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Flags, Churches, Politicians, Sectarianism and Ordinary People December 11, 2012

Posted by Garibaldy in Sectarianism, The North.

The events in the north in the last week serve as yet another reminder of how great the problem of sectarianism remains. They highlight the failure by the Executive parties to move beyond hollow rhetoric about a shared future, and the fact that the dynamic on which these parties thrive is inherently sectarian. While working together hand in glove, they also need to be seen to be confronting each other, to be standing up for our ones against themmuns. In the internal competition within the two sectarian blocs, that is the means to thrive. The major failure of the GFA is that it was only ever designed to manage and not remove that conflict.

So we get the sectarian shadow boxing over what the parties themselves see as side-issues that are guaranteed to raise emotions and solidify people into communal camps but won’t get in the way of the actual management of the place. Or at least that’s the theory. The Irish Language Act was a good example. Another example is October’s spat about reconciliation. Following Declan Kearney’s comments on reconciliation and his criticisms of unionist attitudes towards it, Peter Robinson responded like this

If Mr Kearney has the temerity to describe his speech as reconciliation then I suspect he would regard a knee capping as physiotherapy

Cue a round of sniping at one another in the press, leaving all sides emotionally satisfied while simultaneously able to point to comments desiring a shared future etc. This is what passes for the politics of reconciliation at a central level. Window dressing, like yesterday’s motion in the Assembly condemning violence and threats, is not enough.

Things are worse at a local level. Rows break out over the allocation of funds for Twelfth bonfires. The DUP refuses to share power in many local councils despite the arrangement at Stormont and in other local councils. GAA grounds being used for events or competitions associated with paramilitaries is a perennial favourite (in its more exotic version, this can extend as far as complaints to supermarkets for allowing schoolchildren to pack shopping for charity in GAA tops). In Newry, with a massive nationalist majority, last week saw the culmination of a row over the proposed renaming of a children’s playground after Raymond McCreesh, one of the hunger strikers. When arrested, McCreesh was in possession of one of the weapons used in the Kingsmill massacre. A new memorial to the massacre had sectarian graffiti scratched into it. The day after, the park was renamed after McCreesh with the support of independent nationalist and SDLP councillors as well as those of PSF. This was the same week that nationalist councillors in Belfast secured Alliance support for their plan to cut the number of days the union flag flies from City Hall on the grounds that flying it alienated those citizens who don’t feel British. The question of how Newry’s unionists feel about the council now seems of less importance to the two big nationalist parties.

The violent response to the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall was in many senses predictable. A clue was offered by the riots that followed the parades commission’s determination following the sectarian playing of the famine song by the YCV band from the Shankill outside St Patrick’s church in north Belfast (and which saw weasel words from several unionist politicians refusing to fully condemn the initial incident and the rioting). The two major unionist parties, especially the DUP, made a serious issue of this, particularly in east Belfast, in the run-up to the vote. There can be little doubt that the DUP’s aim was to use the issue to damage the Alliance Party in the eyes of unionist voters who had switched to Alliance’s Naomi Long at the last Westminster election in the context of the sexual and financial allegations then swirling around the Robinsons. If that desire to take back the East Belfast Westminster seat was the main context, there was also the standard sham fight element. The sham fight dynamic has been accentuated by the pressure on both the UUP and the SDLP, who have both been swinging between becoming more hardline and becoming more moderate as they try to reclaim some lost ground. Mike Nesbitt in particular has floundered badly in all this.

Less predictable than some disorder in Belfast was the way the protests have spread, as far away as Derry city. The virulence of the reaction has also taken many by surprise. Certainly the DUP politician in Newtownabbey stoned by protestors he was trying to address because they didn’t recognise him got a shock. So too did the Belfast councillor who supported the protest the night of the vote only to find his car windscreen smashed by the protestors as they sought to force entrance to the council chamber. There were also nastier surprises. The fascistic attacks on the offices and homes of Alliance Party representatives in several areas (and the death threats issued to them and others such as Gerry Kelly) were, I suspect, totally unexpected by those who wanted to use this issue for political gain. It was interesting to see Billy Hutchinson blame those who put the focus on Alliance for inciting violence. Last night, an attempt was made to murder a policeman who was protecting Naomi Long’s constituency office by throwing a petrol bomb in a car while he was still inside it. How then to explain the nature of the reaction?

It’s tempting to suggest that the violence and protests orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries are as much about ensuring that community development funds continue to flow as it is about anger over the lowering of the Union Jack most of the year in Belfast. The attacks on the Alliance Party may also be influenced by resentment at David Ford’s role as Justice Minister and the widespread feeling among loyalists that the historical crimes team spends more time looking at them than anyone else; the dispute offers an opportunity to settle a few scores. Mike Nesbitt reckons that the reason people have been out in such force is that they feel that they are losing. The idea that they are being stripped of their identity has been voiced in comments in the press and online, and it is common to see the issue linked to restrictions on loyal order marches as part of that argument.

This sense of losing at times seems somewhat remarkable. At bottom, the peace process secured overwhelming support for the principle of consent, and saw the Provisional IRA dissolved. In this flag dispute, Belfast’s nationalist councillors voted to have the union flag flying over City Hall for nearly 20 days a year. This could just as easily have been spun as a victory as a defeat. I have no idea whether this was actually said or not, but I’ve seen loyalist claims that one of the nationalist councillors presented this as a step to a United Ireland. It could equally be presented as a recognition of the Union Jack. But – and this has been something true throughout the process – unionists have failed to see the glass as half-empty, although the DUP does this at its annual conferences when patting itself on the back for taming the opposition. Why is that? The sectarianism of our politics. When you view politics as a competition between us and them, then anything which the opposition welcomes is by definition bad for you. It looked at the time of the GFA that we might be able to break out of that mentality, particularly with the development of the loyalist parties. However, that proved a false dawn.

Some of those charged with rioting were not born when the GFA was signed. This is one of the things that makes the sham fighting so dangerous. It continues the perverted mindset so important to sustaining the Troubles, and perpetuates it among new generations. Coupled with the communalism built into the structures of the GFA, social problems, structural unemployment and hopelessness, you have a recipe for continued outbreaks of low-level sectarian rioting and possibly worse. Reconciliation – the unity of those of all religions and none – is the last thing that will result. And the nationalist and unionist parties depend on this dynamic, whatever about the well-intentioned people within them.

If you want to be truly depressed, take a look at the comments in the coverage of these issues on Sluggerotoole. Not only do you have people ranting about the impossibility of tolerating treason (i.e. advocating peaceful constitutional change and not having the flag flying every day), you have a tendency to blame instances of sectarian attacks on protestants as the secret work of loyalists and/or the Brits. Mick Fealty has for years been tracking low-level sectarian attacks on protestant churches and orange halls, especially in rural areas. He has consistently raised the challenge this poses for people who claim to be republican (although he is more inclined to think people are more genuine about the reconciliation stuff than I am). Some of the comments on his thread on sectarian graffiti daubed on a protestant church last week in Glenavy would make you wonder what goes on in some people’s heads.

Part of the problem of course is the ability of a remarkable number of people to see only the sectarian actions of themmuns. Instances suggesting that it is a problem across the divide are often ignored or explained away. This is inevitable while politics in Northern Ireland is built on the idea that there are two communities. To quote a statement on these events by WP General Secretary John Lowry

The pitiful sight of thousands of people protesting outside Belfast City Hall about flags is matched only by a chamber full of councillors debating it inside.

