Unionists must focus on a basic goal – a peaceful, economically prosperous and politically stable Northern Ireland, while drawing on a reserve of deeply held values, according to a new report on the future of Unionism.A Long Peace, (download pdf 959KB here or zip 386KB here) published today with support from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, argues that a functioning democracy in Northern Ireland is the only way to reconcile competing interests in a peaceful way, and calls on the Unionist movement to develop new strategies for engagement in the political process.
The 50-page report draws on consultations with individuals and groups across the community, and challenges Unionists to create a vision for strong government that will deliver a peaceful and prosperous future for Northern Ireland. By focusing on being realistic, positive, hard-headed, professional and open, A Long Peace argues that Unionism can tackle its current predicament of being regularly out-thought, out-flanked and out-witted by [its] opponents.
The authors of A Long Peace are Trevor Ringland, Ulster Unionist figure and ex-rugby international; David Steven, an English policy analyst and writer; and Mick Fealty, editor of Slugger OToole, a current affairs website that offers reporting and analysis on Northern Ireland. Commenting on the report, Mick Fealty said:
Our aim was to focus on the future from a Unionist point of view and how this might be achieved. Although A Long Peace was not about mapping out that future in any detail, we believe we have identified a number of issues that can be used to help shape debate in the coming months.
In particular, we have identified a need for increased openness in Unionism. Stepping outside the problem and looking at solutions in other societies and governments may offer inspiration for the vision we believe Unionism must develop to succeed if it is to deliver strong and successful government for Northern Ireland in the future.
This is good work and I hope Mick’s bandwidth gets a good exercising from it (just as long as he isn’t paying for it though!).
I sort of feel that most sensible people have thought these sorts of things for some time now, the problem isn’t in getting a strategy it’s in getting leaders who’ll convince the majority of the worth of such a strategy, a good messenger for the message. Someone to ‘unite the clans’ so to speak.
Or should a good message speak for itself?
Posted by: Beowulf at May 12, 2003 11:37 AM
There are a few things at play here, in my view, Beowulf.
Firstly, as I’ve said before, the current crop of Unionist politicians rose to the top not because of any political competence, but because of sheer human courage in the face of being deemed ‘legitimate targets’.
Secondly, the piece points out the overwhelming size of the NI public sector – don’t forget that working within the public sector (as over a third of the population does, often the best educated people too) precludes direct political involvement, so you’ve a limited number of people to select political leaders from (tho of course the same applies with ‘Nationalist’ and ‘Centre’ parties too).
But it does mean getting a ‘good messenger for the messenger’ is very difficult – they have to come from the next (my) generation, but the economic reality (as pointed out in this piece) is that most of the best people have two options – leave (therefore out of NI politics) or enter the Civil Service (therefore out of NI politics).
It doesn’t look good!
Posted by: IJP at May 12, 2003 12:10 PM
IJP: not so sure about that.
Think: teachers, headmasters, doctors, lawyers, adademics, businessmen.
They all exist in good number in NI and are, in all countries, the source of the politicians. I think the people are there and not as constrained as you say.
The big problem is proving that politics isn’t going to be too tribal. Politics is still a bit dangerous, a bit tribal and all that makes it and too much hassle for a lot of people. That’s the problem as I see it.
Plus there isn’t a clear career there yet-with the assembly being so uncertain.
Posted by: Howard at May 12, 2003 12:28 PM
Very interesting read. Though isn’t the politics of ‘TIT fer TAT’ the politics of a riot ? Instead of doing what is right or what you believe, you react to how your perceive the actions of an ‘enemy’ ?
Posted by: EoinMoney at May 12, 2003 12:53 PM
Eoin: good question.
TIT for TAT can be interpreted in different ways. I take it to mean that if your rival ‘misbehaves’ then you withdraw cooperation and if he ‘behaves’ then you cooperate generously.
To a certain extent David Trimble’s on-off attitude to the executive can be interpreted as an application. I am not sre if this is the sort of thing the authors had in mind. Probably yes, in the sense that if the IRA and SF really answer “yes, yes, yes” and decommission then we can go back into powersharing mode again as a reward and move on…
Posted by: Howard at May 12, 2003 01:02 PM
Eoin: hopefully the authors mean TIT for TAT as EYE for EYE, TOOTH for TOOTH etc., except working in the other direction where we are all left with 20/20 vision (to adapt John Hume’s metaphor)!!!!
Posted by: Howard at May 12, 2003 01:05 PM
Politics is, as you say, also still a dodgy occupation, this is quite correct.
