Men it has been well said, think in herds. It will be seen that they go mad in herds while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.
Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841)
Speaking of Fionola, her essay in an excellent collection from the British Council, gets a mention from Robert Fisk this morning (h/t Kate), where he quotes her saying, “springtime honeymoon period is over, the cherry blossom blown away, and we are now living in the day-to-day reality of post-conflict Northern Ireland”.
Yep. And despite the realisation that life may be better but not quite as better as we might have hoped for in the darkest hours of the conflict we are edging slowly towards the realisation that the world is more complex than that eternal and deadly binary of war: I live, you die, or zero sum as it is known in the jargon.
Trevor Ringland writing in the same essay collection:
Our ‘Pragmatic Peace Process’ has required those who lived through those terrible times and consistently argued for a different way, to accept that which otherwise would be unacceptable in a normal democracy in order – hopefully – to move our society into a peaceful, stable and genuinely shared future.
The two political parties that best represent those flawed ideologies, namely Sinn Féin and the DUP have evolved in their attitudes, adjusting their politics accordingly in their pursuit of power. Their acceptance of more conciliatory and constructive politics is of course to be welcomed, but their expectation of thanks for their strategic shift shows a lack of understanding on their part with respect to the impact of their past words and actions on the people of these islands, and Northern Ireland in particular. Their political aspirations also seem limited to mere co-existence. A ‘cold peace’ which I feel will ultimately break down. [emphasis added]
Ringland may or may not get what he fears. Certainly, the two main parties wear their aspirational clothes as though they were a poor fit. Robinson’s fine words on taking office as First Minister are all but forgotten now as Sammy Wilson writes out cheques for new flagpoles across Northern Ireland.
And in the midst of winter, the best piece of business Belfast City Council can do for business is to restrict the flying of the union flag to designated days, in a seasonal break in the ongoing and escalating dispute over
an anti poverty strategy, parading in Belfast.
In the meantime, Catholics continue to enjoy poorer health outcomes than Protestants, Protestant girls take a beating from members of the same organisation as some who went to Cardiff this weekend for having the bare cheeked audacity of bringing a Catholic friend to a Rangers club, and dissident disenchantment with the indigenous deal over policing and justice continues apace.
Alex Kane in his Irish News column disagrees with Fionola:
…we could not yet be described as a post conflict society.
And, to be brutally honest about it, I’m not sure we’ll ever reach the post conflict stage, since the source of the conflict (the status of the north/Northern Ireland) has not yet been resolved.
For so long as it remains unresolved, then for so long will remain impossible to produce or shore up anything that could be properly described as a shared future.
Where does that leave us? I don’t really know: although I’m pretty certain that the quixotic strategy of windmill tilting by weary old knights will worsen rather than improve relationships.
He goes on to suggest that new parties are needed. Well, may be/may be not. The Belfast Agreement was, as the title of Frank Millar’s excellent work implies, ‘a triumph of politics’, not ‘the triumph of politics’.
Whatever the genuine imaginative victories over a shared dismal past the GFA brought us, it remains the job of politics to look for new ground and new battles, rather than finding new ways to endlessly replicate the old…
Dusting down Cervantes’ wise classic, these words may provide a more accurate description of where we currently find ourselves in Northern Irish politics:
“All I know is that while I’m asleep, I’m never afraid, and I have no hopes, no struggles, no glories — and bless the man who invented sleep, a cloak over all human thought, food that drives away hunger, water that banishes thirst, fire that heats up cold, chill that moderates passion, and, finally, universal currency with which all things can be bought, weight and balance that brings the shepherd and the king, the fool and the wise, to the same level. There’s only one bad thing about sleep, as far as I’ve ever heard, and that is that it resembles death, since there’s very little difference between a sleeping man and a corpse”