When all is said and done, the discomfiting question of nationality (and ownership) remains…

Jason Walsh takes us all back down to earth with the fundamental problem assailing politics in Northern Ireland… You may not agree with every dotted i, crossed, full stop and comma, but what do you do with an administration in which the lead the Unionist party is seen to thwart every nationalist initiative that comes across its desk… And of the events of the last two days, he notes we may have simply been on a flight from reality:

Unfortunately, the one rumour that would have been actual news has proven to be untrue: Peter Robinsion did not resign his position as first minister.

Now, that may or may not prove to be a premature conclusion. We all await the Spotlight programme to see…

One major problem with that perception is that it does not account for the constitutional immaturity of Sinn Fein… Catirona Ruane’s conduct of her campaign for educational reforms deliberately bypassed the Executive (and her senior civil servants) and she tried to sell what was little more than a legacy policy left her by British direct rule ministers.

But the problem kicking underneath all of this inconclusive government is that we may be drifting back to a default ‘croppies lie down’ situation in which unionists take comfort in exerting the marginal and negative power they have to block anything of importance to the minority community.

Always excepting Pete’s reminder to us all that you can’t always get what you want, Northern Ireland’s Nationalists have to be able to get something out of this deal if they are to continue to remain engaged in the political process. That’s not tantamount to a threat to return to violence, it’s a reiteration of the basic democratic deal.

You can’t get something (at least provisional loyality to the state) for nothing. But as Jason this is not simply to do with the system, it’s also do with the political dysfunctionality of the two main parties:

The fact is, Northern Ireland is a failed political entity. This is not about ‘Brits Out’ sloganeering, rather it is a simply a case of facing up to reality. The Assembly, created under the rubric of the so-called Good Friday Peace Agreement, is actually a divisive institution that, in its current incarnation at least, is utterly incapable of governing. Not only is there the perennial problem that every election is a border poll, there is also the fact that the two leading parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, are both bowing under the weight of their own internal contradictions. Both are being set-upon by former members who use their own past rhetoric to undermine attempts toward peaceful accommodation.

The one thing the Robinson crisis may have done is to create a moment of empathy and civility amongst the top table players. The rumours of the last two days have had insiders in all parties not just contemplating their own navels (as has become customary on Stormont hill) but their own futures. Without Stormont, many of them don’t have one.

The outcome of the current stasis can go one of two ways: a deal to a more functional democratic future; or no deal leading to an even more uncertain passage than we’ve had in the last ten years.

That depends almost entirely on the two men in Stormont Castle (and for once Sinn Fein’s kitchen cabinet ought to butt out and let Martin get on with following his own instincts and do a deal that at least promises some results). Otherwise, in the absence of progress, Sinn Fein, will be justified (albeit imperfectly) in taking up the ball and walking off the pitch.

Seven years ago we wrote of Northern Ireland that both sides were caught in a prisoners dilemma. However tempting it may be to think there is an alternative to sharing out the meagre rations there has to be a partnership at the heart of government for any settlement to work. Whichever way it goes, and whatever reforms are necessary in the short term at least, life can only be made tolerable, not joyous, for either party.

If mandatory coalition cannot work, then a coalition of the willing might… And if not now, perhaps after a few more years in the political wilderness…

Last word to Jason:

The question of equality for Catholics has since been settled but the broader issue of nationality remains. Although peace has been welcomed by all, the actual institutions of the state itself, such as the Assembly, contribute to tensions on the ground rather than ameliorate them. Everything in the North is now viewed through the unionist-republican prism, leaving literally no ground for compromise. Ending the war was an achievement worth crowing about but replacing it with a war of words is not good enough.

Settling the question of sovereignty was never going to happen overnight but the only way forward is for the two mother countries to actually take an interest in their red-haired stepchild, otherwise the North of Ireland will remain a place apart and the future will be one of increasingly bitter fighting between two discrete groups who vote not on social or economic issues, but solely on the question of nationality. The only question will be whether it will more closely resemble Belgium or, once again, Beirut.

