“And isn’t this the basis of our political system?”

In the Belfast Telegraph Eamonn McCann picks up on some recent political faux pas – including this DUP one, and one by a. n. other..

Enhancing the political cv with a dubious song-reference is by no means the most egregious of the myriad inexactitudes which litter Mr Adams’ life-story. But it’s indicative. A party leader in almost any other country who showed the same disdain for accuracy about his political past would be ditched as a liability. But here, as long as you can persuade the punters that you have a sharper focus on advancing the interests of your own community vis-a-vis the other community, no probs. Which is why, despite all, Sinn Fein and the DUP are set to take the top two positions in the poll. In other words, the result will in large measure be dictated by sectarianism.

He also brings in to play another recent political set-to.

What is sectarianism other than the tendency to identify yourself in public life solely or mainly by reference to the religious group you chance to have been born into? And isn’t this the basis of our political system? What then are we to make of the pleas of politicians, including DUP and SF politicians, for an end to “sectarianism”? None of the four biggest parties advocates violent sectarianism of the sort which led to the murder of Kevin McDaid and which, at a lower level of intensity, is a regular feature of life in interface areas.

But they do advocate and exemplify peaceful sectarianism, of the sort which provided the template of the Agreement.

The dimensions of the problem of sectarianism were expressed in figures quoted this week by Peter Shirlow of Queen’s: the PSNI logged 1,584 sectarian incidents in 2007/2008, 1,595 in the same period of 2008/2009. A marginal increase only: but 15 years after the first ceasefires and 11 years after the Agreement, shouldn’t the figures be falling?

Commenting on the statistics and on the murder of Kevin McDaid, Shirlow told the Guardian: “It’s all very well for politicians to condemn murders. But there is no serious attempt to tackle sectarianism. If you listen to Unionist politicians … all they talk about is more money for Protestant areas. They emphasis only one community instead of talking about a shared, united society.”

The problem with this is that the Agreement which nationalist as well as unionist politicians take as the road-map into the future does not envisage “a shared, united society”. The ideal it envisages is of two communities living not as one but separately, alongside one another. The conventional wisdom has it that this is just the way things are, and that it is fanciful naïvety to wish or imagine things differently. And, true, the weight of history bears heavily upon us, compressing the psyche into the patterns of the past. It would indeed be fanciful, naïve, to deny that communal allegiance is part of what we are. But it isn’t all that we are.

And a reminder of Eamonn’s take on how those political parties, and some of the commentariat, react when “anyone [dares] to envision a political system no longer structured in accordance with sectarian designation”.

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  • Big Maggie

    “In other words, the result will in large measure be dictated by sectarianism.”

    Or tribalism.

  • Joe

    [i]In other words, the result will in large measure be dictated by sectarianism.[/i]

    What else do you expect from a sectarian state?

  • Dave

    “What is sectarianism other than the tendency to identify yourself in public life solely or mainly by reference to the religious group you chance to have been born into? And isn’t this the basis of our political system? What then are we to make of the pleas of politicians, including DUP and SF politicians, for an end to “sectarianism”? None of the four biggest parties advocates violent sectarianism of the sort which led to the murder of Kevin McDaid and which, at a lower level of intensity, is a regular feature of life in interface areas.”

    That assumes that religion and nationality are synonyms, so that if a protestant converts to Catholicism then he or she also converts to Irish nationalism and that if a catholic converts to Protestantism then he or she also converts to unionism. Sadly, atheists, Jews, and Muslims, et al, are thereby deprived of the right to belong to one of the two nations.

    The dissention is a manifestation of a struggle between two nations for the control of one state, so it is a struggle for national rights and not, as it is depicted here for propaganda purposes, a struggle for religious rights. Even if Protestantism did not become associated with loyalism and unionism via colonial occupation, the two nations could be of the same religious denomination but would still be two nations locked into a struggle for control of one state.

    Control of the state is vital if the nation is to realise its right to national self-determination. The state is the sovereign territorial entity by which the nation organises itself. As the cornerstone of international law expresses it “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Clearly, one nation cannot “freely pursue [its] economic, social and cultural development” if another nation or another state holds a veto over it.

    Since the problem of how two nations can share one state and both nations within that state can exercise their respective rights to national self-determination without conflicting with each other has not been resolved (it cannot be resolved), that leaves the powers-that-be in the position of having to engineer a single nation to control the state. In order to do this, they must merge the two nations that exist within the state into one nation. Since the state of Northern Ireland already exists, there already in place a right to self-determination for the Northern Irish nation. That is then the nation that must be now engineered to control this state.

