Parties unite to ensure division…

THEY may come from radically different perspectives, but Newton Emerson and Eamonn McCann agree that the sectarian balancing act or tribal carve-up that passes for local politics leads only to political instability and increased social segregation.

Recent commentary has focused almost entirely on what proposals would be necessary to get the DUP and Sinn Féin into government. Few have considered the implications for increasing apartheid – on the ground and in the Assembly – that would result from this arranged shotgun marriage.

McCann considers the internal contradiction of the Agreement – that republicans see it as a stepping stone towards a united Ireland, while unionists see it as copper-fastening the union with Great Britain – the main weakness contributing to instability. Although it tries to be all things to all men, it cannot be both, he argues.

McCann writes: “The fact was rather obvious that these two propositions could not simultaneously be true and that the peace thus established must be inherently unstable.

“But it was considered at the time, and to some extent still is, the height of irresponsibility to draw attention to this obvious fact.”

Another perceptive ‘enemy of the peace process’ and opponent of political doublethink, Newton Emerson, argues today that Sinn Féin and the DUP depend upon each other for their power. He highlights the sectarian charade that takes place in those other seats of little power, local councils, in which the tribal parties don’t even attempt to represent all sections of the community, just their own. Unionism defines itself against nationalism/republicanism and vice versa.

Those who look for political leadership see the politics of separation dominant at present, so it’s little surprise that social segregation has actually increased since ‘peace’ arrived on Good Friday 1998. If unionism and nationalism cannot reach out to each other, it is less likely that individual unionists and nationalists will either. And those individuals who do not identify with unionism or nationalism are actively discriminated against in this new version of equality anyway, even though their numbers may be increasing. But poor leadership is par for the course here.

So how will the DUP and Sinn Féin govern Northern Ireland together from the extremes? Answer: they won’t. They don’t even talk, so how would they lead together? Each will look after their own, and never the twain shall meet.

Emerson writes: “As long as their openly ethnic agendas diverge all is well between them and because it is the aim of both parties that those agendas should diverge then all is well almost all of the time – so much so, in fact, that occasional set-piece battles must be fought as a distraction.

”Anyone who has ever witnessed these council chamber sham fights can attest to their ritual quality. Sinn Fein and the DUP know the real enemy is not those who stand across the divide but those who stand against the divide, for the divide is the source of their power. They know the other party knows this as well.”

Emerson believes that putting the DUP and Sinn Féin in charge of Northern Ireland will only lead to greater apartheid than that which already exists. He warns of a local version of Balkanisation:

“History has a word for how Sinn Fein and the DUP would rule us. That word is ‘apartheid’ – and a coming together to drive us apart would not make our version any less disgraceful.

”In every council in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein and DUP members have long referred openly to ‘Protestant’ parks, ‘Catholic’ bus routes, ‘Protestant’ streets, ‘Catholic’ shops.

”Do you think they aren’t itching to formalise those distinctions?

”Do you think they’d never give each other helpful little pushes over that slippery slope?

”Do you think the British and Irish governments would stop them? The British and Irish governments put just such formal distinctions at the heart of every Good Friday Agreement institution.

”They have demonstrated that they will humour any lie and ignore any crime to preserve them.”

His assessment is accurate, and the results can be seen even in yesterday’s proposals by the British Government, as it demonstrates its own complicity in preserving sectarian structures in a restored Assembly. In Annex B, the British proposals for changes to Strand One (internal) matters, we read:

“Community designation. An amendment to the 1998 Act would provide that an Assembly Member would not be able to change community designation for the whole of an Assembly term from that expressed at the time of nomination for election, except in the case of a change of membership of political party.”

This effectively means that ‘community designations’ – a euphemism for sectarian labels – are forced on candidates from the time they announce that they are standing for election to the Assembly. This pigeon hole becomes the candidates permanent political home, despite the fact that this system has failed before.

As someone else wrote, you might as well hand out Rangers and Celtic shirts to Assembly members as they walk into Parliament Buildings for the first time. Except now, you get it when you hand in your nomination papers and can’t take it off until you’re kicked out of office. Imagine MPs in Westminster or TDs in the Dail being asked to wear big badges with ‘Black’ or ‘White’ on them at all times in their respective parliaments, even if the member was Asian, Muslim or anything else.

You might think that as the Review of the Agreement is still officially ongoing, there would still be scope to challenge sectarian designations. Not so, says the Government, always ready to change the law in deference to tribalism, in a paragraph yet to be commented upon elsewhere:

“An amendment to the 1998 Act would provide for the Assembly to appoint a standing Institutional Review Committee, to examine the operational aspects of the Strand One institutions. Matters to be reviewed in this way would be agreed among the parties. The Committee’s reports would be considered by the Executive and Assembly, and, where agreed changes required legislative steps outside the scope of the devolved institutions, by the British Government in consultation as appropriate with the Irish Government.”

Since the DUP and Sinn Fein (and definitely the SDLP, which came up with sectarian labels in the first instance, and possibly the UUP) are content with the designations from which they derive their respective vetoes, republicans, nationalists and unionists will inevitably collude to protect them. Designations will therefore never make it onto an Institutional Review Committee agenda, and we have the precedent of a previous committee set up in the wake of the November 2002 debacle if anyone is in doubt about how they would kick ideas into touch.

The peace process is driven by an elite group of territorial politicians who don’t want to share power, but to take it and selfishly carve it up. If the politicians at the top don’t want to integrate, that is their choice. But the Government is not helping a public disillusioned with politics to make a different choice at a grassroots level. Disgracefully, community relations – an area in which the UUP and SDLP could not agree a strategy while in OFMDFM – is not even mentioned in yesterday’s proposals.

If there is another Assembly, it is fairly obvious that the Office of First and Deputy First Ministers will be joint in name only until greater trust exists – and the UUP and SDLP are in no position to lecture no-one about co-operation in OFMDFM. This would be a far from a perfect situation, but tolerable in the short term if that is what is required to bring about stability.

What is unacceptable is the joint effort by the two political tribes – backed by the British Government – to prevent sectarianism in a restored Government from even being challenged in a future Assembly.

The vested interests of various people will ensure that the politics of separation stay around for as long as possible. After all, they depend on it.

  • Davros

    Excellent blog Gonzo.

  • ulsterman

    The best Christmas present ever. Protestants do not want IRA Papists in government,

    God Save The Queen.

  • Henry94

    The Agreement is nobody’s first choice. McCann would like a Leninist state. I’d like a united Ireland. Other alternatives are re-partition, joint sovereignty, majority rule, war.

    The Agreement is simply the best we have come up with in all the circumstances.

    If someone else has a better idea I’m sure we’d all love to hear it.

  • Davros

    Common Membership of a Single European State.

  • John East Belfast

    In the centenary anniversary of the Ulster Unionist Party I hope we don’t see another. The UUP was set up to thwart a threat to the Union – if we don’t perceive a threat then there is no raison detre to the Party in the first place –

    Unlike the DUP, which values power for the sake of it, and SF which plays on this desire to further the cause of instability for the sake of a UI.

    In this regard I totally agree with the Gonzo’s analysis of the situation but it is only Republicans who really undertsand what is going on. The blind hatred of the DUP for all things Ulster Unionsist has meant that they have played the Republican hand. The republicans know how to split Unionism and the DUP gratefully play the game.

    Thus the DUP and SF feed of each other but ultmately for the Union there is only one winnner.

    A political unstable and economically deficient NI scorned by its fellow UK citisens only weakens the Union – why oh why can the DUP not see this

  • Nathan

    The principal concern over designation, raised above by Gonzo and countless others cannot be delivered by the competing ‘them’ and ‘us’ tribal entrepreneurs of irish/british nationalism.

    Such mickey mouse parties deserve a whopping ten out of ten for effort when it comes to whipping up and manipulating the fears, cultural/religious identities and insecurities of their respective communities.

