Alex Kane has a very spirited piece on Eamonn’s site this evening. Let’s just say he’s rather unimpressed with nationalism’s idea of outreach on the subject of politically unifying the two parts of an island sundered with partition. His core challenge to the lack of thinking within nationalism is here:
We are not talking about the reunification of East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This would involve the coming together of two countries on the basis of a vote in Northern Ireland which probably wouldn’t represent much more than half of the electorate.
Why would anyone imagine that the unionists ‘trapped’ in the New Ireland would be sanguine about their fate? Isn’t it very likely that there would be widespread unrest and tension, maybe even the emergence of a new anti-United Ireland terror organisation?
I don’t think that either the SDLP or Sinn Fein has any answers for unionism in a United Ireland: and nor do I think they understand the nature and scale of the change that would follow unification. They don’t understand the economics of unity, which may explain why their arguments are little more than jibber-jabber couched in feel-good cliché.
I have yet to see a clear agenda and methodology for converting two into one. I have yet to hear a pro-United Irelander move beyond the mythology and ballad and onto the much more difficult turf of explaining what a United Ireland would look like; how it would function? how it would be financed? what the currency would be? what the party political make-up would be and so on and so on? Feel free to add your own questions to the list!
He proffers a fairly obvious reason:
I suspect that the SDLP and Sinn Fein have avoided the debate precisely because they don’t know, let alone have the answers. Sinn Fein’s ‘Uniting Ireland’ propaganda is mostly soft-focus, turquoise-tinged baloney. The SDLP have rowed back from anything resembling a coherent argument because they have largely accepted that they are now the very junior partners in this process—so why give any hostages to fortune?
And as for Declan Kearney’s approach about making an approach, he’s unimpressed. Indeed, Kane sees it merely as more of the same winner take all stratagem that animated the IRA’s brutal killing campaign of over thirty years:
…this Uniting Ireland project and making eyes at unionism (albeit just ‘a section’) is a brick-cold exercise in reinvention, re-positioning and re-writing of the past. It’s about convincing unionists, British governments and security services to ‘apologise,’ acknowledge joint culpability, and admit that the root cause of the Troubles is ‘British occupation’ and ‘unionist misrule.’
All I see is a strategy. It’s the ‘war’ by softer tactics and waffle. It’s a propaganda campaign in which every word, statement and sentiment is weighed and measured before being aimed at the intended audiences. It reminds me of Robert Hughes’ comment in The Culture of Complaint: “We want to create a sort of linguistic Lourdes, where evil and misfortune are dispelled by a dip in the waters of euphemism..”
And finally he concludes:
If there is to be genuine reconciliation in Northern Ireland it must be between the people who chose the civilised, lawful way of life. Once you start to build a reconciliation process around the needs and demands of the terrorists and their apologists you simply make a mockery of decency and justice and allow the terrorists to continue to peddle their beliefs, self-justifications and legacy.
Peace and political stability can’t be built on ground which hasn’t yet been vacated by the very terrorists who primed and kept stoking the instability.
I spoke to one practical-minded nationalist today, who anticipated an article being written ten or fifteen or twenty years hence outlining how Sinn Fein had gone the way of every other one of Ireland’s ‘heroic’ nationalist projects (say Dev’s Fianna Fail or even Collins’ Provisional Government) will settle into the pragmatic reality of two nations on one island.
I would not be so bold. But for all that rattling unionist cages every now and then may be good for the flagging moral of the political base, it will not actually bring about Irish nationalism’s stated aim. Such would surely seek an erosion of any need of the two nations on one island approach taken by perfectly sane and rational unionists.
Some statements are not meant to be taken seriously (designed to helpfully self destruct when the expected timespan expires). Others are meant to be taken seriously, but are similarly overtaken by time and unforeseen circumstances.
More than 14 years into the official new settlement, Kane’s question of how two might become one remains as profoundly unanswered now as it was when the ink dried on the Belfast Agreement.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty