“Never flinch, never weary, never despair”

In her Irish Times column Fionnuala O’Connor, like many of us whose adulthood has spanned the Troubles, switches from marvelling at what’s been achieved, to gloom about the political future.

Stranger things have happened. The former leader of the IRA, after all, is at present Deputy First Minister in a Northern Ireland administration that is limited in its ability to make laws, unable to raise revenue but designed as a powerful symbol of compromise between long-time enemies.

Yet she goes on to say in the next sentence

But it is plain now beyond disguise that Stormont administrations are not going to build a unified society

Fionnuala may be right. But there are a few different straws in the wind. Look at that Bel Tel poll, it doesn’t register a unionist move to the default right.

21% said they would most likely support Sinn Féin. The DUP was the second most popular party with 18%, leading the Ulster Unionist Party by 3%. The SDLP had 13%, followed by the Alliance party at 7%

While one poll doesn’t make a unified society, the greater party bunching suggests a more interesting story emerging from the ongoing scandals and traumas. If this is sustained, it means an end to hopes and fears of two party dominance and increases the chances of more collegial government. I suggest the shape of things to come is far from “beyond disguise.” The ferment at the moment is not all about the zero sum, but is complex, internecine and personal. Recent traumas may be producing a gradual change of behaviour, with politicians coming to realise that with disarmament completed almost across the board – a development almost unnoticed amid the scandals – brinkmanship may be a wasting asset. It is certainly underwhelming the public. People talk about an isolated political class in England. It doesn’t compare with the remoteness of the folks up on Stormont hill. I take the long view from a distance; that we’re on a very rocky road to self government. The “unified society” is still out there, waiting to be discovered. At any rate it’s the only civilised working hypothesis. The default right is not the inevitable course for unionism. Nor is default despair for commentators.

  • KieranJ

    “If this is sustained, it means an end to hopes and fears of two party dominance and increases the chances of more collegial government.”

    A “more collegial government” would only prolong Irish reunification and therefore is unacceptable.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    The entire process is built on the premise that there are two communities not one community.

    And frankly thats the analysis that most people accept…and vote for over and over again.

    The underclass will always be alienated and so will the Overclass (of journalists and academics, Workers Party types and integrationalists).
    While the underclass are out joyriding and drinking buckfast, The Overclass is whinging about how much more intelligent they are…than the politicians and the voters.

  • Marcionite

    We in NI are expecting far too much of ourselves and to a degree, it’s understandable. Like a divorcee whose gone through a traumatic marriage and divorce, are we in danger of being over vigilant for ‘bad signs’ and expecting the next relationship to be perfect else pack the suitcase

    Name me one such unified society that exists in the world? There’s precious few. Belgiums structure functions but not unifying Flemings and Walloons. Switzerland has it’s cantons, but they’re too rich to care about flags and such

    even France, England, Eire, how unified are these? Whilst not being governed by consociationalism, this does not imply a solidarity of people. Race, poverty, class etc. These still live as significant fissures, faultlines in those nations’ psyches but since those fault lines are crossed and not paralleled by political parties, these fissures tend to be given lipservice and problems may not be adequately addressed. Yet these countries work whilest being very far from healthilu cohesive societies.

    In NI, our society and politics are fissured along green and orange. However, to play devils advocate, it can be argued that having parties whose platforms are monocommunal leads to tensions and fears of those communities (largely it’s underclass who riot over parades) being given a higher priority and thus get dealt with quicker leading to perhaps a more calm less suspicious society

    at the end of the day, the happiest and functional nations are those where everyone at least agrees on the basics ie countrys existance, flag etc

    Hindsight is wonderful but nations/regions like Belgium, Bosnia ( think our arrangements are bizarre? Read Bosnia’s), NI which have strangely elaborate and ornate and contrived organs of governance just to elucidate the most basic degree of recognition of it’s main communities; surely it has to be asked, should such political entities really exist in the first place and surely some kind of velvet divorce or cantonisation (living in different rooms under the one roof) is the most honest option?

  • KieranJ

    “at the end of the day, the happiest and functional nations are those where everyone at least agrees on the basics ie countrys existance, flag etc”

    Here’s a news flash.

    The six counties are not a country! They are a part of Ireland that is presently under foreign occupation.

  • Marcionite

    Kieran , and tell me which British concentration camp did u escape from tonight? Your postings are one step up from graffiti.

