Durkan challenges nationalism on unity and calls for a Northern Assembly in United Ireland

Addressing the ‘Phil’ at Trinity College Dublin tonight Mark Durkan (full speech here) has said nationalists throughout Ireland have the right to ask all their parties how they intend now to advance unity while underpinning and respecting the Good Friday Agreement. He has also argued for the retention of a regional Assembly in the North.

All of us who are nationally minded democrats on this island should develop and agree an attitude about unity which can be neither dismissed as a nationalist fantasy or denounced as a unionist nightmare.

I believe we have a shared duty to assure nationalists throughout the island that we have a coherent, competent approach to persuading for unity without jeopardising the Agreement we now have. Equally, we have a shared duty to reassure unionists that we have a vision that does not threaten them or subvert the Agreement – and would not trap their identity or thwart their interests.

We have explored and touched on such things before in both the Forum for a New Ireland and then, in a different context, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in the 1994-’96 period. We have unfinished business from that Forum. It was working on a paper which, among other points, espoused the goal of unity by consent. This paper was never produced because Sinn Fein rejected the principle of unity by consent and denounced it as simply a Unionist veto. They then denied and prevented a democratic nationalist consensus on unity.

However, they have now implicitly embraced the principle of consent in accepting the Good Friday Agreement and agreeing an end to the IRA.

The SDLP would call on all parties to return to the mode of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation or a smaller strategic commission to build a consensus and develop understanding that were previously frustrated.

We could agree a scenario for unity that can begin with retaining a regional Assembly in the North with whatever cross-community protections are still agreed to be needed. But one where we use the review process to adjust the scope of such devolution in the context of the strong Northern presence in the United Ireland parliament as compared with its small presence in the UK Parliament.

A model of a united Ireland that also retains and sustains the British-Irish frameworks contained in the Agreement. Just as North-South arrangements are especially valued by nationalists in the North but benefit all, so too for unionists with British-Irish structures in a United Ireland.

This would demonstrate to Unionism that the Agreement did not just challenge and change them but nationalism going forward too.

  • joan

    yawn! yawn! without a doubt the most unexciting politician in ireland.

  • don

    Durkan and the SDLP are irrelevant.

    Has slugger replaced the SDLP website to publicise its press releases. It appears on slugger at 5.20pm, before the speech is made and before its put up on the sdlp website.

  • susie

    Has conall mcdevitt anything other than SDLP propaganda to post.

    Is this a leadership bid? Or a bid for a seat in the next assembly?

    Yawn………………!

  • dunkin durcan

    Mark who? don’t worry. Alistair McDonnell will come to the rescue….!!

  • south down sldp

    If Alistair McDonnell takes over as leader of the SDLP, i can assure you, the majority of the SDLP in South Down will walk to FF.It will be a disaster for the party.

  • Mark McGreg

    mmmm…….a call for consensus building that has a third devoted to attacking their main political competitor. Forgive me for thinking this is just an attempt to make the SDLP relevant and build yet another coalition of the willing against SF.

  • RepublicanStones

    Conall is well connected to the SDLP, ex-public relationsthingymajig or something.

    If the SDLP is mentioning Irish unity what time does that make it?

  • GavBelfast

    Well I’d say Mark Durkan has a darn sight greater chance of advancing the cause of “Irish Unity” than has Sinn Fein or other even more extreme narrow nationalists.

  • Alan – Newtonards

    GavBelfast

    Your comments are spot on. Republicans have nothing to offer to unionists regarding a “united island of Ireland”. I’m a unionist, but have a lot of time for Mark Durkan. It’s a pity that he is standing down but I think Alisdair McDonnell is a decent enough bloke, who will do a good job.

  • Patricia Derry

    Its amazing the way republicans attack people who are trying to start a proper debate about unity.

  • Thereyouarenow

    The SDLP have to become an All Ireland party whether this is by merging with FF (damaged goods at the moment and possibly in terminal decline)or with the Irish Labour party.

    If you are going to promote unity then you have to have a voice in as much of the country as possible

    In an Ireland of forward thinking politics if one hybrid party could be formed from the SDLP, Irish Labour party and what could be reclaimed from the tainted Fianna Fáil party then there would be a party that would carry weight on many fronts.