The real questions that must be asked about this tribal debacle are the ones that Sinn Fein and DUP voters in particular must ask of themselves.

While jobs are being lost, prices rising, homes being repossessed, child poverty increasing and thousands of people across the city facing a daily ‘eat or heat’ dilemma, Councillors in Belfast are using flags and emblems as a smokescreen for their failure to even address these issues.

Sinn Fein and DUP supporters must now ask themselves “Do I really want to vote for a party that is happy to ignore social and economic realities to secure their own tribal positions”?

And there’s the rub. The sectarian problems of Northern Ireland are not due to the politicians nor a small minority. They are due to the persistence of a sectarian mindset among the majority of people. Until people ask themselves the hard questions, until they are prepared to look for an alternative to both unionism and nationalism, things will not change. There’s no point deploring the excesses of a political and social system of virtual religious apartheid if you embrace the system yourself. This is why the sectarian sham fighting of the parties works. The problems of Northern Ireland’s society haven’t gone away you know. The only people that benefit are the middle classes who make a nice living, with their kids going to grammar schools and university and then getting professional jobs while working class children are sacrificed from the age of 11 onwards. Neither unionism nor nationalism can address the problems of the working class. But, paradoxically, while the trade union movement is relative strong, class consciousness is very low. The sectarian mindset dominates virtually unchallenged across most of the north. This is the reality which socialists and progressives must combat through raising genuinely secular, anti-sectarian and progressive politics.

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1. doctorfive - December 11, 2012

Census published today (Tuesday) 9.30pm

2. steve white - December 11, 2012

excellent post, what were the sdlp playing at?

anyway pointed out the new census results re religion come out tmw

3. vincentdoherty - December 11, 2012

I think it’s just liberal moralising to rehash the old ‘curse on both your houses’ mantra that can’t see beyond a anacronistic paradigm that suggests that sectarianism just dropped out of the sky, or has no material basis. You end up endorsing the fiction that the is no difference between Sinn Fein and the DUP or between Republicanism and Loyalism, or even worse propagating the lie that the British state has only ever been the benevolent and frustrated servant of progress, waiting patiently on the sideline till the natives come to their senses. How come that paradigm is not extended to any other conflict where British imperialism is involved. It grown out a distorted and deformed analysis reminicent of the worse days of the old worker’s Party. Sectarianism is a product of partition and will only ever be defeated in all Ireland context where the resources of the country are distributed evenly amongst those who produce the wealth and in a society where sectarianism and racism are confronted and outlawed.

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

I am amazed at the number of times I have seen it stated recently that sectarianism is a product of partition, even from a senior political figure like Declan Kearney. I have one simple response to that – do people really think sectarianism appeared in 1920? It’s such a laughable suggestion as to invalidate an entire analysis, especially when accusing other people of embracing fictions.

But leaving aside the invalid nature of the idea that partition produces sectarianism all by its lonesome. I’d like to hear some concrete proposals as to what we are to do with sectarianism before this all-Ireland socialist society emerges? Are we to ignore it? Are we to not combat it? Are we to ignore the most basic principle of socialist – workers unite? If we do that, where will this socialist Ireland come from?

There’s nothing liberal about the suggestion that both unionism and nationalism are all-class alliances that thrive on a sectarian mindset and that suppress class consciousness. That’s a socialist analysis. The old material basis for sectarianism that applied in the late nineteenth and early nineteenth century is long since gone. The new material basis is one that has allowed the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie in NI to thrive at the expense of the working class, seen most obviously in the education system and the royal fuck up that was the attempt to abolish the 11 Plus. The progress potential for this move was thwarted in the interests of the middle class. Neither nationalism nor unionism can be relied upon to be consistently socially progress as the 11 Plus, privatisation, the corporation tax policy etc all show. None of the major parties are interesting in challenging sectarianism. To do so is not in their political interests, nor in the economic interests of those they represent.
To challenge sectarianism wherever we find it is absolutely central to the political and economic interests of the working class.

vincentdoherty - December 11, 2012

Just let me get this clear for once and for all. Are you suggesting that the racist assumptions at the heart of loyalist ideology are indistinguishable from the post civil rights struggle in the six counties against institutionalised sectarian discrimination and bigotry the characterised the northern Statelet from it’s inception up until to the ceasefire of 1994? You also don’t know what to say about the role of the British State in Ireland or about the fact that you are quite comfortable talking about British imperialism anywhere else in the world outside of Ireland. That’s the fundamental flaw of an analysis that was basically borne out of hatred and contempt for those who left Official Sinn Fein before it degenerated into a unionist sect in the 6 counties, and whose former cadre in the 26 counties currently provide the social democratic cover for those implementing the ploicies of the Troika and the vultures of the IMF.

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

That’s an interesting characterisation of what the provisionals were doing, and one, of course, at variance with what the provisionals themselves said they were doing at the time. They were very clear that their struggle was not about civil rights or reform (see, for example, Gerry Adams in the early 1980s saying that a bill of rights had no place in that struggle) but about achieving a united Ireland. That and “defending Catholics” of course, albeit that this was a theme that was downplayed to some extent in later years, at least publicly. So you’re asking me a question that I don’t recognise as being reflective of what was happening at the time.

I have serious doubts about the use of the word racist instead of sectarian, partly because a change of religious and political allegiance has been seen as sufficient to transfer an individual from one side to another, something not possible with conceptions of race as commonly held in Ireland.

To address the wider question of whether I am saying that nationalism and unionism are the same. Clearly that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that both of them – in either their violent or constitutional guises – are built upon a communalist mentality (despite the presence of some genuine people interested in civic varieties of each).

I’m perfectly happy to talk about the role of imperialism in Ireland, starting with a recognition that any discussion of imperialism that is limited to British imperialism is decades out of date, both politically and economically. For a start there is the role of transnational capital within the economy in the south, and then there is the question of the EU, an imperialist power block. There’s obviously a lot more to what is an extremely complex question.

Do I blame the British state for encouraging and fostering sectarianism in Ireland? Absolutely. Do I believe that the British state bears sole responsibility for sectarianism in Ireland? Absolutely not, not least because I am of the opinion that people are capable of forging independent political ideas and actions that are not simplistically in the control of the state. And that they do so in response to a range of political, social and economic factors (it’s no accident, for example, that the Orange Order emerged in Armagh in 1795 as opposed to say Tipperary or Down). So to take the issue at hand, flags I don’t see that the British state is the greater problem here than sectarianism among Irish people. The fact that David Ford can’t even get Cameron on the phone to talk about attacks on his party’s members and property speaks volumes.

As for your characterisation of the WP, if it helps you to think of it as a unionist sect, then good luck with that. About as accurate as the idea that partition created sectarianism.

Marxman - December 11, 2012

+ 1

CL - December 13, 2012

Pigmentation differences are not necessary to have alleged racial differences assigned. There is now a fairly extensive literature on the social construction of race. e.g. ‘How the Irish became White’, by Noel Ignatiev.

