“it belongs to another world that has long passed…”

The First and deputy First Ministers may have had separate, but equal, meetings with Taoiseach Brian Cowen today [more on that stalemate here] against a backdrop of internal Fianna Fáil dissent over the medical card confusion, growing unease about the Home Choice Loans scheme, and criticism from the Church of Ireland, if not any mention, yet, of the Lisbon manoeuvring.. And, in referencing Brian Lenihan’s comments, Henry McDonald makes an important observation in his Guardian article – just as protest politics appears to be on Sinn Féin’s agenda again.

If the Stormont coalition – a devolved administration still inside the UK – is no longer envisaged as a “stepping stone” towards fusion with the republic, then perhaps it would be better to be outside rather inside the devolved institutions, to be a party of protest and retain your old radical edge.

This devolution-doomsday scenario is probably a far away prospect even for disillusioned Provos. There is no other game in town. Instead the Sinn Féin leadership is seeking to re-engage the British and Irish governments in the political process, which will entail urging Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown to apply joint pressure on the DUP to bend to Sinn Féin’s will.

The trouble with this strategy is that it belongs to another world that has long passed. The Cowen government in Dublin might issue statements urging the DUP to move on policing, now echoing Brown’s plea for them to do the same during his last visit to Belfast. But the idea that two prime ministers currently engaged in an existential struggle to save their banking systems and stop their economies sliding into recession and mass unemployment are going to focus their energies to resolve the petty squabbles at Stormont is hopelessly naive.

Lenihan’s exasperation over his fellow citizens opting to shop in “another state” betrays the commonly held view of southern society that has welcomed the final fruits of the peace process but has little enthusiasm for paying the huge economic, social and political costs of absorbing the north. They don’t say it too loud down in Dublin – they are often drowned out by the romantic republican ballads struck up in pubs just before closing time – but the Ireland’s silent majority believes the north should already be at rest; neither they nor their political leaders in the Dáil are going to expend most of their energy on the sectarian circus at Stormont. The parties up there are on their own.

The “mad old uncle” in the [Northern] attic, indeed.

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  • Greenflag

    Pete

    ‘The “mad old uncle” in the [Northern] attic, indeed. ‘

    Imprecise 😉 . UNCLES i.e plural

    ‘Ireland’s silent majority believes the north should already be at rest; ‘

    Not just Ireland’s silent majority . Throw in the silent majorities of the entire Anglosphere , the EU , Simpsonia TV , and anybody else on the planet who gives a passing thought to the ‘land that time forgot’

    Having employed former British Prime Minister Tony
    Blair as messenger boy extraordinary for the best part of a decade these ‘mad uncles ‘ may expect to employ Mr Cowan in like manner . I’ve some bad news for them . Biffo is no Blair and neither is Gordy . Changed times will require a changed approach .

    The message from Biffo and Brown will I’m sure have been a terse ‘Use it or lose it ‘ i.e the Assembly . Neither will shed any tears if it’s wound up for a generation .

  • manichaeism

    A United Ireland. My worst nightmare. In one way I would prefer a United Republic with the big island to our east. Not really! But in a way!

    Greenflag, lets get the repartition bandwagon rolling.

  • New Yorker

    Would either the Dublin or London governments accept a SF minister of justice in either of their governments? Not until hell freezes over. Then why should Northern Ireland accept anything less or more? Attempting to force devolution of P and J is hypocritical on the part of both Cowen and Brown: Do what I say, not what I do; its OK for you, not for me.

  • Republic of Connaught

    I believe Sinn Fein didn’t demand one of their people get the minister of justice role. They just want the powers devolved to Stormont. Not such a big deal really but it’s all about saving face in Northern politics. Sinn Fein wouldn’t get ministerial roles in Dublin or London. But neither would backward DUP bigots like Wilson or Campbell or Dodds or McCrea etc…

    I get tired of reading these conjectures about whether people in the South want a unified Ireland. Apart from the minority Dublin 4 crowd very few Irish citizens will refuse the return of their northern lands to national jurisdiction.

  • reply to Republic of Connaught

    I agree almost entirely with your post except that I can foresee a time when Sinn Féin could get a ministerial role in goverment in Dublin but probably not at first as policing or justice minister

  • Glencoppagagh

    “very few Irish citizens will refuse the return of their northern lands to national jurisdiction”

    At least until they discover the price.

  • ggn

    Glencoppagh,

    I suspect you underestimate the Irish people.