However, the fact is that doctors and lawyers daren’t get too political (until they’re assured of a good career in politics), teachers can’t really come out and promote mixed education unless they’re among the 4% that practise what they would be preaching, and the fact is we have fewer businessmen (as percentage of population) that just about anywhere else in the Western World.
My point was not that these people don’t exist, just that there are proportionately fewer of them, which lowers the number of potential ‘Mandelas’.
But we must live in hope…!
Posted by: IJP at May 12, 2003 02:48 PM
I wanted to pick up on a comment by EoinMoney that the politics of TIT FOR TAT imply that ‘instead of doing what is right or what you believe, you react to how you perceive the actions of the enemy.’
EionMoney is, of course, right to point out that, in a Prisoners Dilemma, a player does not have fully independent action, but is dependent on the way the other player reacts.
However, a Prisoner’s Dilemma is not a zero sum game, like chess, where one person’s gain is another’s loss. The following outcomes are possible: win/win, lose/lose, win/lose, and lose/win.
The lesson of TIT FOR TAT is that, in these circumstances, players do best if they react in a rational way to their opponent’s actions, rather than being distracted by how they have acted in the past or how they are expected to act in the future.
Focusing on words and not actions is usually unhelpful, often because players become suspicious of each other, and remain pessimistic even when the ‘enemy’ takes positive steps.
However, although TIT FOR TAT is some sense a relative strategy (your move responds to that of your opponent), it also insists that a player focuses on absolute gains not relative ones.
It tells players to avoid envy. According to Axelrod: ‘Asking how well you are doing compared to how well the other player is doing is not a good standard unless your goal is to destroy the other player.’
So, does TIT FOR TAT encourage the ‘politics of riot’? Only for players for whom ‘what is right’ is to destroy the other player.
For players who are tempted to have a go at destroying the other player only because they are insecure in their position and lack confidence that cooperation can succeed, it offers another way of acting.
It encourages them to pursue absolute goals (what they think is ‘right’), with due regard for the fact that achieving their welfare is inextricably tied up with that of their enemy.
One example is the informal cooperation that emerged between opposing armies in World War 1. However hard the generals tried to stamp out what was illegal behaviour, informal norms tended to emerge whereby, for example, there would be a ceasefire over tea time.
These patterns only emerge in fixed trench systems where lines of soldiers are ‘locked’ together in combat. This is why we insist on how important it is that each community accepts at a profound level that the other is there to stay and Northern Irelands dilemma has no end point.
In ‘a long war’, people play for victory (good for one side, disastrous for the other). In ‘a long peace’, the best that is on offer is a productive stalemate (where both sides do reasonably well).
Posted by: David at May 12, 2003 04:18 PM
Orangemen split off – no chance
Posted by: Starz at May 12, 2003 11:51 PM
Personally I can’t wait for the day the OO split off from the UUP. For the UUP the OO is a handicap because it makes people think they are religiously based when in fact they are intended to be a party for all religions. It would separate religion from politics. For the OO they can benefit because they can lose the political connections and become a cultural and religious organization.
The OO should concentrate on the ideals of protestantism and the Glorious Revolution: the anti-despotism, the anti-authoritarianism, freedom, democracy, etc.
The UUP should concentrate on a center-right political agenda that aims to form a government *for all* with policies and aims which people of all religions can support. Not just for and of one single religious interest group.
It is a disadvantage for the UUP to be seen to have a large block vote in its main ruling body from the OO that appears to give a specific religious group a big influence. This seems outdated and is offputting to non-protestants and the non-religious.
Posted by: Howard at May 13, 2003 12:26 AM
This link provides some useful brand new evidence on constitutional preference in Northern Ireland:
Posted by: Howard at May 13, 2003 09:53 PM
Alternatively click on the link (ON MY NAME) below to save cut-and-pasting.
The interesting thing is the consistency of the evidence surrounding constitutional preference. Hopefully surveys like this, accompanied with the census data, will encourage unionists to be more self confident about the future, which in turn allows them to embrace the sort of reform agenda contained in “A Long Peace?”
Posted by: Howard at May 13, 2003 10:05 PM
The answer surely is to develop the Conservative and Labour Parties in NI – not because it is a ‘unionist’ solution but because many important decisions affecting NI are taken in Westminster and increasingly in Brussels (were the UK Lab and Con parties are significant players). This would provide an outlet for modern unionism and let it reach beyond its sectarian boundaries.
Ideally people who join Labour for example should be allowed to be members of both UK and RoI Labour parties.
Posted by: Bob Wilson at May 20, 2003 02:47 PM
Bob, could you get me the Ponytailed One’s autograph?
Posted by: Gooner at May 20, 2003 03:38 PM