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, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The North, Ulster, Unionism.
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”.
“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”
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.
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…