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An Phoblacht out now, including… February 25, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
1 comment so far

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Time to go Taoiseach

John Alderdice writes in Uncomfortable Conversations – Letting go of old ways of thinking

Michelle Gildernew and Fermanagh & South Tyrone– A special place, a special legacy

1916 centenary programme of events launched

Creating common ground ahead of Dáil election – Another View by Eoin Ó Broin

International Women’s Day: No peace without women, says Megan Fearon MLA

Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Mise agus mo Dhia

Belfast’s famous black taxis – ‘Hacked off’ and still fighting for equality

The DUP’s anti-LGBT ‘Conscience Clause’ – Rainbow Project Director John O’Doherty

Van Morrison and Belfast school days shared by Robert Allen

Put our money in our hands – Fiscal devolution for the North – Conor Murphy MP

Irish state reveals its contempt for Irish language rights

Identity and the north… February 25, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
46 comments

Some intriguing thoughts in Jim Fitzpatrick’s latest piece in the SBP on the North. He argues that the GFA/BA has through the particular mechanism of politicians designating themselves as unionist or nationalist created a very specific impasse (in passing he is most complimentary of Eamonn McCann, and rightly so, in warning of the problems that lay ahead). And he reasonably enough argues implicitly that this is only a reflection or expression of the broader society. But he notes that:

It made sense to state the obvious – the vast majority of the population identified as “one or the other” – but it did not make sense to effectively tie the new constitution to this evermore.

Of course the reason for this was to overcome the dangers of majoritarianism, and that circle hasn’t been squared either. But it is reasonable to see it as exacerbating the issue of identity.

Now, almost 17 years on from that agreement, the identity battles continue to rage with equal bitterness and passion. They dominate all else and are having a deeply corrosive effect on society. Those that care not for these battles have opted out, because there is no place for them in an arena defined and managed on these terms.

Even the Alliance Party, which has been forced to downgrade its own political capital by joining neither camp and therefore having no say in key Assembly votes, is defined by simply being what the others aren’t. It’s almost the flipside of the same coin, needing the sectarian to be the non-sectarian alternative.
And, as the party has to admit, it’s a diminished alternative because – lacking that tribal clout which legislation provides – it cannot sway key votes.

I think that point about ‘needing the sectarian to be the non-sectarian alternative’ while perhaps slightly overstated is something that is well worth considering. It’s a basic issue, or problem where by defining against something the danger becomes that of being defined by the thing one is against. And it’s also a problem of almost ignoring or denying significant elements of the societal dispensation and their power and how they function. In other words, a dynamic can emerge where one entirely correctly seeks to do away with sectarianism and decry it in others without engaging sufficiently with what it is and what it isn’t and offering cogent means of transcending it.

I’m not sure what the answer is to all this. Fitzpatrick notes the following, which doesn’t exactly give great hope.

Unionists consistently fail to acknowledge that nationalist identity is legitimate. They insult and belittle Irish culture and the Irish language and insist that Northern Ireland is, to misquote Margaret Thatcher, as “British as Finchley”.
Nationalists and republicans, meanwhile, seem to treat unionism as an illness. A temporary state artificially preserved by British intervention. It’s temporary nature may have lasted several hundred years, but that doesn’t seem to sway the analysis.
They imagine a mythical United Ireland where these deluded souls will recant and accept their true Irish identity once the apron strings from Mother Britannia have been cut.

I think the false consciousness approach to unionism is very mistaken. And it is – of course – simply a reflection of the Unionist attitude to nationalism. Albeit that under Stormont (the first) there was almost an attitude of hoping/wishing that nationalists would somehow go away. But more than mistaken it’s pointless. Unionists are not going to stop being unionists in any realisable time frame, any more than nationalists are going to stop being nationalists. This odd parallel, as it were, is also intriguing.

With that thought in mind note that Fitzpatrick continues:

There’s a fact at the centre of all of this which the Good Friday Agreement implicitly states, but no one dares acknowledge. Nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland are stuck with each other. No one else wants them and there’s nowhere else to go.

