Micheál Martin – opportunism and cynicism of the very worst kind

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The award for opportunist of the week must surely go to Micheál Martin. His hastily written opinion piece in Wednesdays Irish News was a timely reminder of Fianna Fáil’s cynical approach to both the peace process and to politics.

For weeks Belfast city centre has been brought to a standstill by illegal loyalist blockades. Night after night the same protestors have returned to their own neighborhoods and engaged in running battles with the PSNI causing real disruption to their own communities.

In more recent nights these riots have turned into organised attacks on nationalist homes in the Short Strand.

The situation is very serious. If it continues, many fear that someone will be killed.

So what is Micheál Martin’s response to this escalating crisis?  Does his article give the impression of a political leader trying to understand the causes of the problem in order to play a constructive role in helping resolve it? Unfortunately not.

His article is nothing more than a transparent attack on Sinn Féin. Micheál Martin is not motivated by a desire to make people’s quality of life better. He is cynically using events in the North as part of his strategy to revive Fianna Fáil’s electoral fortunes in the South.

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Playing party politics with the peace process was commonplace in the final years of the Ahern/Cowen administration. Indeed such cynicism is what Fianna Fáil does best, alongside corruption and economic collapse.

But Micheál Martin’s intervention is worse than this. His ill-informed and deliberate misrepresentation of the causes of loyalist violence in recent weeks runs the risk of legitimising that violence. In doing so he is undermining the attempts of many political and community players, including Sinn Féin, to bring the violence to an end.

The decision of Belfast City Council to implement a policy of flying the Union Jack on designated days is uncontroversial. It is the current practice in Stormont and across many local Councils, including those controlled by Unionists.

So why has the Belfast decision provoked weeks of violence and disruption? The answer lies in a number of separate but interrelated dynamics within the broad unionist/loyalist community.

The first dynamic is an attempt by the DUP to win back the East Belfast Westminster seat lost by party leader Peter Robinson in 2010 to Naomi Long of the Alliance Party.

Despite supporting the policy of designated days in other Councils, the DUP sought to exploit the potential of the Belfast City Hall decision for electoral gain. They did this by distributing 40,000 leaflets across East Belfast portraying the change of policy as an attack on unionist culture.

The result was significant. Not only was an otherwise un-contentions issue transformed into a controversy. The politics of the leaflet called into question the Belfast Agreement and the benefits it has brought to people from all communities.

To say that the DUP were playing with fire would be an understatement.

The second dynamic is an attempt by the Ulster Volunteer Force to flex its muscle in advance of the conclusion of the ongoing supergrass trial. Many senior UVF figures are concerned at the impact of the trial. They want to send a signal to both the PSNI and to politicians in all parties that there will be consequences if its leadership ends up in jail.

And so, the UVF are actively involved in the illegal blockades, riots and attacks on nationalist homes. They are also encouraging others, including former members of the UDA, to push the loyalist campaign beyond anything resembling peaceful protest.

The third dynamic is the very real level of political alienation felt by a section of the protestant working class. High levels of social and economic deprivation combined with the failure of unionism and loyalism to provide any real political or community leadership has left this section of our community increasingly cut off from the political process.

This failure has left a vacuum that in recent weeks has been filled by an even more virulent and sectarian strain of loyalism represented by disparate figures such as Willie Frazer in the newly formed Ulster Peoples Forum.

The genuine frustration felt by many working class protestant’s at their social, economic and political exclusion is once again being redirected away from the causes of their alienation and deprivation. Instead nationalist demands for social, economic and cultural equality are being blamed. Inevitably this leads to loyalist attacks on nationalist homes.

The irony is that that the Ulster Peoples Forum offers working class protestants even less meaningful political leadership that the DUP, the UUP or the PUP. It is nothing more than a sectarian dead end.

The combination of these three independent but intertwined dynamics has produced a downward spiral of sectarian violence on the streets of Belfast.

Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Féin politicians and offices have been targeted for intimidation and attack. The people of the Short Strand are once again under siege and living in fear.

Communities in East Belfast and elsewhere are living with the disruption of nightly rioting. The PSNI are being stretched to the limit and scarce resources diverted away from much needed community policing. Local businesses are losing significant volumes of trade and jobs are at risk of being lost.