    But let us remind ourselves that Irish Unity can only occur if a majority in the North vote for it. I cant see that happening in my own lifetime but anyway.

    If a majority in the South failed to give their consent would it make alot of difference?

    Surely Northern Nationalists would just resort to an independent ‘Northern Ireland’, ‘Ulster Republic’ or something?

  • Greenflag

    New Yorker,

    ‘Would either the Dublin or London governments accept a SF minister of justice in either of their governments?’

    No -because they don’t have to . That’s due to the numbers and the system of representation. SF get 7% of the overall vote in Dail Elections and in the Westminster elections across the whole of the UK probably 1% . In Northern Ireland they are the second biggest party and get close to 30% of the vote not much less than the DUP .

    ‘Attempting to force devolution of P and J is hypocritical on the part of both Cowen and Brown: ‘

    No it is’nt . Devolution of powers is what the GFA agrement rests on .

    The simple truth is that many Unionists cannot stomach the idea of an SF politician becoming a Minister of Justice in NI . All the verbiage aside that’s the bottom line . Is it understandable ? From a purely Unionist perspective – yes . From a Northern Ireland perspective -No. Unionists are NOT Northern Ireland by themselves alone – at least not Northern Ireland in it’s present format.

  • Greenflag

    republic of connaught /glencoppagh/ggn

    ‘Apart from the minority Dublin 4 crowd very few Irish citizens will refuse the return of their northern lands to national jurisdiction. ‘

    ‘At least until they discover the price.’

    ‘Irish Unity can only occur if a majority in the North vote for it’.

    ‘I suspect you underestimate the Irish people.’

    Of the above quotes the ones that rings most true are the last two. If a majority in Northern Ireland were to ever vote for a UI then it would happen . As for price – a way would be found . Dublin 4 does not matter in the overall and in any event the objections from Dublin 4 have more to do with ‘cultural ‘ norms than with anything else .

    The political reality is that the vast majority of Unionists are opposed to a UI and as of now and the foreseeable future they make up a small majority of the voters in Northern Ireland . Unionist opposition to a UI will persist even if Northern Nationalists were to become the ‘majority’

    I don’t want a large minority who are opposed to the State to be dragooned into it because they lose a ‘referendum’ by 1 or 2%.

    Northern nationalists should examine a ‘repartition’ solution as a way out of an 88 year (1920-2008) settlement -that has ‘warped ‘ their political and economic development for a large part of that 80 year period . When this Assembly fails it will be back to DR at least initially . In those circumstances the ‘dynamic’ for any future constitutional change will move totally to the Northern Nationalist community .

    And not to put too fine a point on it -with the factual political evidence of the previous (over 30 years) power sharing failures of Fitt & Faulkner (Sunningdale ) , Trimble & Mallon ( how many times ?) and now Robinson & McGuinness – , why would any Northern Nationalist or Republican look to another ‘power sharing solution’ as a politcal answer to a problem which ultimately cannot be resolved within the confines of the present NI State ?

  • New Yorker

    Greenflag

    If the appointment of a SF minister of justice to either the Dublin or London governments were to be proposed, there would be a popular revolt because generally people suspect SF of having a connection with serious criminality and think they are not trustworthy. And, I suspect there would be a popular revolt if this devolution issue is forced on NI for the same reasons as in the other two jurisdictions. Yet the two governments that wisely would not have a SF minister of justice want to force it on NI: That is gross hypocrisy.

    As I am sure your know, many Catholics would not trust SF anywhere near influence over policing and the justice system as they think SF would pervert them. It is not about ‘not having a Catholic around the house’ but it is about not having Republicans in positions that can have an effect the operations of the police or civil and criminal justice systems. Don’t confuse Catholic or nationalist with Republican, the latter is a minority subset of the former. Remember they said they did not murder Detective McCabe.

  • eranu

    theres very little interest in the north down here in the south. i think that now they’ve got themselves a motorway and a few quid in their pockets they just arent interested in all that UI stuff. my impression living in the south is that they are happy enough with their own state and wouldnt want to invite ‘trouble’in. the only people who go on about a UI are the handful that post on sites like this, mostly northern irish people. if some of the blog talk about dismantling the southern state and flag etc and creating something new was put to your average southerner, they’d think you were off your rocker and would walk away quickly!
    the only time you’ll hear northern ireland mentioned is when people are talking about cheap shopping, going to belfast for the weekend or when we do well at football.

    shinner antics in stormont really does “belong to another world that has long passed…” they just havent accepted it yet.

