutions should be self-sustaining, given the mandate secured by the biggest parties". Why the plural, "parties"? It gives the game away. The biggest parties do not, in functional democracies, usually combine in government. They are obliged to do so in the North, on the understanding that they represent hostile communities.

"I regret that, while there has been good progress over the last 16 years in civil society, the quality of change in political engagement has been less than many would have wished". If this means anything, it means that the Unionist and Nationalist communities have been growing together in civil society but politics has remained stuck in the old rut. And that is fantasy, or empty verbiage.

The Dublin Government, instead of complaining that the Agreement is working as it was set up to work, should be criticising Whitehall for overriding devolved decisions with a State ultimatum.
Sinn Fein has made two proposals for resolving the social welfare issue: either let the Assembly, freed of communal voting rules, decide it, or put it to referendum.
The reason Whitehall stirred the whole thing up seems to be that Tories are cultivating the DUP as possible partners in the next British Government if they fall just short of a majority. But there's many a slip. And it reminds to be seen whether DUP voters would vote for social welfare cuts in order to spite Sinn Fein and the SDLP—and how the DUP stance in favour of cuts in pursuit of Whitehall ambitions would play against the Traditional Unionist Voice at the next election.

C O N T E N T S

Flanagan Makes Mischief In The North. Editorial
Albert Reynolds And The Irish Times. John Martin
Is Ireland Going Militarist? Editorial
Trouble For The Good Friday Agreement. Report
Readers' Letters: Fighting Irish In USA? Donal Kennedy
Shorts from the Long Fellow (Government Narrative; Previous Recovery; Current Recovery; Banking Recovery; Scotland; Economics Of Independence
Paisley. Editorial
Death Of Irish Republicanism? Pat Walsh on Anthony McIntyre's views
Rural Ireland: the mystery deepens. Jack Lane
Tall Tales From Academia. John Martin on Keogh's urban myth re Haughey
Who Do You Think We Are? Jack Lane on 'Mrs. Brown' in Irish Bulletin
A Royal Faux Pas. John Morgan (Lt. Col., retd.)
Mansergh Nonsense On A Non-Sir. Manus O'Riordan
Ballagherdereen And The Great War. Brendan Clifford
Fifty Shades Of Grey. Paul McGuill on Britain's Duplicit Dipolomacy
Ghosts Of Empire. Wilson John Haire (Poem)
Biteback: Public Spending Position In Northern Ireland. Brian Campfield, General Secretary, NIPSA (Statement)
Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (1916 & The Somme; John Bruton And John Redmond)
Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:
Apprenticeship: Learning A Trade
Mondragon, Part 34
Is It Time To Keep Up With The Germans?
Health Issues