And what does Micheál Martin have to say about this? Is he calling for an end to the illegal loyalist protests, intimidation of politicians, and attacks on the people of the Short Strand?

Is he demanding that politicians from all parties stand together in defense of the democratic process in Belfast City Hall and the Belfast Agreement commitment to parity of esteem?

Is he sitting down and listening to communities on the ground at the centre of the violence in order to better understand what is actually going on?

No he is not. Rather he is seeking to use a very real crisis to attack Sinn Féin and the power-sharing institutions in Stormont. His motivation has nothing to do with ending the loyalist violence and all to do responding to the political rise of Sinn Féin in the South.

In doing so he is feeding the very dynamics that lie at the heart of the violence, and making things worse. He is guilty of opportunism and cynicism of the very worst kind.

But then what else would you expect from a man who sat in Government with Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen for fourteen years as they steered southern Irish society into a social and economic crisis of unprecedented proportions.

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  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    This piece of ‘opportunism and cynicism’ was brought to us by a member of the political wing of the Provisional Republican Movement, an organisation not noted for its contribution to the social and economic well being of society in these islands.

  • http://footballcliches.wordpress.com/ footballcliches

    Great piece Eoin, very apt and succinct IMHO.

    Mick has noted over on the original thread how this was designed to give SF a head ache and to also lay the ground work for MM for when he gets back into govt re narrative on what is going on up here, however, there seemed to me too many contradictions.

    As Mick noted the Irish News piece won’t make much of a ripple in the South owing to the audience who reads the IN, yet I was arguing how MM would not get any kind of a pay off from his piece as he has no real organisation in the North, hence, why would he choose to go for SF in this instance in what I felt was a fairly one sided article?

    TBH, it is a fairly transparent piece on MM’s part and one I doubt will cause SF many headaches, it shows some kind of desperation on MM’s part IMHO to try and make hay at SF’s expense out of what is happening re flegs, for if he is looking to organise up here in the near future this kind of faux balance will not gain him and his associates too many natural Nat votes.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “The decision of Belfast City Council to implement a policy of flying the Union Jack on designated days is uncontroversial.”

    Eoin, why don’t you have the courage to tell us what your party position on the flying of the Union flag is instead of hiding behind the BCC motion put forward by the Alliance Party? I think we can safely safe that your party will not be advocating the Alliance policy for all council buildings.

    We should be thankful to the Alliance Party for taking some of the sting out of your party’s majoritarian approach, an approach that obviously has no regard for minority communities anywhere. The fall out from BCC has certainly done nothing to improve good relations in Moyle DC; the atmosphere and the language in the council chamber last Monday night was appalling.

  • MALCOLMX

    Eoin,

    Excellent piece which is well written and to the point.

    Once again the failure of political unionism in working class loyalist areas is in the news and they direct all their sectarian hatred towards Republicans as if somehow its their fault.

    I keep hearing loyalist/unionist talk about their communities not benefitting from the ‘peace dividend’ and it all went to them there fenians. The question they should be asking is why when any money came in did the UVF & UDA syphon it off for gambling or drugs etc.

    As for Mr Martin he just proves that he is out of his depth both in and out of government and see the north as nothing more than the occasional whipping stick for Sinn Fein should any issue so take his fancy, and they have they audacity to call themselves a Republican party.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Awww, look at that. Micheál hurt the poor wee Shinners feelings.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “The PSNI are being stretched to the limit and scarce resources diverted away from much needed community policing. Local businesses are losing significant volumes of trade and jobs are at risk of being lost.”

    A curious comment from a member of SF; it’s the sort of sentiment I’d associate with the likes of the APNI’s Naomi Long.

  • Mick Fealty

    Nev,

    I know you probably have a serious point to make, but it needs to be explicit. Non sequiturs are for Twitter. You have space here, please use it?

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    “The decision of Belfast City Council to implement a policy of flying the Union Jack on designated days is uncontroversial.”

    Is this a serious comment? My dictionary defines uncontroversial as …. ‘not giving rise or not likely to give rise to public disagreement.’ Perhaps the writer can talk us though the thought process that led him to the conclusion that …. the decision of Belfast City Council to implement a policy of flying the Union Jack on designated days did not give rise to public disagreement.

