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Letter critic November 13, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Not sure I buy the Eoghan Harris critique at the weekend of the recent letter, signed by numerous luminaries, including Fintan O’Toole and Brian Feeney. The letter can be read here:

But here is the text;

We write to you as citizens to record our deep concerns about the negative repercussions which Brexit will have for our country, for the GFA and for the peace process.

Brexit has changed everything. The constitutional, political, social and economic status quo on the island of Ireland is now in flux.

Discussion about the reunification of Ireland has moved centre stage. Many citizens are already involved in formal and informal discussions about this. We believe that a new conversation is now required about our shared future on the island of Ireland. The government needs to plan for this.

A clear majority of people in Ireland, both in this state and in the North, want to remain in the EU. The majority of citizens in the North voted to remain in the 2016 Referendum. This includes many Unionists. In recent years a conversation about Ireland’s future and the place of Unionists in it, is publicly taking place among Unionists. This a welcome development.

Irish citizens should continue to enjoy the rights which accrue from membership of the EU as well as the protection of the ECJ. It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that the democratic wishes and rights of Irish citizens are respected and protected, regardless of where they live on the island. Let’s have a discussion on how this can be achieved.
We would urge you to start this process, based on the vision of democratic change set out in the Good Friday [Belfast] agreement. Start planning now.

We ask the Government to establish a Citizens Assembly reflecting the views of citizens North and South, or a Forum to discuss the future and achieve maximum consensus on a way forward.

Harris, rather entertainingly doesn’t bother to do much analysis of the letter, bar to argue that:

Nothing could be more partisan than last Monday’s letter in The Irish Times calling for a “conversation” on Irish reunification – but lacking unionist signatures.

And:

Like him, in his last days, I believe unionists would be wise to ultimately negotiate, by treaty, a powerful place in a Federal Ireland. Meantime, they are entitled to be let live in peace under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
That summary roughly represents the current position of all the major Irish political parties with the exception of Sinn Fein. But the politics of the Ireland’s Future letter is far closer to Sinn Fein’s position than that of Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

All this – and he conveniently ignores that it is entirely within the precepts of the GFA/BA to argue for unity, as much as it is to argue for the union, before doing his usual playing the men and women behind the letter rather than the ball. For example, and perhaps entertainingly, he writes:

Turning to academe, it’s notable that the signatories are a tiny fraction of academic staff in NI universities and even tinier in terms of the Irish university sector as a whole. Few of them, in my view, are notable scholars in their academic fields.

Well, by his own logic some if few are. Not sure what that would prove either way or why Harris thinks he is well-placed to judge such matters. But Harris misrepresents the letter nearly in full. As one commenter BTL notes rather than arguing for ‘unification or reunification’ as Harris purports, it is very open-ended indeed and the lack of Unionist signatures (though having not done a forensic analysis of them perhaps there are some) is hardly surprising or something that delegitimises it. Moreover the same commenter notes that Harris is wrong in arguing that “Ireland’s Future claims, a “conversation” going on among unionists about their future place in a unitary Irish State”. In fact it merely suggests, as the text of the letter above notes, that among some unionists there’s a discussion about Ireland’s future – a significantly different discussion. Finally Harris with no evidence whatsoever argues that: Ireland’s Future seems to subscribe to the “false consciousness” delusion that there is a secret majority of pro-unity unionists in the Protestant population – a delusion that has been around since 1920.

How he gleans this from the text of a letter which no-where makes that case suggests a degree of projection on his part.

But there’s a further point – those behind it argue for caution:

Ireland’s Future spokesman Niall Murphy, a lawyer from Belfast, told BBC News NI his group does not consider that a vote on Irish unity “should happen today, tomorrow, this year or… next year”.
He said it should not happen “until… all of the economic modelling has occurred and until there has been a mutual inclusive conversation about how a new Ireland would look”.

That certainly sound like someone who is demanding a very specific outcome to that – frankly, necessary process. Which elides with an excellent point made on Slugger BTL, where it notes the curious contradiction at the heart of Harris’s line on these matters.

Those raised of a nationalist background who question the received wisdom are seen as acting with ‘good authority’. Their counterparts on the other side are liable to be subject to a moniker such as the one EH used on Susan MacKay: ‘guilty prod’.

Harris asks:

Finally, Tony Blair’s problems with Brexit also apply to the begrudging “reunification” envisaged by Ireland’s Future. Blair says Brexit won’t fix the NHS, non-EU immigration or broken British politics.
Likewise, what pressing problems will a united Ireland ”fix”? Literally none.

Well that’s a different question entirely from that which Ireland’s Future attempts to raise – but at the least given the current volatility in relation to NI (where for example at the weekend Johnson appeared to contradict his own stated intensions relating to his own deal on NI with the EU/ROI), a UI of whatever form would address the issue of Brexit and ensuing chaos.

But what, pray tell is Harris’s solution?

Let me pause to set out my own position on Irish unity, which is similar to that of Conor Cruise O’Brien, who predicted the British would eventually betray the unionists.
Like him, in his last days, I believe unionists would be wise to ultimately negotiate, by treaty, a powerful place in a Federal Ireland. Meantime, they are entitled to be let live in peace under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
That summary roughly represents the current position of all the major Irish political parties with the exception of Sinn Fein. But the politics of the Ireland’s Future letter is far closer to Sinn Fein’s position than that of Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

So then, set the controls for Eire Nua! And mischaracterise the position of many Irish political parties. And the GFA/BA! And then get a gratuitous dig in at SF!

Comments»

1. Michael Carley - November 13, 2019

“Turning to academe, it’s notable that the signatories are a tiny fraction of academic staff in NI universities and even tinier in terms of the Irish university sector as a whole. Few of them, in my view, are notable scholars in their academic fields.”

The fecker, though he’s not competent to comment on my field (not that I’m notable).

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - November 13, 2019

Cheeky of him, isn’t it?

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WorldbyStorm - November 13, 2019

He is, of course, by the by, as recorded in Pat Leahy’s book Showtime, one of those who were assiduous in the period before the 2007 election in pushing the then government to further heat up the housing market. I find it telling that even after that he’s given a platform.

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