“McCann’ll never do it…”, and yet he did…

That Eamonn McCann is a deep humanising feature of politics will be obvious to anyone who watched Nolan last night. And from his column (will it be his last, now he’s a jobbing politician?) in the Irish Times today:

Here’s another thing we discovered: the right to choose can be a vote-winner in the North. And so can an assertion that – this was our mantra – “We are neither green nor orange but up for the fight.”

One television commentator spluttered these things couldn’t be true, that it was fantasy to suggest that our approach could draw support from, as we say, “both sides”. Eschewing both nationalism and unionism has always implied the mushy politics of the decent middle classes.

As far into the future as it’s possible to see, Northerners will know what community they came from. But this doesn’t have to be the sole or main determinant of political allegiance.

The consociational structure of the Belfast Agreement, disadvantaging members of the Assembly who designate themselves neither orange nor green, arises from this perspective. When it comes to the inbuilt blocking mechanism, the Petition of Concern – laying down that, essentially, a majority of each of the nationalist and unionist blocs is required to pass any measure regarded as vital by more than 30 members – simply disregards the presence of “Others.”

“Back in your boxes” is the message.

Do read the whole thing…

PS, kudos to John for only getting it wrong by one election.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Declan Doyle

    Can u put that nolan show up on you tube?

  • Croiteir

    mmm – humanising? Anyone who supports abortion is in fact dehumanising. Ach – sin sceal eile. Once again I look at this – perhaps his swansong to the irish times and wonder – is this the orator that the left has been waiting on? perhaps we have such a paucity of talented people anybody that can string a coherent argument, (and I do like McCann when he is in full outrage mode), that any ole guff that attacks the normality of political life is credited as exciting and refreshing. I would like to see the game stepped up a lot more. where is the philosophy behind the stance? anybody understand Foucault? The assembly unfortunately is more Doris Day than Dorothy Day. Where are the leaders? to steal the West Wing line – we need the Beatles and we get Hermans Hermits.

  • Zig70

    POC’S need reformed to narrow the terms of use.

  • mickfealty

    Notwithstanding your own honest conscience on abortion Croiteir, I didn’t say it was refreshing (I’ve chaired Eamonn, so I know the pain for trying to reel him back in once he’s got beyond the second paragraph of any of his many unprepared speech), I said humanising.

  • kensei

    As I said previously, i came away from the history tent in the EP last year believing he is passionate, but a complete lunatic, and have yet to see anything that suggests otherwise. Personally, i find single transferable rants fairly dehumanising, at least to the extent that my brain will switch off and I do not care about what you are saying. My sense is that McCann just wants to put people in different boxes. they might be better boxes, but they are still boxes.

    PBP were elected in West Belfast and Foyle, so if McCann is reading this as “able to draw support from both sides” he is deluding himself. Similarly, I’d be pretty careful about reading it as a vote for pro-abortion policies. There is a market in Nationalist areas for a party that isn’t explicitly nationalist (though PBP is an All Ireland party) and won’t exclude a party for being pro-choice. That’s a start, but it’s all you can say for certain.

  • Croiteir

    I know you did. I am just extrapolating the debate a bit based on what I see as a fairly mediocre piece of writing. I expect better of McCann.

  • Msiegnaro

    Just a general question, what has Eamon achieved during his long career and where have his sources of income came from?

  • Croiteir

    I have doubts over the wisdom of anyone from a nationalist background wanting to get rid of designation. It is there primarily for our protection. We know that unionism cannot be trusted with power. The POC keeps them fettered.

  • Skibo

    For being neither orange or green, his party, an all Ireland party has only been elected in staunch Nationalist constituencies. Does it matter if he is orange or green as I believe he said the POC should be done away with.

  • Skibo

    Definitely. It is one area of Stormont we know works. Pity it was abused.

  • Croiteir

    The left is so wrapped up in ideology they will harm people

  • Skibo

    In theory Left politics works. Problem is taken to its limit, it sounds live verbal diarrhoea.
    For socialist politics to work we need honest people who want to work and are prepared to assist those who cannot. Unfortunately it is abused by those who can work but decide to be supported instead.

  • Sharpie

    Was he wearing his red socks today… “the spark of socialist revolution has been lit…”

    I think he is Northern Ireland’s big voice for little voices – he represents a completely different voice and one that is often marginalised. There is a process of group dynamics that understands that hearing the voice of the marginalised is essential to allow those elements that are alive in everyone to be surfaced. If people oppose abortion — they still want the issues aired, maybe because they have had a close call, have had a relative who went through one, can see the craziness of making someone with a dead child be forced to carry it to full term, etc but cannot allow themselves to publicly represent the viewpoint for fear of compromising everything they hold dear.