  • MALCOLMX

    Not now john,

    It should not have been controversial given the Dup and Uup voted for the designated days policy in Lisburn and that policy applies to stormont. It was the actions of the unionist parties who decided to up the ante and make it controversial plus the so called flag outrage is more to do with other issues which Eoin has already mentioned.

    Comrade,
    He hasnt hurt the shinners feelings but rather f*@ked off a lot of nats/repubs because of his politiking over this issue while short strand bore the brunt of violent unionism. Hes a joke of a political leader in a corrupt party

  • keano10

    Has Micheal Martin now abandoned his claim that Fianna Fail are the “Republican Party”?

    That was surely the biggest joke of the last election campaign. They have re-invented themselves more times than Spinal Tap… :)

  • http://igaeilge.wordpress.com Concubhar

    As I’ve written in Gaelscéal, the flags dispute is as predictable as it is unnecessary. SF have admitted they knew what the reaction of unionists would be when the party proposed the ‘take down the flag’ motion originally. Now I’m no fan of the Union Flag on City Hall but I spent 11 years in Belfast and never heard anybody give it the time of day. There were a great many other issues on the agenda, ahead of the flag issue. Leaving Bread and Butter issues to one side, there was for instance the issue of Irish language signage. Instead of working from the inside out, SF elected to go for outside in politics. It will be ever more difficult now to achieve meaningful changes at Belfast City Hall, where the Union Flag still flies, because of SF’s very foolish and unwise and poorly timed foray. My own view is that the flag atop Belfast City Hall is the last issue on the agenda after both communitiess and all others are prepared for it. The decision to go for the Union Flag’s removal was the worst type of opportunitist politics as it seemed to be masking other SF failures at both the Belfast City Council and at the Executive/Assembly. Eoin O’Broin’s attack on FF Leader Micheál Ó Mairtín is,of course, predictable because SF, when they don’t like the message, try to shoot the messenger. Eoin O’Broin makes no mention of Martin’s point regarding the protest outside the PSNI last November by SF and downplays the role of SF in instigating this entirely avoidable row. And to top it all, SF choose this weekend to have a ‘major’ conference on All Ireland unity when in they North, where SF are in power, their provocative gesture politics is at least partly responsible, alongside their Unionist accomplices, the DUP/UUP, in engendering such obvious disunity. SF have become what they once avowedly abhorred, a party of hypocrisy, partitionism and regressive politics.

  • Gopher

    Adams is effectively changing the principle consent as laid in the GFA to destabilize Northern Ireland and further his own career. Thank you Concubhar a truly refreshing read.

  • MALCOLMX

    Concubhar,

    Firstly to my knowledge SF have been working away on the issue of street signage as gaelige for a long time now so I dont see you point.

    Secondly, while the union flag isnt thr most important item on the agenda it sends a message to unionism that times are changing and Republicans want equality or neutrality.

    Thirdly I find it absolutely amazing that martin tries to equate a SF completely protest outside psni headquarters for 1 hour on 1 day against political policing to the violence from unionist thugs against a democratic decision and you agree with this point.

    Maybe you should ask the people of the short strand what they think of micheal martin and his politicking while his fellow countrymen and women have to endure a sectarian supremacist violent onslaught from unionist death squads.

  • MALCOLMX

    Should read

    **SF completely peaceful protest

  • Kensei

    Any time I see anyone whining about SF ” stirring up trouble” over the flag, I mentally replace it with “follow longstanding manifesto commitments”.

    Are people confused about how democracy works? There also appears to be some apparent confusion that a one time vote on flags somehow interferes with other, different and separate votes on economic matters even aside form the fact that in many cases people are talking about different democratic bodies. A term will last between 4 and 5 years normally, which is an awful lot of time to deal with stuff. We are not little economic machines, and our politics reflects that. This is a spectacularly weak sauce argument, particularly since you don’t spend your time moaning about lack of focus when the council is handing pointless baubles out to girl guides or NAMBLA or whoever.

    Oh and, contra Mick, if anyone thinks anything FF do isn’t done with a calculated eye on the Southern electorate, they are as mad as the people who thought the last election was the end of Europe’s most ruthlesssly efficient political machine.