    Have the two nations agreed that the unique aspects of their respective nations should be eradicated and replaced by this new nation? I think the reality of what that means will come as a bit of a surprise to them. If that task is to be accomplished then it will require greater social engineering skills that simply repeating that expressions of national differences are examples of sectarianism that must be suppressed for the greater good of the two nations. The people are stupid, but I doubt they’re that stupid.

    Alternatively, they can recognise that they are two nations and that each nation has the right of self-determination. The logical outworking of two nations is two states, so the only way of solving a problem of two nations competing for control of one state is for each nation to have control of its own state. I wouldn’t vote for a mutual veto agenda under any circumstances (which is what unity amounts to), just as I wouldn’t support an engineering campaign that is tantamount to cultural genocide. And, of course, given the muppets who are engaged in it, will only have the botched outcome of engineering a third nation to add to the mix (fourth, if you count those gullible souls who have been successfully inocculated with the engineered nationality of European).

  • Lenny Deans

    Eamonn McCann
    It is depressing to think in 2009 our politicians still haven’t moved on. I listened to the euro debates on TV/radio and our politicians would rather waste good air time backbiting each-other than deal with the real issues, more-so in this economic climate. Between Gerry Adams trying to glamorise his past, and Diane Dodds knocking the shinner’s, i don’t think she mentioned Europe once! In general all the(UK) MP’s feathering their nests; its a disgrace. Its about time we had a party in this wee country of ours that would represent us, the Joe public, on the important issues at hand IE. the economic climate.

  • kensei

    What is sectarianism other than the tendency to identify yourself in public life solely or mainly by reference to the religious group you chance to have been born into?

    Even the DUP have evolved beyond the “Protestant Unionist Party”. Utterly lazy.

    In any case, you can’t magic away people’s national aspirations. And you can’t dismiss people’s deeply held and sincere political beliefs, be it in Republicanism or Unionism however they are handed down; in many cases that link back through the generations adds further appeal to ideas people are content with.

    And, true, the weight of history bears heavily upon us, compressing the psyche into the patterns of the past. It would indeed be fanciful, naïve, to deny that communal allegiance is part of what we are. But it isn’t all that we are.

    Sure. But the hacienda must be built, if that’s what you are interested in. And people who spout this sort of stuff have a terrible habit of acknowledging communal identity, but not respecting it. Then they are shocked when people are resistant to change that involves giving up a piece of themselves.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    “That assumes that religion and nationality are synonyms, so that if a protestant converts to Catholicism then he or she also converts to Irish nationalism and that if a catholic converts to Protestantism then he or she also converts to unionism. Sadly, atheists, Jews, and Muslims, et al, are thereby deprived of the right to belong to one of the two nations.

    The dissention is a manifestation of a struggle between two nations for the control of one state, so it is a struggle for national rights and not, as it is depicted here for propaganda purposes, a struggle for religious rights. Even if Protestantism did not become associated with loyalism and unionism via colonial occupation, the two nations could be of the same religious denomination but would still be two nations locked into a struggle for control of one state.”

    To a point but you are simplifying the rather complex concept of nationalism. Nationalism is the desire for the state and the nation to be congruent but the nation is a projection of subjective characteristics that people feel themselves to hold, and religion can easily be one of those characteristics and thus become part of one’s conception of the nation they deem themselves to belong to. You cannot create a dichotomy between nation and religion because the latter, along with ethnicity, language, invented tradition etc. can, and in this case is, part of the former.

    You cannot deny that for the last two centuries at least Catholicism played a significant role in shaping a sense of Irish identity; the two were synonymous in this island to a greater degree than you suggest. Likewise with Protestantism and unionism. Unionism is a form of nationalism that expresses itself often in Protestant terms, for a large part in reaction to the Catholic nature of Irish nationalism. Hence, the invented traditions of Orange marching celebrating the victory of Protestant William over Catholic James. For Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland it is not theological differences but different cultural practices and historical connotations that the two carry that is the divisive element.

