“Northern politics should be recognised as a baleful embarrassment”

Some stark, but not inaccurate, analysis from Stephen Rainey and Jason Walsh in the Irish Examiner.

The “new dispensation” has, by design, no politicians of merit capable of dealing with realpolitik. The people trying to deal with the untended ills of a once-fractured and still lost society grumble and fumble, but the political power to engage with the problems locks itself in Stormont, discussing what the “two communities” need. This dereliction of duty is eerily echoed by the ongoing dereliction of much of Belfast itself.

As long as politics remains designed solely to ward off the return of the conflict, peace will never be a possibility. The Troubles won’t return. Mostly, the minds of ordinary people are on other things, such as having something resembling a life.

The people absorbed all the rhetoric about peace, stability, and normality. They took it onboard and now want to reap the benefits. But the political movers have no idea how to attain normality, or what they’d do if they achieved it by mistake.

The democratic solution would be to step up, to stand and deliver, but in the fractured, lost nature of Northern policy there is little chance of this. The lines are too heavily drawn and serve only those doing the drawing.

The institutions are dysfunctional and factional. “Justice”, for instance, is a republican-unionist issue, so it is not really about justice, it’s about balance. On this and every other issue the balance must be struck between the “two communities”.

Northern politics should be recognised as a baleful embarrassment. We have no lessons for the world on reconciliation, save as a cautionary tale.

Read the whole thing.

And, until we become more Enlightened…

Adds  A, possibly, related post from the Slugger archive – “Justice is the glue that holds society together.”

After all, as Michael Longley said, “peace is the absence of war: the opposite of war is custom, customs, and civilization.” But anyone seeking lessons from here should also beware the poisonous foundations left behind.. and the blindness that such a Process™ demands.

, , , , , , , ,

  • How long was it between the end of open hostilities in the 20s and the return of violence in the 60s? 40 years? We’re already 15 years into our current quiet period – only 25 left until the majority of the population once again loses its collective memory of how bad it can really get.

    The clock is ticking and the politicians are just as incompetent as ever.

  • Mick Fealty

    It could happen Andrew… But that would assume all variables remain the same ad infinitum…

  • Pete Baker

    Adds A, possibly, related post from the Slugger archive – “Justice is the glue that holds society together.”

    After all, as Michael Longley said, “peace is the absence of war: the opposite of war is custom, customs, and civilization.” But anyone seeking lessons from here should also beware the poisonous foundations left behind.. and the blindness that such a Process™ demands.

  • Mick,

    Indeed. But passively sitting around and waiting for those variables to change by themselves is hardly the best course of action. Given that our little ethno-political conflict has bubbled up on a regular basis since at least the 1640s, the proposition that “this time it really is different” is best assumed false until proven otherwise…

  • Ruarai

    Oh, come on!

    First – their article. Some select lines:

    Things have improved since the 1990s … but the expansion of inequality…” And the streets have litter and Translink is expensive. We were promised utopia and we’re getting inequality! No context; no explanation; no tie to the peace process; and a vacuous implication that rising inequality implies people becoming worse off rather than relatively worse off.

    “As a visitor to Belfast you are likely to see fistfights at closing time. You will hear threats.”
    Okay, so we might have transformed an intractable conflict into a power sharing political arrangement, decommissioned weapons and utterly reformed a police force. But – “there’s fistfights at closing time” Clearly a failed peace process.

    “Northern politics should be recognized as a baleful embarrassment. We have no lessons for the world on reconciliation, save as a cautionary tale.”
    Yes, clearly none. Other than the one about how a decades long violent conflict between irreconcilable sworn enemies was transformed by a peace process into a politcal process.

    Clearly, nothing to see here. Move along.

    At least they didn’t use the line about “peace is the absence of war“. Pete, since you did use that line, on a point of honor, you should impose a writing ban on yourself. Maybe you could use the year to visit any city on the freaking planet and come to realize that that “fistfights at closing time” are not exactly unique to Belfast.

    And they’re certainly not a metric for judging the efficacy of a peace process.

    Update: There are reportedly fistfights in the offices of The Examiner as staff fight over who ran that piece.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Northern politics should be recognised as a baleful embarrassment.’