  • Alias

    Opportunism and cynicism of the very worst kind is an apt description of the Shinners’ policy on symbols of Britishness in civic society.

    The cynicism is profound, being designed to foster the bogus impression among their supporters that removing the symbols of British sovereignty is the same thing as removing British sovereignty. In this way they can present their political shenanigans to their core supporters as a continuation of their ‘war’ by other means.

    Insofar as these shenanigans keep their own hardliners (these other unicorns) from believing that they’ve ‘sold out’ by signing up to the constitutional legitimacy of British sovereignty and by assisting in its regional administration then, no doubt, the intelligence services will approve of them.

    But these shenanigans are not really designed to keep their own hardliners on-board since, in reality, there aren’t any republicans in the Shinners. They’re actually designed to keep the public on-board the process, with the state-sponsored dissident and loyalist gangs there to remind the public of what the alternative might be to implementing the GFA (a document which consolidates British sovereignty and nationalism and rules out a united Irish nation-state with national self-determination under any circumstances).

    We know that the role of the Shinner shepherds is to herd the sheep along the righteous path, so we forgive them their little excesses. That is written into the script.

    Virtually no-one found the flying of Union Jack at City Hall to be offensive. The Council’s own equality survey found that just 3% were of that mind-set, so why the need by a particular political grouping to deem something to be offensive that on-one else deemed to be offensive?

    This is where the Shinners’ opportunism comes into play. They knew that removing the Union Jack from City Hall would be seen for what it is: a sectarian gerrymander by nationalists that was designed to cause deep offense to the Protestant community in the city. This opportunism is in service of their cynicism, which is in turn in service, ironically, of British national interests.

    They do tend to look awfully ‘republican’ when they remove flags and call for polls, don’t they? Only, alas, to the sheep that follows them. And that is the purpose of it.

  • MALCOLMX

    Alias,

    So being a member or supporter of SF makes you a sheep or does this apply to all other parties and anyone who supports or follows anything for that matter.

    Your perception of SF strategy is so far removed from what it actually is that you really need to remove your hatred for that party to actually see what’s really going on.

    You say SF knowingly removed the flag in the knowledge that everyone would see it as a sectarian move, why would they be so stupid to do that, it just doesn’t make sense.

    SF supporters believe that removing flags etc is akin to removing the British from Ireland, are you listening to yourself, that’s just nonsense.

  • son of sam

    It’s perhaps a tribute to Michael Martin’s article that that one of Sinn Fein’s heavy intellectual hitters is tasked to criticise it.It seems to be the case that anyone who dares to question S F is automatically deemed to be “an enemy of the Peace Process”.Have Sinn Fein ever played party politics with the so called peace process or are their motives always purer than the driven snow?!There’s little doubt that Fianna Fáil are no stranger to “cute hoor” politics in the South but it probably takes one to know one!

  • tacapall

    Alias everyone except you it seems admits reality, nationalism is working to achieve its aims and unionism is trying to thwart them. The aim is to win using peaceful and democratic means, we’re just over the first hurdle of accepting that reality and unionism has already stumbled. The flag issue has focused attention in both traditions and the border poll is the next hurdle, lets hope they face the reality that there’s lot of hurdles to go before the final border poll

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    Eoin,
    I agree with you regarding the first three causes of the present Flag Troubles, but I believe that you missed one important underlying cause. From 1998 to 2005 London made one concession after another in an attempt to buy decommissioning from Sinn Fein, in some cases paying twice for minor movement. Finally after the UUP had been electorally destroyed and the SDLP severely weakened, the IRA moved and decommissioned in a rather opaque fashion. This fed into the loyalist mythology that the peace process had been won by the Republicans, and they thought that they could imitate this success by employing similar tactics. The Flag Troubles are to the loyalists what the anti-Drumcree and anti-Ormeau efforts were to the Republicans.

  • wee buns

    ‘Despite supporting the policy of designated days in other Councils, the DUP sought to exploit the potential of the Belfast City Hall decision for electoral gain. They did this by distributing 40,000 leaflets across East Belfast portraying the change of policy as an attack on unionist culture….The politics of the leaflet called into question the Belfast Agreement and the benefits it has brought to people from all communities.’

