“All passion spent now: partition is solid as ever…”

I just did a quick interview with a Bel Tel journalist who asked why our threads over paramilitary banners seem to attract so many comments when the hard core policy ones hardly any. My glib answer is that people will resile to non political tribal issues so long as nothing is happening on the hill… As Mark Durkan makes his speech in Trinity tonight, he is no doubt aware just how far nationalist sentiment in the north and the south have drifted from one another… Fionnuala O’Connor puts it thusly:

In today’s poorer State, interest in the dour and unprepossessing North is back to its default position and the 95 per cent-completed peace draws little attention. However far away “the unification of Ireland” was, it is further off now, a feature on no Southern manifesto. What is the Cowen instinct on unification, the Gilmore line, the Kenny line?

Even recast as the “aspiration” of old, the very term “united Ireland” lacks resonance – though unionists are not ready to declare their old bogey defunct, any more than republicans are willing to admit how they needed Hume, much less how their violence helped blow away the vestiges of the aspiration.

But the Catholic Irish republic marching into Protestant Ulster lost its oomph as nightmare a while back, perhaps when Charlie Haughey departed. Albert had no menace, Bertie no claws: they were men of peace, not of nationalist expansionism.

And finishes with an acute rendering of a bitter and intractable truth for the pre-modern nationalists of Northern Ireland:

Today’s Southern state has neither time nor inclination for consideration of Northern Ireland. Bureaucratic input suffices for smart guys of both genders at desks in the Taoiseach’s office and Foreign Affairs, occasionally refreshed by visits to their Belfast outpost: like drainage experts or electricians maintaining a troublesome inherited property.

Which is how things were through the worst of the Troubles, but there was also passion then. All passion spent now: partition is solid as ever.

In short: the post modern, post ideological southern state has no time to indulge northern solipsistic and mawkish introspection of either type..

  • Only Asking

    She’s not wrong.

  • Thereyouarenow

    Too much passion may have been part of the problem.

    Pragmatic drip drip may fill the tub.

  • JoeBryce

    I agree: the trends noted here make unity ultimately more rather than less likely. It only could ever happen by agreement.

    Also, the disintegration of Westminster’s authority runs parallel to the evaporation of Dublin irrendentism. Both flow from the expanding role of Brussels.

    It baffles me beyond speaking that those who purport to desire Irish unity will vote no tomorrow, and those who do not care about Irish unity will vote yes. If the apathetics win the vote, which I hope they will, Irish unity will come sooner not later – by agreement, for pragmatism’s sake.

  • As a Southerner, I could live with the arrangements Durkan describes, though I’d prefer a unitary state, or a federation where the border was changed to bring in 70%+ Nationalist areas into the Southern zone in a federation.

  • Brian Walker

    John Hume had a grand strategy to draw in the south to rescue the nationalist community from the twin threats of violent loyalism and the IRA. An “agreed Ireland” was always left studiously vague, but it chimed with British longings for active disengagement. Its high water mark was reached just before the GFA. Those days have gone. The reasons for a dynamic nationalism have disappeared. What is wrong with the Durkan thesis is that it leaves in the first rank what has become a second order question. The blunt truths are (a) that such an initiative beyond platitudes is massively untimely for the south: and (b) that a forward unity strategy is incompatible with the smoooth working of the GFA and would do the nationalist part of the community little service. If every move under Strand 2 is badged out in the cause of unity, it will fail. What’s wrong with Strand 2 as it is – there’s plenty of opportunity for creative politics there. What is neeed is a C21 version of the sort of nationalist tradition of Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin who unlike most of their successors rubbed shoulders with unionists day to day. (This may be derided in some quarters today, but if you’d accused Paddy of being an Uncle Tom, you’d have got a huge belligerent fist in your face.) The real dream is about the hard grind of creating a local polity that can command genuine acceptance and even loyalty. Unless Mark
    ( who is seldom the clearest of speakers) is going about this in a round-about way, what the SDLP needs now is its own Clause 4 moment. Leadership bids now, please!

