Political settlement making a fool out past stereotypes…

Tom McGurk takes one of his occasional peeks over the Black Pig’s Dyke, and sees a challenging landscape to those mired in the tram-line thinking of the sectarian stereotype. For one thing, Martin McGuinness seems to have dropped any reference to the Free Presbyterian Church as The Taliban, since pledging his party’s democratic troth to the DUP leader, Ian Paisley. Nevertheless, McGurk thinks the major challenge remains in the Unionist court.

The power-sharing experiment between the DUP and Sinn Fein is actually, by dint of its very existence, attacking that central myth belying partition itself: the necessity of separateness and the importance of difference. For centuries, the North has been trapped in a culture of separateness and differences, its ‘us and them’ mentality the ineluctable concept of two separated tribes going about their ways in two separate cultures.

Even in so short a time, the power of a devolved government being shared between the two extremes of the post-plantation political quagmire that the North had become, has profoundly shaken all the assumptions. Suddenly – and this is no exaggeration centuries of perceived wisdoms and homespun consensus about the ‘other side’ are being challenged – not to mention what has happened to generations of political assumptions.

But, he reckons, economics likely to be a decisive determinator:

Power-sharing may yet prove even more destructive in the long run to the very essence of what unionist politics is supposed to be about. The hitherto unexpected effect of the DUP’s sudden conversion to market forces, an entrepreneurial culture and the need for a Celtic Tiger north of the border may be the beginning of learning how financially insignificant and politically impotent they are in British terms.

Gordon Brown will not change any of the North’s tax laws and, if they want to establish any sort of international economic presence, they will have to do it by the grace and favour of the Republic. In other words, the experience of powersharing will only continue to point out the financial handicaps of partition as opposed to the other way around. Perhaps the new M1 should be re-signposted ‘to Damascus’?

The DUP’s (circumscribed as it is by a highly institutionalised power sharing arrangement) espousal of small government and the market economy will be neither new nor unexpected to more regular observers of the Northern Irish scene, yet the irony is that the more private sector focused Unionist community may just find the small government economy in the Republic more to their taste, than the Republican electorate, which is, with some notable exceptions, much more dependent on a high spending public sector for employment.

The challenge of the new dispensation is to move away from the kind of mischievous mischaracterisation of ‘the other’ (commonplace in political parlance here since before any of us can remember) to a more realistic battle for hearts and minds, through selling the real (as opposed to imagined) benefits of their preferred constitutional solution.

However, it is unlikely to be, as some nationalists appear to imagine, an argument that is either already won or even one that only unionists can lose. For those who persist in such irrational belief, perhaps another dose of freshly ground political coffee is required?

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  • DK

    Interesting stuff, although possibly too dismissive of the power of nationalism – of the Ulster sort – that the DUP seem to be keen on these days.

    The economic arguement is presently too tenuous for anyone to have a big damascene conversion over it – and certainly it will not trump the old loyalties.

    As usual, apathy will rule. And in the present set-up, Apathy is a Unionist.

  • Shore Road Resident

    It’s really Tom McGurk who needs to move on.
    [text removed – ball not man please! – moderator]

  • merrie

    Rhonda Paisley in her book “Ian Paisley, my father” mentions that she thinks that independence for Ulster will probably be the outcome. Too much hassle with that eastern isle and the 26 counties.

  • Ziznivy

    “attacking that central myth belying partition itself: the necessity of separateness and the importance of difference. For centuries, the North has been trapped in a culture of separateness and differences, its ‘us and them’ mentality”

    Irish nationalism entire basis is a central myth of separateness and difference. Unionists didn’t start it, even if occasionally they are guilty of perpetuating it.

    Less of the “us and them” mentality! Let’s have the ROI back in a devolved United Kingdom.

  • DC

    The article seems to prove the fallacy of the concept of ethno-national essentialism.

  • 3rdface

    Ziznivy,

    “Off with her head”
    Then we might be getting somewhere.