    True but I for one would have to admit that since 2008 and even from circ 2002 the Republic’s politics haven’t exactly been an example worth following either ! The American Presidential Election season with millions of dollars been expended on whats politely called negative advertising is currently in full flow and will be only seriously contested in perhaps 10 or 12 of the 50 States . The election will be won in the end by the candidate who will persuade approx 26% of American eligible voters to mark his name on the ballot .

    And to add insult to injury the ‘farce ‘ now lasts for 18 months which gives any elected President about 2 years out of 4 in office to do any other work bar ‘electioneering’

    Yes NI politics is an embarassment and the periodic descents into sectarian brickthrowing etc are disappointing . But lets not make a mountain out of a molehill . Its been going on a while .The custom was even noted by Mark Twain who noted on a visit there that the ‘natives ‘ were attempting to convert each other to the true faith by throwing bricks at each other’s heads !

    Its as good as it gets or not as bad as it might be so for now I would’nt knock it . The politics can’t really change until NI becomes ‘absorbed ‘into a UI or into the UK a la Finchley and neither of those possibilities remote or otherwise are seen as likely anytime soon if ever .

  • Mister_Joe

    Andrew,

    Interesting about the 40 years. A respected mathematical ecologist, Peter Turchin, turned his attention to the “mathematics” of human conflict a few years ago and believes he has discovered two patterns, one of which is 50 years long. He argues that, through various means, technology for example, the top levels of society become top heavy in numbers and due to their good life they take their eyes off the ball. Social cohesion declines and the ones left behind become restless and eventually violent overthrow of the top happens. He believes that that is what causes empires to decline and collapse.
    Perhaps that could play a role in what is happening here. The “leaders” are having a good life and not paying attention to what is going on at the bottom.
    There is a long article in the Aug 18 – 24 issue of the New Scientist.

  • jthree

    Wow. Just wow.

    I can’t make up my mind about this piece – is it the banality or the pomposity which is worse?

  • Ruarai

    jthree – quite so. But worst of all is the “analysis” – what analysis?

  • Mick Fealty

    ruarai,/Jthree,

    What’s wrong with this?

    “Justice”, for instance, is a republican-unionist issue, so it is not really about justice, it’s about balance. On this and every other issue the balance must be struck between the “two communities”.

  • Mick Fealty

    To speak in favour of this apparently unloved child, these are merely the exegeses of our peace process… I think there’s a slightly pessimistic line in the piece that you might well argue with, but that would be to mistake tone for substance.

    What they identify clearly is that policy (as much as we are able to see of it) is still in service to the cross community negotiation room… It is not seen as a signifier of something that is important in and of itself..

    Maybe that’s a little too naive and utopian a view… but really until policy becomes an important political commodity (and that, as Andrew points out above, is not going to happen by itself), things are going to remain pretty dismal…

    What SF and the DUP have successfully done is proof that Unionists and Nationalists are not congentally incapable of working together…

    Perhaps some of the opposition parties ought to take what is largely an enforced time out from heavy duty politics to think about what they might bring to the party.

    If they are going to find any strategic advantage over the current incumbents it has to be on the inaction around policy and its development.

  • jthree

    “Justice”, for instance, is a republican-unionist issue, so it is not really about justice, it’s about balance. On this and every other issue the balance must be struck between the “two communities”.

    What are they even writing about here? The operation of the judiciary? The formulation of policy in the DoJ? A more abstract societal notion of justice vis a vis post-Troubles outworkings?

    I have no idea because the authors (two people to write this!) are unclear about it.

    Here’s the thing – Northern Ireland has since its existence had wildly dysfunctional governance, spiced with savage communal violence. That the violence is largely ended and a power sharing administration with broad popular support managed to complete a full term is in this context an achievement.( An unfashionable view on Slugger, but there we go.)

    I’m not expecting that these arrangements will have produced an FDR or a Lee Kuan Yew just yet.

  • Mick Fealty

    jthree,

    You may have missed my slightly more nuanced follow up… 🙂 I won’t gainsay the fact that there are some (may be a lot of) people in the ‘eaten bread is soon forgotten’ category…

    But might we also ask why education is currently stuck over the issue of selection? To have something in shop window when it comes to the next election?