    They’ll never come to recognise that you don’t promote reconciliation by acquiescing in sectarian politics. Rather, it is promoted by uniting (and dividing) people on socio-economic issues rather than appealing to religious communalism.

    Thats where the genuinely anti-sectarian parties come in – whether it be Irish Labour, NI Conservatives, Workers, Greens and of course the APNI. Parties which represent the third strand in N.Irish political life. All striving to break the tribal mould in a deeply divided society that is northern ireland.

  • John East Belfast

    Nathan

    You need to try and put the Constitutional position to rest first

  • Davros

    Northern Ireland power-sharing talks collapse yet again, again
    8 Dec 2004 by Malcolm Drury
    Hopes for a final peace settlement, an end to paramilitary violence and a return to power-sharing in Northern Ireland collapsed once again earlier today when firebrand Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley accused Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams of stealing his bag of toffees.

    The two leaders have been tantalisingly close to an agreement ever since US President “Boy” George W. Bush offered to intervene personally last week. Both Rev. Paisley and Mr Adams responded to the offer with a firm “no thanks”, citing the chaos that Mr Bush’s personal intervention in Iraq has caused. They then agreed to hold talks immediately to fend off any further offers by Mr Bush.

    An impasse yesterday over the provision of photographic verification that the IRA destroyed its weaponry was overcome after intensive negotiations when Rev. Paisley agreed to accept an artist’s impression rather than actual photographs.

    However, at a ceremony set for this morning at which the two leaders were to sign an interim agreement to stop being silly buggers, Rev Paisley unexpectedly walked out shouting “Whurr’s mah toffees?” and accusing Mr Adams of having either eaten them or hidden them.

    “This just goes to show you can’t trust these people,” Rev Paisley told reporters. “I just bought them this morning and I’d only eaten one or two. They were my favourites, too.”

    Mr Adams strongly denied having taken the toffees, claiming that he does not even like them, preferring mints.

    “But I ask you,” he added, “why would we even want to consider sharing power with somebody who wont even share his toffees?”

    A Downing Street spokesman expressed frustration at this latest development. He noted, however, that Prime Ministers Blair and Ahern will still press ahead with their joint proposals for power-sharing, and that Mr Blair will send Rev Paisley a big bag of toffees and a copy of the Beano.

  • Davros

    Just read what Eamonn McCann wrote in his excellent “Dear God the price of religion in norther Ireland” – Chapter 3, “Faith of our fetters” p 45

    That Northern Ireland atheists are to be asked in the 2001 census whether they are Catholic atheists or Protestant atheists illustrates the extent to which the religious division has become accepted as the defining characteristic of Northern society. In fact, it’s a mere byproduct of our colonial history. The practical way in which a division based on politics and economics came to be expressed in religious terms emerges from the piece included here on the Catholic Church in Belfast.
    The greatest recent achievement of the Christian denominations in the North has been to absolve themselves from all responsibility for hatred between ‘the two communities’. The hand-washing of Catholic and Protestant bishops after the Orange-inspired massacre of three children in Ballymoney in 1998 is a case in point. The truth is that the Churches sustain the division in order to sustain themselves.

  • aquifer

    Great analysis, someone is getting there at last. Listening NIO? The top table solutions are clearly not working. Your refusal to allow citizens here to participate in the politics of the UK state is an ethnic slur and a standing invitation to local feudal insurrection. Why are you indulging ethnic warlords and funding balkanisation?

    All this interest in ammo porn is perverse when it is clear that the IRA intend to continue to intimidate, abuse, and maim people to achieve their aims on the ground, with or without pallets of firearms. This says too much about DUP priorities.

    Sinn Fein talk of human rights and attempts to talk on behalf of victims is sickmaking.

  • Nathan

    “You need to try and put the Constitutional position to rest first”

    An uphill struggle wouldn’t you say when there are two rival visions when it comes to the sort of society that the Belfast Agreement should deliver on. For many of these tribal entrepreneurs, its simply the case of entrenching the idea of two very detached but equal communities.