  • 3rdface

    I meant Scotland,Of course

  • parcifal

    McGurk synopsis/ alternative header:

    Unionists staring down barrel of gun
    ( not IRA rile, but economic rocket propelled grenade )

  • slug

    To be honest I think he is engaging in a bit of self-pleasuring.

  • manichaeism

    Ziznivy

    The British in the 19th century portrayed the Irish as being subhuman. We were hardly the only people who saw ourselves as different!

  • parcifal

    you hope slug,
    He makes a good arguement , why not have a go at that?
    I think most Nationalists and some Unionists have stopped crying about the past.
    Sooner or later NI will have to face its future.
    McGurk points the way…

  • Quaysider

    The SBP is looking very out on a limb, editorially, after the election. I realise we need a counterbalance to the Sindo but that balance could be weighted a little less towards columnists (and not just McGurk) who fleck tribal spittle all over the page.

  • Fraggle

    Quaysider, I think you’re drooling a bit yourself there. As Parsifal said, “He makes a good arguement , why not have a go at that?”.

  • CTN

    As we are now in “Sidedealia” and given that so many mistakes have been made on both sides, it will be interesting to see who wins more concessions in ongoing negotiations surrounding the north/south V’s east west expansion with executive powers battle….

  • Mick Fealty

    Fresh coffee anyone?

  • Dewi

    Fair Trade ?

  • fair_deal

    This is old-fashioned historical determinism in an economic determinist sauce garnished with some false-consciousness.

    1. A lot of the truism’s can be easily be reversed from a Unionist perspective. For example:
    “The power-sharing experiment between the DUP and Sinn Fein is actually, by dint of its very existence, attacking that central myth belying partition itself: the necessity of separateness and the importance of difference.”
    “The power-sharing experiment between the DUP and SF is actually by dint of its very existence, attacking the central myth underlying separatism itself: the institutions of the British state can include and protect them.”
    2. The strongest of the institutions in the deal(s) are the Assembly so the “separateness” and “difference” remains firmly entrenched in the settlement.
    3. Essentially it reduces Unionism to simply a fear-based movement. It can and is a rational political choice.
    4. It over-estimates the amount of southern interest in NI.

    By all means keep regurgitating these truisms it makes Unionism’s life easier just. The future is not known to man.

  • The Dubliner

    “Gordon Brown will not change any of the North’s tax laws and, if they want to establish any sort of international economic presence, they will have to do it by the grace and favour of the Republic. In other words, the experience of powersharing will only continue to point out the financial handicaps of partition as opposed to the other way around.” – Tom McGurk

    It all depends on wether Northern Ireland (that parent-dependent child) can become financially self-succifient. If it can’t, then, on an economic basis alone, it will always be a choice of which parent the ne’re-do-well child chooses to live with. The problem for NI is that it has to buck the trend by prospering as a regional economy, sans control of macroeconomics, in a larger enonomy where regions suffer and where industry and wealth becomes concentrated in large population centres and in the capital. There is no way Ireland could have become the wealthiest countries, per capita, in Europe or acheived 21% GDP growth in 2005 to 2006 if it had the contraints imposed on it that are imposed on NI. So, however great Ireland’s economic transformation was, NI’s needs to be even greater. NI’s smaller population size also limits its economic growth. NI will need Keynesian (DUP-style) rather than laissez-faire economics if it is to use the local state to promote growth, since the excutive is the only advantage it has over other UK regions. Good luck with that.

  • The Dubliner

    Correction: *11% GDP growth in 2005 to 2006 *

    http://imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2007/01/data/index.aspx

  • Thegull

    All this hot air. The proportion of Prods who support the union over a united Ireland has not flickered within the past two decades, easily staying within a +/- 1.5% bound. It won’t alter in the next two decades either.

  • moyle rover

    All this hot air. The proportion of Prods who support the union over a united Ireland has not flickered within the past two decades, easily staying within a +/- 1.5% bound. It won’t alter in the next two decades either.

