Nationalists 'must lift the seige'

Interesting letter which appeared in several papers. It argues that the most effective way of uniting the people of Ireland is for nationalists to lift the siege on unionists – by ceasing to be nationalists.

  • Dualta

    This letter surely touches on the very core issue facing Nationalists today, whilst failing utterly to understand what is necessary for a long term solution to our trubles here.

    That issue is Unionist/Protestant fears for the future. In order to achieve unity by consent those fears must be well and truly addressed.

    However, the letter fails to offer a solution of any value. The assertion that we should simply renounce the goal of unity suggests that the writer is impetuously shooting from the hip.

    The primary factor in the conflict here is ethnicity. Whilst there is also the input of national goverments with their agendas, the core issue at play is the relationship between the two main ethnic communities on this island.

    So what is an ethnic group? Ethnic groups can be identified by various characteristics: a shared sense of history; a shared national ideology, a common attachment to a geographical area, a shared language, religion or skin colour, cultural heritage. Some or all of these are applicable to one group.

    The primary division between the two main ethnic groups on this island is the shared national ideology, although others come into play, such as religion and cultural heritage.

    A lasting solution will only come about by addressing the issue of the competing nationalisms. I contend that for most people in N Ireland, religion is of minor importance, beyond being an ethnic identifier.

    I believe Unionism with many Protestants is not so deeply held. Indeed, more often we have heard voices within Unionism, disenchanted with British policy here, call for an independent N Ireland.

    For those Unionists there is no other alternative to the Union. Irish unity is too much of a threat to them and that is understandable.

    Traditional Irish Nationalism and Republicism has too much baggage from the ethnic conflict to appeal to Protestants and must be abandoned.

    We must offer Protestants the opportunity to build a new nation on this island with us. A new flag, anthem, constitution, legal system, political establishments all working under an agreed ethos.

    There can only ever be true unity when all of our peoples feel that their best interests will be served in that option.

    Let Unionists march where they want. If we stop attacking Protestants the reasons for the Orange Oranger`s existence would disappear. Also, in holding faith in human nature, I believe that would be reciprocated in time and the Unionist community would also fully engage in peace-building.

    It`s either unity by consent or force and the latter is certainly not going to happen.

  • barnshee

    Dualta
    You are dangerous man- actions/procedures you outline would leave the prods nowhere to go except a UI

  • Dualta

    Barnshee,
    I cannot understand how you came to that conclusion.

  • irishman

    The SDLP’s Declan O’Loan has written similar rubbish in the past. Essentially, you’ve got it in one, Mick. Unionists will only ever be really happy when nationalists have been wiped out- ideologically, if not any other way.

    This is precisely the reason why unionists play the “fears/concerns” card at every occasion.

    It is also implicit in what Michael McDowell is arguing.

  • curious

    So what is supposed to happen to Irish nationalism?

  • cladycowboy

    or alternatively unionism could be dropped and unity would be closer…

  • Dualta

    Irishman, I’ve little doubt that there are some Unionists who hold such views. I’ve met them and talked to them and my blood has run cold.

    However, I have spoken to others who think very differently indeed and would contemplate an all-island solution if they felt it offered a more stable and prosperous future than the present situation.

    That aside, I would like to hear you offer an alternative route for modern Irish Nationalism and Republicanism.

    Indeed, let’s coin a phrase. Offer something better than the New Republicanism that I’ve outlined above and I’ll not dismiss it it flippantly and you’ve dismissed my ideas.

  • Dualta

    Should read: “I’ll not dismiss it as flippantly as”.

  • David

    Although I am more sceptical of a united Ireland I find myself in agreement with a lot of Dualta’s reasoning.

    We live in what is essentially an ethnically divided society. It is basically meaningless to speak of “democracy” in Ireland or Northern Ireland, as any appeal to a majority decision is just a masked appeal to a sectarian headcount. While nationalists are more than willing to state that an appeal to a Northern irish majority is a sectarian head count, they deny the obvious fact that an appeal to an all-Ireland framework is exactly the same thing.

    No political party in NI makes any serious attempt to get votes accross the divide.

    Any attempt to create a workable solution to the problems of this island has to recognise that there are two nations on this piece of land. Unionism and nationalism are the national ideologies of two different and separate nations.

    Any political arrangement in Northern Ireland must recognise this fact. Any future possible all-Ireland state must also recognise this. It is quite feasible for a state to contain more than one nation, many do.

