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Commemorating the formation of Northern Ireland… February 24, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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An excellent IT politics podcast a week or so ago which had Professor Brendan O’Leary on, fresh from the publication of his three volume work “A Treatise on Northern Ireland”. O’Leary is a rock of good sense on the topic, in my view, not least in respect of this thought that historians often reify commemorations, arguing they have more importance and influence than they actually have, and ignoring the fact (as with the fiftieth anniversary of 1916 in 1966) of other dynamics in play. Indeed one can see an almost superstitious attitude on the part of some commentators about such things with more recent commemorations – most obviously from those who would take a particularly anti-Republican line, but not exclusive to them. The idea that some atavistic impulse would surge through Irish people in respect of these is remarkably condescending on the part of those who hold these attitudes. Meanwhile, he makes a sensible point:

I think it is almost impossible for there to be a consensual celebration about the formation of Northern Ireland. Because it was an unilateral event, it was supported by one community and opposed by another. Had there been immediate reconciliation and constructed powersahring from 1920 then we’d have a very different reaction… but it wasn’t like that and therefore it is difficult for a conjoined celebration.

He also argues that it is necessary to prepare for carefully calibrated constitutional change and that if efforts are not taken to do so, in advance of any border poll, there is a real danger of descent into a maelstrom. And he points back to the record of the late 19th century and up to 1925 of irresponsibility on the part of the British government’s (more Tory he says than Liberal) in terms of their involvement in Ireland and with respect to the polit/ies here. He believes there’s “a serious prospect of a referendum on Irish unification on the horizon within a decade and therefore it is appropriate especially for Ireland – sovereign Ireland – to prepare for and contemplate it to decide what it wants to do”.

However he makes the point that while at this point he does not see a referendum likely imminently, but that there are events likely occur that make preparation absolutely necessary, such as demographic change in the North (2021 census will be useful here he suggests), the end of a unionist majority in terms of preferences with the ‘stability of the union depending upon ‘cultural Catholics’ which will be a transformative moment and a seismic change (with the volatility of that community in respect of the union), he points to the ‘significant block of ‘others’ in the North which is ‘less enthusiastic identifying as cultural Catholic or Protestant and is overwhelmingly pro-EU and very hostile to Brexit’, the Protocol and how that works in terms of pushing to either the UK or ROI/EU (to which we can add a few more, not least Scotland and independence).

But he’s also clear that in some ways all the preparation is about an offer to unionism – and key to that is listening not just to unionisms political representatives but actually to unionists on the ground and determining what measures might gain some support should a referendum vote in favour of a UI. And that’s a key point because as he notes implicitly, this isn’t about unionism being able to veto a democratic referendum, because that process sits above their preferences – as such, as indeed does the outcome. That outcome, either way – whether for the continuation of the union or a new Ireland, will be legitimate and legitimated by democratic processes (and majorities) and therefore it is key not to arrive at a stage where potential alternatives aren’t as fully explored as is possible prior to any such vote precisely in order to allow for the widest possible number of those who are unionist and indeed all those who aren’t, to have some input into what emerges. Like many here I don’t think that it will be a ‘traditional’ United Ireland, and that may be for the best – indeed I’d suspect that rather than a fully completed end point it will, rather like the BA/GFA, be another stage on a journey this island has been on for quite some time.

Comments»

1. yourcousin - February 24, 2021

So we’re in agreement that FF/FG did a cock up on Ian Marshall for the Seanad? A full year on and I’m still salty about that one.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - February 24, 2021

I think it was. It made the ‘shared island’ rhetoric seem very hollow indeed.

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banjoagbeanjoe - February 24, 2021

His hat is in the ring for a Seanad bye-election soon, am I right? With SF supporting him?
Tbh it’s a bit of tokenism but what harm.

Liked by 1 person

yourcousin - February 24, 2021

Joe,
Explain? He’s a northerner and a farmer. Two very big SF constituencies. Yeah, he’s not a shinner, but someone toeing an anti brexit line down south does no harm.

If you found out Marshall was secretly a nationalist would add substance to the move? I guess I’m looking for where the line between tokenism and tactics.

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banjoagbeanjoe - February 24, 2021

Sorry. I didn’t mean the tokenism to refer to SF supporting his candidature. I meant it as in the idea of
putting a lone northern unionist into the Seanad – whether it’s through them contesting and winning a seat or getting it handed to them as a Taoiseach’s nominee.
I suppose it’s no bad thing if a northern unionist wants to get into the Seanad and no bad thing if he or she gets in. But it still smacks of tokenism to me.

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yourcousin - February 24, 2021

Joe,
Totally fair. Not trying to die on this hill, or to act as if I’m on a high horse.