If one views the GFA/BA as being a holding effort one can see how it is extremely convenient in fending off the competing nationalisms at the heart of it from their supposed sponsors. The British were clearly comfortable in diminishing their sovereignty somewhat in respect of the North (arguably that was true since Sunningdale, and the AIA was merely the first clear manifestation of same). The Irish government and polity were likewise happy enough to jettison the inconveniences of Articles 2 and 3. And the focus returned to Northern Ireland itself. No longer quite so close to the UK, and only slightly closer to the RoI.

Fitzpatrick argues that:

In reality, precious little could change in the event of a United Ireland. The unionist population would not recant or suddenly give up its British identity. So it’s highly likely that Northern Ireland in a new republic would not look significantly different to how it appears today.
Meanwhile, the nationalist population in the North – despite Martin McGuinness’s fondness for Queen Elizabeth – is not likely to start waving Union Jacks any time soon and will continue to enjoy celebrating Irish culture in different ways.

There’s a lot in that. I can’t see a united Ireland emerging without some sort of federal arrangement and one which just as the GFA/BA has allowed for a diminution of UK sovereignty would likewise require a diminution of RoI sovereignty allowing east west political and representational links perhaps in perpetuity. There’s just no way around it. In other words nationalism would have to become accustomed to the reality not just of Unionism but a unionism that was expressed with regular visits from the monarch, with political representation of some form in London, with the union flag flying across the North in tandem with the tricolour (or perhaps not depending on where), and so on and so forth. That’s the only way such a deal could be sold because national identity, like it or not, is not going to undergo a phase shift just because – say – 51 per cent of the population in the North supports a UI.

And that makes me wonder whether it wouldn’t be more sensible for nationalism to start working through that and getting together a package that would not so much offer that, but make it clear that it will as a minimum in any future dispensation seek to uphold national identity and cultural and political rights for Unionism even at the expense of full sovereignty.
But all that is blue sky thinking, really, given where we are today. The prospect of a significant change in the next decade or two seems remote.

So what is the solution? He proposes that:

A basic acceptance of that fundamental fact coupled with a little bit of respect for each identity and ultimately a change in the sectarian rules at Stormont might be too much to ask for. But it’s what is needed. And needed soon.

Respect is such a simple term. In some ways that’s always been at the heart of this. It was what Stormont from 1920 onwards could not gift, the societal pressures within Unionism being too great to do so. And yet had that been done it is just barely possible that the conflict might have been avoided. But even to phrase it this way is to wonder how feasible it is. The memory of the conflict is perhaps too raw, the sectarianism at this point too deeply embedded. And how would it manifest? An acceptance of all parades and flags? An acceptance of the Irish language? Would that be possible, and if possible enough, or nearly enough?

I’m not optimistic. I’d put good money on the status quo being the status quo for quite some time to come, staggering from one crisis to another, never getting as bad as it was, but never getting as good as it could be.

1916 and all that (again) January 16, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
34 comments


An oddly, though perhaps no unexpectedly, one-sided view of the Easter Rising from Dennis Kennedy in the irish Times. It’s also arguably remarkably ahistorical. We are treated to a number of contentions:

The event itself was an act of armed rebellion by an extremist group outside the mainstream of nationalist politics, and with no electoral mandate. It came at a time when the state – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland – was in all-out war with Germany. That war had the overwhelming support of Ireland’s democratically elected representatives to the UK parliament. The leaders of the rebellion had sought and received aid from Germany.

That point about ‘democratically elected representatives’ ignores deeply problematic aspects of British democracy that are fundamental to any analysis of this issue.

We often hear that those who instigated the Rising were advanced nationalists, but they were also advanced democrats – in so far as they had a much more modern and progressive view of what suffrage meant – universal, non-gender restricted, etc. These aren’t small things, for in somewhat less advanced nationalism Redmond was famously antagonistic to the very idea of female suffrage.

Moreover there’s a sort of unwillingness to accept the reality of what British power actually meant, the minority status of Irish parliamentarians at Westminster – in other words the show of (flawed) democracy, but no actual substance to it.

Add in with that the fact that the dynamic of who was represented there in Westminster was such that it was pushing against the confines of the British state. Participation in the British government was all but unthinkable given the orientation of nationalism – even soft Home Rule nationalism – given the history of preceding decades and centuries.

That latter is far from unimportant too. For Kennedy the British government was the democratic and legal entity, the actuality of Home Rule agitation and nationalism in general called that deeply into question.

But they were still ideologues with no electoral support, prepared to kill and destroy in pursuit of their political aims at a time when unprecedented progress, albeit stalled by the war, had been made by democratic processes towards the goal of an independent Ireland.

Ah, that unprecedented progress, stalled not simply by war but by Unionism itself which was responsible during those few decades for reintroducing political violence or the threat of same into the equation, and had in London pushed back even the relatively meagre measures that were on offer. Indeed it’s hard to take seriously his contention that somehow 1916 was a ‘catalyst’ to partition given the role of that issue in the years before the Rising and particularly in 1912 and 1913. Actually Unionism and its role in fracturing aspects of the British polity, or bending them to near breaking point, isn’t addressed at all in his history.

Of course there’s a more contemporary, or near contemporary spin:

Should, 100 years on, a modern parliamentary democracy, committed to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of all disputes, celebrate as the seminal event in its history an armed insurrection by a small minority with no mandate?

Should a state with a long history of sporadic armed challenge to its authority be celebrating such an event? Should it do so when there are still organisations and individuals who believe their political aspirations are such that they entitle them to kill and destroy in pursuit of them?

The answer to those questions is yes. In part because it was a seminal event, that Britain as then constituted was far from what we would recognise as a democracy as well as being an imperial power and that the very existence of an independent Republic on much of the territory of this island, one that is, for all its flaws, generally acknowledged as legitimate is in and of itself an answer. There is little or no question as to the legitimacy of this state, certainly nothing approaching that which characterised the relationship to the British state in Ireland. And perhaps here we see some of what exercises Kennedy, for if this state is legitimate, then it follows that what came before was not – however hard he may attempt to paint it. And even that part of Ireland which remained within the UK was clearly insufficiently so, to the extent that it took until the late 1990s, and even after, until a dispensation was fashioned that was satisfactory to a critical mass of the population within its borders.

Which suggests that all the talk of democracy and modernity and legality actually are evasions when set against the reality of both the period prior to Independence in the South and after it in the North. That there was deep dysfunction in both parts of Ireland during those periods and that only in the most recent past has that been ameliorated to any significant degree.

That is an uncomfortable historical perspective.

More on Northern Ireland in the mid-1980s from the state Archives… January 2, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
1 comment so far

It’s useful, indeed educative, to read through the latest reports on documentation released as part of the annual trawl through archives. This from the Irish Times makes some very pertinent points about the nature of policing in Northern Ireland in the 1980s.

I sometimes feel that the actual nature of policing there during that period is under examined in relation to its partisan nature – having had some slight experience of Belfast in the mid to late 1980s myself it certainly appeared to be heavy handed in the extreme. Knowing people – both political, WP, SF and other parties, and non-political (if one can use the latter term) – who had a more pointed experience, ‘counterproductive’, ‘belligerent’ and worse are terms that spring to mind. And there was worse, much worse again for others.

So it’s telling that the Northern Ireland Office when considering the loyalist protests that occurred in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement came to the conclusion that:

“There is genuine concern from many quarters about the behaviour of the RUC, which was seen to be inadequate at best and collaborative at worst.”

And the outline of the events that led to that conclusion are damning.

“Reports from all parts of NI and from a wide range of sources complain of inactivity on the part of the RUC when faced with physical barricades, picket lines or cases of manifest intimidation.
“These reports [were] . . . brought to national attention by media coverage, notably of a civil servant haranguing a police officer for failing to assist him in entering the Stormont estate and of what appears to be an RUC Landrover [sic] being driven out of the way in order to allow a tractor and trailer to block a road.
“There had been allegations the RUC watched barriers being built without intervening; that the main Belfast-Newry road was allowed to remain blocked for five hours despite the presence of police, including senior officers . . . that the RUC were under instructions not to interfere with “official picket lines” and that people attempting to cross them . . . received no RUC . . . protection.”

If the NIO felt this way one can only imagine the scale of the true situation on the ground. But it does point up reasons why the RUC was in no sense a normal police force. It is difficult at this remove not to regard them as a significant part (though far from the only or most important one) of the problem and their eventual disbandment and replacement a fundamental element of an improved dispensation.