Garibaldy - December 13, 2012

I appreciate that CL, which is why I was saying notions of race as commonly held in Ireland, where it is often assumed to mean colour. But even if we exclude the issue of race, it is still relatively easy to switch from one to the other here, and has been historically.

CL - December 13, 2012

Sure, Gari, i see your point. My impression of the conflict in the North is that it is mainly a matter of political allegiance, and religion was previously taken as a marker of political allegiance. Perhaps one of the results of the GFA-parity of esteem etc.-is that political allegiance is being sundered from religion;at least among Catholics.Maybe it could never be so assumed for all but now definitely, it cannot be assumed that if one is Catholic one is ‘naturally’ identified as Irish and favours re-unification. Maybe all the flag-waving is an attempt to re-assert the old certitudes, as a certain fracturing of allegiances and associated and dissociated identities occurs.
The Invention of the White Race, by Theodore Allen, 2 vols published by Verso, develops historically how ‘whiteness’ was constructed in America by the power elite to divide and keep oppressed the ‘lower orders’ both black and white. Whether a similar approach would be useful in the Irish context, as a prism through which to view sectarianism I don’t know.

4. WorldbyStorm - December 11, 2012

Just on a slightly broader note, what’s the solution then to sectarianism, short, medium and long term and how are socio-political allegiances disentangled from socio-religious (even if only in name) allegiances and from the point of view of Republicans which Garibaldy, Vincent and myself discussing it here on this thread would view ourselves what is the optimal situation in the context of that philosophy/ideology and how is it best arrived at?

anne - December 11, 2012

Capillary grassroots Educational Encounters 1)explaining and discussing human rights from the 1948 UN Declaration onwards and 2) explaining and discussing the GCA/Belfast Agreement.

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

It’s vital to build a concept of active and common citizenship as advocated by republicanism in Ireland since it developed during the French Revolution at one level, and class consciousness at another. This means challenging sectarianism in all its manifestations, exposing the class nature of society and political power, and the consistent raising of the interests of the working class. A long, slow and extremely difficult task no doubt.

WorldbyStorm - December 11, 2012

I agree with both your responses to an extent, but I wonder how that functions in terms of the current structures which seem structurally very rooted in place – for example, think of how difficult it would be to shift a unionist from being a unionist (and ironically the census returns seems to suggest that nationalist/republican identity – trying to avoid the C word – is less monolithic in some respects in terms of broader national identity) to something else. In other words it seems unlikely that that will change rapidly, whether in the individual parties assuming the DUP reads the latest census returns and decides it shoudl do some outreach of its own.

Secondly what serious prospect is there of a break with the current structural elements any time soon? The only party which has transcended community to any great degree of support is Alliance and in class terms we know where that is positioned. But even it is marginal enough, though it’s interesting to reflect on how it finally in the wake of the GFA wound up with an MP, so perhaps the GFA has cleared the decks to some extent. But I could make a case why it would be difficult for other parties rooted in other classes (or aspects of classes) to follow suit and I wonder what room there is for progress beyond the community blocs, as distinct from progress within them and then later convergence?

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

It certainly won’t change quickly, and the structures of the agreement were designed to militate against that by being about conflict management. This is the issue about progress within the different blocs because although we can see rhetoric about that convergence you speculate about, we can also see how easily that people end up getting pushed back into their blocs. The blocs themselves by their nature militate against convergence. That’s not to say of course that progressives oughtn’t to encourage people who are talking about integration from within the blocs and work with them, but in itself it will always be limited.

As for the difficulties, wasn’t it you who gave this blog its motto – for lefties too stubborn to quit?! ;)

WorldbyStorm - December 11, 2012

Actually, no, it was smiffy :)

As currently comprised all of the major parties address different communities. Of course these aren’t simple community issues, they’re also profoundly political. I guess what I’m getting at is that there seems to be a vicious circle extant.

If as a Left Republican I want to achieve my goals I have to appeal to those who will go, even if only part of the way, with a left Republican outlook. That immediately counts one community out. They’re just not going to go for it any time soon. But if I don’t appeal as left Republican, say by shifting my message to something more anodyne or making alliances with – for the sake of example Alliance, then I’m not being a left Republican and that merely makes the goal less achievable again.

This seems to me to be the essential quandary. Those who want the Republic come from the nationalist/republic community, how could they be otherwise really? Bang. We’ve lost unionists. But the nationalist/republican community itself wants the Republic, albeit perhaps many different sorts of Republics. So who else to work with? Is there anyone else?

And then how does one treat of sectarianism in the community one doesn’t belong to? That seems to me to be all but impossible. And given that the opposing community tends to regard any political acts (such as for example the flag in Belfast CH case) as being in and of themselves being fundamentally detrimental to them then how to progress forward?

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

Well, now we’re into discussions of what it means to be republican. For me the idea of a nationalist/republican community is an inaccurate one for example.

The WP never had that much electoral success, but it did take 6% in Belfast in local elections in 1989, including 100s of votes from places like the Shankill, Mount Vernon and East Belfast. It did that by appealing to people unhappy with sectarian politics, and who wanted something different, as well as a clear class message. Obviously a hell of a lot has changed since then, but that, and the Alliance and Green MLAs, indicate that it is possible to have not insignificant electoral success, But this of course will only ever be part of a broader social struggle against sectarianism.

Amazingly difficult and probably impossible in our lifetimes, but pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will and all that.

WorldbyStorm - December 11, 2012

But then the problem kicks in that the form of republicanism you aspire to is seen as not being republican enough (or not being republican) by those in what is generally regarded as being a republican/nationalist community, while it is too republican in the other community (as indeed is any form of republicanism). In that instance there’s no clear constituency that can be attracted (in either narrow or broad definitions of constituency), and one is left with others who constitute a fractional element and may, given the nature of political developments, be more likely to go for something like Alliance.

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

So you rely on your class politics and anti-sectarianism. Because its politically the right thing to do, rather than chasing support by pretending to be something you’re not. Devolved government offers the opportunity for the class tensions within nationalism and unionism to be exacerbated and then offer further space for progressive politics.

WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2012

Hmmm… maybe. I can’t say I blame people if they think that route is a bit circuitous. The other thought is that, take the WP, it is indelibly linked to the nationalist/republican community in terms of perceptions from unionism (and in many respects functionally), in a similar way to SF. I can’t see a way around that – bar time perhaps.

But then if that process does/is/has to some extent happened why not for SF as well, or for the DUP from another angle. Why couldn’t they break out of communitarian support bases and effectively assume class aspects (though not as Marxist parties if you see where I’m going). What’s ultimately to prevent them from moving beyond their original bases?

Garibaldy - December 12, 2012

I don’t think there’s much evidence that either of those parties are actually seeking to break out of their blocs (and the same applies to their little brothers as well). I think they are already running the place effectively in the interests of their respective middle classes, and they are happy with that. Separate but equal (most of the time equal). But the separateness is as important as the equality. For any of the big four to genuinely try and break out of the blocs would mean them changing fundamentally from what they are. I see no evidence any of them wants to do so (and why would they given what their electoral base wants).

WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2012

But the same could have been said about SF in 1963 whereas by 1968, well before it had adopted Marxism as such, it too had reoriented towards a broader struggle and context which in part took it beyond – at least conceptually – its own communal base. If that was true for SF then why not for SF now? Or, at a push, the DUP?

