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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London