Simply put the institutional and structural bias within the RUC was clearly of such a scale that it was simply impossible for it to operate – even were one to put aside completely, an impossible task in itself, the history of interactions with nationalists and republicans across the decades since the establishment of NI – as an even relatively neutral actor. That was not its function, and that most certainly was not its ethos.

And again, the Patten Report and subsequent reforms demonstrated that these institutional and structural biases were very real, and so much so that far beyond being a sop to parts of republicanism they were a necessity.

A very contemporary echo is the analysis on the part of the NIO that unionist leaders were surprised by the extent of protests and a sense that control had slipped away from them.

Meanwhile, there’s a real sense of troubles being stored up, or multiplied, as with the account of the ‘decision by the police in the North to allow an Orange parade to pass along the Gervaghy Road in Portadown on 12th July, 1986’ which it is said ‘brought Anglo-Irish relations to their lowest point that year.

As a contemporary Irish Times report by Jim Cusack in the file noted: “The route agreed by the RUC [with the Orange leaders] had the Orange demonstration actually going in the direction opposite the intended rallying point in order that they might pass through a Catholic area.”

Certainly the situation was severe enough for Fine Gael’s Peter Barry to argue that:

“members of the minority community had been left unprotected”.

That, by the way, was a charge that was also levelled at the RUC in relation to the broader protests during the post-AIA period.

In view of later developments there was a certain irony in regard to SF complaints at Garret FitzGerald visiting Derry in 1985 – a visit that was regarded by the former as a pro-SDLP election stunt, which one would have to suspect from reading other materials released from that period it most likely was.

Mr [Martin] McGuinness had “hit out at the visit by referring to press photographs of Dr FitzGerald shaking hands with an RUC officer”,the official wrote.
Mr McGuinness had said “the image of SDLP supporter Garret FitzGerald shaking hands with a loyalist gunman . . . should stick in the minds of Nationalists as they go to the polls on May 15th [for the North’s local government elections],” the official wrote.

Interesting too a discussion on the nature of subversion that arose over how the British government should engage with George Seawright, independent Loyalist councillor, whose bigoted statements caused something of a problem for the government.

His presence on unionist deputations posed a particular problem for the authorities at a time when the British government was loath to have normal contact with Sinn Féin due to its support for violence.

And:

“The main point at issue was whether it was right to treat Mr Seawright in the same fashion as Sinn Féin,” ND Ward of the Northern Ireland Office wrote in a memo dated April 16th, 1985.
“He had advocated violence and, therefore, ministers had not wished to deal with him.
“Mr Seawright is a maverick and, some would say, a nutcase, but he is not a subversive in the Sinn Féin sense and to treat him on a par with Sinn Féin and refuse to see him as part of a delegation might only seem to enhance his standing in some quarters.”

Further ironies in the calls by Peter Robinson to have Sinn Féin banned in 1985. And further insights into the processes at work.

According to the 1985 Belfast papers, Mr Robinson, who was then deputy leader of the DUP, expressed his views when a DUP delegation met Northern Ireland minister Richard Needham on October 16th. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed the following month.

And:

The meeting opened with what an official called “the by now customary ‘round robin’ whereby each member of the delegation impressed upon the minister his abhorrence of the IRA murder campaign” and the support given to it by Sinn Féin councillors.
The official added: “Mr Robinson’s personal view was “in favour of a package with proscription [of Sinn Féin] paving the way for a further election and a hardening of the existing declaration to ensure that the men of violence and those who supported them would not be eligible to take their seats.”

No sense of what the unnamed official made of that. Famously the NIO and the British in general did not tell unionist leaders anything about the AIA until its effective implementation, and a most unpleasant surprise it was for them too. One has to wonder whether unionism quite understood Thatcher. Their campaigns of civil disobedience were unlikely to have much traction with her and whatever her palpable lack of enthusiasm for the AIA unquestionably she was willing to see its full implementation during the remaining years of her premiership.

And then there’s this, from a British negotiator during the New Ireland Forum period:

Goodall did little to defend Thatcher from this charge, save to say that she had largely been making “debating points which did not necessarily reflect her whole outlook”. Her starting point was unionist, “though she does not at all like the unionists”.