    It should happen but it probably won’t.

  • Quick question for those republican cynics above. I’m not sure you are interested in discussing unity but on the off chance you are and it is more than just a slogan for you, do you believe in a Federal Ireland?

  • Mark McGreg

    Its amazing the way republicans attack people who are trying to start a proper debate about unity.
    Posted by Patricia Derry on Oct 01, 2009 @ 07:35 PM

    Quick question for those republican cynics above. I’m not sure you are interested in discussing unity but on the off chance you are and it is more than just a slogan for you, do you believe in a Federal Ireland?
    Posted by Conall on Oct 01, 2009 @ 07:53 PM

    Patricia, Conall,

    Did you actually bother to read what Durkan said? He started out the call for a debate with a pretty comprehensive attack on SF – the main constitutional nationalist party in the 6 counties.

    What do you expect but cynicism when a call for consensus building is used as a tool for attacking an electoral competitor?

    Unless of course the call is for consensus excluding SF……..

  • RepublicanStones

    Whilst i think a federal structure for an Island this small would be overkill, if it provided unionism with enough confidence in such a venture, i’d whole-heartedly support it. Éire Nua’s rejection by many in the north because of the belief it would allow unionist dominance/misrule to continue in the north was/is mis-guided.

    But as Mark points out, a fair bit of Durkan’s speech had little to do with unity. One would think an election is looming….

  • I think you’ll find the point he was making was that it was SF would would not agree to the principle of consent during the Forum. That’s a fact. The reason it is now important to reopen this debate is because SF has clearly shifted its position as a result of its support for the GFA.
    On another point I have never heard a member of SF describe him or herself as a constitutional nationalist. Or have they now changed their position on this too?

  • Reader

    Mark McGreg: SF – the main constitutional nationalist party in the 6 counties.
    Partitionist thinking. In 32 county terms, the SDLP at least has the advantage that they have friends. And in 6 county terms, the SDLP could manage outreach. Then SF would only slag them off for talking to unionists.
    Mark McGreg: Unless of course the call is for consensus excluding SF…
    Like the Lisbon Yes consensus?
    SF have already put back the United Ireland programme by 30 years, why should the rest of nationalism keep waiting for them?

  • Mark McGreg

    Conall,

    There are very few left that don’t accept Adams and his closest colleagues accepted the ‘principle of consent’ (unionist veto) from 1987 onwards and the two Forum’s you mention were just part of leading the republican base into that by steps. (as both were intended to advance, to some extent the PRM’s politicisation, it is unlikely they’d buy into doing similar for the SDLP)

    And it was me that used the term ‘constitutional nationalist’ in relation to SF and I’m certainly not a member or supporter. I’m a socialist republican that wasted years supporting SF and regrets nothing more.

  • As a Southern nationalist I would be prepared to accept the structures Durkan proposes, though I would prefer a unitary state. If there was a federal arrangement though, I would prefer that overwhelmingly nationalist parts of the Six Countries come under the Southern zone in a UI federation.

  • Only Asking

    Theres no doubt violence damaged hopes of unity, but a federal island would hardly be acceptable to unionists either. The problem is and always has been that these very small islands are over governed, and the talk is of cutting back on structures for financial reasons. Cutting departments, the number of MLA’s and streamlining to cut waste and then talk of federalism. Can’t see it wash…

  • alan56

    Was always going to be tricky to accomodate those who want to remain in UK and those who want UI. The positions are by definition impossible to reconcile. Political masters idea(London and Dublin) was to try and find a way of convincing both sides that their ultimate goal was not an option. No sovereign united ireland but not as ‘british as finchley’ either. I thought that the outcome was the GFA?

  • truth seeker

    a tad confused here!

    Weren`t the sdlp a European party unconcerned about Irish unity?

  • GavBelfast

    The problem for Sinn Fein and those more extreme – those who say they haven’t accepted the “Unionist Veto” like SF have – is that they appear to think think that a “United Ireland” can be created without Unionist consent – not necessarily enthusiastic support, but certainly acquiesance.

    It can’t.