    The current “unity by consent” principle is a nonsense. 50%+1 in favour of Irish unity (or indeed any possible future arrangement) is a recipe for civil war, not for a peaceful transition. Nationalists, by adopting this formula, have recognised de facto that they have no message that can appeal outside their own ethnic camp. It is now time to recognise this de jure and recognise that they are one of two nations on this island.

    Such a de jure recognition would bring both advantages and disadvantages to nationalism. It would erode the legitimacy of the 50%+1 formula, any arrangements would require a greater degree of consensus than this. It would bring advantages in terms of a more entrenched recognition of Irish national identity in Northern Ireland. It would bring the disadvantage that there could not be a united Ireland without unionist/British national consent and even in such a united Ireland unionist/British national identity would become a permanent part of the future. No nation has a right to govern another nation.

    In theory this is a big concession from nationalism, in practice it is no concession at all. The British government, because Britain is still a significent military power, can govern NI against the wishes of a minority of its people. Similarly Britain, because of its size, can bankroll NI indefinitely. The Irish government does not have either luxury.

    If demography led to an 80% nationalist NI and the 20% unionist group wanted to hold out violently against a united Ireland, the military resources of Ireland are much more limited than those of Britain. The chances are this situation would lead to either a lot of instability like the Troubles of the last 35 years, or even a full scale civil war, complete with ethnic cleansing. Any arrangement outside the British context must have pretty much 90%+ support in NI to be viable.

  • Robert Keogh

    Nationalism should surrender their right to pursue self-determination through political and democratic means because unionism has a problem with it. Is anyone not rolling on the ground in gales of laughter?

  • David

    Nationalism should recognise that unionism also has a right to self-determination. The reverse also applies.

  • Henry94

    David

    There are two elements to consent. The constitutional question is decided by simple majority. Thus nationalists in the north are under British rule. When a majority votes for it Ireland will unite. But that doesn’t end the consent question. Unionist consent will be required to the form a united Ireland will take, to the national symbols, to the constitution and to the institutions.

    The offer of guaranteed places in government is on the table since Albert Reynolds was Taoiseach. All rights under the Agreement remain in tact.

    There is no single version of a united Ireland that will be imposed on unionists.

  • smcgiff

    David,

    I didn’t have you down as a joint authority advocate.

  • David

    I’m not a joint authority advocate. If anything I am in favour of some form of Northern Ireland independence as an explicitly bi-national state, though I would recognise that any change in that direction cannot happen without broad consent of both unionists and nationalists. In many ways that is not much different from joint authority, especialy as many more troubled states do have some international element in their constitutions – Bosnia for example.

    So far as I can see any workable future for Northern Ireland requires as a prerequisite the following, regardless of whether that future is in a united Ireland, a United Kingdom or any other constitutional option:

    1. A long period of working autonomy for the region with power being exercised responsibly by local politicians.

    2. A similar period of economic stability and recovery.

    3. Some form of economic autonomy, so as to end the dependence on British subsidies.

    4. A co-operative relationship with the South.

    The problem about joint authority is that, as nationalists currently advance it, it seems to be a way of disenfranchising unionists while partially empowering nationalists through Dublin acting as their proxy. All of this while Britain continues to foot the bill and provide the military muscle. It is merely an attempt to create a “green” form of direct rule rather than an effort to deal with the problems of our country.

    Any solution must have power being given to both communities. Any progress to equitable government in NI can only come about when local parties here exercise real power and consequently have to make tough decisions. Much of the divisiveness is a luxury held by people who do not have to take responsibility for their own decisions.

    Unfortunately all the political discussions so far have focussed on a very narrow definition of power sharing as being an executive containing all the parties in NI. This is a system that has failed everywhere it has been tried. Why not look to less ambitious but more workable methods of sharing power, such as decentralising in NI and strenthened local government?

    The idea that every party has a right to be in government is simply wrong. Each community has the right to have their fundamental interests protected, but this does not mean that all of their representatives are entitled to seats in government as of right.

    The d’Hondt rule is unworkable. In most countries where coalitions are the norm the creation of a coalition requires hard bargaining between the differing political parties, see Germany at the moment for example. The d’Hondt system in NI, by creating an enforced coalition by right removes the need for co-operation and compromise in forming a government and basically entrenches extremism. If d’Hondt was replaced by a more majoritarian system, where parties had to negotiate their way into government there would be a lot less incentive for the type of grandstanding that we have seen over the last years.

  • IJP

    Mick

    It’s worth being precise here – the writer did not ask people to ‘stop being Nationalist’, but specifically to ‘stop wanting a united Ireland’.