    20 years ago unionists held 15 out of 17 westminster seats, they now hold 10 out of 18. Realities like this and the outworking of the good friday agreement and the celtic tiger continue to have a significant effect on the thinking of everyone in the north. To suggest otherwise is just wishful thinking

  • Mick Fealty

    MR,

    That’s a slightly misleading presentation of the facts. 20 years ago, SF was still only coming out its absentionist deep sleep, and the DUP had struck a deal with the UUP not to contest sitting unionist MPs in a joint protest against the AIA.

    Nationalists only made rapid progress when that arrangement fell apart after the signing of the Belfast Agreement.

    Demographics have probably pushed FST and Mid Ulster just about out of the grip of Unionism, but then again, demographics suggest they should never have lost South Belfast.

  • Dewi

    Demographics are also rapidly changing North Belfast Mick – astonishing contrast between the young and the old. I reckon a nationalist majority within ten years. Whether this is translated into a seat is another matter.

  • Thegull

    “20 years ago unionists held 15 out of 17 westminster seats, they now hold 10 out of 18. Realities like this and the outworking of the good friday agreement and the celtic tiger continue to have a significant effect on the thinking of everyone in the north. To suggest otherwise is just wishful thinking”

    Nothing to do with persuading unionists though, and the demographic takeover argument has been shown to be a busted flush since the 2001 census where those of “Catholic community background” are less than 50% from 1992 births onwards. Face it. NI is going to be a divided, consociational society in perpetuity, a peaceful Belgium or Switzerland rather than a violent Bosnia or Lebanon perhaps, but any pipe dream of a unitary all Ireland state are not going to happen. Smart money would not have a 50%+1 vote for a united Ireland not occurring any time in the next 50 years.

  • Thegull

    “Demographics are also rapidly changing North Belfast Mick – astonishing contrast between the young and the old. I reckon a nationalist majority within ten years. Whether this is translated into a seat is another matter.”

    Demographics can also change though. If NI is like Europe as a whole but delayed, or like what actually has occurred in Canada, then Protestants will eventually have more babies per woman than Catholics, though each below 2.1. Immigration also dilutes the Gaelic Catholic community. My bet is that the majority of ethnic minorities will be soft unionists and the demographic housing and schooling conditions will probably see more of them assimilating into the unionist community than vice versa.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thegull,

    The case I am making above is that none of this is predetermined one way, or the other. It’s possible that immigrant communities will trend the way you say, but unionists would be as ill advised to take that for granted in the same way as nationalists would be foolish to take the ‘inevitability of unification’ granted. Thus the line about selling ‘real rather than imagined’ benefits.

  • Thegull

    “The case I am making above is that none of this is predetermined one way, or the other. It’s possible that immigrant communities will trend the way you say, but unionists would be as ill advised to take that for granted in the same way as nationalists would be foolish to take the ‘inevitability of unification’ granted. Thus the line about selling ‘real rather than imagined’ benefits.”

    Not to disagree as such, but we should so a future dream of a united Ireland with no consociational arrangement in the North as b1goted and supremacist. Just as we should see a Northern Ireland as “British as Finchley” with no role for nationalists as the same.

    I will keep hammering home this message until those supremacist b1gots within Irish nationalism who do not get it actually do recognise themselves for what they are. Unionist supremacism has been tempered, now it’s nationalists turn to face reality.

  • Sean

    Thegull
    If anything the trend in the unionist community to be insular and disrespective of immigrants will likely mean they trend towards nationalism because it is more inclusive than the poles out signs on Bonfires that will likely only multiply in the coming years.

    Hard to vote for a community that wants you to be expelled

  • Shore Road Resident

    …and the award for the most pathetic post of the day goes to – Sean.
    Keep clutching at those straws boy. Hopefully it’ll tide you over until you can cope with the full realisation of your defeat.

  • Sean

    No srr it goes to you because you didnt answer me you just tried to discredit me

    Kind of fifth form isnt it?

