Newt Emerson reflects on Dermot Ahern’s call for a non-sectarian protocol for politics in typically ascerbic fashion in today’s edition of The Irish Times (sub. req.). Do these protocols have any real value?Re-printed with permission from Newt:
In the wake of the Dublin riots, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has asked all political parties in Ireland to sign an anti-sectarianism pledge. Unionists will then refuse to co-operate with the Government initiative, proving that only Protestants are sectarian and restoring the balance of the universe.
Addressing a crowd of Sinn Féin second-preference voters in Dundalk this week, Mr Ahern said he wanted “a declaration that politicians or political parties will not resort to the gratuitous, populist narrative of Catholic versus Protestant or unionist versus nationalist for political gain”.
Instead, presidents will resort to the gratuitous, populist narrative of Nazis versus Jews for political gain while everyone except the unionists will resort to the gratuitous, populist narrative of British versus Irish for political gain.
Unionists will object because they are British, proving that only Protestants are sectarian and restoring the balance of the universe.
The minister has rejected claims that the proposed anti-sectarianism pledge covers the same ground as the 2002 Anti-Racist Protocol, which also included a commitment to respect all religious beliefs.
“The 2002 protocol was designed to imply that the No To Nice campaign was racist,” explained a Government spokesman yesterday.
“Implying that only Protestants are sectarian requires a completely separate approach.”
Sinn Féin has agreed to sign the pledge because only Protestants are sectarian. However, some parties in the South have expressed reservations, probably because Trevor Sargent is a Protestant.
A Fine Gael spokesman said his party had “for decades pursued an inclusive, non-divisive approach to politics because we’re all Catholic”.
A Labour Party spokesman said the minister “seemed to have forgotten” that the 2002 pledge also covered sectarianism, although this is understandable as Catholics are never sectarian anyway.
Mr Ahern said: “Politicians need to be conscious of the impact their statements can have, particularly in the run-up to the loyalist marching season in Northern Ireland.”
Fortunately, political statements in the run-up to the Easter Rising commemoration season have no impact whatsoever.
Questions remain over how unionist and nationalist parties in the North will avoid resorting to the gratuitous, populist narrative of unionist versus nationalist.
“We’ll just sign the pledge regardless, then complain when the unionists don’t,” said an SDLP spokesman yesterday. “That will prove that only Protestants are sectarian and restore the balance of the universe.”
A Sinn Féin spokesman added: “We’ll resort to the gratuitous, populist narrative of republicans versus everyone else. It’s not our fault if Protestants are too sectarian to do what they’re told.”
There are also concerns that unionists might deliberately undermine the whole project by signing the pledge and promising to uphold it with exactly as much sincerity as everyone else.
“That would be just typical of those cynical sectarian Protestants,” said a Government spokesman. “It wouldn’t be a typical tactic, admittedly, but it would certainly be typical Protestant sectarianism.”
So far there is little sign that unionists intend to call the minister’s bluff. “Dermot Ahern?” said a DUP spokesman yesterday. “What’s that sneaky Fenian up to now?”