  • Bit of a ramble here. Most unusual.

    Let’s look at the ‘deal’ over the whole ten years or so, rather than the most recent disappointments for SF. “You can’t get something for nothing”: seems like everyone has had to swallow some nasty medicine, its just that Sinn Fein have been late in taking theirs – and not sure you can look at SF problems in a wholly NI perspective.

    As for getting through the issues, the mandatory coalition system with guarantees of a place at the table (only you might have to take a different seat from time to time) means little incentive to co-operate/compromise/find consensus ie education.

    ‘The deal’ is a lock down. Either SF accept that that is what they accepted and get on with making it work or…. Not sure if you are saying that actually MM could find agreement, but others won’t let him (in which case why in any circumstances is SF justified in walking, not that they would be anyway). Since the GFA/BA SF have constantly cried ‘crisis’ and demanded others solve things for them, mostly in their favour. Time to let them swim or sink.

    As for ‘nationality’. With Arts 2//3 abandoned and the ‘agreement’ confirmed by referendum, its an internal UK future. End of. But as that is not accepted then the ‘deal’ is unstable, though not the constitutional future. The GFA/BA is as good as it is going to get for republicans. Work with it.

    There is no Plan B.

  • tacapall

    Let’s look at the ‘deal’ over the whole ten years or so, rather than the most recent disappointments for SF. “You can’t get something for nothing”: seems like everyone has had to swallow some nasty medicine, its just that Sinn Fein have been late in taking theirs – and not sure you can look at SF problems in a wholly NI perspective.

    What exactly have Sinn Fein got out of this deal that Nationalists can look at and say well its a fair deal, The DUP have blocked everything that Sinn Fein endevoured to get, The Irish Language Act, The Conflict Resolution centre at Long Kesh, abolishing The 11 plus transfer, Policing and Justice anything that made Nationalist and Unionists on an equal par.

  • Eleanor Bull

    “Unfortunately, the one rumour that would have been actual news has proven to be untrue: Peter Robinsion did not resign his position as first minister.”

    Rank hypocrisy from sermonising public representatives is ALWAYS news.

    From the moment Iris started wittering on about ‘gays can be turned straight’, then any deviation from the moral compass she seeks to impose on others should be news, and the hypocrisy of the central character exposed.

    I note she states that God has forgiven her. Perhaps He has also forgiven homosexuals, eh, Iris?

  • Scaramoosh

    The situation is stasis; always was, always will be; however many different guises it has taken on over the years. Or to put it another way, the wallpaper may change, but the room remains the same.

    Most people are actually happy to go about their lives, and all its suffering, content in the knowledge that other people are not being slaughtered in their name, by inadequate, dysfunctional types.

    As regards the recent events; two big bears have been wounded; the Swish family Robinson has been decapitated, and human issues (sex abuse; suicide; marriage breakdown) have crept into the mainstream. For most people these are every day realities, in the case of N.Ireland, they have long been hidden behind the walls of steel that our politicians have erected around both themselves and society at large.

    Yes, they are all human, after all. Yes, we are all running around in circles. Yes, that is a boring notion, for the stamp collectors amongst you. It is also reality.

    We may have seen something of a thaw, but we are dealing with a very big iceberg.

  • “The question of equality for Catholics has since been settled”

    As the majority of Catholics are Irish nationalists equality within the UK was never really more than a stick to beat Protestants/Unionists with. Their ‘society within a society’ was a form of self-imposed apartheid and the so called peace process transferred the mantle of leadership from the Catholic hierarchy to Sinn Fein, the political wing of the sometime terrorist and still mafiaist Provisional Republican movement. The Catholic Church insisted on running its own schools for its own adherents and the Protestant Churches were more than happy with this separation, indeed some of them would like to have a Protestant equivalent of the CCMS.

    Which brings me back to my earlier proposal: shared sovereignty with optimum devolution, the merger of strands 2 and 3, a pro-rata subvention by London and Dublin and no privileges for the paramilitary godfathers, elected or otherwise.

