That ‘New’ Northern Ireland… December 6, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
A good piece in the current edition of the Phoenix on the recent series in the Irish Times on ‘The New Northern Ireland’. Those who will have followed the series of interviews and assessments on matters Northern may have been struck by the tone of it. Or as the Phoenix notes:
The underlying theme of the series seems to be that if northern nationalists would settle down and accept reality the north could be, as unionists say, ‘a great wee place’. Not much different from what Robinson hopes for, namely that Catholics should become unionists which looks to him like the only way to keep the north in the UK’.
And the Phoenix musters considerable evidence to support this contention noting that the IT series was oblivious to negative or – shall we say – realistic appraisals shying away from contention and seeking good news. It makes a particularly good point when it notes that:
…in Frank McDonald’s otherwise detailed and perceptive piece eon Belfast’s architectural environment, a senior lecturer in planning and urban design pointed out that ‘an unspoken reason’ for not encouraging the development of housing in Belfast is that the city ‘is becoming more Catholic’.
According to Ken Sterrett [senior lecturer in planning and urban design at Queens University and co-founder of Fab], one of the largely unspoken reasons for not encouraging the development of housing in Belfast is that its “becoming more Catholic” – as the detailed 2012 census results are likely to confirm. As a result, Protestants fear that more inner city housing would only reinforce a trend they see as disturbing.
Such fears are both irrational and unfounded. According to Sterrett, a survey carried out by Queen’s University some time ago discovered that most of the residents of new apartments in and around the city centre were not from Northern Ireland, but rather from Britain, the Republic, continental Europe, Asia and elsewhere.
Irrational and unfounded? Did he really mean it scan the way it does? The RC part of my heritage is perhaps slightly amused, the CofI part a bit insulted. Or as the Phoenix puts it:
Fears? Interesting mindset. Who is afraid of more Catholics in Belfast? Protestants we’re told. However the IT reassures them that it’s not Fenians moving into inner city flats but foreigners. So that’s OK.
The internalisation of certain orthodoxies in the IT piece is fascinating, but as interesting is another piece from Hugo MacNeill, chairman of the Ireland Fund and vice chair of the British Irish Association who manages to wander for an entire column across the terrain that the Phoenix notes in the first quote above, that being if only ’nationalists would settle down and accept reality’.
I would respectfully suggest that the key priority for its people and politicians is building a better Northern Ireland from within, to fulfil its enormous unfulfilled potential for all its people, supported and encouraged from its Government in London and the Government and people of the Republic
This is a worthy goal in itself.However, it is also an absolute prerequisite to any change (small or significant) in terms of its relationship with the rest of the island, and to creating more positive engagement from the rest of the UK towards Northern Ireland. Andy Pollak wrote recently of the little interest in the North from the South (or indeed the UK ). Hardly surprising, maybe, given the economic crisis, but perhaps also true beforehand. It reflects the fact that the two parts of the island have developed in different ways, often with little or no impact on the other.
But to phrase it in that way is not to localise it in Northern Ireland but to tilt it towards the status quo, one where the structural links remain embedded in the UK, while those North South are much less developed (to put it mildly). And I think it is telling how he concentrates on Northern Ireland as if that is somehow above and beyond the overall dispensation when clearly it is not. After this MacNeill unleashes a blizzard of questions with no clear answer to them. And where his statements are proscriptive it is detached from clearly worked out underpinnings:
A stable Northern Ireland is also an essential prerequisite for any closer constitutional relationship with the South. Without stability the people of the South have no interest.
Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others pursuing constitutional change have to build such a new society, respecting an “identifiably distinct people”. The South has to rethink its attitude to the North in a way that genuinely reflects today.
I’m genuinely puzzled as to what that last actually means – reflects what today? But he continues:
There has never been an integrated, independent united Ireland. This would not be a restoration after a “temporary” deviation such as that of east and west Germany. Essential elements of identity of all parties would need to be reflected. How would that be done? Do people prefer the status quo?
Well, one could argue that may be true about an independent united Ireland, but under British rule there was unity of sorts, and before it. To the degree that unionism had itself to wrestle with the notion of ‘Ulster’ Unionism and partition. But reading it there’s this sense that there’s a pull towards the status quo, albeit that status quo is often ill-defined.
The Phoenix concludes by noting…
Perhaps the most revealing flaw in the IT series was that only Robinson was interviewed, not McGuinness, who enjoys equal status legally and formally – as nationalists, as a community, do with unionists.