    NI is a country, like it or not. It’s not a nation but it’s a country. And this term “foreign occupation”, I don’t really think you know what this means. Foreign Occupation was what France, Norway, Belgium, Poland, Estonia suffered at the hands of Nazis/USSR. Think what you may of England, the fact u can come online and post goes to show we are not ruled by demagogues. I’m a Catholic and I never felt oppressed because I wasn’t told to feel oppressed by SF nor did I ever go out if my way to be oppressed. I tell you young man, go to any country in the world, form a group like the IRA and kill that countrys soldiers and police, those soldiers and police will react in exactly the same way as the RUC did and the you go ‘see? We were right, the police are oppressive”

    utter nonsense. Poor Kieran and his ilk, SF drones, they talk and think in slogans in a black and White world

    You wouldn’t even hear SNP or Plaid describe England as occupying or foreign. None of the countries in these islands are foreign to one another. Perhaps in the 10th century yes but not now.

  • KieranJ

    I have never been a supporter of Sinn Fein.

  • Marcionite

    you used the same language as SF. my posting stands

  • Cynic2

    “I have never been a supporter of Sinn Fein.”


    I doubt they would let you in. Your time might be spent more profitably polishing your cars in your 4 car garage or apologising-to Native Americans for your occupation of their country. Until you go they can never be free.

  • Cynic2


    Oh dear. You did mots of this 2 to 3 weeks ago. A quiet news day so you are retreating old stories again

  • Comrade Stalin

    Marconite, KieranJ is a troll. Don’t expect a debate.

  • “marvelling at what’s been achieved”

    It’s refreshing to see journalists extol the virtues of Irish fascism and mafiaism. Afterall, perceptions of decency and democracy are just so dull.

  • padraig

    Viewing the future through the eyes of a Belfast Telegraph Poll is like trying to drive your car at high speed with your eyes closed. These Bt polls are useless.

    There seems to be some middle class angst that the great unwashedare too stupid to vote , perhaps we should disenfranchise them or teach them the virtues of Rugby….or.or something.

  • padraig

    Viewing the future through the eyes of a Belfast Telegraph Poll is like trying to drive your car at high speed with your eyes closed. These Bt polls are useless.

    There seems to be some middle class angst that the great unwashed are too stupid to vote , perhaps we should disenfranchise them or teach them the virtues of Rugby….or.or something.

  • Padraig, the poll was carried out by Inform Communications, the company that before Christmas was running the free Tennents lager campaign. Perhaps some of the participants in the poll were still suffering from the side effects of that earlier campaign.

    Tennents offer free pints to boost pub trade. 08 December 2009 still comes up in a Google search even if it has since disappeared from the Google cache of the Inform Communications webpage.

  • Brian Walker

    “A unified society” needn’t be a uniform one. The elaborate constitutional system is founded on the working assumption that the division has to be recognised in order to cross it. As I say, I’m not sure that the consociational pressures aren’t working. If they want to change it, a substantial majority will have to agree. If they collapse it, where will they go? The Union/Unity issue is in the people’s hands, in practice on the say-so of the two governments and objectively is not on the agenda. With the core constituencies of DUP and SF and decommissioning virutally complete, the system is only getting into third gear. Partisan commenters may scorn but we’ll see. As Chou en lai said of the French Revolution (1789-) in the 1970s: ” it is too soon to tell.” But I hope they’ll be a bit quicker than that.

  • Marcionite

    Padraig, I remember years ago at a poetry function, my poet friend denounced a certain writer as being too middle class ( an odd insult, in most countries, it’s the middle class who actually write most books) and a v middle class lady heard this and piped up “well, what’s wrong with being middle class exactly”.

    My friend uttered some nonsense about the middle class not being real which belied a good slice of NI psychological makeout; unless you have suffered or talk like a corncrake that found a Buckfast puddle or have a face shaped by sucking in thousands of fags, then you are not taken seriously by the donkey jacket wearing inverted snobs ie liberal types.

    I’m afraid to say that most working class and under class people vote for bigoted parties because like children, they are not as sophisticated at political discernment as better middle class people are. Our pleb friends have a perverse value system where more stock is put into a big flag flying outside the window or a nicely printed tri-tone kerbstone.

    So yes, the lower classes are to stupid to vote. There should be an IQ test to act as a qualification to voting. Also, receiving benefits should disenfranchise one. Owning a house should get you an extra vote, being over 40 one more still. Then we’ll be in a situation where only responsible home owning working people have the proper influence over civic and politic life comensurate with their status

    Yes, I am a snob but may I ask what is wrong with being one? And I don’t hate the underclass either. They are rather like children, ( I include farming communities in this too), easily impressed by big shiny buttons on band uniforms and bright paint on gables and kerbs. People of my ilk and calibre can assume a parent- child relationship with the under/working/agricultural classes and help them become better and more like us.