What I’m curious about too is whether you think that couldn’t happen in the case of any of the four parties and if you don’t believe it can why so?

Surely given the census stats it would make a lot of sense for all of them to try to extend their electoral reach by modifying their language and appeals, and in truth both SF and to a lesser extent (or perhaps greater rhetorically) the DUP are both attempting that in making appeals to others.

Indeed I’d think there’s a strong counter argument (and by the way I’m not entirely convinced that SF is simply serving the middle class, or that that is its base – after all then who has a working class base in the North, unless it doesn’t exist) that ultimately they’ll have to make such appeals which would by definition move them beyond communalism and sectarianism (which I’m not sure are precisely the same thing either) towards both cross community and cross class support.

And then if we look at Alliance we can see how by making precisely that pitch over the years it has eventually reaped dividends in terms of greater representation, etc, etc.

Garibaldy - December 12, 2012

I think there’s a number of fundamental differences. Firstly, the Movement before 1968 was dominated by people from the south, who found it much easier to rethink the relationship between it and religious identity. On top of which, the provisionals emerged as explicitly self-proclaimed defenders of northern Catholics, and that attitude remains in their DNA. After 25 years of violence – a full generation – I cannot see that the people involved in that will turn their backs on it, especially given the extent to which they defined themselves against what the Republican Clubs were doing. The 1960s rethink was also a product of profound failure, whereas the provisionals are set for what looks like very long-lasting success in terms of being the biggest party within its bloc. The dynamic to rethink their politics – as opposed to continue with what they are doing while waiting for demographics to kick in – is not there. If people from the south become dominant then that may encourage change, but again you are talking decades, and it’s highly unlikely that there will be an alternative social and economic ideology that seems to be on the rise as there was in the 1960s.

I suppose that if change doesn’t come in NI after decades some rethinking may come about, but I don’t think we can realistically expect that to happen within any foreseeable timeframe. Not the generation of Adams, not the generation of Conor Murphy, and probably not the generation of the people now in their early 20s (see Martin Savage’s comment about St Patrick’s Day).

So I guess what I’m saying is that while anything is possible, what you are suggesting is very far from likely in any world we can foresee.

As for the base in the north. I wasn’t suggesting it was simply the middle class. I was suggesting that effectively its politics are working for the Catholic middle class, which is more than happy with it as the leading representative of what they perceive to be their side.

As for the other parties, I think similar evidence is in place there. On top of which the GFA designation system encourages people to vote for parties committed to either bloc.

I think Alliance’s current position is somewhat deceptive. It has shrunk geographically to Antrim and Down effectively, and its vote is not as great as its number of MLAs and ministers would suggest. To be honest, it’s also been my impression that Alliance has been under its current leadership and through its current younger representatives been moving to the right and almost imperceptibly more unionist in feeling. Others won’t agree with that, but that has been my response to the rise of people like Parsley (before he jumped ship) and Ford.

WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2012

I wouldn’t argue for a moment that it would happen precisely as it did with SF and on into OSF, but that it conceivably could happen. There’s also the point that that Southern leadership hardly a decade earlier had fought and sustained the Border Campaign on principles that were entirely traditionalist – the TLR is particularly good on the religiosity of figures who would a few short years later be staunch OSFers and later again WP, and of course were part and parcel of a society that was also hugely religious (albeit without the cleavages).

There’s another point. I can’t think of an analogous effort by any other Republican grouping across the years to some of the activities of SF in terms of engagement across the sociopolitical divide – and that makes sense because we’ve never been here before where a Republican party has a sort of parity in governance within the context of NI, which is not to deny for a moment that there’s no element of calculation in it. But it seems to me to point to something new in the mix, however nascent, however unlikely it is to bear fruit or whatever.

In 1986 I heard a lot of stuff saying that the Provisionals would never turn to politics, would never disarm. Not disagreeing with your analysis, but it seems to me that different contexts must inevitably generate different dynamics. Even ten years ago the idea of the DUP and SF in coalition together and leading the Executive would be arguably if not unforseable, at least unlikely. Seems to me the logic of the latest census points to the necessity for unionism to break out of its current mindset to some degree and for SF to have to do likewise (and God alone knows what happens to the SDLP and UUP).

BTW, wouldn’t disagree at all that Alliance is shifting rightwards but that’s going to be a very crowded pool if the parties are just restricted to the middle class (and it seems to me that from the evidence of votes there’s a reasonable amount of satisfaction in working class areas with both SF and the DUP – no?). I’m not sure that SF can cut it if it’s simply a servicing mechanism for the middle class.

Garibaldy - December 12, 2012

Huge satisfaction with both the big two in working class areas. Didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. They will continue to service those communities well in terms of advice work etc. But I’m not sure that the interests of those communities is what is driving their policies (Richard’s post on unionism and the 11 plus linked in these comments is a fine example). What is driving their policies in my view is what is seen to be in the interests of their respective blocs. There’s a huge middle class in NI, many of whom work in the public sector – doctors, teachers, barrister, solicitors, pub owners etc plus a large petit bourgeoisie as created by Thatcher in Britain (a green or orange van man so to speak). In my view, both the big parties have gotten so big precisely because they have been able to conquer this market from their rivals. Partly that’s because they are seen as better negotiators than the rivals, tougher on the opposition. But it’s also because they not only represent no threat to their interest, but because they are serving them well. And we are back to the fact that however much we may wish it was not so people want the politics of the sectarian blocs.

I’m not really sure what engagement across the divide you are talking about to be honest. If you are talking about relationships being built between ex-prisoners’ groups, that is very much an insular world of its own. If you are talking about the appointment of a director of unionist engagement, that was announced in a blaze of publicity, but the choice of an ex-prisoner was quickly reversed, and the role hasn’t been heard of by me in years; I don’t think it’s a big deal any more, and may not even exist still. If you are talking about the rhetoric of a shared future, that’s been the point of the post. It’s only rhetoric in my view, supported by things like the playground in Newry.

I’m not so sure that either unionists or nationalists need to reach across the divide. With turnout at elections falling massively down to normal levels, they can rely on their committed voters and play to them. A referendum on unity is again something that’s very far away if they stick to the arrangements in the agreement, so why risk what you have chasing what are sometimes referred to as unicorns – a large number of Catholic unionists/Protestant nationalists?

This census isn’t making much difference. The big census was the 2001 one. In the years before that, it was common to see the likes of Mitchell McLaughlin say unionists ought to make a deal while they were in a strong position to do so demographically speaking (see his contribution to The Republican Ideal for example). Those types of remarks have not come back with this census. I’m not sure it means as much as some people are saying.

WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2012

I wouldn’t expect there to be any noise online – or really offline about the census at all (thoughI’m not saying anything Gerry Moriarty and others aren’t either in terms of how this must focus unionism on engaging itself with others). But I think it does make a difference. And of course the pre-2001 situation was markedly different given that SF’s relationship wtih the GFA institutions was different and progress had to be measured by a number of other metrics – and of course MMcL would use it for all it was worth. Given the use of that lever (however accurate or not it was) who wouldn’t?

Re outreach I think it’s a bit broader than you outline there. And there’s been some quite visible efforts by SF to indicate some sort of a shift in their approach. Hardly the end of sectarianism, but I wonder what precisely you would expect them to do at this stage given the constraints of their bases?