  • Coll Ciotach

    Hence the expansion of Fianna Fáil north, she seems to have been asleep.

  • lula

    A little rant about Sinn Féin and the south (and by extension Northern politics):

    It strikes me that they are stuck in combat politics – not just in terms of being combative towards unionism or combative towards other nationalists, but more crucially, combative towards the state. No doubt it’s a difficult habit to break: they do have 35 years of practice at being just that in the most literal sense.

    But that habit puts them at odds with the overwhelming mass of the southern populous – for whom allegiance is owed to the state and the system is not something anyone wants to bring down. The state is not something that many in the south want to see destroyed or overthrown, but built up. The SDLP, in contrast to Sinn Féin, were never about pulling a state down – but rather about improving one. Their attitude towards the state is much more in line with most in the south.

    That division was exposed by the Durkan-Gilmore thing in Dundalk. The SDLP line on Lisbon fits snugly alongside every other party south of the border, with the exception of one … where are Sinn Féin? Outside shaking their fists at the system with the looney fringe. Wild-eyed rants from some Sinn Féin councillor demanding what Durkan was doing south of the border are seen as just that: wild-eyed rants from some Sinn Féin councillor. What do you think he was doing? Every politician in the country was sitting behind a table telling people to vote Yes. Everyone that is except Sinn Féin.

    Has the South lost interest in the North? Have we grown apart? Hardly. Some small (repetitive) evidence: did anyone south of the border question what Gimmore and Durkan were doing campaigning together on something was nominally outside of Durkan’s jurisdiction? (Well, no-one except Sinn Féin.) But so long as Sinn Féin are the largest nationalist party in the North, there are going to be a grave divisions in politics between northern and southern voters.

  • lula

    Coll Ciotach, “asleep”? That article is so dozy it’s not even worth responding to.

  • Dave

    Who cares if we in Ireland want you lot or not (and we don’t) since you’d not get a majority of catholics in NI to vote for a united Ireland at the best of economic times nevermind a majority of the NI electorate to vote for it at the worst of economic times.

  • RepublicanStones

    “Who cares if we in Ireland want you lot or not (and we don’t) since you’d not get a majority of catholics in NI to vote for a united Ireland at the best of economic times nevermind a majority of the NI electorate to vote for it at the worst of economic times.”

    Christ Dave, you must have a monster circle of friends hi boy, what with you knowing how the entire southern populace feel. No fear of six toes in your neck of the woods eh 😉

  • KieranJ

    Ms. O’Connor has as much knowledge of the poitical situation on the Island as has the average taxi driver in Dublin, Cork or Belfast.

    One thing about being Irish. You’re absolutely certain about your thoughts even though they’re absolutely wrong.

  • dunreavynomore

    Why so, KieranJ? Why does she know nothing and why are we Irish all wrong?

  • Dave

    RS, I could never be as popular as you undoubtedly are but I do occasionally engage others in conversation, so I have a good feel for the public good. Opinions, by definition, are independent of evidence so I don’t need a Red C poll before I offer one.

    I think we’ll all get around to unity eventually but it will probably be 20 years or so before we get there or thereabouts. When the unionists feel unwanted by the UK (or underfunded), they’ll probably consider it if we can find a way to respect each other’s identity without censorship and vetoes or recourse to the horrid legal arrangements that handicap NI.

    Unity would never happen on Durkan’s terms, however, since his (for rather, the NIOs) vision is dismantling the nation-state of Ireland and replacing it with a replica of NI. That would be disastrous for all concerned.

    But who really knows…?

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘RS, I could never be as popular as you undoubtedly are but I do occasionally engage others in conversation, so I have a good feel for the public good. Opinions, by definition, are independent of evidence so I don’t need a Red C poll before I offer one.’