Noel Dorr, for the Irish side noted that:

He had been reading the account of Thatcher’s contribution at the Chequers summit and was especially struck by her “incomprehension” on why the minority in Northern Ireland “required special political arrangements” compared with other European minorities. This seemed to Dorr to raise “a serious worry about a very basic lack of understanding of the nature of the problem”.

What comes through loud and clear is the utter dysfunction politically evident during these years. The sheer oddity of suggestions made by various quarters, from unionists seeking the Queen’s involvement in talks, to the Irish government suggesting the demolition of Divis Flats in order to disrupt support for Sinn Féin, is testament to this. Security solutions as seen in previous years hadn’t worked. Allowing matters to proceed as they would within tightly constrained parameters clearly wasn’t working either. The status quo ante could not prevail. And it didn’t.

That ‘agreement’ in the North. December 23, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
18 comments

…a lot of us will be keen to parse out the details on the agreement apparently struck at Stormont today with the UK government. Welfare ‘reform’ is only the most obvious issue of controversy – I’m surely not alone in wondering what that will entail.

The Guardian notes:

Part of the £2bn aid package the parties secured will be raised through the sale of public assets such as Belfast harbour as well as Treasury loans and grants.

The agreement itself is here in PDF format. It’s kind of vague on measures…

5. The Executive will adopt in January 2015 a comprehensive programme of Public Sector Reform and Restructuring which will encompass a wide range of strategies, including measures to address structural differences in relation to the cost of managing a divided society, reduce pay bill costs, such as a reduction in the size of the NICS and the wider public sector, and the extension of shared services. An independent strategic review of public sector reform conducted by OECD will report by the end of 2015.

And…

6. Legislation will be brought before the Assembly in January 2015 to give effect to welfare changes alongside further work to develop and implement flexibilities and top-ups from the block grant as part of a package of measures to address local need.

Does this mean a replication of the pernicious measures now extant in Britain or indicate a space to diverge from same? Or is it a fudge where we’ll see a mix of both?

There’s more… for example, from the IT list of what’s been agreed…

Key proposals include: l The creation of a Historical Investigations Unit to inquire into killings of the Troubles. l A commission to enable people to privately learn how their loved ones were killed. l The creation of an oral history archive where experiences of the conflict could be shared. l A commission to report on flags within 18 months of being established. l Devolving responsibility for parades from the Parades Commission to the Northern Assembly. l Cutting the size of the Northern Assembly from 108 to 90 members by the 2021 Assembly elections. l Reducing the Executive departments from 12 to nine by the 2016 Assembly elections. l The potential to create a formal opposition at Stormont.

The Assembly one is a good way into the future, UK elections may make that moot. The departments one likewise, but more pressing. A formal ‘opposition’. Is that cosmetic or real, what powers will it have.

59.Arrangements will be put in place by the Assembly by March 2015 to enable those parties which would be entitled to ministerial positions in the Executive, but choose not to take them up, to be recognised as an official opposition and to facilitate their work. These measures will include:
a) Provision for financial and research assistance (from within existing Assembly budgets keeping these changes cost neutral); and
b) Designatedspeakingrightsincludingtheopportunitytoaskquestions and table business sufficient to permit the parties to discharge their opposition duties.

Doesn’t that seem a trifle insubstantial?

And what of the package for redundancies from the public sector?

And very noticeable that the complaints from the Alliance and SDLP aren’t over economic matters. Indeed it’s as if the latter isn’t that important in the scheme of things. Perhaps it’s not if the whole thing is cosmetic… but…

Anyhow, this doesn’t sound anywhere near as positive as the spinning this evening is painting it. Or maybe it is that this isn’t quite what is being sold, by any involved.

Playing (protest) politics over the union flag… December 3, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Northern Ireland.
2 comments

The news about the QUB report on the flag ‘protest’ is very useful. For it underlines the dangers of political parties attempting to initiate protest on such issues in the North and then seeing them slip from their control. As the report ‘The Flag Dispute – Anatomy of a Protest’ notes:

“There is no doubt that the 40,000 leaflets distributed by the DUP and the UUP had a catalytic effect in the run-up to the City Hall vote. It was this more than anything else which inflamed the mood at that point,”

And then, the inevitable…

“Following the first riot however the political parties found the campaign had slipped out of their control, and while they tried to regain the initiative by launching the Unionist Forum, their influence was very limited – indeed, many protesters began to focus their ire on the leaders of mainstream unionism,”

Nor were the paramilitaries in control of the situation:

“[they] were not executing a plan or controlling the direction of the protest…Mostly it was an unhappy time for both organisations and served to exacerbate existing tensions within their ranks.”