Isn’t there a problem too in relation to your point about people wanting the politics of the sectarian blocs. If that’s the case then how is it possible to transcend them in any effective way? They’re a structural element of the polity.

Indeed could this be the basic problem, which by the way OSF/SFWP discovered, that shifting too far from the blocs, however principled, can leave a movement very isolated and without sufficient influence to shape events?
There’s another point as well, however constrained within the limits of the GFA/BA the blocs have to accommodate each other to some degree. That is a step change from the situation pre-existing it, where they could ignore each other if only because neither had executive power and all was exercised on behalf of the

Garibaldy - December 12, 2012

I don’t expect them to do anything because I don’t believe they want to move away from what they are doing now. I think you’re giving the big parties more credit for what their intentions are than I ever would; and I’d argue that one need only look at the abortion that is the Cohesion, Sharing, Integration strategy put together by the big two after they dumped the original proposals to prove that.

As for the GFA, it’s clearly been a much better situation than what was happening despite its many flaws and drawbacks. The neutering of some of its more progressive elements – the civic forum by all the assembly parties and the bill of rights being two of the bigger ones – has intensified its flaws.

As for shaping events and influence. The left in the south has next to no real influence. Yet no-one suggests surrendering there. And that is what failing to pursue anti-sectarian class politics would be, a surrender.

WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2012

Okay, let’s keep in mind that the situation we currently have is barely six years old so it may be of dubious value to project it too far into the future.

Secondly, no question about it that aspects of the dispensation haven’t been implemeneted or have been emasculated.

But, the problem still remains that politics outside some linkage to communal aspects is itself emasculated give the nature of the communal. But this still requires – as Joe asked earlier – a clearer definition of sectarianism, at what point is something sectarian and something not sectarian in the contexts we are discussing and contrasted with the South how does one distinguish between them?

5. Jim - December 11, 2012

it’s not sectarian – this has nothing to do with religious conflict. it’s a matter of colonialism, race, land, etc. the loyalists used to have the support of the state – the state has abandoned them, and now they have nowhere to go. the union flag is distasteful to many people in northern ireland – it reminds them of how they used to be considered second class citizens. it’s distasteful to many post-colonial societies. it’s time for it to go – and it’s time for the loyalist community to realise that westminster doesn’t give two figs for them and that the DUP and UUP leadership don’t either. the game is up.

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

It’s certainly not a theological dispute in the sense that it is not about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but it is sectarian in that the groups define themselves primarily through religious or perceived religious allegiance. Other issues are certainly tied up in it, but as I’ve already pointed out I have serious difficulty with the idea that race is an appropriate category of analysis, and I have doubts about colonialism as well. It’s far from that simple.

Jim - December 12, 2012

yes – i agree it’s not sectarian in the theological sense, but i’d question whether loyalists primarily define themselves as protestant – my experience has been that they think of themselves in political terms first (ie, british, loyalist, etc). colonialism is without a doubt an issue – i find it extraordinary that people deny this in relation to ireland when they wouldn’t in the case of South America, India, etc. It’s a massive theoretical blindspot on the Irish left for some reason. It’s definitely not simple, questions of labor aristocracy, the decimation of the industrial base, etc.

Garibaldy - December 12, 2012

I think the rhetoric of loyalism remains very much expressed in terms of religion, and more importantly that their ideas of Britishness are intimately connected to their identity as protestants. I do think it’s fair to say that there has been a move to replace Catholics/Protestants with nationalists/unionists, but then at the same time you have this idea of the PUL and CNR communities being used increasingly as well.

As for colonialism. As noted above (and as you say yourself), I think that the situation in Ireland is radically different to it has been in the past with regards to imperialism, and even then there are other models which can be used to describe what went on in Ireland in the early modern period. I don’t think Ireland has ever been the same as it was in South Africa or India. For a start, there are issues of colour there that simply do not apply in Ireland, and I don’t buy the idea that unionists are colonists rather than part of the people of Ireland.

Joe - December 12, 2012

I love this, from Nigel Dodds yesterday, in response to Conor Murphy’s demand for a Border Poll: “It is deeply unfortunate that … some politicians have been inferring an automatic political indication from someone’s community background. Those are purely sectarian assumptions which do nothing to move Northern Ireland forward.”

You couldn’t make it up!

On the broader question, this thread has certainly opened my mind up to thinking about the whole issue of identity and sectarianism. A definition of sectarianism would be a good start to a debate. Is it sectarian to send your kids to a denominational school? If it is, then about 90% of us, north and south, are guilty as are both states for giving the churches control of schools.
Anyway, it’s really got me thinking. Might do up a post and see if Chef will publish it.

Jim - December 12, 2012

sorry, didn’t make that clear. of course they are irish – what i meant was that ireland, as england’s first colony, has very specific dynamics to it, and the plantation of ulster is one of them. the issue of colour is not necessarily applicable to a colonial paradigm (catalans were colonised by castille, basques too, the polish by russia, etc, etc). very rarely does european colonialism have an ideology of color – it isn’t relevant in a caucasian spectrum. what i mean was more this – loyalist SEE themselves as being racially different (of course they’re not, the irish are a mongrel race, and all the better for it) – but the discourse of Scottish decent over against aboriginal descent is still strong within loyalism. more often than not a papist is not so much someone who is a roman catholic, as someone who has aboriginal descent. this discourse it found very forcefully in the loyalist tradition from charles lucas to ian paisley. the tradition of empire is sill very strong within loyalism (as the murals of the shankill or the fountain demonstrate) – it’s an adherence to empire. I’m talking more about how loyalist see themselves, then how they are objectively (ie, Irish people who vigorously adhere to a non-republican concept of the polity).

Michael Carley - December 12, 2012

@Jim Surely Scotland or Wales would be England’s first colony. Maybe we all need to say what we mean by `colony’.

Jim - December 12, 2012

colony in the sense of marx – that he saw ireland as the first colony of england in that it first demonstrated the classical exploitative relationship of primary material supplier and metropolitan processing centre.

Michael Carley - December 12, 2012

@Joe: “classical exploitative relationship of primary material supplier and metropolitan processing centre”

There are certain regions of England where that would apply (and some of them would claim a `racial’ difference from London), and you could apply it to Scotland and Wales as much as you could to Ireland.

Jim - December 12, 2012

well, i think most historians would accept that wales wasn’t brought into a colonial situation until after ireland – but that’s open to debate. but if ireland isn’t england’s first colony, we can say it was its second. scotland is rather different, and i can’t think of any body who would suggest that it was brought into the english economy until after ireland. the issue here is not whether ireland was first or second (tho marx drew great importance to the fact that it was for theoretical reasons), but that the Northern Ireland issue is largely due to colonial settlement patterns, ie ulster plantation. the plantation is still very important in the loyalist imagination. that’s the point i was trying to make.

WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2012

A definition of sectarianism would be a good start to a debate. Is it sectarian to send your kids to a denominational school? If it is, then about 90% of us, north and south, are guilty as are both states for giving the churches control of schools.

I think that’s a crucial point. What is the definition of sectarianism, how do we identify sectarian behaviours, and how do we avoid them? How do they differ from similar behaviours in different polities? And so on.