    Dave as I live and work in Dublin, guess what…I do occasionally engage others in conversation as well. But I would never be so pompus as to suggest that arms me with a feel for the public good. Unless of course you mean by converstaion, standing on Henry/Grafton st and annoying people with a PWC questionaire type thingymajig?

  • Erasmus

    As a southern-based southerner nothing irritates me more than nordies like Fionnuala O’Connor launching into self-satisfied but misinformed deconstructions of the ROI pysche. It is pretty obvious that she does not have the finger on the pulse of the modern ROI.
    Most people would regard the concept of a UI with varying degrees of positivity albeit that practically everyone would be opposed to political violence.
    Rest assured (or otherwise): she has got this one seriously wrong.

  • dunreavynomore

    “Most people would regard the concept of a UI with varying degrees of positivity” Erasmus.

    I imagine mz O’Connor is aware of this but is equally aware that most of you have no intention of doing anything to bring that UI about. This is the crux of the matter, people in the 26 counties may be well disposed to a United Ireland but it is very low down on their scale of priorities and in reality is nothing more for many than an ‘it would be nice’ which puts it on a par with bar room republican song singing.

  • Dave

    RS, so you have no opinion about whether or not people are likely to make the Queen head of the Irish state or whether or not purple polka dot suits are likely to be all the rage among Dublin medical profession circa December? I think you can judge the public mood without too much effort if you want to. 😉

  • Dave

    dunreavynomore, I think you’re right about how committed Irish people are to progressing a united Ireland agenda but that is something that NI folks need to work on. I don’t think that many southeners would see it as a priority and even those who would see it as such would probably change their minds if they knew what it actually involves. It really all depends on what degree of harmonisation occurs between the two traditions in the years ahead. Harmonising states isn’t the answer. If those two traditions can come together as one nation, then one state is possible. I think the other option of ‘engineering’ people into a UI will end badly since devided people will see to that outcome. Unify the people first, and take it from there. If not, then repartition may figure as an option. Anyway, the Shinners missed their chance for a coup (which would be right about now).

  • Republic of Connaught

    What does Fionnuala O’Connor expect from the South regarding NI? There’s no real sign of a nationalist majority in the north in the next 8-10 years, is there? The insecure nordies always think that Southern indifference equals rejection of the northern people.

    The harsh reality is that your average Mayoman or Galwayman or Wexfordman or Waterfordman doesn’t care a damn about gangland shootings in Dublin or Limerick any more than he cares about sectarian murders in Coleraine or Ballymena. “Oh, that’s terrible,” he’ll say, before putting on Fair City or Coronation Street.

    Irish people in the four corners of the country have always been provincial minded, and unless something directly effects upon them – ie, government policies in Dublin – then things that happen in distant parts of Ireland may as well be happening in Beirut.

    A fully united Ireland is now impossible without a nationalist majority in the six counties. Once that majority looks to be materialising then the real debates will begin. Until then, the north is hardly a priority in a Republic which can’t rely on the economic umbrella of greater London.

  • latcheeco

    Oh dear Mick
    The band on the good ship Titanic are playing another number.

    Maybe it might be helpful if Ms. O’Connor looked at it this way. And it’s probably easier done if any residual bitterness at the once dominant stoops’ electoral destruction is set aside.

    Imagine you’re a bird flying over a land called “Irish history since 1900”. Taking say 1900 as the start of your map, ask yourself how much of that land has become progressively greener the farther along you fly? What does the trend look like down below?

    Given that FF (as Coll correctly reminds us) seem to be tentatively organizing in the North and the previous RA now have offices in Stormont, who would to put their post-modern, post-ideological money on the map not getting greener? Who would put there money on Robbo’s successor and FF not doing a deal?

  • Petra Schlem

    Unless one actually believed that partition was going to be ended by armed struggle, or soft gentle persuasion, one has to realise that even if there had not been the so called “troubles” there is no end game, except through a democratic solution, whereby a majority in the North vote for reunification. The numbers are not there yet, and they were never going to be, as Unionism is not known to be responsive to soft whispers on the pillow.