    I did not know this but surprise, surprise how extremely depressing. Raison d’etre of Unionism is opposition – perhaps at this point in history MM has much in common with Unionism, although this recent foray into the north’s affairs got little to zero coverage in the south. ‘Trying to curtail the rise of SF in the south’ – yes – but more specifically to undermine SF’s claim to be a legitimate ‘republican’ party with only three years until Easter 2016 that particular battle is on. Martin before he opens his mouth on the subject again should sleep, eat and breathe in the Short Strand for the next month. He is of course a snake, but an articulate snake – from whom we shall hear increasing amount of pontification on ‘republicanism’. As for plans to actually represent, I remembered Ogra Fianna Fail had members on Queen’s student’s union, and from their site :

    ‘Once again welcome to the first ever QUB Fianna Fáil Society as our Party expands across the North; you can to play your part in growing Fianna Fáil’s membership across all of the 6 counties, a new Republican party for the North!’

    But that was in 2007 before FF got trounced so who knows.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    My observation is that neither of the main unionist or nationalist/republican parties are motivated primarily by a desire to make people’s quality of life better either. Most appear to put party interest first, personal interests second and the interests of the people a mere third. The flag issue is just one example of this.

    The same old issues continue to be embraced by these politicians enthusiastically and then flogged by the media to death. Whether it be flags, emblems, the past, the border, marching, inquiries or the police, they continually appear at the top of the agenda and one can’t help wondering why? Is it because these are the only issues these politicians can actually understand? Is it because these are considered vote winners and they will willingly risk the peace all for the sake of a few votes? Is it because these politicians actually get a kick out of pissing off the other side?

    Meanwhile serious politics seems to be consigned to the back burner, worthy it seems of no more serious debate other than to be the subject of the constant deluge of positively spun press releases emanating from Parliament Buildings. What are these parties doing with their Ministerial portfolios? What has Sinn Fein, the DUP or the UUP seriously achieved in government since 2007? Calling for border polls and setting up unionist forums to ‘resolve the flag issue’ is all well and good when you have absolutely no control over the outcome.

    I don’t want to pick specifically on Sinn Fein because there are quite enough blindly one-sided both pro-Sinn Fein and anti-Sinn Fein voices here, but I couldn’t help but note this week the calls by Mr Adams for a referendum on the border issue and reports that Mr Adams hopes to extend his leadership of the party for three further years. Are these developments based on a desire to make people’s quality of life better or are they primarily in the interests of the party and/or Mr Adams? Northern Ireland is crying out for new political leadership on both sides, but the men of the 1970′s still cling to power five decades on.

    It did make me start to wonder about the nature of a political party where the leader can stay in place for such a long period. A quick dip into Wikipedia reveals that the only national leaders to currently be in office (I recognise that Mr Adams is not a national leader in the same sense) for a period of more than the thirty years which Mr Adams has been President of Sinn Fein, are the following. It is clearly not only Unionism that has issues with moving on.

    Paul Biya, Prime Minister, then President, of Cameroon for 37 years, Mohamed Abdelaziz, General Secretary and President of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for 36 years, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea for 33 years, José Eduardo dos Santos, President of Angola,for 33 years, Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister, then President ,of Zimbabwe for 32 years, Ali Khamenei, President, then Supreme Leader, of Iran for 31 years

  • tacapall

    “It is clearly not only Unionism that has issues with moving on.”

    You forgot to add in Mrs Windsor, almost 60 years being head of her own religion, commander of her own army and unelected arbitrator with a personal veto over the laws made by her own government. Why dont we have a referendum on abolishing the monarchy, at least get opinion on it.

  • wee buns

    NNJ

    When the Irish State was founded it included the right to hold leaders accountable by petition but this clause was quickly removed by De Valera. At this moment the most interesting political light on the island is in the attempt to restore this common law right – see Direct Democracy and join up for ten bucks.
    http://directdemocracyireland.ie/

  • megatron

    Good piece Eoin.

    Simple timeline of events:

    3 parties have an established policy of not flying flag 365 days.

    Elections are held to city hall and said 3 parties have a majority of seats.

    2 opposing parties organise a campaign against decision.

    3 parties agree a compromise (despite 2 of parties wanting zero days).