    I would agree entirely that people should stop being ‘(ethnic) nationalist’ – ethnic nationalism in the 21st century is a pointless zero-sum game which simply cannot progress (Mark Langhammer has made this point many times).

    However, that is no reason for people to stop ‘wanting a united Ireland’, merely for them to be realistic about the form any united Ireland could take. (Of course, the reverse also applies.)

    Dualta

    Great to see you back, all outstanding points.

    David and Henry94

    Nowt to disagree with there, either.

    Refreshing to see a decent debate on Slugger, there’ve been far too few of those recently.

  • smcgiff

    ‘Refreshing to see a decent debate on Slugger, there’ve been far too few of those recently.’

    Agreed Councillor, IJP. You’ve been conspicuous by your absence of late.

    David,

    You start off by saying that an independent NI would have a type of Joint Authority, but then describe a system that would be anything but.

    The problem with majority rule is that it’s been tried before in NI, and didn’t work.

    And as for, ‘where parties had to negotiate their way into government there would be a lot less incentive for the type of grandstanding that we have seen over the last years.’ We both know that the UUP and the DUP would form a government regardless of the policy differences. Can you ever imagine a DUP/SDLP government.

    I appreciate that there wouldn’t be (or you envision*) a unionist party as such if NI were independent, but the renamed DUP/UUP would become natural bedfellows, as would, most likely, SF/SDLP.

    In reality there would always be a SF and a UUP type party wanting to break up NI and take it back to the UK or to join the ROI.

    In an ideal world what you suggest has merit, but alas…

  • David

    “The problem with majority rule is that it’s been tried before in NI, and didn’t work.”

    That is a slogan, not an argument.

    I did not advocate majority rule. I instead advocated the sorts of power sharing that actually do function in real countries. The all party forced coalition executive is not the beginning and end of power sharing. If that model does not work, it should be abandoned.

    “More majoritarian” does not mean “simple majoritarian”. You yourself point out the unliklihood of a DUP SDLP coalition, yet you seem to criticise me for suggesting that a forced coalition between those parties is wrong.

    Any change in Northern Ireland requires a change in political culture and a change in political parties. I do not believe that such change will happen quickly, but I do believe that it is necessary that it does happen. It will certainly not happen if the constitution institutionalises all of the current political parties and their consequent divisions.

    I do not believe that pandering to what is basically ethnic extremism is a solution to our problems. I think that the logic of the current government arrangements are in benign form a complete sectarian carve up of absolutely everything or in malign form a civil war.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    There have been a few cracking debates around here these last few days. I haven’t been able to check in as much as I would’ve liked over the summer but it’s good to hear from IJP, SMcGiff, Henry, Robert and a few other old Slugger hands again.

    Am I alone in detecting an increasing openness among unionists to discuss a single Irish state? I mean, they still clearly have very strong ideas about what that state should look like, and it’s not like they’re about to start advocating it or anything. But – and perhaps I’m being hopelessly optimistic here – but does anyone else sense that we’re sort of witnessing a perfect storm of factors that are inducing a section of unionism to lift its skirt and flash a bit of leg for the first time?

    We’ve seen the Republic’s conversion to secularism and mammon. We’ve seen its coming to economic maturity. It’s happening in the south. Not just that but we’re also seeing an increasingly shrill anti-Provo backlash stretching from the big beasts of the media through to the great offices of state. (Hello Mr McDowell.) Meanwhile unionism is coming apart at the seams. The instruments of state, the Orange, police, militarism, flags – all gone or going. Within unionism, the rational and enlightened people are still in a substantial majority but their political leaders offer them nothing. Now that great social adhesive of the IRA bogeyman is gone too.

    It’s a point that, frankly, isn’t made often enough, but most unionists are decent, reasonable people and they don’t eschew rationality easily. I suspect that when most unionists envisage a political leader closest to their self-image, it’s guys like McDowell they might think of. The Irish Times might be their newspaper of choice.

    See, the Provos always felt that a united Ireland would see northern republicans deliver the north to the republic, with great fanfare from Dublin, and the unionists would just have to put up with it. In fact I suspect that a different scenario is playing itself out, with the views and values of the majority community in the north and the majority of people in the south (and probably the larger chunk of the northern nationalist community, natch) increasingly coalescing.