CL - December 13, 2012

Marx regarded England not as just another country; he said it should be treated as the metropolis of capital.
Marx’s (and Engel’s) extensive writings on Ireland are essential to an understanding of the history of Ireland’s political economy and its role as an exploited colony of capital’s metropolis.

Garibaldy - December 12, 2012

Just on the colonialism thing. Can we really even talk about England when the Anglo-Normans were conquering bits of Wales? Same in Ireland in 1169 (not forgetting the time it took to establish control over even most of the island).

The idea of intra-European colonialism is an interesting one, but in that case the appropriate comparators are not countries where there was a difference in colour, and there are also chronological issues. There are rival models though involving dynastic expansion, composite monarchies etc that might also apply to Ireland.

I have some stuff from the South African CP on their understanding of colonialism there that I’ll post up some time when I get the chance.

WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2012

I wonder too can colonialism a la the Plantation have a clearly defined effect at this remove when the contemporary structural elements are so distinctly different in ways that might not be true of colonies elsewhere?

That said Joe Lee wrote some persuasive stuff on late 19th and early 20th concepts of race in his Ireland 1912-1985 and how they inflected unionist thinking as regards Catholics/nationalists.

gabbagabbahey - December 12, 2012

I’d agree with wbs, and certainly ‘colonialism’ in the period of the Anglo-Normans is a bit of a stretch. Nicholas Canny has written a lot however about how the Tudor conquest of Ireland became the forerunner for the English-led conquest of the New World. The extension and formation of centralised state power, and theories of subjugated races (not just other peoples, as would have long been encountered in Europe – thus ‘the Gael’ became a specific cultural and political model) feature strongly in it if I recall correctly. The Plantations in Ulster were the apotheosis of this, but even as a model of colonialism (and the extent to which the events around the 1690s have engrained themselves in the ‘British’ consciousness of Northern Ireland), the sheer length of time between then and now means the ‘colonial past’ effectively precedes the modern industrial, social and cultural development of the region. Harland and Wolff weren’t set up on a colonial basis, it was a mobile industry within an imperial core; globalised capital, as I’ve seen mentioned here already, seems like a more pertinent focus of thought.

That said, I’d be interested to see how the SA perspective applies here. As an established and ethnically/linguistically settler group, would the Boers or Afrikaners be analogous to the Ulster Scots? And South Africa’s considerable economic development compared to the rest of the continent might also raise comparisons with Northern Ireland’s ‘advanced’ status as a putative colony.

WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2012

Is it weasely to suggest it might be an environment with post-colonial aspects to it? But even that doesn’t seem to quite get to the heart of it.Perhaps most obviously because the weight of the two populations was so different to usual colonial contexts, and indeed in the North Catholics/Nationalists were a minority, and the class structure and differentiation within Unionism was considerable.

Jim - December 13, 2012

i think we can talk about england in the 12th century as being england. medieval literature would heavily suggest that the english ruling classes thought of themselves as english, and believed that the state was english (Bede and Chaucer would be appropriate here), and that they had terroritorial control over a very defined england (again, the doomsday book would gesture to that). In terms of chronology, Ireland wasn’t fully colonised until Cromwell – the plantation of Ulster was finalised by this stage. Colonialism, pre-Victorian, is usually uneven – the Castillians did not finally colonise Catalunya until 1714. I think we often confuse total colonialism (mid to late Victorian) with the uneven colonialism of the medieval or late early modern period. Capitalism is a historical process and uneven colonialism is very demonstrable in the early period (the colonisation of India and America, for example, where the state played second fiddle to private interests (the East India Company, Pennsylvania private capital settlement, etc.)). Color did not apply to internal European colonialism but race (or assumptions of racial difference) did – the Russia stereotyping of Polish racial features pre-Catherine the Great are very evident.

FergusD - December 13, 2012
6. Richard - December 11, 2012

‘he only people that benefit are the middle classes who make a nice living, with their kids going to grammar schools and university and then getting professional jobs while working class children are sacrificed from the age of 11 onwards.’

I wrote about this -and its relation to the current disturbances- yesterday here: http://knaves.posterous.com/we-lead-they-follow-on-loyalist-political-inc

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

Cheers for that Richard. I think there’s a lot in what you say about how the 11 Plus can help inhibit the development of confidence within working class communities.

7. Joe - December 11, 2012

Good post, Gari. I am depressed enough already so I won’t look at the comments on Slugger, if you don’t mind.
Did I ever post this Belfast street rhyme up here before? I probably did, but here it is again… it cheers me up in times like these.
Holy Mary Mother of God
Pray for me and Tommy Todd
I’m a Fenian
He’s a Prod
Holy Mary Mother of God

8. ringacoltig - December 11, 2012

If I can digress for a moment and bring the discussion around to the so-called Peace Process that has now being going on, we are told, for some 20 years. We are never told when this process is likely to end, or if there is a timetable for it to end, or indeed a set of yardsticks by which it can be measured so that we can say definitively that we are at the end, or the end is near. What exactly is the Peace Process at the end of 2013. We have all the major parties to the conflict not only at the table, but in cabinet together. Does the Peace Process have a formula for tackling sectarianism? If so, where is it, and more pertinently where was it last week when Belfast City Council was rowing about flags and others were outside engaging in violent disorder?

Would this Peace Process, or at least those who oversee it, not see fit to look at the issue of sectarianism, which seems to be the last major impediment to lasting peace (excepting of course the border which is another question)? When the Northern Ireland Assembly was originally set up there were a number of mechanisms put in place to ensure that decisions were acceptable on a cross-community basis – a majority of both nationalist and a separate majority among unionist assembly members was required. Are these still necessary? Is it not time to move beyond quotas and divided communities? Is it not long beyond time to end educating children along religious lines, doubling up on scarce resources and entrenching division?

LeftAtTheCross - December 11, 2012

“Is it not long beyond time to end educating children along religious lines, doubling up on scarce resources and entrenching division?”

In short, yes. And an interesting observation was made by a representative of the Integrated Education Fund who spoke at the recent WP NI Conference “NI Deserves Better”, that the segrated nature of education in NI has led to the situation where the demographics of the population are such that there is over-capacity of 85,000 places within the two parallel education spheres. Attempts to rationalise this are prevented by the ‘necessity’ of maintaining separate schools in close proximity providing more or less the same service and largely similar curricula to the two separate communities. As my teacher spouse commented, 85,000 is a bigger number than sits the Leaving Cert’ this side of the border every year.

Clearly economic ‘rationalisation’ should not be the only yardstick by which such things are measured, but it’s certainly one metric by which the abnormality of NI society can be quantified.

Jim Monaghan - December 11, 2012

I can see protests if Quinn attempted to close Schools down here on a similar basis.

WorldbyStorm - December 11, 2012

Interesting census return according to Irish Times… Protestant 48 per cent Catholic 45 per cent, Protestant down from from 53 per cent on 2001, Catholic up 2 per cent.

That the shift is now to sub 50 must have some impact one would think. Interesting what the response will be.

entdinglichung - December 11, 2012
Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

I’d agree entirely that the peace process is over, but it is being kept around by the executive parties as a means to justify refusing to address bigger issues.