    With the declining role of organised religion there is perhaps more room for non-Catholics and non-Protestants but if you look at the membership of Sinn Féin and the SDLP on one hand and the UUP and the DUP on the other, you will find relatively few who do not sit largely in one of the two ethno-cultural-religious groups. That is in part a consequence of the very nature of nationalism as it has evolved in the latter part of the nineteenth century. If you were to look at nationalism post-French Revolution up until, say, 1848, the cultural component was removed from the political component. That is to say, the ‘nation’ was largely undefined in cultural terms and was equated primarily with the ‘people’ so nationalism was, therefore, akin to liberalism in its espousal of the sovereignty of the people. With the growth of state nationalism in Germany and Italy there was a pressing need to legitimise these novel nation-states with populations largely content with regional identities. It was then that the supposed cultural aspects of nationalism became of importance. There was a reciprocal relationship between the culture of those living in the nation and the culture norms adopted by the state in which they were living which manifested itself in a process of simplification and the propagation of ‘shared values’ that were in fact historical constructions. Nationalism, therefore, did become about cultural-religious-ethnic identity in a way that sat largely at odds with its hitherto internationalist and liberal nature. The nature of the two nationalisms in Northern Ireland sadly does exclude Jews and Muslims, not because of theological questions but because of the adoption of religious and cultural practices into the very nature of the two nationalisms themselves.

    Thus, you cannot say that struggle is not for religious rights. But neither can you say that it is just for religious rights. It is for political control of the state apparatus in order to promote a single nationalism and therein is contained religious elements along with the other cultural and linguistic components. It is the fact that Protestantism did become associated with loyalism so Protestantism does play a part in loyalist identity. You are right to say that that may not have been the case in a counter-factual Ireland and that the two nationalisms may have shared a religion, but that is to concede the multi-faceted nature of nationalism rather than to assert the unimportance of religion as a component of nationalism in general. It is one among many factors.

  • Stem

    @nineteensixtyseven

    Yes but the accusation is a hard 100% loaded one so it cannot stand. The implication is that any nationalist or any unionist is sectarian. This is like saying that anyone who criticises Israel is an anti-semite. In fact many nationalists would welcome a bone fide Protestant nationalist with open arms and many unionists would welcome a bone fide Catholic unionist with open arms, so the correlation you describe, strong is it may be, does not signify either nationalism or unionism as being definitionally sectarianism.

    There is a categorical cleavage, like that between UKIP and the BNP when it comes to skin colour.

  • Stem

    It’s also, in terms of strict cold logic, technically incorrect.

    Voters do not register their religion, and members of the assembly do not designate as either Protestant or Catholic.

    Indeed a good chunk of both unionist and nationalist voters (probably more so the former since secularism hit them first in historical terms) are not technically respectively Protestant or Catholic.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    Stem,

    You seem to misunderstand my point. Nationalists or Unionists need to be no more ‘sectarian’ than, say, Scottish nationalists are racist but it is in the very nature of those identities to be exclusionary. It doesn’t mean active sectarianism though. And religion does not need to be the largest component, or even a large component of nationalism/unionism, but it is, for a proportion of people, an element in proportion with other elements. The terms nationalism and unionism are, however, flexible enough to allow for Protestant nationalists like Douglas Hyde for whom it was the cultural-linguistic characteristics that formed his conception of the Irish nation, for example. My argument is that very often religion is a component among many and cannot be separated neatly from nationalism and put in its own category. It is not that religion is always the most important aspect by any means and, indeed, need not be present at all.

  • Shore Road Residents

    What a load of boring bastards you all are.

  • RG Cuan

    As pointed out above, McCann is falling into the media-led line that NI is mainly divided on religious grounds. It seems to be the easy way to describe what happens here but it doesn’t give a complete picture.

    The main divide is on the ‘national’ question and on cultural issues. It just happens that each side orginally practised different types of Christianity.

    Any murder, expression of hatred, bigotry etc based on this divide is sectarianism but most of our politics, and politicians promoting Nationalism or Unionism, is definitely not.

  • Gum

    [i]A party leader in almost any other country who showed the same disdain for accuracy about his political past would be ditched as a liability[/i]

    Really? You think? George W Bush? Two term president. Bill Clinton? Two term president.(Hillary and the sniper fire? For someone who blatanty lied about her overseas experience, she is made Sec of State!)

  • malachi

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Always_Look_on_the_Bright_Side_of_Life

    It appears there was an older version of the song.

  • Stem

    If I say that I am a socialist and I oppose those who believe in free market economics I am not labelled a bigot.

    If I say I am a Catholic and that the Roman Catholic church is the one true Christian church I may be labelled a quasi bigot.

    If I say that people who have black skin cannot possibly be Irish / British (delete as applicable) then I am a bigot.

    —-

    The first is a choice, and considered such by society. A free arena of debate and convincing your opponent.

    The second is also a choice, but in this era is considered an attribute in which convincing those of the error of their ways (or otherwise) is considered bigotry.

