Is the process just a dark hole in which old monsters squirm and grow?

In some ways the implicit meaning of this crisis are too awkward for some of our politicians to face. One that hadn’t immediately occurred to me was Peter Preston’s observation (following consistently on from poisonous foundations) that by locking the incumbent political opinion into Stormont, you automatically alienate any outside political opposition and leave them to their own devices.

Voters in a democracy will always want to know what comes next, to see what’s the alternative. And, intellectually, Northern Ireland offers them no alternative but the gun. They must stick where they are, permutating Catholics and Protestants, loyalists or republicans of various intensity, in pact after pact – but they can’t throw either set of rascals out. Togetherness is a permanent state, not an option. Any peace is conditional until what’s mattered and divided Northern Irish society for decade after decade ceases to matter at all.

We’re not there yet. We have many more decades to go. Relative prosperity, normality and the (fading) prospect of better times can help, but there has to be a clear answer, too, an open agreement about where the province is going. Do we remotely have that yet? When Gordon Brown – in the wake of Major and Blair – denounces the “evil” of Massereene, can he also define a long-term good? Or, 10 years on, is the process just a dark hole in which, malignities untended, the old monsters can still squirm and grow? Where “Real IRA” means just what it says?

Adds: Just been pointed at this piece by Chris Brookes from last year, which kind of relates to the same thing:

I’ve just been re-reading Machiavelli’s Discourses, and one of the points he makes very early on is that you want your political institutions to be such that formal public challenges to authority are very easy, precisely in order to discourage what he calls calunnia, “calumnies”, or doing everything in semi-private unattributable ways through insinuation and rumour.

But Machiavelli also notes that this does not necessarily result in the reduction of strength in the incumbents, since the challengers often entirely overestimate their chance of success in a fair and open fight…

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  • joeCanuck

    Well, Mick, I asked this question before, as much as two years ago, and never got an answer. So I’ll ask it again.
    Preamble: Over on another thread, Rory (South Derry) is arguing that “republicans” have, forever, the Right (his capitalization) to take up arms against the terrible British Invader/Oppressor (I may have paraphrased slightly).
    Question(s): What gives them that “Right”? Is it the Mandate from that tiny rump from the first Dail (sorry no fada) who lost the Civil War?
    What form did that Mandate take? Was it a piece of paper? If so, who is the possessor of that piece of paper and how do they demonstrate their legitimate ownership of it.
    If, as I suspect, it is simply a load of hogwash from Society’s losers who, perversely, prefer to be destroyers rather than builders, then who is the “real” IRA and who decides when the armed struggle is really over. It is hardly Rory and his pals in South Derry or wherever.

  • cynic

    And does it then confer on the oppressor the right to oppress?

    Those who put forward these views are really racists in disguise. Their philosophy is based upon some perverted eugenics that anyone who aspires differently from them is genetically different and therefore sub human.

    They aren’t. We all come from the same genetic stock and the Brits they all want out have lived here for just as long and his ancestors(indeed, possibly even longer).

    But never mind. Ignorance and bigotry is a wonder combination. I wear a Celtic shirt, watch Gaelic and drink Guinness therefore I must be Irish

  • The Spectator

    “there has to be a clear answer, too, an open agreement about where the province is going

    Has anyone here got that answer? From here, that looks pretty much like a demand for Irish Nationalism to ‘give up’ – or am I misreading it?

  • Jason

    The real fear is what happens next?

    Will the British government have learned the lessons of the “troubles”?

    At the moment we are told the perpretrators have so real support in Republican areas. However, if the security response is as heavy handed as it is against British Muslims in the UK. Then this won’t remain that way for long.

    Simultaneously, these organisations need to be dismantled now. As it is clear the next casualties are likely to be ordinary citizens, rather than “legitimate targets” as the element of surprise has gone. Which may bring the loyalists into the problem.

    The issue is acting effectively against the correct culprits without radicalising an entire generation.

  • Henry94


    Question(s): What gives them that “Right”? Is it the Mandate from that tiny rump from the first Dail (sorry no fada) who lost the Civil War?

    That used to be the way and the CIRA would still claim that. But there is another element now which claim the right of any Irish person to take up arms against the British occupation.

    No theology required.

  • By definition, a political process excludes those who are only involved in violence. That shouldn’t be held up as a fault – it is the point of democracy.

    By the same token, we now need people capable enough of making strong arguments as to why the status quo is not the most beneficial option. That means stating what you compromised on without shame, but saying what you would have done in other circumstances. On everyday issues, like education, re-integration of the unemployed into the labour force etc. In the midst of a global recession arguments against British neoliberal policy should have some impact. Irish neoliberalism is equally open to criticism.

    The process should then change shape according to the strength of those conditional arguments, which need to be bigger than sectarianism. The process is only static, the “dark hole” described, if the politicians involved in it have as little imagination and ability as the author of this article.

  • Condor

    @The Spectator

    Has anyone here got that answer? From here, that looks pretty much like a demand for Irish Nationalism to ‘give up’ – or am I misreading it?

    You probably are misreading it, but I for one believe that Irish Nationalism does have to “give up” in a sense.

    In a sense the process has been a giving up that NI is, or will be, “as British as Finchley”. There also has to be slow and painful process amongst nationalists that NI will never be as Irish as Sligo, just as Belgium will never be as Dutch as Amsterdam. The mosaic of national consciousness has to be accommodated. Does that mean giving up on a united Ireland? No, not in the sense of a formal border, single chair at the UN or whatever. But any united Ireland would have to a Switzerland or a Belgium, a consociational state, and for that Irish nationalism does have to “give up” as it were, or we’re back to square one.

  • Mick Fealty

    Added a bit from Machiavelli and the desireablity of allowing open challenges as a way of keeping calumnies at bay… night all…


  • I think Chris Brooke for understandable reasons in his piece has softened considerably what Machiavelli was saying, which was actually about the provision of different institutions of government for the different classes in society so that the clash between their different interests could keep society in balance. This was dependent upon an active and armed citizenry keeping a close watch on its politicians.

    Anyway, applied to NI it may be we already have a form of government that encompasses Machiavelli’s theory about balance in the institutions of government. However, what we have is paralysis through our checks and balances, not the vigorous and expansionist government advocated by Machiavelli in the Discourses. Which is probably just as well. But seriously, we need a more engaged citizenry to ensure that the executive is responsible to our needs.

  • hartshill

    Martin McGuinness and his ‘traitors’ will possibly recruit a few dozen or so for the smaller groups. I have found a lot of unease in my area at that statement.