What’s Denis Bradley really trying to say?

After “ A Cold Home for Unionists,” we now have “Nationalists feeling lonely and unwanted.” Denis Bradley’s curious and gloomy little analysis in the Irish News of the unease billowing through NI politics is the most original I’ve seen in a long time, but is it right? Do unexpressed fears lie behind it? Are bad boys in the Brandywell and Creggan getting to him, perhaps? In a sense, his analysis complements Jim Fitzpatrick’s comments below, as noted by Pete. All parties are insecure he says, but nationalists are worse off than unionists. Well that’s a first for many years and no mistake if true. From my distance, I accept the fact of malaise but I would suggest to Denis – malaise is indivisible. Both sides are infants at self-government and growing up is tough. Let’s look at his key paragraph.

“All of our political institutions are posited on the reality that each community has a veto. That is not a natural form of government. But it is the price we paid for peace. That, in turn, is posited on the reality that each community looks to a different government for its identity and its authority. Always looking to a higher authority weakens and demeans the status of our assembly and executive but it is the only thing that provides an alternative to the dangerous undertow of British/Irish history. It means that both governments need to attend to the needs and the fears of the respective community for some period yet.

This key paragraph needs unpicking. The phrase that leaps out at me first is “

the reality that each community looks to a different government for its identity and its authority. ”

I’m not sure that either community ever “looked with reliability to either government” for long. Nor did they rely on them for their allegiances, which were and are on the contrary, home-grown and distinct from the metropolitan varieties in London and Dublin. Politicians of course have to make choices for their electorates where opinions may be far more diverse. Unionist politicians from Faulkner to Trimble s were far worse off than their nationalist oppos. British governments have never championed unionists: they saw themselves as honest brokers, although nationalists, in particular John Hume ( though less so, the old Belfast leadership of Fitt and Devlin) believed there was an innate, institutional pro-unionist bias that he progressively invoked Dublin to counteract. True, nationalist self-esteem may have had further to fall from the long supremacy of Hume, the climax of the pan nationalist front of Hume Reynolds and Adams and the final triumph of Sinn Fein.

As I read him, Denis then contradicts himself.

“Always looking to a higher authority weakens and demeans the status of our assembly and executive but it is the only thing that provides an alternative to the dangerous undertow of British/Irish history. “

Right on, Denis, too true but then….

“It means that both governments need to attend to the needs and the fears of the respective community for some period yet.”

Non sequitur, I say. No government is abandoning them: the funds will continue to flow from London, nationalists at last enjoy their emotional warm blanket of Irishness unmolested ( as will sensible unionists).
“In the meantime and in this period of uncertainty and nervousness, the onus is on the Irish government to devise and provide a comfort blanket to northern nationalism. If that means more representation in the Dail and Senate then better it happen soon.”

Does the Union really feel so secure? That’s probably unanswerable in institutional terms. The better lesson surely, is for both sides to have the political and moral courage to face each other, without either of them running to London and Dublin all the time, where the governments have far bigger fish to fry just now. The superficially attractive idea of representation in the Oireachtas would only create a whole new dimension of division and distraction from reality all round. And speaking rights in the Seanad are unlikely to satisfy irreconcilables. The parties will have more than enough to do in coping with the institutional reforms which recession is making increasingly compelling. They should be able to tackle this: fair employment laws and the legions of external scrutineers and quangos make it very difficult for unionists to benefit at nationalist expense, and vice versa.

But is Denis going further and hinting here at fears of a rising dissident republican threat, in reaction to Sinn Fein’s inevitable failure to deliver nirvana? If so, it would be better to come up with evidence and launch the discussion en clair.

  • slug

    “the onus is on the Irish government to devise and provide a comfort blanket to northern nationalism”

    This metaphor is of a parent and a small fearful child. Think this is not a good way of approaching the issue.

    It also suggests that Dublin is “for” nationalists while London is “for” unionists. Outdated and unimaginative?

    I am not a great fan of the idea that “unionists” should go to Westminster and “nationalists” go to the Dail.