    But maybe thats why you have time through the day, youre on summer break

  • jpeters

    SRR

    your atitude is as much as the problem as seans im afraid mate

    NI has to stop seeing the troubles and the end political result in terms of defeat and failure, unionists cannot claim victory as the political arrangements we have in place were voted against by the majority of the same, whilst the current arrangements suit the aspirations of the majority of nationalists (a vote for SF does not necessarily equal a mandate for further UI agitation even though SF would love to think its the case)
    As Mick says the future is uncertain and the constant attempts to predict the demographics of even ten years down the line a completely futile exercise

  • Ziznivy

    Sean. I attended the Sandy Row bonfire last week on a whim. Right next to me was a large Polish family having an absolute ball, chatting to locals and getting their photos taken in front of the fire. Alongside them was a little Chinese man, also snapping away with his digital camera and getting his photo taken. That was just within my earshot.

  • Sean

    Ziz
    I am not saying Some arent incl;usive I am just saying that if the signs for Poles out! are propagated the Poles are hardly going to trend your way are they.

    But if you were to open your communities and get the racism under control you could far more easily keep the republicans at bay

  • Shore Road Resident

    I must respectfully disagree, jpeters. Sean’s preferred political project has been defeated, just as ultra-unionism has been defeated. I think we should stop regarding the end of the peace process as a stalemate between two extremes and regard it, proudly, as a victory for moderation over both extremes.
    If Sean et al are left with nothing to whine except “but all yousuns are racist now!” then his defeat is underscored by his lingering hatred. I see no reason to humour that sort of sectarian atavism today.

  • Dewi

    “Nothing to do with persuading unionists though, and the demographic takeover argument has been shown to be a busted flush since the 2001 census where those of “Catholic community background” are less than 50% from 1992 births onwards. Face it. NI is going to be a divided, consociational society in perpetuity, a peaceful Belgium or Switzerland rather than a violent Bosnia or Lebanon perhaps, but any pipe dream of a unitary all Ireland state are not going to happen. Smart money would not have a 50%+1 vote for a united Ireland not occurring any time in the next 50 years.”

    20 years of peace and maybe reduced religious intensiy might change enough Unionist minds. the contrast betwwen a Sinn Fein led assembly and Fianna Fail down south might be a factor also maybe ?

  • DK

    “20 years of peace and maybe reduced religious intensiy might change enough Unionist minds.” – but it might also change Nationalist minds: “Hey this Norn Iron place isn’t so bad after all”. Polls repeatedly show a large proportion think that way anyway.

    As for the assorted immigrants – the recent thread about schools showed that the majority went to state schools, and we all know from our own experiences that they tend to live in either mixed or else unionist areas.

    Quote of the day goes to Thegull for “Unionist supremacism has been tempered, now it’s nationalists turn to face reality”. The first step will be when Sinn Fein change their logo to “Building a Northern Ireland of Equals”. That might be worth voting for.

  • Prince Eoghan

    The quote doesn’t make any sense though DK. Unionist supremacy has been given a kick in the balls, but so long as Unionists deny this legacy (like an alky who hasn’t hit rock bottom) then attitudes will be slow to change. Excuses like “it’s not us who are the problem, they go out of their way to be offended” ect…

    Re-about Nationalists turn to face reality, does he mean that Nationalists are supremacists, I really don’t know. If so I would find that assessment incredible.

  • Thegull

    Sean

    “If anything the trend in the unionist community to be insular and disrespective of immigrants will likely mean they trend towards nationalism because it is more inclusive than the poles out signs on Bonfires that will likely only multiply in the coming years.

    Hard to vote for a community that wants you to be expelled”

    I am half Ulster Prod (mother) and half immigrant (father). I’m not playing silly buggers this is the truth. The idea that immigrants are natural nationalist sympathisers is utter rubbish.

  • Sean

    I never said anywhere that they are natural nationalists. I said they are more welcomed by the nationalist communities and will therefor tend to vote with their neighbours

    Why I say this? Because most reports of racist attacks on homes and people seem to come from unionist neighbourhoods

    Hard to be sympathetic to the cause of the people trying to burn down your house

  • Sean

    Especially when they seem to do it when you are still in it