9. Mícheál Mac Donncha - December 11, 2012

Disappointing to see that Garibaldi has not moved on at all and still lives in a pre-Good Friday Agreement world. Let’s get back to the issue. Under the Agreement there is supposed to be parity of esteem. The flags and emblems of all sides are to be respected but not to be used to dominate or to be imposed on others. For example the Assembly at Stormont adopted a neutral symbol that is acceptable to all. The flying of the Union Jack at the City Hall all year round was an anachronism, a symbol of domination. Its removal would have made the building a symbolically neutral place. The compromise reached was reasonable. Your effort to paint all sides in this dispute as sectarian only serves to mask the sectarianism of unionism/loyalism, or at least of the most die-hard elements of it, which are on the streets at present. Decades of sectarian domination are coming to an end, a painful process for unionism, but absolutely necessary. Of course sectarianism was there before Partition but can anyone seriously argue that Partition did not reinforce it and entrench it for five decades, leading inevitably to violent conflict? Connolly condemned both ‘sweatshops under the Orange flag’ and slums under the Green flag. His doctrine of both national self-determination and social justice is as relevant as ever.

Joe - December 11, 2012

Living in a pre-Good Friday Agreement world? I guess if, before the GFA, you were a socialist arguing for class politics and working class unity and against sectarianism, then, after the GFA, you’d be the same.
I agree with you Mícheál, that the compromise reached on the flag in City Hall was reasonable. The sectarianism on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere at the moment is loyalist sectarianism.
But as Garibaldi points out, Mick Fealty has chronicled many, many instances of nationalist youths defacing and damaging churches and halls belonging to the Protestant community across the north.
So yes, all sides are sectarian. It’s just themmuns is more sectarian than usuns.

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

I think Joe has done a great job of saying a lot of what I’d say in response here. No-one is suggesting that sectarianism was not entrenched by partition, and I’ve really no idea how you could suggest in good faith that that is what I’m saying. To defeat it, we need to understand it, and how it works; which includes defeating the green as well as the orange middle class, and forging working class unity by breaking the shackles of sectarianism, not ignoring the fact that it is a problem throughout the society in Northern Ireland.

WorldbyStorm - December 11, 2012

I do take Micheáls point though about developing neutral spaces in the society, particularly, perhaps most importantly, where elected representatives gather. I think that that’s important.

sonofstan - December 11, 2012

Disappointing to see that Garibaldi has not moved on at all and still lives in a pre-Good Friday Agreement world.

That was the most depressing comment of all. The GFA, for *both* sides in the North has become the TINA equivalent: it’s a hothouse for the preservation of the absolutely sterile politics of the zero-sum, minus the actual violence – but the violence the numbskull language and posturing does to sense and the possibility of progressive politics is a poor return.

10. Protesters storm City Hall - Page 108 - December 11, 2012

[...] [...]

11. Jim Monaghan - December 11, 2012

If the flag was left and say the tricolour was put up with equal status, they still would not be satisified.

Martin Savage - December 11, 2012

On what planet is calLing a kids playground after a hunger striker about parity of esteem? Of course nationalists can’t be sectarian, only loyalists. Funny I thought Conor Murphy was found to have discriminated on religious grounds when making appointments. Fionnaula o’ connor has a good article on this in today’s Irish news

12. sonofstan - December 11, 2012

Great OP, some depressing responses.

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

Cheers SoS. I’d agree with your characterisation of some of the responses.

13. spadenamer - December 11, 2012


i think you spend too much time on slugger, garibaldi. between wasted time on a site dominated by extremely nasty middle-class unionists (including the catholic ones) and the muddle that passed as anti-sectarian politics from the wp you espouse a view of sectarianism and its wellsprings that corresponds almost exactly with that of the establishment north and south. what is so left wing about an ahistorical, plague-on-both-your-houses approach to these recurring problems, that can only condemn rampant and recurrent loyalist sectarianism if it includes the obligatory ‘tsk tsk’ aimed at the taigs? it is political paralysis elevated to principle.

i also think that when joe, above, complains about the assumption that only loyalists can be sectarian and not nationalists, he shows hopeless confusion. this is not about individual beliefs, but about how people are slotted into sectarian boxes by the way this society is structured. nor is it especially relevant that occasionally protestant churches and orange halls are defaced, vandalised, etc. above someone writes that this is done by ‘young nationalists’ but what evidence is there for this? the glenavy incident that mr. fealty makes such a deal out of (in his tired old trope its the essential ‘tat’ to the ‘tit’ of large-scale mobilisations of loyalists under paramilitary leadership) is for all we know the work of a single lunatic, and is rightfully considered disgraceful by virtually the whole of the nationalist community. my inclination was to gather a painting team and repair the damage done to my neighbours, and i’m sure that was the response of many.

finally, how can one argue that even if sectarianism preceded the partition of ireland, that its longevity and salience into the twenty-first century has not been guaranteed by the maintenance of the border and the political structures that partition holds in place? that’s bizarre stuff coming from someone who claims an affinity with connolly. in my view the left has been culpable in obliging loyalism over very many years in its deeply sectarian and racist, foundational outlook. many of you seem to be big fans of the gfa. why? respite from armed conflict? okay, i’m on board for that. but what else? what the f**k is in it for working class people in the north? temp jobs at sub-minimum wages in a permanently segregated society?

finally, i am not a nationalist and not a sinn fein voter, and not especially concerned about national identity either. but i am sick to death of people saying that its the same all around. listen to the buzz in the establishment press: why did the shinners have to push this just NOW, at christmas time? all parties are to blame in this. a calculated affront to unionists. etc etc etc.

enough already: either we are in to a ‘shared society’, and all that entails or its time to wind up all the pr guff behind the gfa. john lowry, who garners about 400 votes at the best of times, is dishonest when he claims that we are all obsessed with flags. if i had a penny for every union jack i have to pass on my way to and from work every day i could quit the job. on the other hand, i’m almost certain that i could walk the whole length of the falls and not find a single tricolor anywhere, except at easter time. i may be off by one or two lampposts, but the contrast is very striking, and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or does not know what they are talking about.

the problem here is loyalist sectarianism, folks–both high and low versions –and the free pass it gets from the british and irish governments, the ‘respectable’ unionist parties, and much of the media. harryville, holy cross, the covenant marches, a long string of vicious murders and attempted murders of vulnerable taigs and their protestant friends mistaken for taigs. all in the years since gfa. in a situation of worsening economic prospects, as this past week has shown, it can only get worse. and yet by the tone of the discussion above many are pondering the great mystery of where it all went wrong, whether the ‘agreement’ can be revived. unfortunately, the left is deeply confused, and severely compromised, by its unwillingness to call a spade a spade.

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

I think it easily gets to the point where any time on Slugger is too much time, but it does provide an accurate snapshot of the way some people think.

I’m somewhat baffled by seeing the accusation that I’m the one taking an ahistorical approach in a thread where sectarianism is being blamed on partition. And nowhere have I suggested that partition and the nature of the state did not help sustain and reinforce sectarianism. Nor have I said anything about whether the agreement can be revived, nor has anyone else. I don’t think anyone here is suggesting the Agreement is in much difficulty. As you point out yourself, the structures of the Agreement are part of the problem. What was in the agreement for workers was an end to violence and the chance to grow an alternative that the violence helped suppress. To do so, requires facing up to all types of sectarianism.