    Very difficult also to put the constitutional position to rest when it has been shown that short run political gains are virtually assured for those who prioritise communal certainties and solidarity. All very depressing. But then to become depressed over it all would be to drift into the exact same cul-de-sac that seems to afflict N.Irish voters. Basically the voting at the ballot box in emotion rather than ticking the box to vote to those parties who want to work constructively to improve the quality of education, environment, health and transport, the important things in life.

    Davros

    In the often lacklustre political arena, Eamonn McCann’s voice is a refreshing one, even for those of us who have well and truly ditched socialism and embraced the wonders of capitalism. Here’s me hoping he’ll be voicing his message once again as he did in June when he toured northern ireland in his partner’s three year old Volkswagen Golf.

  • Davros

    Nathan, been a fan of Eamonn’s for more than 30 years 🙂 SEA got my votes at last election.
    Dear God The Price is a fascinating book. I wonder what happened to Dear God The Curse ?

  • J Kelly

    Lets get serious about Eamonn McCanns intervention into elections in recent times. His voice may be a refreshing one indeed but he also plays the game for decades Eamon mc Cann has blamed the partition of Ireland for the many social ills that effect working class communities across the north. But in his election material no mention of it “dont mention the war”. It may upset protestants. When I was canvassed in my home during the Assembly Elections by the SEA I put the question of partition to the canvasser a long standing republican socialist in Derry his awkwardness in his answer was answer enough.

    A refreshing voice maybe but a cynical politican who plays the sectarian game whenever it suits. Eamon is aware as anyone were his vote comes from its a nationalist protest vote. Examine the facts 2200 votes in Derry when transferred out approximately 50% to SF and 50% the SDLP. In the neighbouring constituensy of East Londonderry the SEA also run a candidate with a grand total of 137 votes.

    The pretence that the SEA are a real alternative is a nonsense they are made up of a mainly old IRSP, diseffected republicans and a number of trendy lefties but when they get a job in the BBC or the Civil Service there activism will cease.

  • Davros

    Is this bitterness about SEA because McCann won’t participate in your tribal games ? Or is it because his gender politics show SF to be reactionary ?

  • J Kelly

    Davros
    The fact that Mc Cann tempers his language to entice unionist voters in my opinion is clear evidence that he plays the “tribal game” as much as the next. I have no bitterness against any political party if objections and debate is bitterness maybe this site should be shut down. If Eamon and the SEA want to enter electoralism they have to take the rough and tumble of the game.

  • Davros

    Eamon is aware as anyone were his vote comes from its a nationalist protest vote.

    I’m not a nationalist 🙂

  • George

    Interesting piece Gonzo,

    It’s all reminiscent of Afghanistan, the colonial/occupying/liberating power courting the major tribal warlords for the sake of ongoing peace.
    These continue to rule most of the country as they always have, even cranking up opium production while the outside world deals with the tiny cabal in Kabul which finances everything.

    For cabal insert NIO, for warlords insert DUP/SF.

  • willowfield

    Good blog, Gonzo.

    Fully agree with Emerson. The Review of the GFA was an opportunity to get rid of sectarian designations, but the DUP and the Provos opted to keep them.

    It’s quite clear that neither the DUP nor the Provos are interested in reaching out beyond their own communities. The DUP’s primary objective is not to safeguard or the Union or to promote it beyond the Protestant community: it is to achieve political dominance within the Protestant community.

    Equally, the Provos are not interested in selling the concept of a united Ireland to Protestants: they want political dominance within the Roman Catholic community and to play the sectarian headcount game.

  • willowfield

    This sums up a lot of what people see as ‘wrong’ in interviews, i.e. if the interviewer doesnt ask exactly the questions you want them to ask you blame it as a bad interview or if a politician you dont like happens to perform well then you blame the interviewer as poor.

    Not in my case. I will acknowledge when a politician I don’t like performs well.