    Vote takes place and flag is removed.

    Loyalists riot.

    People try to figure out a way to blame SF (for vote taking place at all / vote timing / only they knew reaction / they played SDLP & Alliance / not doing anything in stormont etc etc)

  • megatron

    Also I am pretty sure everyone in the 26 counties would love to have a government that made no decisions in the period 1997 to 2011 – FF giving out about performance of administration in another jurisdiction is beyond parody

  • Alias

    “Alias everyone except you it seems admits reality, nationalism is working to achieve its aims and unionism is trying to thwart them.”

    So-called ‘nationalism’ in Northern Ireland is working towards an agenda devised for it by the British state, which is the promotion of British national interests on the island of Ireland.

    A nationalist is anyone who supports the right of his nation to national self-determination within a sovereign nation state. Neither the the Shiners nor the SDLP do that. What they support is the right to the Irish nation within the sovereign British state to parity of esteem with other British citizens. That, contrary to carefully crafted myth, has nothing to do with nationalism.

    So it is not simply the case that the means to an end has changed: the end has changed. Neither supports the right of the Irish nation within the sovereign British state or within the sovereign Irish state to national self-determination or to a sovereign nation state.

    They both now assert that the Irish nation-state must be dismantled and be replaced with a replica of Northern Ireland where two nations are to share one state with parity of esteem between them. However, they only assert that condition where the unlikely outcome of any poll is to merge the two jurisdictions into one. This is the British state’s reserve option for how British national interests should be promoted in that contingency.

    Both parties, having signed up to the legitimacy of British rule and the illegitimacy of Irish rule, are busy acting in a manner that ensures that the British state’s reserve option won’t come to pass since its preferred option (indefinite continuance of the constitutional status quo) will hold.

    If you have been led to think that removing the Union Jack promotes Irish national interests (rather than simply increases support for constitutional status quo among the Irish nation in NI) then you have been sold another pup. It will increase support for the constitutional status quo among the Catholics, and increase resistance to changing the constitutional status quo among the Protestants. It is a win-win situation for the British state.

    With the Irish nation now collapsed to a mere 25% of Northern Ireland’s population, the British state has outplayed any remaining nationalists who have been hollowed out from the inside with the invaluable help of a certain protected species.

    A lot of people died so that the Shinners could have the flock into a solidified United Kingdom, but probably a lot less than would have died by conventional counterinsurgency.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Younger readers may be interested to learn that shinners used regularly to suggest that criticising them put lives at risk. Haven’t heard this argument trotted out since the 90s.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Indeed Jimmy. Or that criticizing them damages the peace process (which is very close to what Eoin is saying).

    It’s almost as if they think there should be a law against such things.

  • Mick Fealty

    I was flicking down through older videos on YouTube, and I think this is worth sharing in the context. The one detail I would quibble is that Mr Martin is extemporising the points he makes.

    Here’s his interview in the View in November, where he first picked up on the Padraig Wilson case and tells SF that they cannot have it both ways:

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “sectarian violence on the streets of Belfast”

    Eilis O’Hanlon, in a delightful short piece in the Sindo, notes something that Eoin has missed, the ‘unity’ of that small beleaguered area of East Belfast against RTE:

    Our own wee Tommie Gorman, for instance, who has managed to annoy both sides in equal measure in recent days. The arrival of an RTE crew is already as welcome in Protestant areas as a Papal blessing before a Rangers match. Now he’s annoyed nationalists simply for pointing out that he was being stoned by their side, too.

    Do we need a common enemy to bang unionist, nationalist and other political heads together? Perhaps our elected representatives, across the board, could have deductions made from their salaries and expenses by Westminster, in association with Dublin, any time there is communal confrontation. Just a thought.

    Also, NI has enough problems without getting drawn into a cat-fight between FF and SF.

  • tacapall

    “A lot of people died so that the Shinners could have the flock into a solidified United Kingdom, but probably a lot less than would have died by conventional counterinsurgency.”

    That brings the collusion issue to a whole new level Alias, in your eyes everyone within the republican movement were and are drones working in the interests of Britain therefore those British agencies who are tasked to ensure the status quo, are the people who pulled the strings of those who pulled the triggers and planted the bombs.