I guess my take on this as a positive is that someone from the PUL community is putting aside Politics with the capital “P” and saying, “We, on this island have a shared problem, and the best way forward to find common solutions across the island. Regardless of jurisdictions”.

To me this is the best possible way forward, finding areas of commonality to work together on. It is certainly better than supporting the most reactionary form of Brexit and then creating contrived threats in which the working class community (in the form of loyalism) is used to “gum it up” as a convenient scape goat.

Again, not trying to ascribe beliefs to you personally so I hope it doesn’t come across like that.

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banjoagbeanjoe - February 24, 2021

Not at all son :).
Just on Marshall though. He was in the Seanad before wasn’t he? I don’t recall him talking much if at all about anything. Specifically I don’t recall him talking about this island, the national question or whatever we call it.

Look, for sure it’s good to have someone from a unionist background who is willing to engage in some way. Unfortunately such unionists are few and far between. The vast majority don’t want to engage. Sadly.

I’d suggest a slight rephrase of your bit in quotation marks to: “We, on these islands have a shared problem, and the best way forward to find common solutions across the islands. Regardless of jurisdictions”. What I’m getting at is the British government, the English, Scottish and Welsh governments if that’s what we have whenever the talking starts, they have to be fully involved. The NI unionists might engage if every other party on these islands is engaging. They probably won’t engage if it’s just us on this island that’s involved. Also we can’t let the British government off the hook, we can’t let them walk away and dump their problem on us.

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yourcousin - February 24, 2021

Da’,
You’re exactly right. Unionists have largely stayed away from southern bodies or even north/south bodies period. And you’re also right that Ian Marshall is hardly a firebrand. Hell, even the Seanad as a talking shop is questionable.

I’m not expecting Marshall to even come within a mile of the national question. What I would expect him to is deal with agricultural issues on the island of Ireland, especially as impacted by the disastrous policies enacted by England. Dealing with those very practical issues is exactly what should be happening, regardless of capital “P”olitics. Slag on SF all day, but they are good “on the ground political workers”. And I would propose that if folks from the north who are willing to engage find willing partners, and dare I say, “allies” south of the border on common issues then it will be easier to move past folks being singled out as Lundies.

Like WBS, I would encourage a robust conversation in all directions north/south, AND east/west. That being said I doubt the irredentists in NI will allow a little thing like GB to sway them from their “Britishness”. I mean GB has Gaelic language acts and access to reproductive freedoms that have been lacking in NI. And somehow the example has not rubbed off on NI.

I would will assume that by “problem” you mean Brexit, and not the population of NI.

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EWI - February 24, 2021

What I’m getting at is the British government, the English, Scottish and Welsh governments if that’s what we have whenever the talking starts, they have to be fully involved.

Is this really the new last ditch for those who don’t want reunification? Introducing a poison pill by bringing in the Welsh and the Scots/ Try as I might, I don’t see it referred to in the GFA when it mentions reunification.

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WorldbyStorm - February 24, 2021

Surely BJBJ the GFA/BA already has mechanisms for the inclusion of the Welsh/English-British/Scottish in the form of Strand 3, through the BIIC, the BIC and the IBIB. The BIC is the key one there in terms of all the government’s so not sure there’s any need to go further than them, they can be involved but they don’t have a veto.

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banjoagbeanjoe - February 25, 2021

I would will assume that by “problem” you mean Brexit, and not the population of NI.

The problem I was referring to is, how else can I put this, the North. You know, the way it’s been for 400 years plus – two competing ethic groups who don’t get along.

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yourcousin - February 25, 2021

You know, I can deal with you being a stick, a socialist, maybe even a tankie in your secret heart, but Kantian? My heart breaks 😉

Liked by 1 person

banjoagbeanjoe - February 25, 2021

You calling me a Kant?

Liked by 1 person

yourcousin - February 25, 2021

Touché sir, touché. 👏

Liked by 1 person

banjoagbeanjoe - February 25, 2021

I had to look up Kantian.
“Kantian ethics refers to a deontological ethical theory…”
Now I have to look up deontological.
We have so much to learn from our children. Let us try to stay open to such learning.

Liked by 2 people

rockroots - February 25, 2021

“the idea of putting a lone northern unionist into the Seanad”

I wonder is it the same dynamic as putting Gerry Fitt into the House of Lords?

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Bagatelle's Uniform Thermos - February 25, 2021

Ian Marshall in the Seanad is as much Tokenism as Sydney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was Tokenism.

The problem with Tokenism isn’t the first or single representative of a group breaking through, it is the character or archetype that individual plays in their new role.

Ian Marshall being a Token, insults the man and diminishes what he brought to the table.

Too many people mistake form for function and the misapplication of Tokenism is widespread.

