Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Time for an End to the Convenient Lies of the Peace Process

Wed 12 December 2012, 7:30am

People in Belfast like to be blasé about riots, as if they aren’t a big deal. Our gallows humour spawns #flegmovies memes on Twitter. But it’s OK to be frightened by riots. People in London are frightened by riots. People in Cape Town, where they are a more frequent occurrence than they are here, are frightened by riots. Riots are frightening because of their sheer unpredictability. The latest outbreak of Loyalist street violence is essentially leaderless, the DUP and paramilitaries long having since lost control. It is utterly unpredictable. It also fearsome in its capacity for violence, as the attack on police outside Naomi Long’s office demonstrated.

I am not only frightened but angry at the minute. This was not what I was promised from the new Northern Ireland. In that at least, both the middle-aged woman with her placard and I agree. I don’t think anyone expected it to be perfect. But we all expected a lot better than this. The problem is that we were all sold different interpretations of what the new dispensation meant. We are all learning that reality is not quite as advertised. On the political fringes, the disappointment is acute.

The blunt reality is that the political settlement was sold by Sinn Féin on the basis of lies, and sold by the DUP on the basis of lies. Sinn Féin pretended to its supporters that there was a simple and rapid route to reunification because a Catholic majority was inevitable and coming quickly. The DUP spent two years pretending it hadn’t done a deal with Sinn Féin, and then three years pretending that it only had after winning on all substantial issues.

In particular, both main parties deluded both themselves and their supporters about the realities of demographics. The DUP pretended that a region with rapidly changing demographics would not continue to experience deep cultural change. Sinn Féin pretended than an impending Catholic plurality over Unionists would lead to a United Ireland within two decades.

Today’s Census exposes those politically convenient lies. The DUP were absolutely right to say that they had copperfastened Northern Ireland’s position within the Union. Attitudes to national identity are changing rapidly on the culturally Catholic side. One in five people now identifies only as ‘Northern Irish’. They are disproportionately on the Catholic side of the community. Some of them, perhaps many of them, will vote for a United Ireland in a border poll, but it is assured that not all of them will. There are few experiences more bizarre than sitting in the bar of the Maseru Sun Casino in Lesotho, surrounded by Chinese trinket exporters, watching Rory McIlroy tell the world he was from Holywood, Northern Ireland and he was British.

But the DUP wilfully failed its community by misleading it that rapid demographic change would not drive cultural change. The Alliance Party will soon hold the balance of power across Northern Ireland as it already does in Belfast. Many rural areas are deeply greened, doubtless fuelling the rage apparent in Armagh and Cookstown. The DUP secured the Union. It did not secure how national identity in Northern Ireland would be expressed, only a vague commitment to respect both main traditions, and nor can they seek to predetermine that in a free democracy where their views may not always hold majority sway.

Both governments colluded in the lying, and that right from the start of the negotiations process. Perhaps decommissioning was an unresolvable issue in 1998, but the fact remains that the UUP and Sinn Féin were allowed to walk out of the negotiations with fundamentally different understandings of what the Agreement required. At St. Andrew’s, further issues were ‘parked’ by allowing the DUP and Sinn Féin to live with fundamentally different understandings of the undertakings they had entered into, or at least to pretend to their supporters that they had different understandings.

The negotiations of 1997-2007 were primarily led by the administrations of Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, neither exactly known for their robust approach to matters of truth, although they were in their own odd and characteristically deceitful ways genuinely appreciative of both major communities here. Lies and deliberate self-deceptions are all over this deal.

There is now natural disappointment on the fringes, and not just among Loyalists, as reality bites hard. I am considerably less blasé about the potential of dissident Republicans to expand gradually than I was six months ago. The lies are no longer sellable and this place is getting pretty fractious. We are not back to the bad old days but some problems that were put to one side because they were too difficult to deal with are coming back to haunt us. Cultural issues were parked. They need to be unparked. They are going to undo us if we do not speak about them honestly. Loyalists deserve to have their sense that their identity is slowly being suppressed listened to by the rest of us, but they have to listen to the rest of us about the deeply provocative sectarianism that accompanies some of their public displays.