    Who knows, maybe I’m wrong, but frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if we were within a decade of major – and peaceful, widely supported, internationally applauded – constitutional change on this island. Why? I don’t know, I guess I have a very profound sense that we have reached the stage where SOMETHING HAS GOT TO GIVE. I suspect we are already living in the period during which future historians will say change became inevitable.

    What will that change be? That will be dependent on how decisively constitutional Ireland is able to face down the chucks. McDowell spoke recently about reunification in terms of a “joint political project” on this island, which I thought was a brilliant recasting of the whole concept. It removed any sense of a takeover or a merger and also implied a right of secession – thereby empowering unionists within the new “joint project” but also giving them the incentive to try and make the thing work.

    Sinn Fein have succeeded in forcing the issue onto the agenda, and I applaud them for that, but it now falls to more serious players to take the issue forward. In a sense that’s Sinn Fein’s role – they could never deliver Irish unity but they can pressurise those who might.

    (I would stress that I disapprove of McDowell as a man and a minister but I feel his role has been invaluable. I think the whole idea of reunifacation has been strengthened immeasurably by the creative tension created in his ongoing knife-fight with Sinn Fein over the soul of republicanism. Someone from the same tradition had to take on the chucks some time – it’s good for everyone on this island that it has turned out to be a worthy opponent.)

  • Brian Boru

    I refuse to give up my aspirations. Having an aspiration is not a “siege”.

  • Dandyman

    I don’t see how it’s possible to have an independent or devolved NI govt when it’s patently obvious that the largest unionist party will never deal with their opposite numbers, no matter what they do to keep up their end of the bargain. Paisley will keep finding excuses.

    I’m not saying that because I don’t like him, although I don’t particularly, but let’s be honest. If the IRA give up every single weapon they have (and we’re being asked to believe they did) it is automatically viewed with suspicion because the Unionist parties bargained on no shifting in the Republican’s stance on decommissioning. When they do shift, the natural response is ‘why? they MUST be getting something out of this that we don’t know about’. Then you proceed rapidly to thinking ‘AHA! I see what their game is. They PRETENDED ALL ALONG that decommissioning was really important to them, so that it would be seen as a huge concession when really it was no skin off their nose. Well f*ck them. I don’t care what they do, we’re never sharing power with them. Ever. So there’.

    That’s what we’re dealing with and it may be pathetic, petty and paranoid, but as much as Paisley is due criticism, politicians in the RM should have realised years ago that even if the IRA did bomb their way into negotiations with the British government, Unionists would be able to engage in whataboutery indefinitely, forever using the armed struggle and its casualties as justification. So what if the British pulled out of NI in the morning? What if they just abandoned it? Would we REALLY have a ‘United’ Ireland? In name, perhaps. But what about reality? People on both sides of the conflict in NI can be as stubborn and defiant as they want, and call the little patch of wastleland territory whatever name they choose, but even if either side got everything they’d ever wanted in terms of flags/borders/symbols, you’ve still got a hate-infested, war-torn, scarred-for-life society. And placing your faith in future generations is sadly misguided.

  • David

    BP,

    I do not agree that there is a greater willingness on the part of unionists to consider a united Ireland at the moment.

    I do think that many of the old stereotypes about the south are being rethought. The poverty and priest ridden image is on the way out. The monocultural image is being rethought too.

    When it comes to McDowell, I think a lot of unionists would have a lot less problems with Irish unification if he were a typical nationalist, few unionists however regard him as a typical nationalist.

    To put the boot on the other foot, the desire for Irish unity amongst nationalists would still be there if the Alliance Party and not the DUP was the dominant unionist party. The urgency of unity would be a lot less felt however.

  • Brian Boru

    “The d’Hondt rule is unworkable. In most countries where coalitions are the norm the creation of a coalition requires hard bargaining between the differing political parties, see Germany at the moment for example. The d’Hondt system in NI, by creating an enforced coalition by right removes the need for co-operation and compromise in forming a government and basically entrenches extremism. If d’Hondt was replaced by a more majoritarian system, where parties had to negotiate their way into government there would be a lot less incentive for the type of grandstanding that we have seen over the last years.”

    I don’t accept that d’Hondt removes the need for compromise. Decisions made at Cabinet level under the GFA require the consent of a majority of Nationalists and Unionists. Then, for a law to be passed in the Assembly, a majority on both sides is also needed. The system ensures that neither side is dominated in future. It also protects Unionists should they lose their majority in the future.

  • smcgiff

    Ahem, less of the old, Billy!

    ‘Am I alone in detecting an increasing openness among unionists to discuss a single Irish state?’