There’s some remarkable information on just how few were mobilised by the issue. For example:

“The numbers involved in the street protests were only ever a very small percentage of the unionist population,” said the report. “Even in the protest heartland of east Belfast no more than one per cent of the population participated in the demonstrations”

Though it does note that even despite the violence and inconvenience (” 160 PSNI officers were injured over four months of protests, 362 people were charged in connection with the demonstrations and policing the protests cost £21.9 million”) 46 per cent of unionists supported the protests continuing.

And how was it eventually tamped down?

“The criminalisation of the protesters, and the threat of a custodial sentence in particular, was a major deterrent and it played a critical part in the waning of the flag protest”

Though this wasn’t cost-free:

“This has had knock-on effects in worsening the sense of alienation that some in the community feel towards the institutions of criminal justice in post-Agreement Northern Ireland. ”

And all this over a limitation, not an abolition, of flag-flying, and one which proposed bringing it closer into line with UK norms.

Still, perhaps some reason for if not optimism, at least a less pessimistic view:

Co-author, Dr Katy Hayward, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s, said: “The causes of the flag protest are in many ways small scale versions of sources of difficulty in the wider peace process. As well as ongoing problems of poverty and marginalisation, we found familiar trends of cultural contestation and distrust of political institutions. In addition to this, powerful emotions – both uplifting and negative – shaped people’s experience of the protest and contributed to its lasting impact on individuals and the wider community.”

According to co-author Professor Peter Shirlow, this impact is notably more localised and small scale than that of similar events in Northern Ireland’s troubled past (such as the demonstrations following the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985), and descriptions of a “culture war” are misleading and unhelpful. The root causes of the protest still need to be addressed and the issue of flags and symbols must be handled with care.

And this which I think is very relevant:

For example, the report notes that the choice of a symbol for the Northern Ireland Assembly could easily have turned into a bitter argument. Dr Dominic Bryan suggests: “Instead, a piece of creative thinking resulted in the adoption of the flax motif, now accepted by all sides as an elegant symbol for the devolved parliament.

Whether it is possible to introduce new symbolism and slowly reduce older symbolism is an interesting task for the years ahead. Genuine parity would perhaps see the introduction of both flags flying, but that’s inconceivable at this point, is it not?

For those keen to read more here’s the full text.

Discourtesy and political expedience… November 24, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Northern Ireland.
6 comments

Depressing to read the following:

Gregory Campbell’s constituency office in East Londonderry confirmed it had been warned by police of a serious threat to the Democratic Unionist MP’s life.
On Saturday, Campbell repeated his mockery of Irish during a speech to the DUP’s annual conference, near Belfast. Earlier this month, he made fun of the Sinn Fйin culture minister in the Stormont parliament with the words: “curry my yoghurt can coca coal yer” – a send-up of the Irish for “thank you, speaker.”

Remarkable discourtesy, disrespect and in a sense ignorance, on his part, really, and to what purpose? Well, presumably to fire up the old base in advance of elections. Not so much a dog whistle as a bullhorn. Still, revelatory to read some of the comments underneath about this piece on Slugger on the same topic about how much of a facade this appears to be…

But not one which is free of negative impacts. And not just stupid and pointless death threats. UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has it about right when he says:

“I also regret that Mr Campbell has chosen to repeat his insult to the Irish language. I am still not clear what point he is trying to make, but the impact is crystal clear. It is highly damaging to community relations.”

That SDLP/SF electoral pact non-starter November 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland.
2 comments

…clever, in a way, of SF to pitch their call for a pact between the SDLP and themselves at the forthcoming Westminster elections in the following way:

Calling for a pact to “maximise pro-[Belfast] Agreement representation Mr McGuinness said, “If the SDLP choose to stand in these constituencies they risk handing these seats to anti-agreement unionists.”
“This would be a setback for the political process in the North. It would also add further momentum to the British government’s shift towards increasingly partisan support for negative unionism and provide allies and support for a future Tory assault on public services,” he said.

