Neutrality or parity? The ‘new’ Northern Ireland. December 12, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
Interesting reflection by Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times today on the issues raised by the Census figures and touched on here in the earlier post this afternoon. As he notes:
What the census clearly demonstrates is that Northern Ireland is changing and unionists and nationalists would be wise to be mindful of how that change is managed.
Scrutiny of the information might persuade the unionist politicians who are getting so agitated over the British union flag and the loyalists who are threatening and attempting murder and causing havoc around the issue “to wind their necks in”, as they say up here.
And it is hard to disagree with the following either:
Unionist politicians can take some comfort that just 25 per cent of the population consider themselves solely Irish. But unionist politicians can also do the arithmetic. If there are 864,000 people from a Protestant background and 810,000 from a Catholic background, then they should know it’s in their interests to keep on side those Catholics who are happy with the current powersharing that recognises Irish identity.
Ignoring local democracy as was applied, however cack-handedly, at Belfast City Hall over the union flag signals a very self-serving and selective understanding of democracy. If unionism refuses to act smart and with respect, it could rapidly alienate the Catholics First Minister Peter Robinson knows he needs to maintain the union.
This is, as noted earlier, a crucial time for unionism. It has to come to terms with the fact that even if the union, at least in many respects, is secure for the moment there is a contingent aspect that was not there before, or not recognised as such. This requires unionism to accept and acknowledge an Irish identity, and it is also important – I think – to recognise that a Northern Irish identity is not synonymous with a British identity. That is food for thought for Republicans and Nationalists, but also for Unionists. Perhaps much more so for the latter. We’ve seen straws in the wind – ameliorative noises from Robinson, but frankly nothing of any great substance. To make up lost ground – and again, this point was made in the earlier piece today – Unionism is going to have to much further than it has hitherto.
Moriarty also says the following:
A more cautious approach from Sinn Féin and the SDLP at Belfast City Hall might have been helpful. They could have bided their time on the flag, allowing the census figures sink into the unionist consciousness, to demonstrate more vividly that Belfast is no longer a unionist city.
It is interesting how in his view it is SF and the SDLP who have to be more careful. It is worth noting the role of Alliance in this as well, hardly a party to take precipitate risks. And yet in the same piece he notes that the response of unionism in relation to the issue has been very self-serving and selective.
But I think there’s a broader error here, removing one flag – for some of the time – and leaving the space 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 the spirit of the GFA/BA.
But this goes further. Parity of esteem might suggest that both flags would be flown, that shared identifiers would be used, combining both visual identities. But does anyone think that Unionism and Loyalism are anywhere close to that? In the meantime as with the Assembly and the Executive we have neutral depoliticised or non-political imagery which references no community/political ideology.
And that raises a further question or two. Does Unionism want a situation where its identity is projected openly but in a context of allowing for an Irish Republican identity to be projected – because given the figures it must acquiesce to the reality that it too is now a minority within Northern Ireland.
The alternative is that in formal political spaces its identity is shown, as with Belfast City Hall, less and less and is replaced with that neutral identity referenced above.
Which is more palatable – and I don’t mean that in a coat-trailing or glib sense – to Unionism? Neutrality or parity? Because given those census returns the status quo ante ain’t coming back.