  • Greenflag

    scaramoosh,

    ‘we are dealing with a very big iceberg.’

    Yes and No . It depends on how much ‘prominence’ the ‘nationality’ issue will be given in the period up to the next Assembly election assuming there is one .
    The Unionists in the past could always use their ‘political ‘majority in the old Stormont to ignore or stomp on any ‘nationalist’ emananations of discontent with the status quo. Those days ended in 1972 .

    Now the only weapon left to Unionists to assert their ‘culture’ as tacapall puts it above is

    ‘to block everything that Sinn Fein endeavoured to get, The Irish Language Act, The Conflict Resolution centre at Long Kesh, abolishing The 11 plus transfer, Policing and Justice anything that made Nationalist and Unionists on an equal par.’

    Thus is the ground for future discontent built up and the pyres prepared for future retaliation in the ‘culture’ wars ‘

    If ‘Unionism ‘ in Northern Ireland cannot contemplate an SF Minister for P&J or refuses to permit the Irish language in NI the same rights that Welsh and Scots Gaelic have in the UK then I think it’s fair to say that any future for NI will be as bleak as it’s past .

    In that context Irish nationalists and republicans in NI should be looking to a fair ‘repartition’ of Northern Ireland as the only ‘democratic’ way to assert their rights in their country .

  • Greenflag

    Nevin,

    ‘Which brings me back to my earlier proposal: shared sovereignty with optimum devolution, the merger of strands 2 and 3, a pro-rata subvention by London and Dublin and no privileges for the paramilitary godfathers, elected or otherwise.’

    Too complicated Nevin and neither London nor Dublin is interested . The paramilitary ‘godfathers’ have been appeased or most of them anyway . The trick now is to prevent a whole new ‘generation’ of godfathers emerging particularly in the light of a deteriorating economic situation with cutbacks etc. Progress is not guaranteed in these kind of situations and a return to ‘insanity’ cannot be ruled out .

    Kind of ironic that on the day of the UDA’s decommissioning of it’s military ‘might ‘ the respectable face of ‘unionism ‘ was decommissioning it’s very own ‘moralistic’ superiority !

  • Greenflag, is there anything to stop the Irish government appointing a SF Justice minister in the Dáil – or are you still content for hypocrisy to reign?

  • Greenflag

    dissenter,

    ‘As for ‘nationality’. With Arts 2//3 abandoned and the ‘agreement’ confirmed by referendum, its an internal UK future. End of.

    Apart from the underlying ‘demographic’ changes which look like producing a voting majority for ‘nationalists ‘ in a decade .

    The ‘instability’ is built in which is something that not just ‘republicans ‘ or ‘nationalists’ have to deal with. With three or four ‘unionist’ parties now vying for a shrinking (in relative terms) unionist vote it seems to me that ‘unionism’ will have more to lose from a collapse of the Assembly than republicans or nationalists.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin,

    ‘Is there anything to stop the Irish government appointing a SF Justice minister in the Dáil ‘

    Yes -SF don’t have the votes and are not part of as yet an alternative coalition . Could it happen ? Unlikely . We’ll have to wait and see how our economic recovery impacts local politics .

    ‘are you still content for hypocrisy to reign?’

    No idea what you mean here ?. If you believe in a state where the politicians or clergy or bankers are immune from ‘hypocrisy’ I’d like to know where such a state is . As you know ‘money’ and ‘power’ are the usual rewards in our system for successful hypocrites 😉

  • tacapall

    Which brings me back to my earlier proposal: shared sovereignty with optimum devolution, the merger of strands 2 and 3, a pro-rata subvention by London and Dublin and no privileges for the paramilitary godfathers, elected or otherwise.
    Posted by Nevin on Jan 07, 2010 @ 11:33 AM

    Who could work in this Utopia of yours, as I assume you are talking about Sinn Fein, what about the DUP’s third force involvement. Theres very few politicians here without paramilitary skeletons in their cupboard.

  • Greenflag, why are you separating what I had put together? 😉

    Why are you being coy? You well know that Dublin has advocated for here what it wouldn’t have for itself viz parapoliticians in government.