    Mark Durkan, the SDLP and probably the 90%+ who voted “Yes” in the South in 1998 can see that.

    In their own way, Northern Republicans and the lunatic fringe in the South are amongst the best guarantors of partition that Northern Unionists have.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘is that they appear to think think that a “United Ireland” can be created without Unionist consent’

    Gav please explain how you first mention the apparent necesscity of unionist consent in any united Ireland, then go on to reference a treaty which stipulates no such thing in the same breath? You are aware the GFA is 50% plus 1?

  • GavBelfast

    Well aware – and I certainly wouldn’t oppose it – I just don’t think 50%+1 would lead to a “United Ireland”.

    Do you? (We’re talking reality here, not words in an Agreement.)

    Such a dilemma all this for SF and their even greener rivals: keep kicking, they won’t get their way. Go away, and people might just be happy living with the historic compromise we have now. Return to war, and the sceptics can say they never wanted peace.

    Quite a dilemma ….

  • dunreavynomore

    RepublicanStones,
    sorry to be a nuisance about this but the GFA carefully excluded defining what a majority would be but very few actually believes it means 1 person.

  • Western Approaches

    I think this was the most interesting part of Durkan’s speech:

    “We could agree a scenario for unity that can begin with retaining a regional Assembly in the North with whatever cross-community protections are still agreed to be needed.”

    I doubt he means resurrecting the federal construct of Eire Nua. I think that would evolve into an expensive, unwieldy government. It was a policy of its time.

    However, what of Durkan’s idea? How could the Stormont Assembly be dovetailed with Bunreacht na hEireann? Could it? And how could such an assembly retain formally filial links to Britain, or even loyalty to the Crown? Could it?

    These are not obscure constitutional issues. In some respects these are the cross-community protections which must be fleshed out in anticipation of some sort of unification or agreement of Ireland.

    One thing I love about Slugger is the range of ideas (rather than just opinions!) it facilitates. So what do you think?

  • RepublicanStones

    Quite a dilemma you have fashioned from your own late night comp sozzled mind.

    Reality is the AGREEMENT. If by United Ireland you are merely referring to a place where every man jack lad and their dog Rufus agrees, then i suggest you move toward the elevator marked ‘John Lennon Fantasy Land’. But for those of us concerned with ending britsh governance over part of Ireland, and finally uniting it free from foreign governmental interference, we realise Lennonesque dreams of lovey-dovey marshmallow burning whilst giggling about why it took so long for us to reach this Shangrila of post-political perfectness, are exactly that. You forget unionisms refusal of the principle of consent pre-partiton. And it was passed with a shitload more than a mere 1%. You put emphasis on Unionist consent for a united Ireland, we may as well wait for the bacon to fly onto the pan.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘sorry to be a nuisance about this but the GFA carefully excluded defining what a majority would be but very few actually believes it means 1 person.’

    Indeed very few believe it means one person, unless that is you think there are merely 100 people living here.

  • nuttal

    “Indeed very few believe it means one person, unless that is you think there are merely 100 people living here.”

    your mathematics / understanding of these figures are ridiculous!

  • fin

    “sorry to be a nuisance about this but the GFA carefully excluded defining what a majority would be but very few actually believes it means 1 person.”

    Dunreavy, there’s two ‘majorities’ one favouring the union and one favouring a united Ireland.

    Are you saying neither ‘majority’ is defined? or the same defination applies to both majorities.

    Do you care to hazard a guess on the ‘majority’ needed to remain in the UK.

    If 50%+1 is considered an unfair majority to create a united Ireland, than 50%+1 must also be considered an unfair majority to maintain the union.

    Perhaps its time to define ‘majority’ and have a vote, if the results are in the grey area than lets have full joint authority and full equality ie both flags, both anthems, or none. That would be fair, yes?

    Incidently I believe the first minister has mentioned 65% as a majority, I’m happy with that.

  • Rory Carr

    Whatever one’s view of Éire Nua, Republican Stones, I don’t quite understand why it might have been rejected by northern nationalists “because of of the belief it would allow unionist dominance/misrule to continue in the north…”.