    Being Irish only or claiming Northern Irish as opposed to being British and Irish or only British in no way dilutes the fact that the majority of people in this part of Ireland class themselves as Irish not British. The anomaly of those claiming their identity as northern Irish is maybe an indicator of the lack of knowledge of Irish history or on the other hand a manifestation of their eagerness to show their unionist fellow countrymen that their definition of Irishness is just as enigmatic as the unionist definition of Britishness.

    No-one believes removing the Union flag removes British influence from Ireland but it does remove the illusion of supremacy from those who are unwilling to even acknowledge that northern Irish or only Irish identity. Wherever we are in the efforts to build a new Ireland or even a new union of people between Britain and Ireland, the monarchy and privileged birth has no place in it along with religious interference in government affairs. Freedom and equality among all people in all things is an honourable goal in a modern era like today, young Irish people are drifting from the church just like Im sure young British people are drifting from the concept of a monarchy

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Eoin,
    Not sure Mr Martin has done any worse than SF in this crisis. You say: “So why has the Belfast decision provoked weeks of violence and disruption? The answer lies in a number of separate but interrelated dynamics within the broad unionist/loyalist community.”

    Well, some intra-loyalist dynamics come into it, but the inter-community dynamic is really much more of a driver here. It all started because of this decision was not made on an agreed cross-community basis.

    You say the decision was not controversial. Almost right, but not quite: the result had the *potential* to be an uncontroversial one, had it been reached by cross-community consensus. But crucially, it wasn’t. That’s the real reason behind many unionist people’s annoyance – that without a genuine cross-community agreed plan, the council moved forward with a nationalist plan about the union flag, enabled by those few Alliance councillors.

    It was inevitable this would be perceived as nationalists unilaterally laying down the law to unionists over the national flag. That is not only a highly controversial path to follow but in the Northern Ireland context, highly provocative. I’m all for reducing the flying of flags but these initiatives have to be done with the consent of the people affected – here, the majority British population of Greater Belfast – or they will backfire.

    The rioting has been stupid and wrong and I don’t condone an ounce of it but it must also be conceded we need to be more careful in how we approach sensitive issues around flags in Belfast in future. For this bull in a china shop approach, SF has to take a lot of the blame. And indeed, inciting loyalist anger is very much part of its strategy. Loyalists shouldn’t play into SF hands by reacting but this does not absolve SF of blame for some cynical, reckless politics.

  • tacapall

    “It was inevitable this would be perceived as nationalists unilaterally laying down the law to unionists over the national flag. That is not only a highly controversial path to follow but in the Northern Ireland context, highly provocative. I’m all for reducing the flying of flags but these initiatives have to be done with the consent of the people affected – here, the majority British population of Greater Belfast – or they will backfire.”

    Mainland was the decision by the Unionist majority on Dundonald council to fly the orange standard on council property any less controversial or provocative to the majority of people in this state who do not support the Orange Order, than the decision to adopt the designated flags policy at BCH. Was there any cross community consensus even attempted before the decision was made.

  • Dec

    ‘ that without a genuine cross-community agreed plan, the council moved forward with a nationalist plan about the union flag, enabled by those few Alliance councillors….with the consent of the people affected…”

    You should cut across the waffle and simply state what you mean: a Unionist veto

    ‘here, the majority British population of Greater Belfast ‘

    Ah right, Greater Belfast as ‘Belfast’ doesn’t have the right sort of majority.

    It’s a matter for Belfast ratepayers alone.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “without a genuine cross-community agreed plan, the council moved forward with a nationalist plan about the union flag, enabled by those few Alliance councillors.”

    MU, where did you get this information from?

    Published on Saturday 24 November 2012 10:07

    A KEY committee at Belfast City Council yesterday voted to remove the Union Flag from some of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

    It voted not only for the flag to be completely removed from Belfast City Hall but also to be completely removed from the Ulster Hall and also from council offices at Duncrue.

    The flag is currently flown all year round at City Hall and on designated days at the Ulster Hall and at Duncrue. BBC source

    Designated days was an APNI proposal. Councils have Good Relations policies but are not bound by agreed cross-community plans; majorities rule, no matter how small the margin.

