Red lines… July 31, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about that PUP statement released earlier in the year on the political process in Northern Ireland in the recent past. In particular one paragraph caught my attention.
“There are no political parties in Northern Ireland qualified to drive a process of reconciliation,” the PUP statement argued.
“All have contributed to a greater or lesser degree to the divisions that we must address. A political party’s view of reconciliation tends to reflect their own ideology and thus reconciliation becomes dependent on acceptance of their political objectives and aspirations.’
None of the largest and only some of the smallest political parties in the North can be regarded as having not contributed to the divisions. Alliance, of course, is perhaps able to point to a positive history – though interesting that the PUP should ignore that. And there are smaller parties that have played no hand or part. But it’s interesting. Is the SDLP as problematic as, say, the UUP, let alone other larger parties?
And while granted the SDLP is ‘nationalist’, though small ’n’ in some respects – or at least so some might believe, how could it be otherwise?
Indeed look at Alliance and how long it has taken it to achieve even the modest success of the present period and then consider the likelihood of parties analogous to Alliance rising to supplant SF, or the DUP or the SDLP or UUP. Does it seem likely that that will happen any time soon.
But it continues:
“However reconciliation is defined, we believe that it will not work if conceived as an extension of the political process.
“In that instance, reconciliation will become little more than a reinforcement of the two-horse political race that currently dominates. It will be about point-scoring and securing and protecting political interest.
But how can any reconciliation exist outside the political process given the point raised above that replacement parties are not in the offing. And more pertinently in relation to what the PUP suggests next how is it possible for there to be reconciliation in a context where one political approach is reified and the other is ignored. Because that is the logic of the following:
“We understand the difficulties that the nationalist community faces given that the Union is secure and the prospect of a united Ireland is further away than ever.
“However, there needs to be a recognition that for the foreseeable future Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and reconciliation needs to be sought in the context of that political reality.
What the PUP is asking is that nationalists and Republicans stop pushing politically towards…well… nationalism and Republicanism, which is in essence to strip out a significant part of their political identity, while asking nothing of unionism or loyalism. The latter can simply rest on the status quo, despite the PUP suggesting that…
“We welcome a process that facilitates the nationalist narrative and contributes to a wider understanding of the impact that conflict had on the nationalist community. Nationalists should be afforded the same opportunities to participate in a process of dealing with the past as any community.
And also continuing…
“We ask that this be no different for loyalism too. No individual, party or group should be favoured over any other if reconciliation is to work; and no reconciliation process can have merit if there is any hint of exclusion or bias.”
It’s not that novel an idea. Something similar has been heard from a variety of sources over the years albeit put in a more clearly political context rather than one of reconciliation.
But I think it’s a bit illusory. Northern Ireland is contested space, and perhaps will be for decades and more to come.
In a way it seems to me a better way forward would be to explore the nature of the space and see how much of both identities (and others) can be accommodated within it and with linkages South and East. In other words rather than attempting to quash one or other identity in either its political or other expression to attempt to reify both and others and give more substance to them. And this, I think would be as important in terms of reconciliation as it was in politics.
Difficult though, no question about it. For it would demand more than passive acceptance, or tolerance, or even inactive hostility (which seems to characterise some of the status quo), in relation to those new linkages, which by definition would demand something of all identities.
But what is the alternative? An imbalanced dispensation along the lines suggested above, or perhaps tilted in the other direction?