    Surely the proposal for a four-province federal assembly included an assembly for a nine county Ulster assembly, Dáil Uladh, in which, although there would be a unionist majority it would be much smaller than that within the present six-county jurisdiction which has been made at least tolerable to nationalists with endorsement of the GFA.

    Perhaps if Ruairí O’Brádaigh could persuade the Continuity movement to desist from armed conflict and to seriously engage in political debate the concept might once again take wings.

  • RepublicanStones

    Break out the blackboard nuttal, my dyscalculia awaits your tender touch.

    Rory, I agree, but Grizzly and co were’nt fond of it. Unionist dominance whether in a 6 or 9 county legislature would be tempered by the overall federal structure anyway. RoB has announced its sandals and sombrero time for him, he should heed his doctors advice.

  • kensei

    Gav

    Well aware – and I certainly wouldn’t oppose it – I just don’t think 50%+1 would lead to a “United Ireland”.

    Do you? (We’re talking reality here, not words in an Agreement.)

    No, it would lead to a United Ireland. Of shape unknown. We are in the Union because it could secure 50%+1 in a referendum.

    Now, you might say that would cause Unionist violence. But Unionism didn’t back down in the face of it, and I see no reason why Nationalism should. It is also highly unlikely they’d get support from the mainstream British parties. And the alternative would be to overturn democracy, tell Nationalism that they’ve been fed bullshit for the entire peace process, and almsot certainly lead to violence from the other direction. What other option would there be, exactly?

    You may not like it, but the rules are 50%+1. And Unionism defined it. So this litttle trope needsd slapped down hard everytime it comes up.

  • Greenflag

    Conall ,

    ‘do you believe in a Federal Ireland?’

    Short and only answer NO.

    We carry enough overhead (cost of governance /public sector ) as it is in the Republic and Northern Ireland is in worse shape .
    As long as we are ‘governed’ by the current ‘economic ‘ system we need to play by that system’s rules .

    A rent article in the Economist notes that the UK is close to a 50% figure for public expenditure as a percentage of GDP . NI is as we know approx 70% . The Republic’s was 33% a couple of years back but is now beig driven up like the UK’s by the current downturn in the economy. The UK is at a tipping point with it’s public expenditure ratio . If it went up another 5% the UK would be quickly on the road to an economic implosion . Their ‘tax base’ would quickly become unable to support the public sector . A smaller vesion of this UK scenario took place in the Irish Republic in the mid to late 1980’s when the IMF were knocking on the door . Britain’s triple A rating is as of now under ‘siege’ . If that drops it’ll be higher interest rates all round to add to the economic crucifixion of ‘middle ‘ and ‘working class/ Britain.

    The above is not an attempt to subvert this thread but to put any idea of a Federal Ireland in it’s proper context i.e that of cost .

    Nobody doubts that NI or at least the Unionist half of the current NI has a ‘unique ‘ regional identity both within the UK and within Ireland .

    In any eventual UI that regional identity can be catered for with some extra seats in the Senate . Representation in the Dail would be on the same basis as is and ‘voluntary’ coalition would remain in place . Our governance does not need to be any more convoluted than it is.

    We all KNOW that NI as it’s presently formatted is ‘condemned’ to it’s present mandatory power sharing going nowhere administration. The door to sectarian governance was opened by ‘unionism ‘ in the 1920’s and has now been permanently locked by the GFA and the key thrown away .

    There are only three ‘practical’ ways NI can po be governed ‘efficiently’ and at lower cost and all are ‘blocked’ at least for the next decade or more .

    1) Total integration into the UK the ‘Finchley’ model . No British Government not even a future Tory Government wants that . They want out not further in.

    2) A UI – Not possible because of the Unionist small majority within NI.

    3) A fair Repartition imposed by a neutral international organisation such as the EU or UN.

    As for the 9 county Ulster scenario? Nationalists would probably have a small majority in any such given the present numbers but I’ll leave the detail to paddyo’reilly wherever he is 😉

    The 50% plus 1 scenario envisaged in the GFA is a very ‘cloudy’ concept particularly in relation to the detail of how , when and under what circumstances it could arise .

    Despite that the GFA is as good as it gets . And even when the Assembly disappears yet again in another self inflicted implosion -the broad GFA will remain as a backdrop to any future settlement WITHIN Northern Ireland .