    To those who disagree with me, if you obtain a considerable inheritance and only two choices of habitat, wouldst thou choose leafy East Belfast or a housing estate? Answers on a postcard, get your butler to post before collection times.

  • Marcionite, who’d want to live next door to a paramilitary godfather in leafy East Belfast? I’d much prefer a cave/cove in the country.

  • Brian, our elaborate constitutional system doesn’t bridge the divide, it accentuates it.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    ‘our elaborate constitutional system doesn’t bridge the divide, it accentuates it.’

    This is true . What is also true is that the previous less elaborate system was no different .In fact it can be argued that it accentuated the divide to such an extent that the less elaborate system impaled itself on it’s own fork and had to be replaced by ever more ‘elaborate ‘ power sharing attempts over the past 40 years culminating in the current accomodation.

    I’m no fan of the present elaborate convolution but I cannot see any realistic alternative taking hold .Not in our time anyway and not in any NI that retains it’s present geographical format.

    As for the paramilitaries being paid off etc etc . I note that the USA/UK are currently engaged in similar ‘pay offs’ with the ‘good’ Taliban in Afghanistan and with ‘good’ Sunnis in Iraq .

    NI can only hope that local devolution will work given time . If it fails then surely ‘repartition’ has to be considered as offering a way out of the eternal ‘constitutional strife’ between the parties in NI which undermines ‘normal’ politics to the detrement of both sides of the NI divide .

  • Greenflag, ‘repartition’ leaves us at the mercy of the paramilitary godfathers; it looks like a recipe for civil war. London and Dublin continue to bolster the ‘chosen’ loyalist and republican godfathers and part of the electorate endorses this debasement of democracy.

  • Greenflag


    ‘‘repartition’ leaves us at the mercy of the paramilitary godfathers;’

    I don’t believe it would . Provided it was administered by a neutral international organisation -the EU/UN and executed by UN peacekeepers backed up by the Irish and British Armies those ‘paramilitaries’ on either side who would oppose such a settlement would find themselves in the same position as the irregulars after the Irish civil war . Nowhere to go except back to ‘peaceful’ politics .

    The fact that London & Dublin continue to try to tame the ‘chosen’ simply means that they don’t believe the non chosen have either the political will or nous to forge an alternative political solution . They can point to Sunningdale , and the Trimble/Mallon debacle and subsequent near collapses of this Assembly as proof of the congenital inability of the ‘centre’ in Northern Ireland ever to bridge the sectarian divide -notwithstanding the AP’s brave effort .

    The fault lies with the but with the NI State’s current demography, geography, and recent political history . You can defy ‘gravity’ as long as the plane has enough fuel to keep it aloft . Once the fuel runs out ‘gravity’ takes over and the inevitable crash landing will leave behind another fine mess .

    Some on slugger believe that time will eventually mellow the current divisions and economic necessity will help avert catastrophe . I would hope so .

    As for the ‘debasement’ of democracy ?. This is not just an NI phenomenon.In almost all anglophone countries bar perhaps Canada there is a growing discomfort with ‘governments ‘ particularly over the past few years . Our ’emperors’ are seen to be without clothes as they face this current crisis . There is no one out there in representative politics land in NI who has the answers never mind any who are asking the right questions:(

  • Greenflag

    error above ,

    The fault lies not with NI people per se but with the NI State’s current demography, geography, and recent political history .

  • “I don’t believe it would”

    I’m not sure that history is on your side on this one, Greenflag. Look what street confrontation in the 1960s led to.

    How can the centre possibly hold when London and Dublin continually reward the ‘chosen’ paramilitaries? What happens when the chosen ones are replaced? London and Dublin hypocrisy stinks and ordinary decent folks pay the price.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    ”Look what street confrontation in the 1960s led to.’

    It’s not the 1960’s . The Unionist Government circa 1969 -1972 was a discredited regime and seen as a quasi fascist one party tyranny by over a third of the population . HMG had ignored NI for half a century and so too had the Republic .

    As for history not being on my side ? History is’nt on anybody’s side . It happens i.e history -often when it’s least expected or desired 😉 No doubt the economic historians of the future will wonder as to how the people of the world in 2008 could be so unaware taht ‘history’ was about to happen ?