  • PS

    What do you mean by “gender politics” with regards to McCann and SF, Davros?

    To my mind, while McCann is an extremely impressive man (and the receiver of my no 2 last June), much of his analysis is fundementally falwed and he is as guilty, if not more, of playing the narrow political points scoring exercise as any other candidate.

  • SeanOg

    Never ceases to amaze me that the left’s response to sectarianism is to ignore it or let on it is some self producing product of “the two tribes” and shame on both your houses.

    Never a mention of the origins of partition, the shameful sectarian headcount that underpinned it or the inherent and institutionalised nature of sectarianism in both partitioned states.

    The left would never countenance such a cowardly avoidance of the causes of racism or imperialism, but in order not to offend potential supporters from the Protestant community they have adopted the cynical mantra, don’t mention the war, don’t mention the causes of the war.

    By the way, are all the McCann fans as equally comfortable with his recent remarks as they are with those contained in War in an Irish Town, when he tells is the IRA may not be perfect, but they are in the vanguard of the anti imperialist movement in Ireland. Now he only supports resistance movements in far off foreign places.

  • Davros

    Patrick – SF sit on the fence regarding women’s rights. They are scared to risk taking on “the Church” on this issue. That I agree with SF’s position is neither here nor there!

  • Henry94

    willowfield

    The Review of the GFA was an opportunity to get rid of sectarian designations, but the DUP and the Provos opted to keep them.

    How would you ensure powersharing without designations?

  • willowfield

    Henry94

    Requiring a weighted majority would seem like the most obvious alternative.

  • willowfield

    Sean Og

    Never a mention of the origins of partition, the shameful sectarian headcount that underpinned it or the inherent and institutionalised nature of sectarianism in both partitioned states.

    Nor the alternative to partition – an independent united Ireland – which was equally based on a “shameful sectarian headcount”!

    The left would never countenance such a cowardly avoidance of the causes of racism or imperialism, but in order not to offend potential supporters from the Protestant community they have adopted the cynical mantra, don’t mention the war, don’t mention the causes of the war.

    You are implying that racism and imperialism were caused by partition. What a lot of nonsense! Both have been around for centuries before partition!

  • Young Fogey

    An uphill struggle wouldn’t you say when there are two rival visions when it comes to the sort of society that the Belfast Agreement should deliver on.

    Actually, I don’t think that there are. I don’t think either Sinn Féin or the DUP have much of a vision for how they’d like to society develop. Too obsessed with the constitutional issue to see the wood for the trees. What difference will it make if SF and the DUP are in government? Surely, they’ll just keep doing what their civil servants tell them, which will be to copy whatever current orthodoxy in Whitehall is at the time. That’s why I was so keen on the two of them getting together in a coalition; there was no chance of either of them doing very much and it might mean we could move on to topics other than the tribal issue.

    Beyond the colour of the bunting there isn’t a hell of a lot of difference between the two parties. Sure, if you read their manifestos, they look quite different, but when did manifestos in Northern Ireland ever get written to outline the policies of a future government?

    Glad to see lots of angst about ever entrenching tribalism, here. It makes me realise I’m not alone! Great stuff, but what are we going to do about it? Beyond sermonising on Slugger, I mean?

  • SeanOg

    Willowfield, seeing as it was northern, not Irish unionism that trumpeted partition and prevailed on the imperial parliament to implement it with the threat of force, in direct opposition to the will of the majority of the people on the island, it hardly cuts any ice to say we demanded something, got it but we were only being as bad as everyone else. Theres nonsense out there all right.

    As to the silly claim that I am implying partition is the cause of racism and imperialism i’m at a loss. Then again, to someone who can equate an independent united ireland with a sectarian statelet and ignore the racist, imperialist invasion and colonisation of another country will have no problem seeing what they want to see, and missing what they want to miss.