As neither main party can deliver on some of the guarantees each made to its core, each is picking at cultural scabs to satisfy the base. They need to stop. The McCreesh playpark was as spectacular an own goal for Sinn Féin as it was for the SDLP. Whether the DUP’s high-risk flags strategy to win back East Belfast pays off remains to be seen, but it caused enormous damage to Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin needs to stop accepting that it’s OK to impose its version of history as official state doctrine – and the SDLP needs to stop acquiescing in the obliteration of its own civil rights legacy from Northern Nationalism’s cultural memory by Sinn Féin. Unionists and the Orders need to accept that there is a sectarian element around some parades and displays which embarrasses Protestantism as a faith and shames the flag they love so deeply.

We should have known this was coming. There were plenty of warnings. The incessant sectarian vandalism – on churches, Orange Halls, GAA facilities – is spiralling, especially in rural areas. That it is so rarely punished fuels quite legitimate senses of grievance across this community. It is where the flag-waving Loyalist woman, the angry Ardoyne teenage rioter and the sneering latté-sipping liberal all meet. People get away with bigotry and bad behaviour all the time, and those on the fringes inevitably ask why they shouldn’t respond in kind. That creates anger and facilitates the recreational rioting element now deeply embedded into the culture of poorer working-class communities. We need accept that violence will always bubble up until we take a zero tolerance approach to issues like property damage and incitement to public disorder. We also need better leadership – let me say no more about the DUP’s recent performance.

The Census today was a wake up call for everyone. There is, despite what the sectarian song doing the rounds on YouTube says, no Fenian Wonderland and there is no British Protestant Ulster any more either. The blurring or outright rejection of both traditional identities will only grow, especially among the younger and more middle-class. Nobody is in a majority any more. Northern Ireland is not leaving the UK any time soon. Real leadership, especially from the two major parties, would involve telling the population, honestly, that these are realities. I live in hope but am not holding my breath.

Here’s a modest proposal – we all accept that the status quo is not going to change on the difficult issues of public national identity for 10 years, until we get this ‘Decade of Centenaries’ over us. Clyde Valley and the Easter Rising have too many resonances for the young and hot-headed just at the moment. So, until this is over us, why don’t we park the balance of power, while we unpark the difficult cultural conversations. No less parades, no more parades. Where they get through, they get through and where they’re rerouted, they’re rerouted. No less Irish language, no more Irish language. Controversial renamings of council facilities end.

Let worried Unionists and Loyalists get used to a Northern Ireland that is only 48% British. That statistic, on one level, only encapsulates what has happened over the last 20 years and yet it also rewrites all conventional understandings of what this place is. It will not kill any of us if the Belfast flag decision was the last such dramatic change for a decade. Let the younger and less tribalised to come to a decision on these matters in the fullness of time.

Perhaps we should have a quick border poll. It could be what’s needed to clear the air, as both sides will have to be on their best behaviour. And then we, collectively, stop picking at scabs.

Maybe then we could do something about two issues which are really crucifying poor PUL communities. Why does the best primary school system in Europe degenerate into such a catastrophe for the poor, especially the Protestant poor, after 11? And why don’t we have a subsidised childcare system that allows young single mothers with no family support to actually be able to take the relatively poorly paid employment that is often, realistically, the only short-term option available to them? Deal with both of those problems and, I guarantee, we’ll have less riots.

And if we need to unpick one thorny marching problem, I suggest we put a bit of hard work into Clifton Street. We can’t have Orangefest where the route from Belfast Orange Hall into town is a demilitarised zone and, much as liberals and Republicans liked to sneer back in the day, if we don’t have Orangefest, we’re basically screwed. Loyalist parading and band culture is not going to disappear and the smart people in both the Bands and the Orders know the ugly side keeps quite a few Loyalists away from both. It’s in everybody’s interest to sort this out.

