Slugger O'Toole

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Martin: “flags and emblems tacitly encouraged as a distraction from fact politicians are not delivering”?

Tue 11 December 2012, 12:16pm

If you have not read it yet, check out Brian Walker’s analysis last night on how Stormont’s incumbents are failing the populations of Northern Ireland by leaving the real and contentious business of politics to a small band of hyperactive terror merchants.

The leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin has a few similarly hard truths to deliver this morning’s Belfast Telegraph:

The problem as I see it is this – if politics is not demonstrably and tangibly about making people’s quality of life better in Northern Ireland, politics very quickly reverts to being about flags, emblems, parades and all the things that have defined public life for far too many people for far too long.

If loyalist gangs are able to burn the offices of political opponents, issue death threats, close schools early and cause economic havoc in the run-up to Christmas without sanction, all ostensibly in support of a proposition from unionist parties that was democratically defeated in Belfast City Council, there’s something very seriously wrong within the leadership of unionism.

Similarly, if republican politics in the North has not evolved beyond the point where a change in the timetable for flying a British flag and the naming of playgrounds are celebrated as major victories, it should raise serious question marks over what leadership is being given and how much serious thought is going into defining Republicanism in a post-GFA world.

That is of course unless, at some level, it suits the dominant leadership of unionist and nationalist blocks for a society and its media and its political establishment to continue to be seized by the images and rhetoric of flags and emblems.

Is it entirely unreasonable to worry that arguments about flags and emblems are tacitly encouraged as a distraction from the fact that politicians are not delivering on the issues that actually make a difference to the quality of people’s lives? Those who are interested in politics wonder where are the campaigns to highlight the fact that Northern Ireland suffers from unforgivably high levels of child poverty and economic inactivity?

At home in Cork, my wife and I have friends who run a small Irish crafts business. It’s a precarious enough existence, but their income each year is essentially earned in the few weeks running up to Christmas. I thought of them on Sunday when I heard that the excellent Continental Market at City Hall was forced to close. How many families are quietly and helplessly seeing their livelihoods being threatened as this failure of politics continues?

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Comments (15)

  1. GavBelfast (profile) says:

    Hard to disagree with him.

    Yet someone else on another thread was advocating, or at least thinking-aloud, about giving these pygmies more power ….

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  2. Cackle Daily (profile) says:

    I found the wee lecture from Micheal hard to take for a couple of reasons. Apart from it’s utter banality. I do not think the decision to maintain the name of the park in Newry was a ‘major victory’ neither have I seen unalloyed joy in the faces in republican areas as we hug ourselves with glee at this latest tactical masterstroke. The reaction to the vote (if a heterogenous group like ‘republicans’ can be said to have one single reaction) has been ‘meh’
    I find the lecture hard to take because I do not need a member of Fianna Fail criticising levels of child poverty in this jurisdiction when his own party did so bloody little about child poverty when they were in power themselves
    And I find it hard to be lectured by the leader of a party, one of whose own MEPs had to be told that it was loyalists rioting and not republican after the vote last week, so keen was he to get the boot into SF (maybe we all look the same from Brussels?)
    So, spare us the patronising BS and get on with making your own brand less toxic.

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  3. derrydave (profile) says:

    To be honest, I find it more than a little irritating that the despicable behaviour of Unionists / Loyalists over recent weeks is somehow being seen as refective not only of the problems inherent in Unionism / Loyalism, but also as being reflective of problems inherent in Nationalism / Republicanism !
    Stupid statement from Martin re this being celebrated as a major victory by Reublicans – I’ve seen nothing of the sort. The compromise on the flag was perfectly reasonable, and would in fact be exactly the type of thing that Fianna Fail would be supportive of if they stood in the North. Interesting of course that he didn’t claim that it reflected on Nationalism of the SDLP, eh ?

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  4. Charlie Sheens PR guru (profile) says:

    He probably put it in for mandatory balance. That a useful tool for skewering both SF and unionists at once.

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  5. BarneyT (profile) says:

    Its Martins job to make the odd submission on matters in the north and whilst some parts of contribution are true, particularly the impact to Christmas Market traders (notwithstanding the tarnished reputation of an otherwise recovered Belfast), most of this should be couched as an opportunistic rant.