  • riverlagen

    The simple truth is that many Unionists cannot stomach the idea of an SF politician becoming a Minister of Justice in NI. Is it understandable ? From a purely Unionist perspective – yes . From a Northern Ireland perspective -No.

    It doesn’t matter what tradition you are from, if you have anything resembling standards you would be disgusted to see a Sinn Fein/IRA MLA as Police and Justice Minister. Obviously your not to fussy regarding who represents you at government level.

  • reply to riverlagen

    If you think that we are impressed with some of the unionist representatives in stormount then you surely do think that our standards are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

  • Greenflag

    riverglen ,

    ‘Obviously your not to fussy regarding who represents you at government level. ‘

    I did’nt vote for them . The people of Northern Ireland did . They voted for devolution. They’re not getting it .

    ‘if you have anything resembling standards you would be disgusted to see a Sinn Fein/IRA MLA as Police and Justice Minister.’

    No more disgusted than I would be to see a DUP politician in the same role .

    The DUP can’t rule NI without SF and vice versa . And if they can’t agree to this then the only honourable path to take is resignation and demand the UN /EU be brought in to redraw the border and repartition the ‘failed ‘ entity . Anything else is just another waste of time and wheel spinning . A luxury neither part of Ireland can afford these days and least of all NI .

  • Greenflag

    New Yorker ,

    ‘If the appointment of a SF minister of justice to either the Dublin or London governments were to be proposed, there would be a popular revolt ‘

    Rubbish – SF would have to win a majority of votes in an election or at the very least a plurality of votes among several parties and would have to negotiate a voluntary coalition governement with other parties for an SF politician to make it to Justice Minister . As such could only come about by popular vote in the first place where would the ‘popular ‘ revolt come from ?

    ‘because generally people suspect SF of having a connection with serious criminality and think they are not trustworthy.’

    The British suspected the same about Sinn Fein back in 1918 . The new Free State Government suspected the same about the Irregulars (post 1922) and later up 1932 they suspected the same about FF . Every Unionist Government in Northern Ireland suspected the same about virtually every Catholic in Northern Ireland i.e over one third of the population -oddly enough that’s approx the same percentage of East German citizens that were spied on and suspected of being an anti communist fifth column by the East German Communist Government . This is an old story repeated ad infinitum by every failed political entity on it’s way to non existence . The Free State ‘adapted ‘ to acceptance and thus maintained it’s political stability so much so that the former ‘irregulars ‘ who could not be trusted are now the ‘natural party ‘ of government .

    ‘I suspect there would be a popular revolt if this devolution issue is forced on NI for the same reasons ‘

    More nonsense . Firstly it would not be for the same reasons because SF are elected by almost the same percentage of voters in NI as the DUP are .

    And if there is a mass taking to the streets by DUP and other Unionists re this issue then so be it . We’ve past the Sunningdale stage in case you haven’t noticed and if Unionism has to be faced down , confronted , whatever, then it will be . The consequences of such a Unionist revolt would rebound on Unionism more so than on Irish nationalism or republicanism . The Sunningdale revolt did not stop the ‘indomitable’ Northern Irish and neither will any latter day attempt by Unionist political parties attempting to circumvent the terms of the GFA for party political or sectarian advantage .

    ‘Don’t confuse Catholic or nationalist with Republican, the latter is a minority subset of the former’

    I don’t . They are all ‘Irish’ and that’s all that will matter if push comes to shove . I would’nt ever forget it .

  • New Yorker

    Greenflag

    Provo criminality is very recent and may be ongoing. Remember Robert McCartney and Paul Quinn. SF does not support the PSNI. The connection to criminality and likely perversion of policing and the justice system is a reasonable assumption and real possibility. I would not equate the provos of today with the IRA of earlier periods as the provos from their beginning had a strong criminal component.

    To devolve P and J to any government that includes SF or the DUP with their connections to loyalist gangs would be madness. When sensible people believe their government is about to do something insane that has a direct effect on them, they revolt. The latest instance is the revolt over scrapping entry tests for grammar schools. Ultimately the government needs the support of a substantial percentage of the population to function.

    The question is: What is the real reason SF wants P and J devolved? Do you actually believe the palaver about restoring institutions or whatever the current ‘reason’ is? Think hard. Do they really care so much about the proffered ‘reasons’? Since when have they become so concerned about constitutional details?