Let’s back off on the Culture Wars and, just for a change, have a bit of honesty.

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Comments (24)

  1. TwilightoftheProds (profile) says:

    Dead centre.

    Nailed it.

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  2. Haifish (profile) says:

    A perceptive piece which offers the opportunity to take a deep breath and stand back.

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  3. Nevin (profile) says:

    “This was not what I was promised from the new Northern Ireland. .. I don’t think anyone expected it to be perfect. But we all expected a lot better than this.”

    Gerry, you didn’t have to pay attention to the snake-oil salesmen; the seeds of destruction are there in the 1998 Agreement in that 50%+1 constitutional settlement.

    I had no illusions about what was coming down the line. I voted for the Agreement as the lesser of two evils. We could have continued on with London and Dublin protecting their butts by doing side-deals with paramilitaries or we could bring the paramilitaries into the tent and give local politicians a greater say in decision making.

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  4. derrydave (profile) says:

    Incessant sectarian vandalism spiralling, recreational rioting deeply embedded into the culture, fear of a dissident comeback – what a load of scaremongering rubbish.

    The dissidents are finished – there’s absolutely no doubt about that, and i would say sectarian vandalism and rioting must be at an historic low-point in my life-time. Things aint all that bad – a tiny section of the loyalist community have decided to go loco for a week or so (encouraged by the mainsteam unionist parties) because they can’t accept a sensible democratic decision – yeah lets put a hold on all that parity of esteem nonsense – i mean we don’t want to upset these headbangers any more !!? Whatever happened to standing up for democracy against these fascist thugs ??

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  5. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Ahem…

    I suspect Gerry is not currently parked up in a layby just off the blood spattered highway to Damascus having visions from St Paul. It seems to me he’s just arguing that what the Census signals more than anything else is that the time for that kind of calculation is over.

    Though the dangers are very real, and I would not discount the quality of munitions (Semtex suggests some former Provie’s been hiding it for some time looking for the main chance) making its way into the public arena, we are not in the kind post revolutionary tumult that Egypt is.

    We may not need strong men to hold down the peace (in fact the strong man may be making things considerably worse), we need something resembling choice and the means to shape a future that fits the people we’ve become in peace time, not the quivering moral wrecks shaped by war. I think.

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  6. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Dave,

    I have no doubt they are finished. But the core of Gerry’s argument is that neither of the two big parties have the politics or the honesty to deal with them.

    It’s turned into a festering sore (particularly in their host communities, think Creggan) because whilst we have peace and peaceful congress is generally available in measures never imagined during the troubles, we still have the politics of war.

    And underneath it all we have absolutely bugger all happening at Stormont. SF’s MLAs are given no responsibility and a wage that would barely keep a single person fed and clothed never mind sustain a family or mortgage.

    It gets sucked out of their pockets into a power structure that thinks it can conduct peace politics like conducted the war. It even thinks Gerry can sign a social contract with Paisley not to touch abortion and then try contrast his party as socially liberal on the matter of abortion against the social conservatives of FF and FG.

    You can only do that if you believe you are invulnerable to public scrutiny and accountability, and that class of party bureaucrat is.

    In the meantime, some folk in the DUP thought they could play footsie with the PUP and the UVF and thought they’d get away with it like they did against Trimble.

    The hate the Alliance Party is feeling now is something Trimble and the UUP felt hard up against them back in 2001. It has not gone away because it is still being fed with pre Peace Process narrative. In fact once fed it has a voracious appetite for more.

    The Census changes none of that. All it does is signal the change in society. It is up to political parties (and I include DUP and SF in that) to respond to that change.

    Stop feeding the vices of the older generation who do have much to feel bitter about, and start growing up with – and maybe even leading – that younger generation that wants to go somewhere other than backwards.

    That’s a real choice, and one worth putting up to the Dissers of Derry and Lurgan and the Loyalist mobs in Belfast and Armagh.