    He has to been seen to debase SF, as they are a threat to his party in the Republic and the SF reputation in the south stands to benefit from recent events. They are vociferous in their condemnation of the dissident “traitors” and the Unionist leadership and those they have goaded onto the streets make SF appear entirely reasonable, politically and actively adjusted and more ready for government.

    SF cannot fail to get political capital from this, and the message that they should be promulgating is, “Can you see just how difficult these people are to work with?”

    It’s all well and dandy for Martin to dismiss the issues relating to our emblems, as the flag he flies by is safe and not under threat from removal, reduction or sacrifice.

    Equally is it not rich that he talks about a government failing its people (Celtic Tiger, Bank Bailout, failure to burn bond holders), despite the elements of truth?

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  6. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Not sure I’d class it as optimistic Barney.

    He’s accusing both parties of polarisation tactics to cover for their lack of delivery. And further suggesting that nationalism in the north is continuing to fail to perform an effective, post GFA leadership.

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  7. RegisterForThisSite (profile) says:

    Lack of delivery!!!!
    I know it’s a long time since FF were in opposition but surely MM knows that his job is to hold the government du jour to account, while Pearse Doherty and SF appear to be doing a decent job of that MM seems to spend his time attacking SF another party in opposition and now speechifying on NI.

    Frankly it’s wrong for him to draw a salary from the Dail if all he does is party politics. So a bit cheeky to say the least

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  8. jthree (profile) says:

    A Fianna Fail-er has tremendous brass bollocks to write this:

    “How many families are quietly and helplessly seeing their livelihoods being threatened as this failure of politics continues?”

    Given the economic and political legacy bequeathed by his party that’s quite a statement.

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  9. Nevin (profile) says:

    In her interview on BBC NI GMU a few days ago, Naomi Long dealt with the nefarious activities of loyalist and republican gangs during these troubled times. Has Micheál Martin got a blind spot?

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  10. iluvni (profile) says:

    Stormont has been a complete and utter flop. Yesterday’s ‘debate’ summed up totally how useless it is. No dissent permitted, no awkward questions to be asked, Stage managed nonsense delivering pretty much bugger all.
    Give us all an early Christmas present and put it out of its misery.

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  11. zemblan (profile) says:

    ‘Is it entirely unreasonable to worry that arguments about flags and emblems are tacitly encouraged as a distraction from the fact that politicians are not delivering on the issues that actually make a difference to the quality of people’s lives? Those who are interested in politics wonder where are the campaigns to highlight the fact that Northern Ireland suffers from unforgivably high levels of child poverty and economic inactivity?’

    This is absolutely spot on. I know many people who couldn’t give a fig about the national question but are very interested indeed in important economic issues. I for one absolutely abhor the fact that may of the most crucial social issues in this country are completely overridden by the petty identity politics of conniving politicians.

    Those in possession of their rational faculties realise that the larger questions of child poverty, unemployment, healthcare, and education, are far and above the most central to the wellbeing of the population. They are issues where are shared future is possible and where the politics of sectarian point-scoring, so beloved by the political class in this country, is left out to dry.

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  12. BarneyT (profile) says:

    Mick – opportunistic….but fair play.
    Regards
    b

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  13. weidm7 (profile) says:

    Maybe he should put his money where his mouth is and actually run for election in the north then, instead of just hurling from the ditch.

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  14. Good on you Micheál! You might disagree with the idea of a Fianna Fáiler from Cork commenting on the failure of politics in the North, but what other senior figure is doing it?

    Politics in the north has failed, but nobody else is admitting it. This isn’t a question of unionism or nationalism (and I’m a nationalist by instinct), it’s a question of having a functional political system. We can’t allow ordinary people to be left behind while abstract questions surrounding the North’s place in the world are debated.

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  15. Zig70 (profile) says:

    You have to groan after the amount of business in the South that have gone to the wall thanks to FF’s actions. Petty tribal politics against SF here. Another point is the tinpot generals at Stormont have actually very little real power. They can’t even legislate for dogs properly. However the people to blame are the ones that voted them in.

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