    If Eamonn can bring the many voices of the minority to the Assembly, and even if he is mocked, ignored, or attacked – he will still be fulfilling a really important function.

    I think it is a great thing that he is there.

  • Paddy Reilly

    For me, his greatest achievement was to find out the exact truth behind Bloody Sunday years before the Savile Commission and at a fraction of a fraction of the expense: no expense at all in fact.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    He’s no greater lunatic than most of our other elected reps. At least he’s not divisive, destructive and supportive of violence. Such tendencies often feature among those with mental health problems.

  • PBP are actually a 32-county Connollyite party who oppose partition. They view partition as having, in James Connolly’s famous words, bred a “carnival of reaction North and South”.

    When Gerry Adams the other week accused them of being a “two nations” (referring to the theories of Conor Cruise O’Brien) partitionist party, they responded in strong terms: http://www.peoplebeforeprofit.ie/2016/04/gerry-adams-you-got-it-wrong/

    “Asked about the left wing challenge to Sinn Féin in the coming Northern elections, Gerry Adams defended himself with a blatant lie. People Before Profit were, he said, a ‘two nations’ party.

    The ‘two nations’ approach was used by the late Conor Cruise O’Brien to defend partition by suggesting Ireland was one island but had two distinct, Catholic and Protestant nations in it, incapable of uniting.

    This has never been the position of People Before Profit and Gerry Adams was trying to deflect from the real issue.

    People Before Profit is a 32 county party that stand in the tradition of James Connolly who predicted that partition would produce a carnival of reaction. We believe that the only way to bring people together across this island is by building a grassroots movement from below, based on people power and socialist politics, not one that is based on locking in the two existing Irish states.

    We want working class unity to develop from a 32 county anti-austerity movement that challenges both Irish states.”

    Meanwhile, PBP will still designate as “Other”. This is interesting and some people have accused them of “copping out” or can’t quite grasp why they’d do this if they oppose partition, but the idea of designation itself can be interpreted in two ways: there are those who view it as a declaration of cultural/communal/national identity (indeed, this is how the GFA defines it) and there are those who view the designation as a declaration of political stance in respect of Irish unity or maintaining the Union. Or, indeed, it could be interpreted both ways simultaneously as there is overlap in many or most cases where the term applies. (It is worth remembering that overlap is not universal though; it is a reality that there exist people in the north who identify as Irish nationalist but who would be politically content with preserving the ‘status quo’, be that for perceived economic/security reasons or whatever.)

    I see the PBP eschewing of a communal designation as being consistent with PBP’s Marxist-based politics (see the theories of Eric Hobsbawm on nationalisms and identity politics). They’ll view nationalism(s), along with flag “fetishes” and such matters, as “artificial (petty) bourgeois constructs” or tools to divide and manipulate the proletariate so as to distract distract them from their material conditions and the class concerns that should naturally arise out of those.

    McCann often criticises what he sees as the “hibernianism” (perceived ethno-religiosity) of nationalist republicanism whilst lauding the nobleness and anti-papal character of traditional Tonian republicanism. McCann then evidently feels the “nationalist” label carries with it undesirable “hibernianist” baggage. For him to designate as such would be to play to the tune of what he regards as the “sectarianism-institutionalising” nature of the GFA. He views the GFA with scepticism, if I’m not mistaken. (As an aside, Tone had little time for Irish/Gaelic culture, music and language. I don’t think many modern-day nationalist republicans are aware of this.)

    I personally see the merit in the designation system (it helps ensure equilibrium after decades of inequality), but in light of the above, sense can be made of PBP’s designation as “Other” despite the fact McCann and Carroll are anti-partition and (along with most of their vote) hail from the nationalist community.

  • Dessie

    The petition of concern is being massively abused and should be got rid of. I don’t know of any time in the past 5 years were it was used to actually block discrimination against one community or the other.

    It’s not unionism that can’t be trusted, it’s certain parties croitier. When stormont was a gerrymandered Unionist parliament there was abuse but I highly doubt it would happen today, we’ve moved on as a society and the vast majority would call out any of this abuse should it happen today.

  • Dessie

    Abortion isn’t black and white. There are many situations were it would be the much more humane option.

    McCann has a passion I like and has so far stuck to his principles which is why he is being so lauded. Although I agree that there could be someone better to do the job as ‘orator’ I don’t know who, they may not even have made on politics yet.

    The assembly is lacking in talented politicians though which is probably the source of many of our problems.