  • Mick Fealty

    What soft whispers would those be then Petra?

  • elvis parker

    ‘ask yourself how much of that land has become progressively greener the farther along you fly? What does the trend look like down below?’

    To me when I see the spread of British culture down south I think the trend is definitely in the direct on unification – with the Republic have its own Home Rule parliament as part of the UK

  • fin

    Save us from Journo’s on a slow news day indulging in futuring and/or mindreading, has any journo ever managed to predict anything of significance?

    Whats Fionnuala’s stance on next years world cup, I guess its going to be a disaster because see doesn’t see anyone talking about it today.

    The point is, a united Ireland is an emotional issue (although the SDLP want to plan for it as if it was an 18th birthday party, and unionists see it as a corporate style takeover, watching the business pages to see if anyone tips it as a good buy) how many saw the war of independance coming? who thought the British embassy in Dublin would be attacked when Sands died.

    Unlike the SDlP, most Unionists, and Fionnuala, a groundswell like this is not worked out on paper, like the world cup you don’t know if the entire country will be glued to the telly for the final, but you know if your country is playing in the final, than they will be.

    There are several dates in the not to distance future that are very significant to the ideal of a united Ireland, anyone one of them with the right spark could pull the emotional trigger in the general public to suddenly agitate for a UI.

    I’d suggest leaving the spreadsheets and crystal balls in the drawer when discussing this subject and look at what would trigger a uniter Ireland campaign with popular support and see where those triggers exist.

    An ever decreasing number of unionists need to be convinced in the North and an ever increasing number of ‘unionists’ don’t consider themselves ‘unionist’ anymore.

  • Republic of Connaught


    Who knows what the future holds. More likely, however, would be the real Elvis seen alive strutting his stuff in a Union Jack g-string bikini in the middle of Crossmaglen with all the natives singing along before a majority in Ireland would ever return to, what always was and still is, English rule.

  • Brian Walker

    Can commenters ever admit that unity is not an urgent issue without suffering loss of face? Therein lies much of the problem. Any such admission implies handing victories to unionism in the tired old zero sum game and to Sinn Fein for selling the pass. Yet for the moderate nationalism, saying it out loud would represent progress up the learning curve. Lip service was always paid to the notion that the Agreeement would increase momentum towards unity by putting alll the cards on the table. This was always at best, a half truth. Now that it’s exposed, disillusion has set in and a new narrative has to be written. I suggest the development of a real ideology of a shared future is not only a necessary but an attractive cause. The real threat is from a dysfunctional system in which unionists think they live in “British Ulster”, where they look after their lot and nationalists pretend that the British link has all but disappeared. Both are dangerous apartheid illusions.

  • Reader

    Republic of Connaught: Who knows what the future holds.
    The future holds President Tony Blair, for a start.

  • Erasmus

    Most people have arrived at a degree of political sophistication vis-a-vis this issue; glaring, crusading antipartitionism is (rightly) seen as counterproductive and a form of masterly inactivity as more likely to yield dividends.

  • Thereyouarenow

    Brian Walker said

    “The real threat is from a dysfunctional system in which unionists think they live in “British Ulster”, where they look after their lot and nationalists pretend that the British link has all but disappeared. Both are dangerous apartheid illusions”

    Maybe I would say this as a republican.
    It is my belief that the side which is most Fundamentalist in outlook will lose the argument in the end.
    As I see it unionists(especially their politicians)want NI to be 100% british or as near as damn it. This dogma can only lead in the end in failure. Their fundamentalist attitude to issues like the Irish language are symtomatic of this die hard attitude. In the end you may die hard but yous still die.

    I feel that in disputes such as NIs that the side that has come from what most people would see as the disadvantaged side are more pragmatic and accept small steps. Small steps can eventually make a journey.