    You seem to still confuse Republicans with the nationalist population. What do they get, support of 35% of adult nationalists? I cannot quantify it but there is a sizable percentage of the nationalist population that does not approve of the Republicans, cannot abide them and wish they would go away. In the current situation SF has put themselves out in the cold: Many nationalists would not mind if they stayed there and withered away.

  • PaddyReilly

    You seem to still confuse Republicans with the nationalist population. What do they get, support of 35% of adult nationalists?

    Wrong wrong wrong. Please familiarise yourself with some elementary electoral statistics before posting your worthless opinions. 35% of the total population, Unionist and Nationalist, yes. A considerable majority of the Nationalist population. The trouble with Sinn Féin is, the more they are excluded, the more popular they become.

  • Greenflag

    New Yorker,

    ‘To devolve P and J to any government that includes SF or the DUP with their connections to loyalist gangs would be madness. ‘

    Why single out P & J? Surely having elected potential criminals responsible for Finance , Education, Local Government , etc etc would then by your definition be just as mad ? Why have devolution at all if NI politicians cannot be trusted . In fact why even bother to have an NI State ?

    ‘Ultimately the government needs the support of a substantial percentage of the population to function.’

    I agree . What is that substantial percentage ?. Nowhere does it reach 100% except perhaps in former communist countries were the election results were always known before elections. NI was not much different except it actually went through the electoral ‘excercise’ more as a ritual sectarian headcount than as an exercise in democracy.

    We saw how the first Stormont was abolished by a Conservative UK government despite Unionism having 60% (approx) popular support ?. We saw Sunningdale collapse because almost the entire Unionist community either supported the collapse or sat idly by and allowed it to happen.

    In Northern Ireland you are never and I repeat NEVER going to have the kind of ‘substantial ‘ percentage of popular support or acceptance that you have say in the Irish Republic or the UK (minus NI). At best you can achieve a plurality within each tradition and hope that both pluralities add up to a ‘working ‘ Assembly. The fact that it’s not working is a strong indication that the ‘pluralities’ referred to above are not in place and indeed whatever has been in place is now rapidly unravelling .

    If SF & SDLP & AP & UUP have to trust a DUP Finance Minister under the terms of the present GFA/St Andrews/ Assembly a la D’Hondt then I see no constitutional reason why any other combination of Assembly parties should not have to trust an SF, or an SDLP or an AP or a UUP or a DUP Peace & Justice Minister .

    You may not like it -I may not like it but thems the new ‘rules ‘ . And if the DUP do not want to play by the new ‘rules’ then neither will other parties and the game will degenerate into a farce more or less like every other attempt at power sharing has in Northern Ireland – for in truth we all know that the ‘problem’ is the very nature of the NI State itself .

    The fact that NI has required such a convoluted electoral and representative system to even barely ‘half ‘ work, tells us all we really need to know , about this forever in limbo state .

    I will not use the big bad R word as I see the esteemed paddyreilly has already replied to your ‘false’ numbers and I regret he’s not a fan of the R word 🙁

  • New Yorker

    Paddy Reilly

    Approximately how many nationalists of voting age are there? How about 550,000-600,000. The SF vote about 165,000. Do the math. SF probably get less than one-third of the eligible nationalist vote. A large percentage of nationalists do not vote. I don’t know why but if they were SF supporters, they would vote for them, wouldn’t they? It may be that they do not care for the voting choices available to them. Do you deny there are many nationalists who considering SF have put themselves out in the cold, would like to see them wither away?

  • New Yorker

    Greenflag

    So you agree with me that neither the DUP or SF should have any influence over P and J because they cannot be trusted because of their connections with criminality (never mind competence) and by extension they should not have other ministries as well. Both parties are untrustworthy and incompetent.

    The bigger picture, as I see it, is that democracy will not work in NI in the short and probably long term at the six county level. At the same time, the six county boundaries will not change. It is back to the drawing board in so far as six county governance is concerned. We should dispense with what we know does not work, namely, the Assembly and other democratic institutions such as all the political parties except at council level. Then the UK and ROI governments should decide on the best and most workable way for their policies to be carried out in NI. Perhaps there should be a government chief executive of international stature and probably not from Ireland or the UK. Not a midget like nearly all Secretaries of State, but a proven fair and competent person with the ability to make all government functions work as good as possible under agreed policies of the UK and ROI. It could be a new opportunity for NI. We live in an age when the best way to govern should be considered in light of the precarious primacy of the current model of liberal capitalist democracy. New ideas should be explored and not reversion to old orthodoxies. Because of its small size, NI is the type of place where scale allows for trying out new ideas.