  • Croiteir

    There is no situation that makes a decision to destroy a child humane

  • Dessie

    Well I’ll give you one scenario. Say a young girl age 13 is raped. She and her family get through this trauma and then decide that the child’s life is a positive and gives them some hope. Then a couple months later it is discovered the child has a FFA and will not survive. In this situation it is the more humane thing to do rather than put someone through several more months of suffering which could instead be used for healing the trauma this girl and her family would have been through.

    Yes it’s an extreme example but it could happen.

  • Croiteir

    I cannot see how it is abused – it is used exactly as designed. Another issue is trust of unionism, have you been keeping up to date on the decisions made lately by mid and east antrim and causeway coast and glens councils? Not a good indicator of unionist intent.

  • Croiteir

    What is the FFA? Who are you or anyone else to put a value on life, and if you are what measurements are you going to use and why?

  • Dessie

    Equal marriage is an obvious one were it has been abused and 2 from SF (that failed due to no SDLP support) were Jim allister’s SPAD bill and mark McAllister’s opposition bill. Showing SF would abuse it for their own wants in the same way DUP do if they had the numbers.

    Vetos even cause problems in the UNSC and EU and are abused their.

    I haven’t seen one example of how it has been used as intended. It has been used within the rules and how it was designed. But it wasn’t designed for what it’s being used for.

    Potentially we could keep it but change it so all Unionist or nationalist mla’s would have to back it rather than just 30. But then again I’d rather see an end to designation altogether.

  • Dessie

    Fatal foetal abnormality, basically means the child is dead or will not survive birth due to some form of abnormality. I’m not a doctor so that is not a precise definition.

    I never said I was putting a value on life. It is impossible to do and I would never try to do such a thing.

  • Croiteir

    No Dessie – it does not mean that – it is a generalisation for a life limiting condition. if the child is dead then it no longer has a life limiting condition as it has no life. Now you may think this is being picky but we need to be sure of what we are talking about. Today we had a lady on the TV talking about her child which had Trisomy 13 – what is termed a FFA. yet the child lived well into its second year. Should that child have been aborted? We were advised to have an abortion for two of our children, so this is personally something I have had experience of. Both children had problems due to rhesus factor. One child was born with bilorubin measured at 68, at 70 we were told that he would be brain damaged, he needed immediate blood transfusion at birth in order to live and I had to baptise him while he was being attached to the tubes for the transfusion – he was not brain damaged and is doing fine at secondary school, the other child needed a transfusions in the womb which needed trips to Partick as it was not available here. She is also doing well and is going to primary school next year. If we had listened to doctors two of our children would be denied a life. This FFA stuff is not definite, doctors do get it wrong. I do not consider it in anyone’s gift to take a child’s shot at life from it, and we cannot gauge the value of someone else’s life either.

  • erasmus

    Fantastic clarifying post from Daniel Collins; take a bow!

  • Dessie

    Thank you for clearing up what FA was. I genuinely didnt know.

    I know someone who was told the same as yourself. They took the child to term and they were born dead and she said dispite this she couldn’t understand why someone would want an abortion but she is pro-choice.

    I think your situation just adds to the greyness of abortion even more. It has made me rethink my above scenario. I would still allow abortion in the case I described sue to the potential for any more trauma to destroy the families lives. But I do see where you are coming from.

    I think it’s a case of you dont know until your in the situation.

  • Skibo

    Well then Nationalism is not the basket case everyone thinks it is. They are down one seat in total and the greens are up one seat.
    The interesting issue still to be addressed is, will they assist in the use of a POC with SF

  • It’d depend what it’s for. They won’t concern themselves with national or cultural sentiment (such as, I would think, flags or the Irish language) and they view SF as having drifted right-ward towards middle-class “respectability” – indeed, that’s one reason disillusioned nationalists have voted PBP – but if there is something that the two parties can agree on that will protect the interests or improve the material conditions of working people, I don’t see why coalescence wouldn’t be considered.

    I live in Manchester but had I a vote back in Derry, I’d have voted McCann as first preference on policy. As for my position on the national question, I unwaveringly support Irish unity, so the move of nationalist voters towards PBP certainly shouldn’t be viewed as a loss of interest in that ideal. People just see this as an election and policy was therefore important. It wasn’t a border poll or a survey of opinion on the constitutional question.

    That’s not to say I don’t see the cultural or symbolic matters as important. The protection and promotion of the Irish language is important to me but there are other matters, such as PBP’s position on abortion/choice, that would’ve swayed my thinking as to who to give my preference to.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well technically it was the people of Foyle who did “it”.

