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That ‘New’ Northern Ireland… December 6, 2012

Posted 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’.

And to quote directly from the Irish Times:

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’.

He argues:

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.

Spot on.


1. Joe - December 6, 2012

Well. Yes, I would be for a pull towards the current status quo in NI. You know, the Belfast Agreement. Power sharing. Recognition of the culture of both communities. No government sponsored sectarian discrimination. That kind of thing.
Sounds like a better status quo to pull towards than the pre-69 status quo of gerrymandered Protestant rule and institutionalised discrimination against the minority. And a better status quo than 69-99 bloody, disgusting murder and mayhem and war.
So, yes, support the status quo in NI. It’s a very delicate flower. Work on it. Maybe over time it will become strong enough to enable people to broach stuff like how often to fly particular flags on particular buildings without riots breaking out. Maybe.


WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2012

Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what you’re getting at and I agree as regards stability etc. But what I’m suggesting is that there seems to be an attitude abroad and MacNeill exemplifies this, as does the IT series where efforts by Republicans to work the GFA/BA are seen as rocking the boat, even though they’re entirely within the compass of it. That goes against the spirit and letter of the agreement, particularly when, as exemplified by the Peter Robinson speech and others at the DUP there’s no mention at all of the Agreement and it’s almost brushed aside.


2. Jim Monaghan - December 6, 2012

The nationalists are like battered wives. Say nothing or you will upset the beater.


3. Anne - December 6, 2012

Totally agree with Jim – See latest events, let nationalists legally and democratically raise their heads above the imaginary parapet, particularly with an ally who proposes a compromise, and watch what happens.
Given DUP wriggling to get off the hook of responsibility, would suggest the protestant working class are also battered wives!!!
It’s a class thing!!


4. WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2012

Or to put it another way….it’s like someone saying to Republicans and Nationalists… ‘we know you’re entitled to push for a united Ireland and to work the mechanisms of the GFA/BA in terms of all-island links etc, but…er… we’d prefer if you didn’t…’ while in the same breath it’s perfectly okay for the DUP to operate rhetorically as if the GFA doesn’t really exist in terms of the relationship East/West and it’s business as usual in terms of the linkage there.

Interesting point re class Anne.


5. paul - December 7, 2012

From the beginning of the peace process, there has been an agenda in the IT that seems to come down to this: we must recognise and respect all traditions, so those of a nationalist mindset must respect the unionist tradition.
And as the unionist tradition allows no respect for republicans, we must abandon all republican tradition.


Martin Savage - December 8, 2012

BNP fuckhead Jim Dowson on RTE tonight pretending to be an ordinary outraged Protestant


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