Predictable given past approaches, that the SDLP should reject it. But it does point up the contradictions of the GFA/BA. Look at it one way and the idea of a pro-GFA/BA alliance makes perfect political sense, look at it another and it can seem to reinforce ‘head-count’ politics.

Not sure about SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly’s call that:

Sinn Féin should end its abstentionist policy. “Take your seats lads,” she said.

Though it would seem from her use of language to be not entirely serious:

“The sleeveens who have approached us about tribal pacts don’t even intend to take their seats.
“Remember, they have jettisoned just about every other so-called republican principle, and they fly over to London regularly just to be filmed with a Westminster background,” she added.

To be honest I don’t see why that’s an inconsistency. They’re as entitled to sit or not sit as they see fit, just as the SDLP is entitled to do likewise.

A modest proposal on partition… well… not quite… November 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
17 comments

It’s unusual to read Dennis Kennedy (former deputy editor of the IT and unionist), a man given to asperity filled texts on matters cross-border, considering what happens on this island should Britain leave the European Union in the near to mid-term future. He notes that in the GFA/BA:

[there] is only one mention of the EU (in the preamble, where EU membership is cited as one factor in the unique relationship between the UK and Ireland), but it is the framework of EU citizenship that validates its essential core: the idea that conflicting Irish and British identities can co-exist as equals within present-day Northern Ireland, pending some future resolution of the fundamental divide.
How would the promise in the agreement to “recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose”, and accordingly to confirm their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship, be honoured if the UK, including Northern Ireland, was outside the EU, while the Republic was inside?

And he notes that in the event of an exit:

Scotland would almost certainly demand, and get, a referendum to make its own decision on EU membership, and would most probably opt to stay in the EU, not the UK. That would leave Northern Ireland painfully isolated within a UK that would be even more dominated by the 90 per cent of the population living in England, who are manifestly becoming increasingly nationalistically British or, in reality, English.

Kennedy writes that:

Northern Ireland is too small and too divided to permit the Scottish alternative of independence within the EU, so what options does it have, apart from voting No in any poll on leaving the EU and campaigning in Britain against exit on the grounds of the threat it would pose to a fragile peace?

And what then?

…is it time to revisit Conor Cruise O’Brien’s last and most controversial intervention in Northern affairs? In the late 1990s he suggested that the interests of the Protestant or unionist community in Northern Ireland were more threatened by the UK’s determination to do a deal with Sinn Féin/IRA than they would be by a negotiated deal with Dublin to unite Ireland under a federal-type arrangement that guaranteed all existing rights to all residents of the North. This community, he maintained, would be better able to defend its interests under such an agreement than it would as “despised hangers-on” and a tiny minority in the UK.

Let’s not forget that CCO’B in his one man unique reworking of Éire Nua managed to see the retention of the RUC as crucial to any future dispensation. Let us also not forget that he resigned (or was he forced to resign?) from the UKUP after delivering unto the nation this particular evidence of his genius.

But…

Would any significant section of traditional unionism even look at a federal proposal? The once great obstacle of “Rome Rule” has almost vanished, but other roadblocks remain, and the answer is almost certainly no.
But might unionists consider it if life within a very much changed UK was less agreeable to them, and particularly if they felt they were being edged closer and closer to a united Ireland, either by pressure from London or by demographic change in Northern Ireland?

That’s actually an interesting question. Is it plausible unionists might say ‘we agree to this, but not that…’. It wouldn’t be the first time given their acceptance of home rule in six counties.

So… what then would be the bill of fare?

Obviously a new constitution would be needed to accommodate the new Ireland, and some sort of devolved structure for what is now Northern Ireland.
Some things would have to go: the name of the state could no longer be Éire, nor could Irish be the “first national language”, nor the tricolour the national flag. (Though it’s not in the Constitution, a new national anthem would be needed, and we could throw in neutrality and the names of the railway stations as beyond their sell-by date.)

Anyhow, that last is a clue that Kennedy isn’t being entirely serious. He proceeds to quote Michael Sweetman writing forty years ago saying:

We [in the Republic] have got to go back to 1912 and relinquish a great deal of what has happened since in order that both parts of the country can make a new start.” He deplored “consistent attempts to impose a narrow concept of Irishness, involving the primacy of Gaelic culture, the rejection of British strands in Irish traditions, and a particular view of history which made a virtue of fighting against Britain and a vice of defending British rule”.
And he added: “It is not from that kind of Republicanism, with its glorification of violence in the past and its incitement to violence in the present, that the new Ireland will come.”