  • tacapall, I don’t view it as Utopia but rather as a means of accommodating so far as is possible the two opposing constitutional aspirations.

    What’s so very wrong with electing politicians who are prepared to distance themselves from the culture of unlawfulness that London and Dublin will happily acquiesce to? Why should kiddy fiddlers be ranked as a greater danger to society than the loyalist and republican mafia? It’s a funny old world.

  • tacapall

    What’s so very wrong with electing politicians who are prepared to distance themselves from the culture of unlawfulness

    Absolutely nothing but the point Im making is, Where are you going to get them from, unless your going to impose them because to me the DUP are just as morally corrupt as Sinn Fein.

  • joeCanuck

    Nevin,
    Her’s an idea that I have been mulling.
    The constitutional question is settled for a generation at least.
    Now there has been talk of an electoral pact between Ucunf and the DUP to keep “taigs” out.
    What about an electoral pact between the UUP and the SDLP. The parties in N.I. are about divided both ways, give or take.
    Suck a pact could conceiveably restore the UUP and the SDLP to pole positions.

  • Greenflag

    nevin,

    ‘You well know that Dublin has advocated for here what it wouldn’t have for itself viz parapoliticians in government.’

    They’re following London’s example .

    Coy ? Not at all .I’m telling it as I see it . I have no more time for the paramilitaries on either side than you have but I do realise that both ‘governments’ will continue to do whatever they have to, to keep a lid on NI until the time it no longer is necessary . And if that happens to include ‘hypocrisy’ well I’ve never been one to hold a very high regard for either the men on the backbenches or the men of the cloth .

  • Pete Baker

    Mick

    Some quick points on this paragraph

    “That depends almost entirely on the two men in Stormont Castle (and for once Sinn Fein’s kitchen cabinet ought to butt out and let Martin get on with following his own instincts and do a deal that at least promises some results). Otherwise, in the absence of progress, Sinn Fein, will be justified (albeit imperfectly) in taking up the ball and walking off the pitch.”

    Gerry’s kitchen cabinet out-rank Martin, at least internally to SF, so they’re not going to butt out. That’s part of SF’s problem.

    As for SF being “justified (albeit imperfectly) in taking up the ball and walking off the pitch.”

    If this was a voluntary coalition of two or more parties, which had agreed a set of policy initiatives as the basis for that coalition, and one of those parties subsequently refused to legislate for some of those policies, you might have a point.

    But it’s not. And SF have ruled out any moves towards such a position.

    SF have to either live with it, or walk away being unable to function within the restrictions of the very institutions they have been so dogmatic in defending.

    Because the problem isn’t others failing to deliver on their commitments.

    It’s Sinn Féin promising to deliver that which had not been agreed within the mandatory coalition, and which they alone could not deliver.

  • tacapall

    It’s Sinn Féin promising to deliver that which had not been agreed within the mandatory coalition, and which they alone could not deliver.

    Who did they “promise” this to, for it wasn’t the Nationalist population, and when did they promise this, and Im sure the DUP’s interpretation of Devolution differs to that of Sinn Fein just like the equality agena and the human right act.

  • Pete Baker

    Probably should have read

    “[The problem is] the Sinn Féin leadership [including Gerry’s kitchen cabinet] promising [the party members and activists] to deliver that which had not been agreed within the mandatory coalition, and which they alone could not deliver.”

  • Joe, the constitutional question isn’t settled and I think the run-up to 2016 could be just as dicey as the one to 1966.

    And it’s this question which to a considerable extent will stymie any ‘centre-ground’ deal.

  • joeCanuck

    In the long run none of this will matter.
    T Pyxidis will shortly leave us all banjaxed.

  • Greenflag, London and Dublin are hypocritically playing the NIMBY card. President McAleese’s warm-hearted endorsement of the Finaghy Crossroads Group would have been part of that strategy.

  • Greenflag

    Pete Baker’

    ‘Because the problem isn’t others failing to deliver on their commitments.’