    Surely this is just the impulse of real politics kicking in, rather than an impulse to wilfully destroy what we have?

  • Mister_Joe

    There apparently is a “Program for Government” or something like that which was supposed to be a framework for what would happen. Unfortunately I can’t find it on the Assembly website. Does anyone know if it is being adhered to or can give me a link?

  • otto

    I’m in the Alliance Party and apparently I’m not supposed to believe this but I can’t quite work out why Mandatory Coalition isn’t a good idea for a second tier level of government that doesn’t determine taxes, defence and foreign policy but does decide how to set local spending priorities to ensure fair shares. Would we be more grown up or just more corrupt if one party got to decide all the spending priorities for money it didn’t also have the responsibility to raise?

    My own contact with our local government and agencies (small business owner), is that we do stuff no more inefficiently or less effectively in our regional administration (eg pretty clear and helpful Land and Property Rates team) that our majoritarian betters do in charge of UK wide bodies (eg ultra-shit HMRC).

  • otto

    Btw.

    Brassneck Theatre’s bringing Basra Boys from Féile an Phobail (standing ovations and rave reviews they claim) to the Welders on Dee Street for the East Belfast Arts Festival.

    Curious to see how a play about flute band members and joining the army put on by a West Belfast company goes down on the Newtownards Road. Surely very fact that it’s happening is a sign of some kind of interesting change/progress/loosening up?

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    Joe – is this what you are looking for? A PFG by name but something more akin to a PR document in my view.

    http://www.northernireland.gov.uk/pfg-2011-2015-final-report.pdf

  • Mister_Joe

    That’s it, NOT NOW JOHN, thanks so much.

    The only thing I can find in it that might relate to some of the current rioting and the like is a Key Commitment to improve community safety by tackling anti-social behaviour (Their number one priority in that section is to introduce a fee for plastic bags).
    Unfortunately the only actions seem to involve monitoring how people think they are doing.
    Go figure. As you say, it’s just like a PR exercise.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    “Would we be more grown up or just more corrupt if one party got to decide all the spending priorities for money it didn’t also have the responsibility to raise?”

    Probably neither but if at the end of an assembly period if we thought that party had governed incompetently, corruptly or immaturely then we, the elctorate, could throw them out. This can only be a good thing irrespective of what level of government one is referring to. With the current mandatory coalition one might as well give each party two Ministerial portfolios and roate the FM and dFM posts and don’t bother about elections. The result would not be much different in terms of the level of effectiveness of the government – in fact it might even deliver an improvement.

  • Mister_Joe

    …we, the electorate, could throw them out…

    Not really, John. Don’t forget we’re talking about Northern Ireland with two dogs tribes whose tails LCDs are very much in control.

  • ThomasMourne

    ‘no politicians of merit ‘

    because the N.I. electorate insist on voting for sectarian dinosaurs, time after time.

    We get the politicians we deserve, some of whom can barely speak the “queen’s” English.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    Joe

    The pfg is filled with aspiration, priorities and commitments but light in parts in relation to goverment action. It’s only when one scratches under the surface on an issue that the lack of substance is exposed. You example is a good one in respect of this. I think one could also deem as relevant the commitment under Priority 4 (Building a Strong and Shared Community) which is referred to as “Publish the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy to build a united community and improve community relations (OFMDFM)”.

    Note the Executive’s key commitment is to publish a strategy. A pieice of paper. The milestone for year 1 in respect of that particualr key commitment is then listed as “Finalise strategy and agree early actions.
    Develop a change management plan for organisations
    with a specific interest in this area of work”. Yet another pieice of paper in the form of a plan this time. The document is filled with commitments to produce pieces of paper; of course this is what civil servants do but only as a means to an end. No party ever goes to the polls on the basis of producing pieces of paper. Parties go to the polls on the basis of delivering change using the tools available to governments such as legislation, resources, policy decisions or administrative mechanisms. Pieces of paper don’t make a damned bit of difference.

  • Greenflag

    @ jthree,

    ‘That the violence is largely ended and a power sharing administration with broad popular support managed to complete a full term is in this context an achievement.’