    In the real world there is always some progress and indeed in NI there must be momentum or there will be the dreaded vacuum. How Unionists cope with the changes that do come will be the big test. If Unionism cannot be generous in these steps they will undermine their own position.

    I may be wrong but I see little sign that this present crop of Unionist politician have the vision for what lies ahead.

  • latcheeco

    There’s nothing new to admit. As far as northern nationalists are concerned she’s preaching to the choir. She surely knows that there’s no new insight or revelation in telling northerners that many of their southern brothers are feckless swines would could care less if part of their country is ruled by London. Did we not know this already in 1922, or in 1969, or in 1981, or in all the years in between?

    There’s nothing new here. A nostalgic stoop wrote a bitter article aimed at republicans about how the south doesn’t want us, and a unionist dived on it as proof positive that all was now changed utterly and that we should get with their program.

    Surely she knows that the urgency to end partition always came from the North and not the other way around. To suggest apathy is worse now than ever is silly and is part of a unionist narrative. How much apathy is there in Gt. Britain towards unionists? Is it not worse than ever?

    Perhaps, to be charitable, this article (it is in the Irish Times after all)is rather a subtle charge and reminder to Southerners that partition still exists in their country and is not aimed at Northerners at all.

    Because otherwise it just smacks of bitterness that once the provisionals got rid of their guns the SDLP were revealed to have nothing to offer and were all but finished. Bitterness that,in reality, in order to maintain their position the SDLP needed the RA’s guns as much as unionists.

  • Brian Walker

    Thereyouarenow, you make a fair point. Fundamentalism is the enemy of accommodation and may in any case be self-defeating. But much of this discusion implies everything is up for grabs. It isn’t. Unionism has the built-in advantage of the legally recognised majority but this will never been enough for stability, never mind well-being. Guaranteees and guarantors to nationalists are real and substantial. Iatcheeco, the aim should be to overcome bitterness. Northern nationalists are no longer dispossessed but too much of the discussion ignores this basic fact. It would help if the twin errors of cynicism and pessimism were reduced in the debate and we looked around for much that is palatable all round in reality. The status quo aint so bad!

  • latcheeco

    Thanks for the reply. At the risk of howls of mopery, I’m not sure many nationalists would agree with you on no longer being dispossessed. But they are certainly making advances towards their goals which give the lie to O’Connor’s point that partition is as strong as ever.

    Ask any unionist if they are in a better pace than they were mid-century.

    What appears to be cynicism and pessimism for one might be idealism and patriotism for another. It depends on your view of the North.

    The problem with moving on is that for nationalists, in order for it to pass, the merits of the GFA were promoted as a beginning; to us it’s a long game and the GFA is no more an end than the Government of Ireland Act was.

    For unionists, it was sold as an end. That’s irreconcilable and prevents the new ideologies you are thinking about developing. The island is too small for a northern utopia to develop in isolation from the south. Even if all the bitterness and hatred were gone tomotrrow.

  • Dave

    “The status quo aint so bad!” – Brian Walker

    The status quo is unionism, so it “ain’t so bad” if your nationalism is British.

    Irish nationalists in NI remain “dispossessed” of their right to self-determination as members of the Irish nation. The state remains as a British state, with sovereignty residing with another nation so however their state is to be organised is subject in the last resort to another nation’s discretion.

    It may well be, however, that the nations of Europe have now renouced their respective rights to determine their own affairs, agreeng that they should be subject to the veto of supranational determination – or, at any rate, their governments have agreed it.

    In that context, the only difference between Irish nationalists in Ireland and Irish nationalists Northern Ireland is that the former can reclaim control of their state from foreign rule in the event of misrule whereas the latter cannot.