    I’ve notice this of late, but I suspect I’ll squint my eyes a little and realise I’ve been reading too much into it. Too good to be true as it were.

    Worse, it’s possible that the lack of unionist leadership could create the uncertainty that would deprive unionists of confidence (was this their plan all along?). Unionism, well I probably should say Protestantism, lacking in confidence is bad for the cause of a UI

    A confident protestant would be able to at least consider whether union with the Republic was a viable alternative. Alas, this debate will not be possible while their at each other’s throats and attacking the police.

  • David

    “I don’t see how it’s possible to have an independent or devolved NI govt when it’s patently obvious that the largest unionist party will never deal with their opposite numbers, no matter what they do to keep up their end of the bargain. Paisley will keep finding excuses.”

    Paisley might lead the largest unionist party, but he does not have a majority of votes in the Assembly.

    The conundrum that many posters have come up with is how can we have a government that includes both Sin Fein and the DUP.

    I am suggesting that the answer to this conundrum is that we do not need such a government. Neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein have a majority of seats in the Assembly.

    Under a majority system, or even a weighted majority system which might be preferable for the short term, there could easily be a government that included some representatives from each side of the community yet did not include one of the parties, such as the DUP or Sinn Fein. Why is that in any way unfair?

    I would also add that I am far from convinced that the DUP would refuse to go into government with Sinn Fein in all circumstances, after all they were quite happy to sit in government with them when Trimble was First Minister. Their extremism is butressed by the current system. If they had to negotiate for their places in government, rather than getting these by right who knows what might happen. After all they seem to have come fairly close to agreeing to a government with Sinn Fein back in December.

  • smcgiff

    ‘That is a slogan, not an argument.’
    It may seem like a slogan, but only because there is a ring of truth behind it. Are you saying it worked? Cold house etc. comes to mind.
    ‘the sorts of power sharing that actually do function in real countries.’
    Are you for one second trying to convince us that NI is like any other Western European country. Or any country whose political system you’d admire?
    ‘yet you seem to criticise me for suggesting that a forced coalition between those parties is wrong.’
    Seem my previous paragraph.
    ‘Any change in Northern Ireland requires a change in political culture and a change in political parties.’
    I agree 100%. But, human nature and all that!

  • Billy Pilgrim

    David

    Oh I don’t know, I suppose none of us do. Historians always look back upon great change and declare that it was always inevitable etc etc. in 1988 very few people were predicting the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, yet each new retelling of that period declares that after Glasnost or Perestroika or whatever, it was always on the cards. So who knows what the next five or ten years will bring?

    There are a number of factors that have come into play that may, I suspect, provide grist to the mill of post-unification historians. Some might say the coming-of-age of the Republic was decisive. The decline of the Catholic church’s role was instrumental, the emergence of the Celtic Tiger was seminal, they may write. Equally, if we look north, historians will surely debate the precise cause of the collapse of unionism (which I think we are presently seeing). Some may trace it to the election of the DUP and the final takeover of the clerics within unionism (and just after the Republic had gone secular too.) Others may say it was more to do with the demise of the Orange Order as the dominant force in public life, hinted at in ’86, skirmished around on the Lower Ormeau and Dunloy and decided decisively on Drumcree hill. (The recent unpleasantness only served to underline the utter collapse of the Orange as a meaningful force here.) Others might trace it all the way back to the fall of Stormont, and argue that only the IRA campaign delayed the impact of that event. They will then argue that this moment, the moment when the IRA departed the scene, was the moment when the final supporting pillar was removed and the edifice of Northern Ireland and unionism collapsed.

    Who knows? I still say the majority of Ulster’s Protestants are decent, reasonable and rational. The trouble for unionists though is that, if that’s true, then the game is up for unionism. And as I said, in my completely unscientific observation, I think I can detect the dawning of that new reality. (But I may be over-optimistically imagining it.)

    As for McDowell, I think you’re right to say that he’s “not a typical nationalist” – he’s not. However, (and here’s what I think is the important point), he is the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland. He holds views with which many unionists would be very sympathetic, and he holds one of the great offices of state. What does this prove? That you don’t have to be a “typical nationalist” in order to be a powerful force in an Irish republic. I think there is a section of unionism on which that lesson is not lost.

    “To put the boot on the other foot, the desire for Irish unity amongst nationalists would still be there if the Alliance Party and not the DUP was the dominant unionist party. The urgency of unity would be a lot less felt however.”