I wonder. But regardless, he takes Enda Kenny to task:

What a tragedy that a Fine Gael Taoiseach could still say last month that he was always proud to be a 1916 man and that he saw the Rising as the central formative and defining act in the shaping of modern Ireland.

The funny thing is that it’s not quite as contentious statement as he seems to imagine. One could believe precisely that, with some shading, and not see it as necessarily a good thing in and of itself. One presumes that one J. Bruton feels something along those lines. As it happens I think Kenny, if he gives the matter any thought at all (and that 1916 video tends to indicate he probably doesn’t), probably does believe it was on balance a good thing, etc. Probably. Perhaps.

And:

At this point we can probably stop fantasising. The Rising was the “formative and defining act” of a partitioned Ireland, in which one part was in many ways Rome-ruled, socially conservative (to put it mildly) and at times dangerously ambivalent towards armed republicanism. This held no attractions whatever for the “divided brethren” in the North. Much has changed in many ways, and in the minds of many of the people, but the State, and its political leaders, cling to their founding fictions.

Interestingly though, he doesn’t addresss the other part of that partitioned Ireland, does he, or not really or what happened next? Indeed, if we are going back to 1912 as he seemingly suggests implicitly is a good thing then what of that motive force of advanced nationalism, the response of political unionism to Home Rule?

Anyhow, he does ask a reasonable question:

Waking up at this point would save us from wrestling with the question of where the £9 billion London transfers each year into Northern Ireland would come from. In 1998, Conor Cruise O’Brien blithely assumed that London would be so happy to be shot of Northern Ireland, and Dublin so pleased to welcome it, and the international community so delighted for us all, that they would all stump up. Fat chance of that now. All of which leaves Northern Ireland, as ever, in the quare place.

Though, on reflection, it’s not that difficult to see a not entirely grateful UK or rUK being willing to part subsidise matters for a limited period following some sort of agreement.

But let’s put aside much of that and consider what is most telling about this. That being that people on this island are beginning to wake up to the possibility – as yet still slim, that the future shape of Britain may be very different to what it is today. And more importantly, perhaps they are waking the thought that the pressures and dynamics within and on the UK are of a much greater order than was thought previously. That, in fact, the UK as we know it may well be gone in a relatively short space of time.

Perhaps what is most curious is that in Britain this realisation doesn’t seem to have hit home. There the Tories appear near oblivious to what UKIP and euroscepticism appear to have wrought already on the union while Labour hasn’t fashioned anything close to a narrative about this. And all the while the contradictions become ever clearer as regards the structure of the UK as it is (though that, of course, does not mean that it will not persist well into the future). There’s a subtle irony in that, is there not?

SF, the IRA and another legacy of the conflict. October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Uncategorized.
33 comments

It has to be said that the testimony of Maíria Cahill is extremely compelling. The specific issue is grim in the extreme, its implications for broader processes difficult to ascertain.

The question does arise as to where this can go? It’s difficult to see a legal route forward. But that doesn’t predicate against other processes where people voluntarily come forward to assist. There’s a political dimension to this, which is worth discussing further in a different post. But it’s important to untangle politicisation (from whatever quarter) from the core issue of a woman who felt that the experiences she described were marginalised or dismissed or the processes she was subjected to were incomplete and biased.

It is areas and issues like this which have proven so troubling as the armed conflict stage has slipped into the past, as against paramilitary activities as such – which is not to say the latter haven’t been troubling. The interface between internal codes of discipline and behaviour and an external society which where the broader legal framework was – for a significant number – simply invalid has thrown up some deeply difficult contradictions even before we arrive at these events.

It speaks of issues of democratic legitimation for processes that had no societal legal element, and the dangers of relying upon those processes that were internal to organisations. Simply put internal investigations were in and of themselves flawed from the off. It also points up the isolation of those who found themselves in situations like that Maíria Cahill has outlined where there were those who abused what authority there was and there was no alternative authority to appeal to.

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