  • Dave

    “The future holds President Tony Blair, for a start.” – Reader

    Which may well be the EU’s downfall. Not Blair as president of the EU per se, but the fact the EU will be forced out of the shadows and exposed to the public in its new role as a quasi-state rather than in its hidden role as a place where bureaucrats toiled away on producing endless rules about the pigmentation of oranges or the required thickness of shoe leather. It will no longer be seen as a council of states but as a council of a state.

    People will either come to accept it in that new role as a state (in which case the EU will expand that role) or they will reject it, seeing that the logic of the EU as a state must lead to the cancellation of their state and its realignment as a region of another state. My guess is that they will reject it, and that the democrats will gain the ascendancy.

    The Lisbon Treaty may yet be the final nail in the EU’s coffin.

  • SadTruth

    Sad for some of the old guard for sure. But the myth of Irish “independence” has been shattered.
    Jump Senor Baroso?. How high Senor Baroso?.
    Vote Senor Baroso?. How often Senor Baroso?.

    A sad bankrupt little statelet which we all knew already in our hearts, is now the uncontested reality.

    Only the “Brits” can still, as usual, save us.
    What price Irish Unity??

  • Dave

    SadTruth, I hate to break the news to you, but Ireland can only become a backward regime of another state if the UK also agrees to become a backward region of another state.

    In other words, every state must ratify the treaty and agree to be subordinate to it, and ‘every’ includes the UK.

    Will Cameron even allow you to have a vote on it? 😉

  • Finn

    “A united Ireland is now impossible without a nationalist majority in the six counties”—- Republic of Connaught needs to refresh his memory of the GFA. It is based on “CONSENT”. Of “BOTH” sides in Northern Ireland. In the unlikely event that all Catholics in N.I. would vote for unity, (see regular Belfast Telegraph polls) there is still no chance of Irish unity until the Protestant/British people there say so.

  • SadTruth

    Well Dave,”Will Cameron allow a vote” we’ll have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure. There’ll be no kow-towing to Senor Baroso as in some other places. I guess about 10-0 for the “Nos” would be about right in any UK referendum. There’s hope for the coat trailers yet.

  • Coll Ciotach

    12 50% +1 will do

  • Dave

    Yes, SadTruth, the Irish were cowards when confronted by the EU and by its puppet-administration in their state (i.e. the national government), but so are all of those once-proud European nations. They all back down when the EU demands that puppet-administration ignores the result of a referendum and forces the people to vote again until they vote the right way.

    At any rate, those who oppose the EU need to return to first principles and draw up a whole new set of arguments about why nations should determine their own affairs, countering extremely clever propaganda from europhiles. Repeating the old eurosceptic arguments won’t work.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Sad truth,

    You need to accept a sad reality; the people of the UK state didn’t even get a vote. And I don’t recall hundreds of thousands of British citizens out on the streets of London or Birmingham or Edinburgh to demand that they get a referendum. So people in GB obviously aren’t so different to everyone else in Europe and are accepting the forward march of the EU super-state. As for what Unionists in NI think about it, well do you really think the people in GB care what the troublesome wee Irish province thinks?

    Incidentally, when the UK finally adopts the euro it will be the first time we have had the same currency across Ireland since pre-partition. What significance the border has then will be weakened further.

    Unionists, of course, realise this and are unsurprisingly anti-EU.

  • SadTruth

    16: What is really riling the British isn’t so much the EU but the fact that practically every other country has been given a vote on Maastrict Lisbon etc at one time or another, except them. And being conned by the Labour party into believing they were getting one. And we all know why they’ve never been given one. This time they’ve had enough. Sooner rather than later they will get one. And then all EU bets will be off.
    Hope you’re listening Senor Baroso.
    About the currency. Again your memory fails you. From partition up to 20 odd years ago the harp bearing Irish coinage was freely traded across both parts of Ireland. A common currency if you like. This common currency did not have the slightest effect on British citizens attitude to Irish unity or the border.
    Adoption of the Euro,dollar or yen would not have the slightest effect either. Believe me.