    You’re right, but I would make this point: the hypothetical (and fantastical) scenario you suggest WOULD make nationalists more comfortable with the status quo. It’s an impossible scenario. Conversely, the opposing scenario (powerful, unionist-friendly ministers in the Irish government) is not only possible, it’s a current fact. And so we see the equal reaction. To paraphrase your post: “the desire for Union amongst unionists would still be there but the urgency of resisting arguments for unity would be a lot less felt.”

    The fact that the logic for unity is so utterly compelling and the case for the status quo is so threadbare is something that, I believe, will only become more apparent and more widely-recognised over the coming years.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    smcgiff

    “Worse, it’s possible that the lack of unionist leadership could create the uncertainty that would deprive unionists of confidence (was this their plan all along?). Unionism, well I probably should say Protestantism, lacking in confidence is bad for the cause of a UI.”

    I don’t know, I think you’re conflating unionist with Protestant, which is becoming an increasingly problematic thing. It’s a little recognised fact now that there are three communities here: nationalists, unionists and non-participants. Election statistics going back decades show that the third community is the fastest growing and is overwhelmingly Protestant.

    Fact is, little over 60% of Protestants tend to vote. They might be generally pro-Union as much as anything else, but they haven’t voted in years and aren’t likely to any time soon. They’re pro Garden Centre, pro holiday home, pro Rotary Club. These people run businesses and occupy white collar offices. Their trophy wives and golf-playing husbands drive their kids to good schools in SUVs. They enjoy weekends in London and rugby in Dublin. They’d be mortified to discuss politics and wouldn’t be seen dead in a polling booth. If a united Ireland was to be declared they might take an interest in what it would all mean, tax-wise. (And they’d be delighted to hear the answer.) These are the “confident protestants” that you refer to in your post.

    Confident unionists, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish. You refer warily to people being “at each other’s throats and attacking the police”. On the contrary, the riots of the other week demonstrated, I believe, how even widespread disorder in loyalist areas can be contained if police are willing to contain it. It proved that without collusion from security forces, the loyalist communities cannot seriously threaten the state. They’re scary on an individual basis and retain the capacity to kill but they demonstrably cannot threaten the society or the state, nor can their political leaders interpret the events meaningfully or convincingly to a wider audience. The riots of the other week amounted to a bluff being called. Loyalist muscle and unionist political leadership aren’t capable of unleashing a doomsday scenario after all. Mindless wrecking with no strategy or coherent message.

  • southern observer

    Joint authority sticks out a mile as being the framework most reflective of realities on the ground.

  • Dualta

    Billy Pilgrim,

    Your`re contribution to this thread has been excellent. I agree with you on several points, especially on your understanding of the Protestant community.

    Some years ago, around the mid-90s, I was on Islandmagee, not a kick in the arse from Larne. I was in the company of several local people in a friend`s house. I was the only person from a Catholic background (I had long since ceased being a Catholic).

    All were strangers except my friend and when they found out I was from the Falls Road the conversation turned to politics. The conversation which followed had a serious effect on me, primarily because some of the people present were sigificant people on their own community, intelligent and articulate and very well respected. They were Protestant Unionists.

    When they spoke about the prospects of a united Ireland I was shocked at their attitudes. One said this, and I remember his very words: “I don`t mind the prospects of a united Ireland, but I will not be bombed into it by the IRA.” Everyone was in agreement with him.

    I quizzed them on their attitudes to the Union and their preferred options for the future and some of them actually preferred the idea of an all-island state under certain conditions, those being: a nation which was not ethnically Irish, but inclusive, with a new ethos, new flag, new constitution, new institutions of state, etc. Some hated Northern Ireland for what it had become. They said they were ashamed of it and felt embarrassed telling people, when abroad, that they were from here.

    Now I`m not saying that there are many like these people. I can`t say that, because I have no evidence that their views are widespread, but I suspect that they are representative of a certain body in Protestant society.

    They weren`t bigots, although they had steriotypical views of Falls Road men, hehe. I`ll not go there. They were ordinary people looking to put their days on earth in decently and comfortably.

    I`m sincerely hoping that, now that the IRA has ended it totally unjustified and counter-productive campaign, that such voices will be heard out loud. The arguments for building such a nation on this island are unscalable.

    IJP

    Thanks for your kind comments earlier. Congrats on your election, btw. A top result!

  • Dualta

    Sorry for typo, that should read your, not your’re :oP

  • smcgiff

    Is it time for d’Hondt rule to evolve? I’ve been thinking about what David said, and while I don’t think an independent NI is the way forward I’m also unsure if a retention of d’Hondt in its current form is desirable.