  • Skibo

    pro or anti abortion as I think the SF position lost them votes in the staunch Catholic electorate?

  • I’m pro-choice; I believe in the safe provision of the option for women who either want it or feel they need it, as early as is possible and as late as is deemed necessary. That’s not to dismiss the moral seriousness of the debate either; it’s a difficult, complex, sensitive issue and there’s a clashing moral perspective with valid arguments worthy of consideration, but when I personally weigh it all up, my constitution comes out in favour of trusting women with their own bodily autonomy. Educate, sure, but ultimately only they can know what’s best for them. I think that trumps the other arguments, but I appreciate that other people attach value to the arguments differently.

    “Pro-abortion” rhetorically and conceptually means something else entirely; it has anti-natalist connotations, which is a view some people have – more fringe, I would think – but that’s completely different from being pro-choice. “Pro-abortion” would be to either encourage or impose abortion, which isn’t really respectful of individual choice at all.

    I think the present SF position is conservative and restrictive and I would encourage a significant shift. It’s anti-choice at the minute. I’m a “cultural Catholic” by background although I’d identify as agnostic atheist if asked to put a label on my “religious” position.

    I’m sure there are conservative Catholics who think SF’s position is too liberal, although I think most of the disillusionment with SF is primarily within working-class nationalist areas because SF are seen to have abandoned their roots in the drift towards middle-class “respectability”, as I said.

  • Skibo

    I would be pro life as a personal life but do not see how I can dictate to others what is the right decision for them. I don’t like the label, pro life, makes people think the opposite is anti life.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Eamonn makes his living as a journalist Msiegnaro. Seldom a champagne lifestyle for left wingers in the field. Interestingly his Belfast alter-ego Mick Farrell has continued his efforts to try and improve things for actual people one case at a time with pro-bono legal work. You should really look into these things to see if there is anything juicy to be found (or not as in these cases) before trying it on and “suggesting things”.

    As for what he has achieved, well we’d have had a fair non-sectarian society if even a few people had taken his political line since 1968 and started to really think outside the box. The fact that he is easily able to show that his political integrity has stayed consistent since that date is something of an achievement in this land of opportunist politics.

  • kensei

    When I weigh it all up, I think: “What’s the earliest point that someone could have harmed a thing that was only me, and no one else, and i would no longer be here?”. The answer is essentially conception, give or take proper embedding into the womb, and it’s a barrier I’ve never been able to get past. The “woman making decisions about her own body” line has some degree of spin.

    Pregnancy carries some serious risks for the mother and ultimately if those become serious enough, the mother is the only person that can decide if she can bear them. But (1) she is weighing up two lives and not one (2) there are an awful lot of abortions and most of them aren’t about health risks.

  • I find the writing of Valerie Tarico on the matter very interesting, considered, compassionate and compelling. I’ll just suggest two pieces for your consideration. Not necessarily saying you’re position is wrong or anything, but just something to think about.

    Here she argues why she is actually “pro-abortion”: https://valerietarico.com/2015/04/26/why-i-am-pro-abortion-not-just-pro-choice/

    And here she writes about what an anti-abortion movement might actually look like if it was genuinely more interested in cutting abortion rates rather than controlling women and sex: https://valerietarico.com/2015/09/11/if-the-anti-abortion-frenzy-were-actually-about-abortion-what-a-serious-anti-abortion-movement-would-actually-look-like/

  • kensei

    Yeah read similar themes before, and none have changed my mind. It’s more than a touch condescending to think I hadn’t. Would any of them fly if set against killing a baby, or a child? The answer is surely no. The argument then reduces to: a foetus is not a child. For that see my original post.

    If you are going that route, then start with the most extreme case: 1 minute inside the womb vs 1 minute outside the womb. Is there such a difference? But the absolute most extreme proponents of abortion would have the 1 minute inside OK. So there is an argument about viability. But is a child ‘viable’ without support? The extremely ill? The elderly? The philosophical implications are profound. The limit of viability isn’t necessarily the limit of consciousness, or feeling, or thought. We don’t even understand those fully but it’s probably the closest to a reasonable separation – go back in time enough and humanity is not there yet. Size is a popular one – at X days it’s 1/10 the size of a for or something but by that logic I can kill my niece for being shorter than me.

    There are also practical arguments. The result of prohibition won’t be to stop it, but rather to make it more illegal and more dangerous. That is a serious concern. I expect where I’d fa would be a hell of a lot more strict than most pro-choice people though.