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  7. Nevin (profile) says:

    “It is up to political parties (and I include DUP and SF in that) to respond to that change.”

    Does this represent the triumph of hope over expectation, Mick? Where’s the mechanism and who are the people who will facilitate a change to the constitutional arrangements?

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  8. derrydave (profile) says:

    Mick, there is nothing inherently wrong with the decision made at City Hall. Quite the opposite in fact – It was a mature, sensible decision, made democratically for the good of society. Though things have improved in the North, there is still a significant cultural imbalance. A strong and increasingly confident Nationalist and Republican community are not going to hold off on it’s aims regarding parity of esteem, neutral work environments, and equality just because the dredges of loyalist society decide to go off on one (yet again). It is simply bowing down to the threat of violence to even consider doing so.
    Loyalists go nuts for a few days and all of a sudden we’re all in crisis mode ! The North is a better place than at any time I can ever remember (putting to one side of course the recent economic meltdown which has impacted almost every economy on the planet). Decisions like the one made at City Hall recently only improve society in the long-term – I and a lot of others expect our public representatives to continue on this road to achieve equality and parity of esteem.
    As regards the bread and butter stuff – jobs, healthcare, the economy. I’m not sure if our politicians have the power to make decisions in this arena which will make a significant impact – the real power in these matters is held centrally at Westminster as we’ve all discovered recently in the ridiculous and desperate begging for a reduction in Corporation tax.

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  9. RegisterForThisSite (profile) says:

    Well, someone needs to tell the former Provie that Semtex has a shelf life of 20, 10 or 5 years depending on when it was manufactured.

    The militant fringes of unionism and nationalism will always be with us, how many and how effective they are is all that will change.

    Radio 5 laboured the point yesterday regarding the current going ons, It’s unlikely they have jobs or a good education, they feel disinfranchised, they don’t vote etc etc. I tend to agree with the profile. Is it any surprise that either element struggle to make a political point or to get their views across.

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  10. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Dave,

    I’m going to shut up in a minute and let others have a say. but on this…

    “there is nothing inherently wrong with the decision made at City Hall.”

    I agree. And I’ve said as much several times since the vote last Monday..

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  11. Turgon (profile) says:

    Gerry,
    A reasonable piece but I submit you miss one other vital issue: that of criminality throughout and the lack of robust response.

    Indeed there is inadequate response to burning GAA halls, Orange Halls etc. However, we must understand that both loyalist and mainstream republican terrorists have, it would seem, been involved in multiple crimes ever since the cease fires and for politically expiedient reasons these crimes have been ignored.

    We need to look back to the deaths of the two dozen people murdered by the supposedly on ceasefire UVF and then note that their leaders (and the UDAs) are feted by our politicians. We need to look back to the murder of Paul Quinn and note that people tried to claim it was somehow the IRA but not the IRA.

    That ignoring of the most serious of all crimes has created a moral cancer in our society where the rule of law is not respected. This is not right wing hang them lock them up rant: far from it. The people who have suffered most from criminality have been working class nationalist and unionist areas (especially rural nationalist and urban unionist).

    Then when we see the riots how can we expect young unionists with few life chances not to see rioting as a good idea. The successful people in their community are very frequently criminals and are lauded by the likes of the former Irish president and assorted politicians. How then can we tell young people to avoid a life of criminality?

    Then when perfectly legitimate peaceful protests occur how on earth should we be surprised when criminality ensues?

    That in now way excuses criminality but when all the powers that be: the British government, the Irish government and almost all Stormont parties including Alliance take at times a morally ambigious stance on the crimes of the past and the perpetrators of those crime how on earth can we put out a clear message that crime is wrong and crime does not pay.

    Crime in the past paid very hansomly for very many people here. It is unsurprising that some young people heed the results of our actions as a society rather than our words.

