Posted By: January 11, 2024




Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus.

“Brian Feeney on the reality of the inherently unstable situation in the artificial entity of Northern Ireland.”—Fr. Sean McManus.

Alliance needs to accept that “normal politics” can never work here

Proposal for next largest party to take place of DUP “piles daftness on top of stupidity”

By Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, January 10, 2024.


The Alliance Party’s demand last week for the British to take action to get the assembly up and running regardless of the DUP is just plain stupid. Yes, of course, it’s provoked by sheer frustration, but fundamentally the demand originates in the party’s fallacious view of The North.

Given its origins in the New Ulster Movement and what became O’Neillite unionism, the party fondly imagines that one day in a shimmering Shangri-La or Hy-Breasal, the phantom island off Ireland, there will be what they call ‘normal politics’ in the north, that is stable, left-right British politics. There won’t be.

Since its leaders cling to this fallacy, they believe The North can work, despite the evidence of the last century that Unionists will not allow the place to work unless it works only for their benefit, which means maintaining a privileged position.

In order for it to work Alliance wants to try to pretend The North is not The North, that it’s composed of ‘nayce’ [nice] sensible people who agree with Alliance that you can exclude one or other bloc of voters if they’re not being sensible and pulling together for the good working of this place [Northern Ireland].

It’s an erroneous worm’s eye view of The North. It doesn’t just ignore reality; it also ignores what happens in similar places across Europe and the Middle East.

After elections in 2010 it took Belgium 541 days to agree on a government which must include Flemings and Walloons and have a German presence too. That arrangement fell apart in 2018, and in 2020 the Belgians broke their record by going 652 days without a government. Yet, if you listened to the media here at the time, you’d have thought this place was unique in the world in having no assembly from 2017-2020.


It happens in artificially concocted polities. Look at the Lebanon, invented by the French mainly as a tribal reservation for the Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon. It’s roughly one third Sunni, one third Shia and was one third Christian when it was devised with bits and bobs of Druze, Alawite and Chaldean. That went well. Really stable, eh? Just like this place – Doh.

What makes the Alliance plan pile daftness on top of stupidity is that they propose the next largest party take the place of the one excluded. Guess which is the next largest party? Yep, you’re right: Alliance. So, they, from their vasty heights of 13.2% in last year’s election, propose excluding the representatives of one community with more than twice the vote share, and replacing them with themselves who claim not to represent any community because claiming to represent a community is vulgar, sectarian, and not ‘normal politics’. Catch yourself on.

At the same time, they claim this nonsense would allow the Good Friday Agreement to work. No, it wouldn’t. It would produce its antithesis. Mary Lou McDonald put it clearly at the weekend when asked about what is now dignified as ‘reform’, but is really based on Alliance wishful thinking and fallacy. She said: “We need to be mindful that the bedrocks of power-sharing around parity of esteem and inclusion, that those foundations aren’t disturbed. The protections are in the system for a reason. I think that inclusion is still a very necessary part of politics north of the border.” Spot on.

Leaving aside the daftness of Alliance’s proposals there is typical Alliance naivete lying behind it. There’s their assumption that, because the north could have ‘normal politics’, the community bloc excluded would respect that situation. Nope. If one of the main community’s representatives are excluded they won’t respect the institution excluding them.

Anyone remember Jim Prior’s assembly? SF and SDLP boycotted for four years because there was no power-sharing or Irish dimension. Oh yes, the Alliance party were there with 9% of the vote. Danny Morrison described it well. He said it was an Orange hall with the Alliance party wiping the floor and washing the windows. Of course, it went nowhere. In the end police carried out the arch-bigot Paisley and his sidekick Robinson.

Now, what do you think would happen if such a place had any power? The DUP, the present target of Alliance frustration, would stage sit-ins, walk-outs, filibuster, devise procedural delays, try court action, and their loyalist friends would stage street demonstrations and marches. How do we know? Experience: it’s all happened before, beginning with chaotic scenes among Unionists in 1973, then with an inter-Unionist punch-up in 1974.

Alliance and those supporting their daft reform need to accept the fact that what they call ‘normal politics’ – basically the British party system – can never work here because this sub-polity does not and cannot conform to that system. It has to have mechanisms which resemble other places with politico-ethnic divisions, like Belgium, Switzerland, maybe even Lebanon, and which cater for the peculiarities of those divisions.

Why? It’s inherently unstable, that’s why.