    If and I say if NI is to have a chance of moving beyond where it’s at, then a little more right brain activity will have to be exercised by the DUP and a little more of the left by SF . By this I mean the DUP need to look at the big picture on this island and ‘unionism’s future if any on it . And SF have to learn to cross their T’s and dot their i’s when agreeing anything with ‘unionism’ It’s too late to go back to the drawing board and in any event there is no public demand for such . So they better make the best of it as long as it lasts .

    Both parties need to to focus on a dull grey future instead of the bright green or bright orange ones envisaged by their leaders . And if grey is too dull a future then it’s back to the cartographers who hopefully will be possessed of more intelligence and better tools than they were in 1920 !

  • tacapall

    Spot on Greenflag.

    Get all the Parties, Governments and Guarantors together and make sure everybody knows exactly what everybody has agreed to then make it public to the world.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,,

    ‘the constitutional question isn’t settled ‘

    That’s right it isn’t but it’s less of a running sore than it might have been .

    ‘and I think the run-up to 2016 could be just as dicey as the one to 1966.’

    I doubt it . If this ‘assembly’ is to collapse it will be long before 2016. Even if it were to collapse I can’t see 2016 making any difference to most NI nationalists or republicans other than it’s historical commemoration .

    The Irish have moved on . British Unionists in NI can’t or won’t or are unable to . The hope now is transferred to the Tories to bring about a resurrection and rebirth of unionism . Can’t be done. The numbers are against it. An uneasy accomodation is probably all that’s possible for a long time to come .

  • joeCanuck

    Just a niggly point. I said that the constitutional question is settled for a generation at least.

  • Joe, I understand your point; I disagree with it.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin

    ‘London and Dublin are hypocritically playing the NIMBY card.’

    And their electorates would prefer to continue that they do so . They both have more than enough to be going on with in present circumstances . Try and see it from their point of view . NI has been a running political sore now for 90 years on and off . Neither government is interested in a radical departure from the present ‘hypocritical’ policies of both.

    Now if ALL the people of Northern Ireland stood up to protest at their ‘second class ‘or should that be ‘third class’ treatment by the sovereign powers then you might get some recompense . But as we move into the second decade of a new century there is a growing tendency to commit NI to the periphery of politics notwithstanding the recently hyped UCUNF/Conservative Party marriage of short lived convenience .

    I’m afraid you’ll all have to start killing each other by the thousands again to gain the attention of the great British and Irish publics if not the rest of the world . However I would not recommend that course of action to anybody . Simply not word the reward as there isn’t any -reward I mean ;(

  • Greenflag, the NIMBY Irish have not moved on and I think they’ll stumble into 2016 just as they stumbled into 1966. Back then they were so scared of a ‘commie revolution’ that they ended up backing the ‘Catholic Ireland’ IRA faction, the group that gave us the Provisional Republican Movement.

  • joeCanuck

    Demographics alone will not be enough to bring about a “united” Ireland.
    There is no way that 100% of Catholics (for want of a better word) will vote for it.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    What exactly do you suggest we NIMBY Irish ought to do ? I’ve never been scared of a ‘commie’ revolution in Ireland and I’ve no reason to believe that SF will ever get more than 10% of the vote in any election in the Republic . You can be assured that if the idiots in NI feel that it is neccessary to spill their blood and others for the sake of a UI -I’d like to assure you that this is not a sentiment that carries any weight among us ‘NIMBY’ Irish .

    I’m even thinking I might vote FG or Labour next time out and that would be as much of a change for me as would voting SF for you 😉 Keep your hair on and fear not . While the end is nigh it’s not as nigh as you might think.

  • Greenflag

    joecanuck ,

    ‘Demographics alone will not be enough to bring about a “united” Ireland.’

    In the absence of any other political alternative it’ll have to do . Irecently been perused Horseman’s ‘Ulster is doomed’ site and his numbers seem to point to a political future which will have to rely on the Union being maintained by a large number of ‘nationalist’ voters . And while that is not an impossible scenario it seems somehow unlikely to me .