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WorldbyStorm - February 25, 2021

That all depends on whether one regards him as a token or not. If one doesn’t, if one says that he just happens to be an individual from a liberal unionist background who might be worth listening to, not as representative of all unionists, but simply as a unionist voice amongst many, then that seems to be not a bad thing. There is a danger, and this happens too much, of all unionists being collapsed into x or y or z personality or attitude. Or those personalities or attitudes as you say becoming archetypes. But unionism is more complex than an individual or an attitude. As are all ‘isms’. So I’d give a pass to the idea of having 1 or better five or ten people from the North of various backgrounds appointed to the Seanad. In fact that’d be a reform of the Seanad that even though it goes against democratic representational principles might be worth making the leap because it would allow for a more pluralistic representation of the North.

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yourcousin - February 25, 2021

That’s the point, if Marshall was an academic with no relevant input then he’s a token. But he was head of the Ulster Farmer’s Union FFS. That’s relevant shit amongst his other accolades.

https://www.ianmarshall.info/biography

Liked by 1 person

Bagatelle's Unanimous Trough - February 25, 2021

WbS, err I don’t follow your logic there. If the definition of a thing encompasses that which isn’t the thing, the definition or the definer are incorrect.

If I understand the logic in your comment correctly, then you are reifying subjectivity to objectivity and I can assert you are an X because I believe you are an X. That doesn’t make sense to me.

YC provides concrete evidence of IM’s non-tokenism, while I’m pointing out the logical flaw in BJBJs logic.

Confused.

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2. Colm B - February 24, 2021

I often ask students to start thinking about an issue by just quickly jotting down the first words that comes to mind.

So here goes;
Pogrom, gerrymander, reaction, discrimination, apartheid, ethnocracy

And a phrase: divide and rule.

Liked by 2 people

3. Klassenkampf Treehugger - February 25, 2021

O’Leary is spot on when he talks of ‘carefully calibrated constitutional change’. What would be a disaster would be a border poll that functioned like the Brexit referendum, based on the fundamental lie that it’s a binary choice that can be fully ‘got done’ from day 1.

Voters north and south need to presented by a number of possible paths towards greater unification of the island, and be given agency in the process that extends beyond a simple yes/no referendum.

As the man says, the alternative will be a ‘maelstrom’.

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Fergal - February 25, 2021

The Greens, when they were more interesting than today used to prone a multi-faceted referendum… there’s a word for it… but I don’t remember it…
Option 1 federal country option 2 status quo
3 Joint authority 4 UI etc …5 32 county secular, socialist Republic.
Could this be a worthwhile exercise?
What exactly is being commemorated? Surely, for unionists… the govt of Ireland Act was more of the same? We’re still part of the uk… like we were in 1919 and like we were in 1801…

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Klassenkampf Treehugger - February 25, 2021

Perhaps it would come down to listing the options in preferred order… I’m not sure. Has that ever been tried before?

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4. Zorin001 - February 25, 2021

I actually think there’s mileage in a further article or podcast on the change from PR to FPTP in Northern Ireland and the effect it had on derailing the momentum of the NI Labour Party, as well as reinforcing the perception (and reality) of gerrymandering against Nationalists.

It seems to me to be a decision that came back to bite the Unionist majority in later years, being so blatant in their attempts to rig the electoral system in their favour, needlessly so IMO due to their strong position, simply meant there was no chance of buy-in from the Catholic minority into the state.

If you had a fairer electoral system and slightly less blatant gerrymandering could you have seen more engagement with the NI state from Catholics? If middle class Catholics were brought into the fold even slightly I think that alters the civil rights push immensely, less keen on rocking the boat. To do that though you would have to avoid Brookborough and his I’ll, which I’m not sure I see happening.

It’s an interest counterfactual, and one that gets overlooked I think.

Liked by 1 person

rockroots - February 25, 2021

“I actually think there’s mileage in a further article or podcast on the change from PR to FPTP in Northern Ireland and the effect it had on derailing the momentum of the NI Labour Party, as well as reinforcing the perception (and reality) of gerrymandering against Nationalists.”

I was just recently reading a 1995 article on that subject from the Labour History Review, by Christopher Norton. It makes the argument that the change from PR made surprisingly little difference to the balance of seats in the NI Parliament, initially at least, and that the significant momentum of the LPNI during the 1920s was lost due to two factors. First was a hostile counter-attack by both the Unionist establishment and by the conservative Nationalist Party. The other was the instruction from Moscow for the Connollyite left to splinter as the Workers Revolutionary Party, resulting in a bitter feud in 1930-32 which ultimately left both factions in ruins.

I agree it would be great to hear more about the topic, and the lessons to be learned from the period.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - February 25, 2021

Zorin, I might if you don’t mind post up your comment as a post to see if we could get a bit of debate going on that?

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Zorin001 - February 25, 2021

Fire away, think it’s a good topic for discussion

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - February 25, 2021

Will do, thanks a million.

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