    That it is and considering it took 40 years almost to reach that point should tell present naysayers not to belittle the achievement .

    ‘An unfashionable view on Slugger, but there we go.

    I must also be unfashionable 😉

    Moving further east momentarily for some perspective the last month in Syria has produced 5,000 dead and 100,000 refugees . And we should by now understand that the difference between a Syrian and a Northern Ireland person of either tribe is that most Syrians start off life with a better tan . Other than that their waste blood runs into the gutters just as it did in Northern Ireland for so long 🙁

    The best bet for NI politics to break loose from it’s present moorings would be for the UUP & AP & SDLP and the Greens to form an Opposition .But that possibility would require the political talents of somebody whom Northern Ireland is probably only going to produce every three or four centuries if that .

    Eaten bread may be a monotonous and stale diet but in the context of the current NI stalemate probably the safest bet for another decade or so .After that we may be into anew paradigm as they say and the world outside may look radically different and perhaps new perspectives on the problem will become possible not only to view but be given practical effect.

  • Mister_Joe

    Greenflag,

    I’m lucky in that I won’t be around, but I’m pretty sure that everyone will be too occupied building seawalls in 50 years time to worry about anything else. The Dutch will rule the world.

  • Greenflag

    ‘The Dutch will rule the world.’

    For a short while they almost did –

    http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Dutch_Empire/Anglo-Dutch_Wars.

    Perhaps it’s just as well that Bismarck’s ‘idea ‘ that the Irish problem could be solved by sending the Irish to Holland to drown and sending the Dutch to Ireland to ‘create ‘ an economic and agricultural wonderland was never tested .

    It would never have worked anyway . The British Empire would have been at constant war with their Dutch new neighbour -the same strategic and economic power expansion dictates would have applied . And the Irish would have taken a quick look at the sea level and land level in Holland and departed for higher ground .

    In the final analysis the Dutch became dazzled by their tulips thus becoming the only country on the planet to see it’s economy wiped out by flower mania in the infamous tulip bubble .

    At least we Irish did’nt succumb to flower power mania . Our penchant for solid bricks and housing etc and freehold land ownership and low interest rates and cheap euros -did us in – albeit temporarily 😉

    And the Dutch have long since recovered from their ‘tulip ‘ to become one of the better governed countries in the EU if not the world .

  • streetlegal

    The problem with the ‘peace process’ is that it addressed symptoms rather than the real problem. The real cause of conflict in Belfast/Londbelfast is the sectarian nature of the society of that city – the same now as it was 100 years ago. Belfast is buzzing certainly – but it is the familiar buzz of sectarian hatred. Sectarian hatred is the social norm and can be seen in action in the streets, homes and workplaces of Belfast.

  • dwatch

    As a follow up to Rory McIlroy’s wonderful success having won the recent PGA tour FedEx playoff could Robbo, Marty & all those jokers on the Hill set up a driving range at Stormont to teach the recent teenage rioters from North Belfast to hit golf balls instead of throwing stones at the PSNI.

  • Moderate Unionist

    You have to love the oul Free State attitude – perhaps a trip around the balkanised back streets of North Belfast might help give them a sense of perspetcive on that part of their own country they obvioulsy dont understand.

  • PaddyReilly

    How long was it between the end of open hostilities in the 20s and the return of violence in the 60s? 40 years?

    Wikipedia takes a less optimistic view of the period between the 20s and 60s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_Campaign_(Irish_Republican_Army)

    This suggests that the maximum period between campaigns was 20 years, the minimum 7.

  • Paddy,

    The border campaign, though noisy, was hardly in the same league as the Troubles. It failed largely because it had no popular support at the time. Perhaps I should have said “the return of widespread violence”.

  • Moderate Unionist
  • PaddyReilly

    One of the more memorable events of the 1956-1962 campaign, it is true, was a re-enactment of it by Michael Bentine’s flea circus in his series “It’s a Square World”, in which invisible Irish accented players attempted to blow up a dam. But a campaign is a campaign, even if it’s not a very big one: the same applies to tornados, hurricanes, etc.