    In my view nationalists could have more influence if they participated more fully at Westminster and they underestimate the importance of Westminster. The SDLP are respected there, and Sinn Féin would do a lot for their repuation – and their arguments – in GB if they participated too. It does not diminish the case for a UI-and may strengthen it’s disemination. There is some power too in close votes.

    Interestingly, Unioinsts are now finding they can engage with Dublin and to the benefit of unionism.

    Thus, rather than Bradley’s idea of nationalists going to Dublin and Unionists to Westminster, a solution in which both participate in both places would be better.

    Clearly, though, the people of ROI woudln’t be terribly keen on a big bunch of SF reps landing in the Dail with voting and speaking rights – that’s why it hasn’t happened. If something different should be devised, something that Unionists would be happy with too, then the people of the ROI might let that happen.

    Meantime I hope that changes in Westminster – to the Oath ,and making the Lords elected – will encourage nationalists to bring their views and influence there. It is their right and I would like to see them take it up in a way they are comfortable with.

  • Seymour Major

    Slug’s last point raises an in interesting issue about democratic representation.

    Everybody has a right to a political belief and to be elected on the basis of that political belief. Indeed, some British people are republicans.

    Had loyalty to the Queen been the only obstacle, I think this debate might already have been on the move. However, until 2 years ago, Sinn Fein did not respect the institutions of law and order. Some appropriate oath for MPs must remain. My view is that oath should be amended to require an MP to respect Parliament, the constitution, the rule law and the institutions charged with enforcing the law as well as requiring them to represent their constituents in Parliament.

    At the moment, I am not aware of any initiative having been taken by Sinn Fein to change the oath.

    If Sinn Fein were really interested in representing their constituents in Parliament, they should be making their own proposals for an acceptable alternative oath. Perhaps they are happy not to turn up to Westminster. They never have anything to say about taxation or anything else that goes on at Westminster, a point that I made in one of my posts

    http://torystoryni.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/what-are-sinn-feins-economic-policies/

  • MacBeth

    What Denis is saying between the lines is that the leadership of Sinn Fein does not have the innate ability to lead and the disillusionment has grown tremendously over the past couple of years at community level. Hence, the increasingly defensive rants coming out of party mouth pieces attacking everyone else.
    Sinn Fein believes just by being “in government” is an end in itself. It has been a free ride for the Sinners for several years now.
    The leadership of Sinn Fein believes that their Central Poliburo is not accountable to anyone. They have a totally authoritarian leadership that the world left behind decades ago.
    Sinn Fein effectively stands for nothing — by default — other than increased crime, increased suicides, increased anti-social behaviour. There are no accomplishments at community level to speak of. The party stands for negativity by its lack of initiative and actions. There is no inspiration.
    Martin McGuinness stuck it to the Irish language. There is nothing to be proud of. The peace process has been shown to be full of holes.
    No wonder Denis Bradley is so worried.

  • blinding

    Denis is trying to say “why don’t we just all get along”

    Pretty much the same as that Ramsey guy in that recent thread.

  • eranu

    nationalists and unionists could avoid feeling cold and lonely if they would stop putting up barriers between themselves and trying to convince themselves they have nothing in common. they come from the same towns and cities, some probably a few streets away from others. they have a local parliament to go to. if you cant make a few new friends from 108 people then there is something wrong with you.
    as for dublin, they have more than enough on their plate at the minute trying to keep their state going. they dont need people from the state directly to their north looking for attention. northern ireland just isnt that important to people in the republic.

  • Brian Walker

    Are SF really doing worse than any other party? Perhaps they are, but only according to the lights of their own millennarian vision. If they lower their sights, the real verdict is surely mixed. Conor Murphy seems able and astute. Caitriona Ruane’s stance on selection is hopeless, although it has its defenders on egalitarian grounds. In the tussle over symbols SF got their fingers badly burnt. But in the realm of practical politics, the battles over symbols and identity politics are irrelevant. I suggest all parties in the Executive are still suffering from growing pains and need more time to adjust. Their test will come as they approach cuts and priorities. I wouldn’t write off the chances of Robinson and McGuinness rising to the challenge, with some prodding from the SDLP and UUs.