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  12. NOT NOW JOHN (profile) says:

    Perhaps the problem is not so much that we were all sold different interpretations of what the new dispensation meant but the fact that some people just didn’t buy any of them. We seem to forget that there is still a rump of rejectionists out there. It may or may not be the 28% of 1998 but it is still a significant proportion. Perhaps it is not so much that they see the ‘peace process’ as a failure but that they want it to be a failure, and will take any opportunity to help contribute to its failure in the much misguided belief that there is a more favourable alternative awaiting them around the corner. And why not, given that for so long the current political ‘leadership’ (on both sides) gave the impression that there was a more acceptable alternative, before finally slipping out late from the Sunningdale School and realising that there wasn’t?

    It may well be the elephant in the room but there are still some who interpret every move towards equality as a great injustice and any recognition of a different culture as an attack on their own. And while it may seem obvious and honourable that politicians should be seen to support those on their own side who claim that their culture (or ‘Britishness’) is under attack, one should do well to remember that if one’s culture is one of Unionist domination(whether in Stormont, in Belfast City Council, in the police or on the streets) then perhaps Unionist politicians need to be more cautious as to whom and to what they lend their support.

    What the Alliance Party did was to propose a policy that was in line with the spirit of the Agreement. The Agreement which almost all parties now recognise as the only show in town and from which there is no going back. If Unionist politicians continue to foolishly give the impression to the uninformed, the ignorant and the blatantly sectarian that there is a way back to land that time forgot when there clearly is not, then they have to be responsible for the consequences.

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  13. Submariner (profile) says:

    NOT NOW JOHN Spot on post. What people tend to forget is that nearly half of the Unionist voters who voted in the GFA poll voted against it. The UUP then royally fucked up by refusing to sell it to the Unionist population. Here we are 14 years down the line and we still have the UVF and UDA still both active and according to to senior figures in the PSNI, behind the latest violence. Unionist politicians are once again failing miserably to give leadership by explaining what exactly the term parity of esteem means.

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  14. Creative Ambiguity……is something I have argued for a long time is the weakness in the Good Friday Agreement. It was sold to one community on the basis that it would lead to a united Ireland and to the other community (less successfully) that it was the exact opposite.
    One of the positions might be true. Possibly neither. But clearly it cant be both.In fairness to the DUP, they can claim they saw thru it although it is equally true that they were converted to the Process with minimal change.
    But it is also true to say that few around the Good Friday table had the foresight to see that within a few years the Process would be in the hands of DUP and Sinn Féin.
    It was as Mr Lynch says not supposed to be like this.

    But my own Party (SDLP)a nd his (Alliance) also sold the snake oil. It might be argued by both that had the patient applied the snake oil correctly, there was a better chance of recovery.
    Either way the Good Friday Agreement (if not the Peace Process) is in critical condition. Personally I would have no hesitation in switching off the Life Support machine.
    As we see today (Finucane) another set of Lies….piled upon more Lies.
    And of course that is just one of a series of Lies exposed which has affected one community or the other. And we have a series of Truths which are never likely to be revealed.
    But someone today……was it Naomi Long….said that we have built our structures in an earthquake zone. That is absolutely correct.
    And that means we cannot merely tack on some new structures to the existing ones. That means bulldozing the structures to the ground and digging deeper and better foundations.

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  15. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Sub,

    To be fair to Trimble and co, they thought decommissioning had a deadline of May 2001. It came and went with nothing on the table.

    Two years later, after the IRA again left him at the church without a bride in October, he was truly knocking on doors with nothing to show by November.

    It was not so much creative ambiguity but favouritism to a difficult to manage and potentially unstable player since until much later in the game (Bank Robbery) there were no sanctions applied by either government.

    One thing unionism desperately needs to do is disarm that button the Shinner’s keep pressing.

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  16. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    FJH,

    “…bulldozing the structures to the ground and digging deeper and better foundations”

    Any ideas on what that would mean in material terms?