  • willowfield

    Sean Og

    Willowfield, seeing as it was northern, not Irish unionism that trumpeted partition and prevailed on the imperial parliament to implement it with the threat of force, in direct opposition to the will of the majority of the people on the island, it hardly cuts any ice to say we demanded something, got it but we were only being as bad as everyone else. Theres nonsense out there all right.

    Sorry? Nationalists didn’t get a united Ireland and I never claimed they did!

    As to the silly claim that I am implying partition is the cause of racism and imperialism i’m at a loss.

    So what were you claiming? Feel free to explain!

    Then again, to someone who can equate an independent united ireland with a sectarian statelet and ignore the racist, imperialist invasion and colonisation of another country will have no problem seeing what they want to see, and missing what they want to miss.

    It was you who said partition was based on a sectarian headcount. I merely pointed out that so, too, would a united independent Ireland! I never mentioned “sectarian statelet”.

    Nobody mentioned “the racist, imperialist invasion and colonisation of another country”, so it was not possible for me to ignore it. What invasion and colonisation are you talking about, and why must we not “ignore” it in the context of this discussion?

  • Ciarán Irvine

    Equally, the Provos are not interested in selling the concept of a united Ireland to Protestants

    Or anyone else, for that matter…

  • Belfast Gonzo

    How would you ensure powersharing without designations?

    A better question might be: “How would you ensure powersharing with designations?

  • Nathan

    Young Fogey
    “Actually, I don’t think that there are. I don’t think either Sinn Féin or the DUP have much of a vision for how they’d like to society develop. Too obsessed with the constitutional issue to see the wood for the trees.”

    Both parties have equally rancid visions in how they’d like society to develop – feeding unyielding depths of prejudice, ignorance, misunderstanding and hostility and contributing to the enduring political deadlock that blights every effort to create a lasting peace.

    They’re so obsessed with constitutional disagreements that they can’t even be bothered to pluck up the courage in identifying policies which can be actually be better defined around a diligent all-party approach, in a context which allows for consensus building.

    Saying all that, Martin McGuinness caught my attention when he pointed to the effects of the 11 plus on working class loyalists and gained some credibility in this. But generally speaking, whenever provisionalism brings up the issue of inequality blah de blah, the focus is solely fixated on the grievances of irish nationalist community rather than reaching out to its neighbours.

    If either party were that interested in the development of society then they would suppress their short-sighted sectarian urges and stop treating us to a bag of shite every time they hurl a tirade of abuse at each other. And they would stop bombarding us with empty aspirational rhetoric and whataboutery. That way, they may actually start to concentrate their minds a little bit more on important issues such as education, environment, health and transport.

    Davros
    Can’t say the book you’re referring to has been recommended to me, a book gone unnoticed it seems.

    As for these invented ‘Protestant’ atheist and ‘Catholic’ atheist designations, it is absurd to place all sorts of inaccurate political interpretations on a religious label which, after all, arises from an accident of birth and not in my case, from an informed choice.

  • Davros

    Nathan, It is well worth a look. Full of all sorts of interesting details and some great wit.
    e.g. from page 5

    The absurdity of religion first occurred to me as a child, when, under pressure, I paid from my pocket money to go on a ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ to Lourdes. We spiritual travellers didn’t actually go on the Derry Diocesean Pilgrimage. But our fares (half a crown, as 1 recall, return) helped subsidise those who did. The highpoint of our journey came on the evening when we assembled in St Eugene’s Cathedral at the exact hour when the physical pilgrims, led by Bishop Neil Farren, were wending their way in solemn procession towards the Shrine of the Virgin in fabled, faraway France. We sang ‘I’ll Sing a Hymn to Mary’, and were assured that we would share fully in the spiritual blessings allocated to the event. Thus, considered from the purely spiritual point of view, than which there is none more important, we gained as much as them we’d subsidised to travel—and at a fraction of the cost. So we were the winners.
    There’s a number of lessons in this story. One has to do with the differences between the Christian denominations. There never was a Protestant born who could have thought up a scam like the spiritual pilgrimage.

    I found this interesting interview with McCann while nosing around the other night.