    But that’s where it can stay . The GFA is not transferable beyond NI except perhaps to places in the Balkans or Middle East (assuming they’re daft enough to accept such a mess of potage )

    For NI of course it’s all that can work and what all parties ‘deserve’

  • T O S M

    “the broad GFA will remain as a backdrop to any future settlement WITHIN Northern Ireland .”

    Rather, I think it’s the case that the current Framework is the absolute minimum any Nationalist would accept in the event of the current Assembly going tits up

  • Greenflag

    TOSM,

    ‘I think it’s the case that the current Framework is the absolute minimum any Nationalist would accept in the event of the current Assembly going tits up ‘

    Indeed -but there is a catch . In the event of an assembly collapse direct rule will be impsosed by Westminster. In that situation SF’s NI politicians (MLA’s & MPs ) will have ‘nowhere ‘ to go given that SF abstain in principle from Westminster . Their absence from Westminster would then leave one or two SDLP MP’s representing Irish ‘nationalism’ at Westminster as opposed to 12 ? Unionist MP’s . It would be back to the 1950’s -1960’s for Northern nationalism . Although much has changed since 1969 in NI , I don’t believe anybody should take the above political representation scenario as being anything other than a place where nobody should want to go -least of all ‘unionism’ even if on the surface it would appear to be what the doctor ordered .

  • Harry T

    It amazes me that in 2009 Republicans are still banging on about “occupation” and “foreign governance”. Why is it so difficult for Republicans to understand that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK because of the votes of people IN Northern Ireland?

    The old bogeyman England would be quite content with a united Ireland tomorrow, 50% + 1 or whatever.

    This is the reason why militant Republicans murder campaign was so counterproductive to its stated aim of uniting Ireland and its bitter legacy will continue to repel unionists from a unitary Irish state for many many years to come.

    After all if Republicans are still so exercised by a unionist ‘misrule’ that ended in the early 1970s how much longer will it take for unionists to consign to the past the murder and mayhem unleashed by Republicans that continues to this day?

  • YelloSmurf

    I quoted the GFA at someone yesterday (yes, I’m a very exciting person who has really interesting conversations).

    The participants endorse the commitment made by the British and Irish Governments that, in a new British-Irish Agreement replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they will…recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

    They asked how the recognition of these rights would play out in a hypothetical united Ireland. Would these rights be legally recognised?

    Something for you to ponder.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Something for you to ponder.’

    What’s to ponder ? The question is hypothethical. There is already a British ‘minority’ in the Irish Republic who have the same rights as the Irish majority. Why would that need to be any different for ‘Unionists ‘ in any such hypothethical UI ?

    No Irish Government in this day and age is going to attempt to deny British residents or immigrants in Ireland the same rights as everybody else .

    What do you think they are ? Unionists ;)?

  • Alan – Newtownards

    Greenflag

    The “British minority” in the R.O.I. have chosen to live in that country. There is a difference between living in a foreign state voluntary and living in one because you have been outvoted in a border poll. This is exactly what nationlists have been banging on about for decades and look were that lead us.

    As I have said before, even if an all island state came about tomorrow the British taxpayer will be funding the N.I. part of it for many decades as the R.O.I. will never be able to afford it. That will a strong bargaining chip for the pro british people on this island. And to be honest, I believe the majority of taxpayers in the south don’t want N.I

    Republicans need to lower their expectations of what kind of republic they want because they ain’t going to get it. Not in a million years. In fact the sensible politicians in the south will do a deal over the heads of republicans in N.I. to achieve a U.I. that is workable and they need to realise that. Mark durkan and people like him know that.

  • kensei

    Alan

    British citizenship in a United Ireland is a matter for the British Government. Minority rights can be achieved constitutionally within a republic.

  • otto

    I’m not going to pretend to understand the minds of nearly a million other people but does Mark really think that following the end of the union the unionist/prod population of Northern Ireland would actually prefer sequestration in a six county gulag over active participation in all-Ireland affairs? Is the suggestion that we’d get a privileged Scots at Westminster type deal or that we’d have no say in 26 county affairs?