    Also the anti abortion movement isn’t everyone who opposes abortion. Or necessarily most. I’m fairly down the line left wing otherwise. Happy to support proper sex ed, property programs, the works. It’s somehow become a left / right thing when it doesn’t necessarily fit along those lines. You don’t get to lump me in with stuff I’ve no part of.

    It is a difficult moral issue, and supporting that dichotomy simply pushes people who should be on the left to the right. I always thought that the left should be standing for the voiceless. The unborn literally have no voice. That has always given me pause too.

    I make no appeal to change your mind. As I said, there is a bunch of cognitive dissonance om the issue, and I no doubt have my own. I merely suggest we would probably all do well to examine it more.

  • Forgive me, kensei. I didn’t mean to be condescending at all, so apologies for that. I wasn’t assuming you were ignorant and kind of meant that in a way that I was deferring to the greater knowledge of Valerie Tarico (greater knowledge than I) for the purposes of a further contribution to the debate (because I don’t feel all that comfortable discussing the imposition of what I view as restrictions upon women’s bodily autonomy). I should have added “if you’ve not encountered these arguments before”. I phrased it badly, so sorry about that.

    You’re right; some arbitrary decision has to be made somewhere, as with most laws. That’s always going to be contested and contentious. It’s a complex matter and I certainly don’t deny that. I suppose, for me, it’s a case of: once the foetus is no longer a part of the concerned women’s body, it ought to possess an unalienable right to life.

    I have no real moral qualms if the foetus cannot feel pain and has no awareness (which is the case up to a certain point, as far as medical science understands) as I think those are pretty fundamental elements of life; or, at least, they are what gives life meaning and moral character.

    The issue is a bit trickier morally for me after that point, but I still weigh up the bodily autonomy rights of the woman concerned as trumping the rights of the foetus within her. It’s not a light or trivial judgment by any means, but that’s how I personally weigh it up. It’s not an ideal situation, but life isn’t ideal and sometimes certain rights have to trump others if we’re going to have consistent, “objective” law.

    Those who wish to compel women to undergo giving birth (and that includes the state) would have a stronger case if they were going to fully provide for the foetus once born and remove that burden from the woman concerned. But once a foetus if born, their supposed sympathy for the foetus often evaporates.

    You make interesting points on the left/right divide and how one’s stance on abortion isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of wider socio-economic policy stances. I wouldn’t automatically lump someone into the right-wing just because of their views on abortion. I appreciate it’s a genuinely difficult moral issue for many (including women who feel the need for it or who have underwent an abortive procedure) and that such views are sincere; better to engage with them respectfully than dismiss, discredit and name-call.

    You may have read these before, but some commentary on that left/right point which may be of interest: http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/01/17/abortion-and-the-left/

    And from Mehdi Hasan as well: http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/lifestyle/2012/10/being-pro-life-doesnt-make-me-any-less-lefty

  • kensei

    A foetus is never part of the woman’s body, it is connected to it, and contained within it, but it is a separate entity. The umbilical cord often needs cut; what ethical magic happens with the slice? It is an unsupportable position, which is why most European countries place time limits on abortion. You then have to trace that back to limits of viability or limits of humanity, for a consistency.

    All children require a loss of autonomy to some degree. I’m sure being to arbitrarily get rid of children – not necessarily via termination, but at least dumping on the state – may be an economic and social boon for some groups, and maybe women as a whole. We generally do not permit that. Again, any ethical argument based on general welfare has to apply in other situations to be ethically consistent. They rarely do.

    Also, the loss of autonomy also extends to the man that conceived the child. The state will pursue them at least financially. He was also fairly instrumental in the conception. And yet he has no say OK in the decision. Even if the man committed to take 100% responsibility for the child, post birth, it counts for nothing against the 9 months the wan must carry the baby. If she chooses otherwise, he’s on the hook for life. That too seems an ethical quandry.

    And if we want to talk about autonomy, contraception isn’t perfect and there are horrific cases of rape. But I think I’m safe in saying the majority of abortions are the result of situations women had a large amount of autonomy over, given the volum there are. There has to be some level of personal responsiblity, even if yiu get the short end of the stick. If you pick up an STD from risky sexual behaviour chances are you don’t get a do over. That’s probably my biggest worry, overall. Overall lax abortion laws incentivises risky behavior.

  • I understand Canada and some US states permit abortions as late as are deemed necessary by women concerned.

    Is there evidence to suggest liberal abortion laws incentivise “risky behaviour”?

    You raise good points and I don’t have the answers. It’s a difficult, complex and messy issue. My own view just boils down to feeling it is absolutely not my right to be instructing a woman with regard to her own body or something inside it. If you think that’s too arbitrary of me, I’m sorry; I’m not omniscient.