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  17. Well Stormont is the obvious example.
    We need an end to Political Policing…..I do not define it as Gerry Kelly would define it……..
    In the bad old days the RUC protected the system. PSNI seem to be doing the same. They have not tackled hoods, drug dealers, smugglers,parade issues and paramilitaries on the basis that it might rock the structures.
    The evolving story this week…..no paramilitary involvement………..some individuals…….paramilitary involvement. That kinda approach is not acceptable.
    If the only worry is about a vaccuum being created, can Stormont be reduced to advisory status. Let them keep their salaries and criticism will be muted.
    But essentially as today in Westminster and yesterday in Dáil shows ……we have institutionalised Reconciliation but Truth is a non starter.
    WE can also say no thanks to the G8……..and we can scrap the vanity nonsense of MTV Awards, Titanic and indeed the Decade of Centenaries.

    Paraphrasing Mr Lynch……I agree……..we have been conned. Thats bad enough but do we have to con ourselves?
    Theres a rhetoric out there…..possibly on one of those Facebook photos about “Peace is More than the Absence of Violence”.
    Actually for me……thats enough.

    Some good news story, issued via the Stormont Press Office….and beamed into our homes by UTV and BBC is nonsense. What is happening to Alliance Party members (and indeed the general public like my wife travelling to and from work) is the Reality.

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  18. Seamuscamp (profile) says:

    Adults should hesitate to use the term “liar” when an outcome is not what was expected. If you think that politicians are infallibly correct in what they anticipate, you have never looked closely at politics. At the time of the GFA, the choice was to change something or to continue with destruction for ever. If any politician had said; “Let the killing and the maiming go on forever”, would they have been sane?

    For arguments sake, should we be surprised that when they eventually got sick of the blood, they cast around for something – anything – that might convince a sick society that normality of some sort was possible. Given the ignorance (of the outsiders) and the cultural blindness (of the insiders) should we be surprised that the outcome is not what was promised? Should we be surprised that what people thought was promised was different to what was actually promised.

    Reading many of the comments on this website, as an exile, it seems to me there is a sentimental nostalgia for blood – as long as it’s the other lot.

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  19. Red Lion (profile) says:

    I very much enjoyed reading this piece. I’m against a ‘quick border poll’ how quick is quick?? several months probably 1-2 years of instbility, increasingly bitter debate, attempts by the ‘big 2′ to polarise opinion. I think politicians (and everybody) should concentrate on the bread and butter issues which would otherwise be neglected if such a poll were on the horizon.

    As this ‘ Northern Irish’ expansion filters through society, hopefully they can filter onto the political circuit for their expanded existence at this level is what will dilute DUP/SF. My guess is they don’t really vote though.

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  20. PaddyReilly (profile) says:

    Nobody is in a majority any more.

    Not so. Unionists win 2 quotas in European elections, i.e. more than 50%. Albeit only with transfers from people who gave their first preference to Alliance.

    How people choose to describe themselves to Census takers and whether they believe in God is wholly irrelevant to the fundamental and long established fault line in Northern Irish society.

    But what the elections show and the census implies is that the margin by which Unionists win is coming down, year after year, and the margin by which Nationalists lose is narrowing at an even faster rate, and that these two will cross over by the end of 2016 or in 2017. We have known this for more than a decade and nothing in election results or censuses has invalidated it.

    This isn’t going to lead to an immediate United Ireland, but it will manifest itself in various obvious ways: the majority of Westminster seats will go to Nationalists, then Stormont, then 2/3 European seats: the GFA’s clause on equal respect will begin to be interpreted in a more generous way—to Nationalists.

    This month’s flag downing is a significant milestone and the Orangey bunch know this, which is why they’re making so much fuss about a non-event. Unionism will cease to be a controlling ideology everywhere except in a few small town councils. Unionists will turn into something like the Exclusive Brethren, cursing the outside world, concentrating on parading rituals and wishing damnation to apostates, of whom there will be many.

    SF’s spin of 1998, while largely false then, with every passing year looks more like the truth; the DUP could have claimed victory in 1998, but with every passing year that becomes more of a lie.

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  21. simtrib (profile) says:

    @derrydave

    Though things have improved in the North, there is still a significant cultural imbalance. A strong and increasingly confident Nationalist and Republican community are not going to hold off on it’s aims regarding parity of esteem, neutral work environments, and equality just because the dredges of loyalist society decide to go off on one (yet again).

    The problem with the above is it’s open ended lack of definition. I don’t consider Britishness to be a culture, and certainly not a culture that needs to be balanced with anything else on a see-saw. I would also distinguish between Irish “Gael” culture such as Irish dancing or the Irish language and symbols of the Republic of Ireland such as the tricolour.

    Often it seems to me to be that nationalists are demanding the mollycoddling of a psychosis. If flags should not fly from buildings that are factually organs administering the affairs of the British government within this part of the UK then is it next to be,

    Northern Ireland issuing it’s own currency called the poundeuro, exchangable at a rate of 1:1 with sterling but with a flax plant instead of the Queen’s head?
    Royal Mail vans to be the colour of whatever you get when you mix red and green with a rebranding as “North Mail”?
    Post boxes to have ERII removed and replaced by Giant’s Causeway hexagons and painted with green and red stripes like a barber’s pole?

    Perhaps I shouldn’t be putting ideas in Gerry Kelly’s head :-)

    The serious point though is that nobody can really agree with something so ill defined. If unionists don’t know where we’re going then they will be much more reluctant to go anywhere. Hence the flag thing. You cannot compromise with someone who makes no offer with which you can agree or disagree, and if you cannot compromise then automatically you will resist.

    If these things such as “parity of esteem” and “shared future” are only subjective and are open ended then you will get competition. What is needed most are definitions and firm concepts of what these things mean.

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  22. Nevin (profile) says:

    “we need something resembling choice and the means to shape a future that fits the people we’ve become in peace time ..

    One thing unionism desperately needs to do is disarm that button the Shinner’s keep pressing.”

    Mick (and others), the electorate has a choice at election time and it currently favours the hard men of politics.

    The ‘button’ continues to be the constitutional question and the disarming of the 50%+1 settlement is not in the gift of unionism.

    It’s very easy to target SF but when you look at the detail of the Athboy conspiracy – in incubation from 1994 or earlier – you’ll see that it was assisted by the Irish government and that the then UK SoS and RUC CC put out information about decision-taking which is demonstrably untrue.

    The APNI mission statement comes closest to political accommodation – “We are Northern Ireland’s cross-community party: working to build a society free of segregation, sectarianism and prejudice” – yet APNI fails to recognise and respond positively to the problem of the bull in the china shop, the present constitutional settlement.

    When I look at the current proposals for post-primary shared education in the Coleraine area I find CCMS’s proposals for Catholic schools and NEELB’s ones for state and integrated ones. In summary, Catholic leaders prefer their flock to live apart and leaders of the other Christian faith groups are relieved that this is so; the integrated sector could get completely frozen out. This sense of mutual apartness manifests itself in sectarianism, prejudice, gerrymandering and so on.

    We need something that allows and encourages folks at local and wider levels to work together for the good of all. As we found in our Coleraine upper-teens group in the 70s and 80s, this means curbing the actions of the stronger characters to permit a space for the weaker ones to develop and flourish; it also means opportunities for participation from the planning of a project right through to completion, including the exercise of responsibility. The self-confidence that our members possessed – the ‘newbies’ as well as the ‘oldies’ – could unnerve the rather older Corrymeela volunteers so my way around that was to involve them as temporary members, so to speak.

    You use the word love but it was a Loreto nun who put it best about some of our upper-teens in 1973: “I only wish more people in our divided communities could experience how easy it is to love and live together once.the will to do so is there”. The other organiser in the postscript is the current leader of APNI; we both had a lot lot more hair then; I wonder if he’s read my proposal for a shared society :)

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  23. Johnny Boy (profile) says:

    The current main parties having been living the lie for so long now, do they feel they can reveal the truth and survive?

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  24. [...] Crossposted at Slugger O’Toole… [...]

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