    The third is not a choice. Then I am a bigot.

    Why should telling a Catholic that they should be a Protestant, or telling a Protestant that they should be a Catholic, be considered bigotry?

    Why shouldn’t it be considered in the same way that someone who argues for a nationalised health system as opposed to a privatised health system is considered?

  • Stem

    To add to the confusion if I go around trying to convince Catholics to be Protestants then I am a bigot. If I go around trying to convince both Catholics and Protestants to be atheists (e.g. Richard Dawkins) then I am not a bigot.

  • Stem

    Who exactly is making these rules of discourse?

    For clarity, I actually am an atheist.

  • God Save Eamonn McCann

    Is there some denial going on here? Have we all forgotten that Home Rule is Rome Rule? Was that just big Capital using anachronism to protect it’s property from sequestration? Funny it didn’t scare pro-Home Rule capitalists like Lord Pirrie. Maybe people actually meant what they said when they signed the Ulster Covenant. They actually feared domination by a Catholic Sate.

    How many protestant MLA’s are designated nationalist in Stormont?

    How many catholic MLA’s are designated unionist?

    So long as children are educated along religious lines and socialised through their education and church related organisations (GAA, Scouts, CCF, girls and boys brigades), political preferences will follow a religious pattern.

    Douglas Hyde’s minister free funeral? Ryan Report? Mother and Child? Fethard-on-sea anyone?
    Or for a more up to date example how about Sinn Fein’s seizure of the education ministry and their continuing denial of requests for integrated schooling, (on the grounds that the buildings might be built using PFI FFS).

    Wise up. Religious difference is not a proxy for the nationalist/unionist separation. So long as religious institutions are used to deliver state services it’s the beginning and end of it.

    Alliance membership = 3 catholic background, 3 protestant background and 1 Taoist. Ireland’s only liberal, secular, integrationist, internationalist, and therefore truly Republican party.

  • labourNIman

    I wish Mccann had stood again in the euro election. He was my 1st pref the last time and would have been again this time as well.

  • michael

    Rumour has it McCann’s SEA were planning to run a migrant worker in the election but didn’t get their act together in time. It may have brought the issue of migrant workers into the fray but he/she would not have polled as well as McCann last time out, which, lets face it, was not all that well.

  • Helios

    Is there some denial going on here? Have we all forgotten that Home Rule is Rome Rule? Was that just big Capital using anachronism to protect it’s property from sequestration?

    Religion is an indirect divider in that it produces endogamy.

    For someone who is born of “planters”, who sees a load of bigots who blame Britain for everything bad that ever happened to Ireland, that unionists are evil (almost a direct McGuinness quote) and have no “natural” identity and aren’t really British, it is ABSOLUTELY NATURAL to not want you children and grandchildren when you’re dead to be under the control of these self righteous MONSTERS, a significant proportion of whom supported murder and frankly still support murder.

    It’s like asking a Kosovan Albanian if they want to be part of Serbia, and then saying ooh, a Kosovan who doesn’t want to be Serbian, he must be “sectarian”, even if he, or a so called Ulster “Prod” is actually an atheist.

  • Helios

    Point being, I didn’t learn that in the fucking BB and actually I didn’t learn it in school. I went through school believing the “anti sectarian” clap trap and that’s what my teachers in school were biased in favour of if anything.

    I learnt what monsters most nationalists are by their murders on my television screen and by meeting them at university and talking to them in places like this where they reveal their true views.

    That process was not “religious”.

  • Cuairteoir

    I think you need to get out more ‘Helios’ and meet more nationalists…

  • OC

    I think you need to get out more ‘Helios’ and meet more nationalists…

    Posted by Cuairteoir on Jun 05, 2009 @ 06:02 PM

    All the more reason to end all funding for compulsory education except for integrated, non-sectarian schools.

  • Big Maggie

    malachi,

    Oh thank you, thank you for that link! I’d never have thought of consulting Wiki on suchlike. It was a joy to read.

    I note that the page mentions what has to be the best-titled LP in the history of recorded music: “Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album”.

    Lovely :^)

  • Big Maggie

    Pete,

    Sorry to be a nuisance but I mean well: I don’t want you to make this solecism again. Most people mistake a “faux pas” for a blunder. It is, but it’s a more of a social indiscretion or breach of etiquette—such as passing the port to one’s right, i.e. starboard side :^)

    If you’re going to delight us with gems such as “the most egregious of the myriad inexactitudes” (great stuff!) then you really should use faux pas correctly and not as you do in your post.