Sectarianism is a blight on the whole of society in Northern Ireland. To ignore that is to see only half the problem. The entire structure of NI society is built around sectarianism, and, unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of people are comfortable with acting as part of sectarian blocks. This is the single biggest impediment not only to class politics, but also to territorial unity. This is calling a spade a spade.

14. Loveyou longtime - December 11, 2012

WTF!!! – “i’m almost certain that i could walk the whole length of the falls and not find a single tricolor anywhere” – when was the last time you were on the Falls? – think we have a bad dose of Prod self loathing here or just another sectarian I’m not a Shinner…

spadenamer - December 20, 2012

to no. 14. sorry, been away, and probably far too late to respond to you, but i repeat what i wrote above:

“i’m almost certain that i could walk the whole length of the falls and not find a single tricolor anywhere, except at easter time. i may be off by one or two lampposts, but the contrast is very striking, and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or does not know what they are talking about.”

you ask me when was the last time i was on the falls. the answer is I cannot remember the last day i was not on the falls. and i counted them last night: did not see a single tricolor on a lamppost between divis and andytown, except on private buildings (2) and in the d co. garden across fr the leisure centre. if you have other information let’s hear it. but in short i repeat, you “are either lying or do not know what you are talking about.”

side note: apologies to garibaldi for the tone of my comments above. a bit pissed off at the way this continues to be played in the media. its not about flag counting. my point was that the obsession with flags is from within loyalism. more than that, sectarianism in the north emanates overwhelmingly from within loyalism, for historical reasons. and a shared society means both flags or no flags, period, or it means nothing. i opt for the latter.

15. Loveyou longtime - December 11, 2012

Actually on rereading the spadenamer piece – is it a piss take? If it is fair dues.

Martin Savage - December 11, 2012

Northern Ireland wasn’t a colony, to see this as about colonialism in the 21st century is just bananas. Go up to south Belfast on paddys day and watch the children of the catholic middle class singing rebel songs and going on about Huns and black bastards while getting pissed out of their heads, and wonder if sectarianism is only a Protestant problem

Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

A fair point well made

Jim - December 13, 2012

i did not mean that northern ireland was, or is, a colony. sorry, ought to have made that clearer. i meant that colonial patterns of settlement have determined relations in antrim, down and beyond

16. fergal - December 11, 2012

A lot of the loyalist ire seems to be directed at the Alliance party? Is this sectarian ?( in a purely sectarian way)aren’t Alliance liberal minded Unionists?

WorldbyStorm - December 11, 2012

That’s an interesting point. I see they’ve moved to neutrality on the union though originally they were moderate unionists.

17. Dr.Nightdub - December 11, 2012

Couple of points about the Census stats: the religious split is 45%-48%-7% catholic-protestant-other/none. But 59% hold a British passport. Whatever way you do the maths, a simplistic sectarian headcount doesn’t tell the full story.

CMK - December 11, 2012

How many of them also hold Irish passports? A big surprise in the States over twenty years ago was to meet people from the Falls and Bogside using their British passports to get into the US with much less hassle than with an Irish passport.

WorldbyStorm - December 11, 2012

That’s a fair point. I can’t see that as being a defining metric, not least because it is less easy to get RoI passports than UK ones.

18. Garibaldy - December 11, 2012

So for some reason unionist MLAs protested outside the office of Naomi Long where there was an attempt made to murder a police officer.


Ed - December 12, 2012

God people weren’t wrong about the comments on Slugger, I feel about 5% stupider now having read that thread. My favourite was the guy explaining that NI is full of ‘Irish’ symbols, harps, red hands etc., so nationalists shouldn’t be complaining. I guess they should be delighted when they see the likes of this:



19. shea - December 12, 2012

on yard sticks what do people think about the identity question. 40% british, 25% Irish and 21% northern Irish. think the northern irish one is interesting. watching a few of the boards discussing it think people are taking NI as short hand for British or the status quo.

WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2012

In some ways yes, perhaps it is a vote for the status quo, but… I wonder if it is also an approach that allows for changes within the context of the status quo but perhaps not all the way to a UI?

shea - December 12, 2012

yeah i think the ball is in the air. think on the other boards they are looking at the disparity between the Irish and British figure. there is only 15 points in the difference. wonder if the cencus was taken in the last week or two would the british figure break 50%.

what does the phrase Northern Irish only say about feelings for the union. there are possibly alot of views in it from support for the status quo to adding a 3rd option to the constitutional question or more or nothing of the sort.

just to trow out. the catholic demograph has gone up on average 3% every decade since the 1950′s. it went up 2 % in the last two. in 2022 it looks set up to be a very slim majority. even if its not a united ireland its not the northern ireland that would have been created 100 years previously.

20. CL - December 12, 2012

The U.S. played a key role in the creation of the GFA. If the U.S. is an imperial power what does that say about the GFA?

Martin Savage - December 12, 2012

Interested what you mean garibaldi about colonialism in the ‘early modern’ Ireland, I guess most people would say Ireland was a colony until 1921?

FergusD - December 12, 2012

Martin, strictly speaking Ireland was just another part of the UK from the Act of Union (1801) so presumably not a colony, officially. But actually it still was in reality. Still was after 1921? Which is/was part of a wider problem for “nationalism” in post colonial countries.

21. Neutrality or parity? The ‘new’ Northern Ireland. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - December 12, 2012

[...] neutral is not the same as removing one flag and replacing it with another. As I noted in comments Mícheál Mac Donncha made a point about a neutral political space that is well worth considering. That in a sense, is the [...]

22. People Power – Taking Back The North | An Sionnach Fionn - December 21, 2012

[...] Flags, Churches, Politicians, Sectarianism and Ordinary People (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) [...]

23. Páirc Réamonn Mac Raois (Raymond McCreesh Park), Patrick Street, Newry. « Fiannaiochta - December 29, 2012

[...] Flags, Churches, Politicians, Sectarianism and Ordinary People (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) [...]


[...] Flags, Churches, Politicians, Sectarianism and Ordinary People (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) [...]

25. Vincent Doherty - July 15, 2013


26. Vincent Doherty - July 16, 2013

Has your site suddenly gone underground along with Garlands old printing press, you know the one I mean I am sure.all full of bluster and fighting talk till your bluff was called. Typical old Sticky windbag if you ask me!

WorldbyStorm - July 16, 2013

Vincent, I’m the one who moderated your comment, not Garibaldy. And trust me, given that I left the WP in the early 1990s I’m an unlikely champion of them, indeed I explicitly disagree with Garibaldy on a number of issues in the thread above.

But all that aside, your comment was moderated for a number of reasons.

Firstly, you launch an unprovoked verbal attack on him for no reason I can see months after this thread went quiet and not linked at all to what Garibaldy said.

Secondly it is personal attack rather than a political analysis.

Thirdly, and puzzlingly, it mentions third parties and yourself in a way which potentially might cause you trouble (and or raise legal issues for you and us).

Fourthly this site has very clear usage policies. Go to the tab About Us/Moderation and read them. There’s enough hostility on the Irish left we’re not adding to the sum of it. People interact in a calm and structured way or not at all. The language in your original comment and that above is entirely out of order and any further comments in that vein will be blocked.

There’s no problem with a political critique of the WP, many is the thread here that has considered for example their approach to North Korea or one issue or another. But not this way.

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