    Instead of all parties being tied together in what has serious limitations for the conduction of real politics how about…

    A system where elections are held and a majority government would hold power (hold on – give me a chance…)

    This majority government must include one of the top two nationalist and unionist parties.

    This would allow a system of government not too dis-similar to what is known in the ROI and the UK. It provides government and , crucially, opposition.

    It would mean the parties would not be certain of power, and bring about the realities of real politics.

    Imagine the DUP trying to woo the SDLP into government before the UUP could. Of course this may be detrimental to one nationalist party, but it could also be argued that one unionist party would also be forced into government.

    It has flaws, not least of which is the doubt that NI may not be mature politically enough to handle opposition politics.

    Expected party response?

    UUP Yes – A potential lifeline and a reason for existence.
    DUP 50/50 – Not sure here. Might be less sure of government, but would give the option of not having to serve with SF.
    SDLP Yes – Similar to the UUP’s response I suspect.
    SF Not sure. Similar to the DUP’s maybe. Is its politics more suited to the sidelines?
    Other smaller parties? May be interested as power brokers.

  • smcgiff

    ‘one unionist party would also be forced into government.’ Government should read opposition!

  • smcgiff

    ‘one unionist party would also be forced into government.’ Government should read opposition!

  • Fraggle

    smcgiff, while that might well be a good idea, I prefer it that unionists are punished for the union by being denied power unless they share it with Sinn Fein. A suitable punishment for partition methinks.

    Of course, the idea of letting Sinn Fein into the government of a serious country with real powers and so on is another matter entirely.

    Anyway, I don’t know quite where you’re getting your ideas of parties supporting this idea. It sounds very like the voluntary coalition idea that the SDLP has already rejected.

  • smcgiff

    Hi Fraggle,

    I think the coalition of the willing was where all parties got together with the exception of one. That would be detrimental.

    But if parties were free to negotiate, with the exception that the government must include one of the top two nationalist/unionist parties, to form a government, then I think it would be a step towards normalisation. Something of which d’Hondt was only the beginning.

    The UUP are also in a different position today than they were in previously, and may be willing. I agree, the DUP and SF may have different ideas, but this way the DUP would not HAVE to go into government with SF. SF may also find it appealing for other reasons.

  • Fraggle

    smcgiff, I don’t think nationalist voters would see much distinction between a coalition of one unionist party and the sdlp and one with two unionist parties and the sdlp.

  • smcgiff

    I think they should, Fraggle.

    D’Hondt means two unionist parties and two nationalist parties. This way it would mean only one of each. Hardly a huge deviation from the status quo in that respect.

    I think nationalists, and especially the SDLP, might see value in it.

    Besides, theoretically, it could be a unionist party and SF.

    There’d a lot more unpredictable forces at work than the current d’Hondt system. That lack of certainty may allow real politics to evolve.

  • IJP

    D’Hondt is not a long-term solution at all, at any level of government. It may be (or have been) a necessary evil to get local politicians into executive power so they engage in responsible politics rather than merely constant moaning for ‘more resources’ (without having to worry about where these come from).

    Billy P

    There’s no more willingness to discuss other options, that willingness was always there. But the IRA blew it up for 30 years and is now gradually being replaced by ethnic nationalist in-your-face triumphalist rants paying no heed whatsoever to the reality of what an all-Ireland state would have to look like.

    In just the same way that Unionist leaders are the biggest block to their alleged goal of an ‘inclusive NI within the UK’, Nationalists leaders are the biggest block to serious discussion of constitutional options outside the British State.

    Replace tribal Unionism with promotion of liberal democracy (ballot-box only) and tribal Nationalism with genuine traditional Irish Republicanism (ballot-box only), and we might get somewhere.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    IJP

    “There’s no more willingness to discuss other options, that willingness was always there. But the IRA blew it up for 30 years and is now gradually being replaced by ethnic nationalist in-your-face triumphalist rants paying no heed whatsoever to the reality of what an all-Ireland state would have to look like.”

    I’m sure you’re right Ian that there was always a willingness to listen and that that willingness was shelved (quite understandably) because of the IRA. If that’s true then, with the IRA having departed the scene, I think my point holds up. What we now have is a context in which it will become possible for reasonable, rational Protestants to listen to reasonable and rational arguments. I would repeat my contention that the reasonable and rational arguments are overwhelmingly in favour of a single, sovereign state on this island – you and I have knocked this debate back and forth many times so you know my thoughts and reasoning by now. But if I’m right, and I think I am, then the context is now in place for the pro-unity lobby to make it’s pitch to reasonable and rational Protestants.