    Of course you’ll never get 100% of Catholics to vote for a UI . You’ll never get 100% of Catholics or Protestants to vote for anything in NI . It’s a stretch to get even 60% of either community to vote in any election. But it will be changing demographics that will make for constitutional change . Nothing else will neither economics nor the gun.

  • joeCanuck

    will have to rely on the Union being maintained by a large number of ‘nationalist’ voters

    The unionist parties don’t seem to have grasped that reality. Time will run out for them if they continue to try and maintain their supremacy.

  • Greenflag, I expect the NIMBY Irish to do what it says on the tin. They’ll protect their own institutions even if it means people here of whatever perspective suffer.

  • Alias

    The “constitutional question” was first answered by the Irish government in treaty form on the 15th of November 1985 at Hillsborough when Garret FitzGerald and Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo Irish Agreement:

    Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on the status of Northern Ireland:

    [i]The two Governments

    (a) affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;

    (b) recognise that the present wish of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland is for no change in the status of Northern Ireland;

    (c) declare that, if in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland, they will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.[/i]

    This was a follow on from the Sunningdale agreement of 1973 when the Irish government accepted the legitimacy of the Unionist Veto (rebranded as the Principle of Consent), thereby accepting the separate right to self-determination of the citizens of Northern Ireland.

    All of the agreements between the two governments since then have consolidated the legitimacy of British sovereignty, concluding with the citizens of Ireland formally renouncing their constitutional claim to the formerly disputed territory of Northern Ireland and with the anti-state political groups in NI formally renouncing their right to self-determination as members of the Irish nation, accepting that their former right should be legally downgraded to the status of an aspiration and that the disputed claim of the other nation to control of the territory should be validated and their right to self-determination upgraded to a principle (the PoC).

    The issue of sovereignty is settled.

  • Alias, that form of words may have been agreed by London and Dublin but a blind man on a flying horse from here would know that the struggle continues and will continue. The 50%+1 ‘agreement’ ensured the continuance of the tug-of-war, with or without blood-letting.

  • Greenflag

    joecanuck

    ‘The unionist parties don’t seem to have grasped that reality.’

    Unfortunately true 🙁 When the ‘enemy’ is hated for long enough and despised for even longer then such hatred becomes more like a ‘tradition’ reinforced by economics and religion and buttressed by political supremacy . Thats a good part of the story behind the violence on both sides of the NI divide

    But now that the formerly ‘despised’ or ‘politically ‘ignored can no longer be cowed into submission then what we see is a new manifestation of older traditional dare I say it ‘normal’ hatreds . Thus the replacement of the UUP by the hardline DUP and now the threatening of the DUP by the TUV . But all that’s left now for ‘unionism’ is rhetoric and stonewalling . The UDA appear to have accepted that.

    But behind the ‘unionist’facade there is still ‘hatred’ waiting to explode. Not all in the TUV are peaceniks. How and when such an explosion could occur is a matter that Irish nationalists and Republicans should take seriously .

    It may never happen or it may happen in the event of an SF Assembly ‘victory’ or a collapse of said Assembly .

    I’ve never had any confidence in ‘unionism’ as ever being capable of adapting to the changing face of Northern Ireland much less the changing face of Ireland .

    This one has another generation to run and desoite Alias’s contention the issue of sovereignty is settled in theory . In practice in Irish history ‘events ‘ have been known to upset the best laid plans of those in Westminster .

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    ‘I expect the NIMBY Irish to do what it says on the tin.’

    So do I .

    ‘ They’ll protect their own institutions even if it means people here of whatever perspective suffer.’

    No different from London then eh . However there are circumstances in which no Irish Government could stand idly by without risking it’s hold on power . I don’t however see such circumstances arising any time soon . If there is any ‘rationale’ out there for a return to violence on a large scale it would have to come from the ‘unionist ‘ camp presumably in circumstances in which they were being sold down the river by virtue of a close ‘referendum’ result shunting them into an Ireland they have no allegiance for . Which of course is why I would prefer a ‘repartition ‘ of NI in advance of any such circumstance .