  • Greenflag. The whole primaries season is capable of being confined to on season but it’s obviously all about money over there. It gets dragged out over the best part ofg a year when three or four super Tuesdays would wrap it up. When US soldiers go out to fight in foreign adventures dreamed up in washington, they are really doing it for whichever party is in the white house at the time. It’s lie they are mercenaries dying for their own countrie’s establishment.

  • Greenflag

    ‘but it’s obviously all about money over there.’

    Not just there , but here and everywhere else as well -even North Korea and Iran . It always has been about money historically since about the time Richard the Lionheart was kidnapped and his brother John had to squeeze the English peasantry for 2 years to pay up the taxes to pay the ransom to release his brother who we know detested England -spoke only Norman French and in a violent thuggish crusading career manged to spend only 6 months in the country of which he was King . I suppose it was longer than the time subsequent monarchs spent in Ireland ?

  • Greenflag

    addendum
    The major difference today is that of the huge amount of money going to the parties from corporations and the financial sector . and we have no idea what they are being promised in return ?

    There has to be a better way -one that would enable commercial and financial businesses to be able to make their views known and heard by government but without having to bribe the b*****ds 🙁

  • Watching Londongreg on Stormont today earlier, he was let off by Carruthers on his spurious claim on apology from Kenny over troubles. He conveniently ignored the 1970 arms trial and the sacking by Lynch of those from the cabinet involved. But what’s new with londongreg. This sought apology is all about bragging rights by unionists and nothing about reality

  • “And, until we become more Enlightened…”

    Here’s a little bit of ‘enlightenment’, Pete, two pieces that are worthy of the attention of your forensic skills and where you can put your archives to the test:

    1. Inequalities in planning decisions with an example of one replacement dwelling back off the road morphing into three dwellings on the edge of the road at a right-angle bend.

    2. Abysmal failure of officials to ensure the proper implementation and operation of a government subsidised contract.

    In neither example should a Minister or his predecessors escape censure. These examples also are probably the tips of major icebergs; they also illustrate the title of the thread. The second example shows the merit of a more independent ombudsman – as well as a more independent MSM.

  • Streetlegal [10.34]. It bears out what Churchill said well before the troubles about this benighted place and the quarrel here while Europe was rent asunder by two wars by the midcentury, the same old sectarian mindset remained with the dreary steeples, but Churchill was proved right in two instances as the bigotry was entrenched before the late sixties breakout, and with that 30 years well over, the same old hatred still pervade as if there was no troubles or peace process. The great James kelly called the northern colony the ‘sick counties’ and not for nothing. It will never change.

  • Pete Baker
    ‘not really about justice but balance. It’s the zero sum game being played out by Gregory Campbell et al with their call for apology from Dublin , which is in reality showing up how bitter they still are about that apology from Cameron about Bloody Sunday, they’re neurotically desperate to have that cancelled out by another from the |Irish side and any old spurious reason will do. Listening to Foster speaking in the debate, the hate flowed freely as her voice strained at every sentence. At least they’re now exposed by their own mouths.

  • The Lodger

    “He conveniently ignored the 1970 arms trial and the sacking by Lynch of those from the cabinet involved.”

    How many of them went to prison and for how long? What was Haughey’s longer term future (before he was revealed to be a corrupt crook)?

  • The Lodger

    “It’s the zero sum game being played out by Gregory Campbell et al with their call for apology from Dublin”

    Dublin need to apologise for their behaviour on a number of levels.

    The part the Irish government played in the creation of PIRA.

    The lack of cooperation with the British government in combatting PIRA terrorism in the first decade of the troubles.

    The harbouring of republican terrorists in the ROI (Dundalk became known as El Paso because of the amount of OTR terrorists drinking in its bars).

    The failure of the ROI to extradite republican murderers to Northern Ireland.

    That little lot adds up to a serious spot of collusion.

  • lodger Campbell was interviewed and talked as thouggh the sackings of the ministers in 1970 hadn’t happened and Lynch was fully behind their actions. He’s clutching at straws.

  • The Lodger

    Both Neil Blaney and Kevin Boland boasted on a TV documentary about the part the Irish government played in the creation of PIRA. There are no straws being clutched at. These are facts.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Daniel

    Was it John Kelly who made the “patriotic” speech from the dock which was applauded by most people in the court room, including members of the jury?