  • BarneyT

    When first reading this article I thought what a breath of fresh air. The main thrust of the piece should not be dismissed and that is that MM is behaving like a cornered rat when it comes to Sinn Fein. I get the impression you could approach him on any subject, from septic tanks to PFIs and very shortly he would round on Sinn Fein. The sense of threat is indeed his weakness and as I’ve said before, he defines himself more and more through his anti Sinn Fein rhetoric.

    It is wholly valid to suggest the amended Flag motion was indeed uncontroversial, for a host of reasons.

    Many suggest that we should have predicted the response from the loyalists and therefore taken a different course i.e. maintain the status quo. However you can’t live like that. Are we saying that we have to constantly accommodate the loyalist or even unionist threats of uproar and violence when taking decisions that are ratified by the machinations of democracy?

    By an extension of this, if a PSNI officer loses their life to the “new IRA”, are the same people going to point out that the victims should have predicted the response and were indeed playing with fire. I expect and hope not.

    Controversy should not be gauged through the response and reactions of extremists. The alliance and co-proposers got stung sipping apple juice at their kitchen table, however they are portrayed as ramming a honey clad fist into the hornets nest.

  • Mick Fealty

    Barney T,

    You can’t just gayly dismiss Martin because he’s a political opponent of SF’s. I accept that motivation is not irrelevant, but oppositional voices are few on the ground, and they are worth paying some attention to when they do speak, if only for what it reveals about the situation that the government would rather we could not see.

    Which makes it worth repeating what he had to say about what are some telling, but otherwise uncontested behaviours:

    As recently as November, we watched as Sinn Féin’s Justice Spokesperson led 300 protestors in a picket of PSNI headquarters in East Belfast because that party were unhappy with the direction of a PSNI investigation and wanted one of their own released from custody.

    What moral authority does any public representative have criticising a protest that challenges the writ and authority of the PSNI when their party was promoting just such a protest only months ago?

    I heard Fionnuala O’Connor speculating about the twin pressures from marchers and dissident republicans pressurising young Catholics out of the PSNI. Knowing Fionnuala and the high standard of her work, I’d say she has some concrete grounds for suggesting that.

    I’m not sure that anyone who joined the cops who was discouraged by having to do riot control duty ought to be in the cops in the first place. But when they are getting no covering fire from the most senior nationalist party in Northern Ireland its not a good sign that things are well.

    Politics created the conditions for these young lads and lasses to what generations before them had discouraged them from, and it can also take it back from them.

    The only optimistic thing in all of this is that we have two tough minded parties who are unlikely to collapse under such pressures. In fact for some getting back in the trenches has been an opportunity to shine again where their star has been dropping slowly ever since the restart of Stormont.

  • SK

    “Loyalists shouldn’t play into SF hands by reacting but this does not absolve SF of blame for some cynical, reckless politics”

    ____

    Absolutely correct Mainland Ulsterman.

    Sinn Fein have no right to upset unionists by voting for things. Voting for things is wrong, unless prior permission is sought from the nearest unionist.

    What’s more, nationalists have no right to out-number unionists in Belfast City Council. Outnumbering unionists is wrong.

    We need to rectify this now by referring only to “Greater Belfast”, which is that version of the city which still has the correct (Protestant) demographic.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Thanks all but no one’s addressed the point about the lack of cross-community consensus – and yes this should cut both ways and unionists in small majorities should not be using the position to fly Orange flags. But Dec: unionist veto? Absolutely. And a nationalist one. The point is we should agree these matters by consensus.

    And Nevin, on this being an Alliance proposal, yes but one to find a compromise after the nationalist parties started pushing the issue. As I’ve said, not a bad compromise in my view, but in the absence of support of any of the unionist parties they should not have proceeded.

    SK – you’re using majority rule arguments – the same arguments that were wrong in unionist majority situations. We all agreed, I thought, that NI politics these days was about making the big decisions on a cross-community basis.

    And Dec again, it’s naive to suggest the only significance of Belfast City Hall is as a council building for people within the boundaries of the current city council area. But then I’ve always felt as a suburban ‘Belfast’ person from outside the city limits, that Belfast was too narrowly defined in its council boundaries and there should be a single council for the whole city. Even if my own bit would never qualify!