    You refer to “ethnic nationalist in-your-face triumphalist rants” and I have to wonder to whom or to what you are referring? When I look to the leaders of republicanism on this island – Bertie Ahern, Mary McAleese, Michael McDowell, Enda Kenny, Pat Rabbitte, Mark Durkan – I honestly cannot discern any “ethnic nationalist” element. I haven’t heard an “in–your-face triumphalist rant” in a long time. On the contrary I hear leaders who are extremely cautious in their desire not to alienate Protestants in the north, who are anxious to listen and learn, who favour political reunification but who prioritise the building of relations and fraternity. I hear a lot of talk about and see a lot of efforts to achieve reconciliation, to reach out. These efforts are real and meaningful and ongoing. And I see in my own life, among the Protestants I know and socialise with and do business with, that it has not gone unnoticed.

    But I guess you’re talking about Sinn Fein. Okay, I see where your problem lies. However, the truth is that Sinn Fein are a minor party on this island and, in the context of an all-Ireland state, the major parties all share unionism’s antipathy to Sinn Fein, to one extent or another. It’s people like Enda Kenny and Michael McDowell and most of the Dublin media that would be the natural bedfellows of northern Protestants in an all-Ireland state. There would be no need to bow down to the Shinners.

    For all that though, your reference to “ethnic nationalist in-your-face triumphalist rants” still rankles. I’m still at a loss to know what you’re actually talking about. You might point to Sinn Fein’s “Make Partition History” rally but if you look at what Gerry Adams actually said at that meeting, then it’s clear that it doesn’t fit your description. He said: “In calling upon Unionists to think beyond the moment, to think about the future, we are mindful that we need to do the same. We need to unite orange and green. We need to create a space that unionists can share with us on the basis of equality. That is a huge challenge for republicans.” After decommissioning he talked about the future in these terms: “…all us need to think beyond it. We need to think beyond the moment. It is not the leap itself but the place that it takes us all that is important.”

    Now, this is the bete noire of unionism talking.
    So when you make the point that: “In just the same way that Unionist leaders are the biggest block to their alleged goal of an ‘inclusive NI within the UK’, Nationalists leaders are the biggest block to serious discussion of constitutional options outside the British State” – frankly I think you’re lapsing into Alliance-speak. It’s the old principle that (all together now) “both sides are as bad as each other”. Trouble is, it appears the NIO is beginning to shift it’s position on that – didn’t you get the memo. (Sorry, only teasing.)

    “Replace tribal Unionism with promotion of liberal democracy (ballot-box only) and tribal Nationalism with genuine traditional Irish Republicanism (ballot-box only), and we might get somewhere.”

    Again, very Alliance. Let’s be balanced, both sides are identical but opposing forces, both as bad as each other and so on. But the point, surely, is this: events over the last number of years have led us to the present position where the development of UK-style liberal democracy here is further away than ever, whereas the development of Irish-style republicanism is closer than ever. Sure, theoretically one is as good as the other but (here’s the point), the latter is vastly more realistic than the former.
    Alliance’s position on the constitutional question was always that supported the status quo but not for sectarian reasons – Alliance reckoned that the status quo was simply a better option than an all-Ireland state at the present time.
    Given that the status quo has been so irrefutably demonstrated to be insane, and given that the dream of fully integrated UK-style liberal democracy has become more unrealistic than ever, how much longer do you think it’ll be before Alliance changes its policy and begins advocating the all-round better option of an all-Ireland state?

  • rupert

    “liberal democracy”

    What about the anti-gay element within the Alliance party, will they be happy with a ‘liberal’ democracy ?

  • slug

    I believe Fraggles idea has enormous merit, although I am against parties having to denote themselves tribally at all.

  • slug

    PS I hope that the govt opts for 7 local authorities, and that it opts for a majority rule system of voting – preferably a simple majority but possibly a weighted majority. I am hoping that the councillors will be given a fair bit of power and be able to work together on matters of importance. With councils of this size some of the councils will have majorities of unionists, others majorities of nationalists, others will be balanced, but none in control of a single party. Power would be decentralised requiring less in terms of forced ‘conflict resolution’ systems. I hope the experiment would show that parties are able to work together. Smaller parties – green, liberal, labour – might emerge as powerbrokers, and a less stalemated system of cooperation and decentralization pave the way forward.