Micheál Martin: “It is the lack of action on these points which feeds disillusionment and division”

Whilst the DUP and Sinn Fein continue to withdraw into their bunker mentalities, Micheál Martin was speaking at the Merriman School yesterday  (the clar is here)…

Institutions are in place.  Meetings happen on schedule.  Speeches about how well everyone is getting on, are delivered all the time.  Yet there is absolutely no urgency or ambition.

The process is becoming ever more concentrated on the elites, distracted by their partisan concerns and leading to a marked increase in public disillusionment.

The focus has been on managing rather than developing institutions.  Opportunities to address shared problems are being missed – and in some areas we are seeing a slow but undeniable retreat from the policy of deeper cooperation.

This has had an inevitable and growing impact on public attitudes.

Today the majority within Northern Ireland do not feel that their say in how they are governed has increased and they believe that the Assembly has achieved little.[Emphasis added]

He continues:

Fundamentally, a public discourse once solely focused on conflict has not evolved a new approach. There are only a handful of journalists who pay any attention to the wider cultural, social and economic dimensions of relations within Northern Ireland and between North and South.

It is as if issues relating to the North have been put away in a file marked “history” – to be dusted off only when communal tensions flare up again.

We are failing to take advantage of the many and obvious opportunities which peace and a legitimate constitutional blueprint have brought.  The failure to take all of these opportunities, to build deep understanding of other communities, to aggressively target development, to work to bring the concerns of marginalised groups and areas onto a shared agenda – each of these poses a long-term threat to what has been achieved.

No one who knows anything about our history should think for a moment that there is nothing to be worried about.


Over the last two years I have delivered a series of speeches calling for action on the growing dysfunction of institutions ever-more beholden to narrow party interests.

In particular I have addressed what I think is the dangerous vacuum being created within Northern Ireland.  That critique stands.

In fact it has been borne out yet again during a summer where the two largest parties continue to pick and choose whether they will accept the legitimacy of the system they are supposed to guarantee.

And of course there is a political sting in the tail:

…a dangerous complacency is undermining progress in all three strands of the process.

The most striking example was the recent announcement of what was titled the “New Economic Pact” for Northern Ireland.  The First Minister and Deputy First Minister travelled to London where they announced the initiative with Prime Minister Cameron in Downing Street.

It was presented as the definitive strategy for the development of Northern Ireland’s economy. The ‘Pact’ is welcome and it includes many important commitments – but what it also does is exclude any North/South dimension whatsoever.

Even though the Irish Government had explicitly addressed common development as a goal in the 2007 National Development Plan – and maintained most of the proposals even in the toughest of times – the ‘Pact’ does not include even a single mention of the Border Region or cross-border cooperation.

The only mention of the South comes in a point saying that efforts are to be made to get tourists to go North.

I can think of no comparable example in the last 15 years where there were no North/South or East/West discussions before such an announcement or where the Dublin or London governments ignored a clear opportunity for shared action.[Emphasis added]

And here it is, “this is not about The DUP and Conservative Party imposing more traditional unionist approach – Sinn Féin was a full participant.”

However, he goes on to say:

…there remain many reasons for hope – the most important being that the public still fundamentally accepts the core principles of the peace process.  There are hundreds of individual examples of people and groups working to promote cooperation and understanding.

In the South there is a widespread acceptance of the idea that closer economic, social and cultural cooperation would be to the benefit of both sides.  In the North the situation is more complicated but there is still a solid majority in favour of increased cooperation.

While this has not been measured for a few years, a majority also accepts the idea that the Dublin government has a legitimate interest in Northern affairs.

More importantly, when people are asked what they think their political leaders should be focusing on, a strong majority cite improving inter-communal relations and tackling unemployment.

It is the lack of action on these points which feeds disillusionment and division.[Emphasis added]

He concludes:

Yes, North and South we have two societies which are growing apart – but there is nothing inevitable about this.  There are many, many areas where our community of interests is clear and the opportunities for action are at hand.

Economic development, education, health and research are just a few of the practical areas where a significantly enhanced North/South dimension would benefit all and threaten none.

There is a broad public consensus around seeing no political danger from promoting development and improved relations. What is missing is leadership.

For Sinn Fein,  Pádraig Mac Lochlainn was on point with a rapid response

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  • hseany1978

    Er, should someone point out to Micheál that his party was in government for nearly 15 years and they did nothing about what he is actually complaining about?

    I dont remember seeing any all-ireland strategies, plans, etc while Martin and his party were in charge!

    Fianna Fail are tub-thumpers and political vandals of the highest order. As a consequence it is very difficult to take statements like the one above seriously…

  • hseany1978


    Maybe Martin should also be addressing some (most?) of his concerns to Enda Kenny rather than to Sinn Fein?

    If Martin wants the Free State to be part of the action then he should focus on being a willing participant than the recurring (and nauseating) nay-sayer he has proved to be…

  • weidm7

    He seems to be trying to dazzle southern nationalists and northern middle class nationalists with lots of fancy words and no action. The other commenters and the Sinn Fein statement already said it but I wanted to add the oft-repeated but still true fact that FF don’t run in the north and as such have no right to talk about internal northern matters, or to call themselves the Republican Party.

  • “Whilst the DUP and Sinn Fein continue to withdraw into their bunker mentalities, Micheál Martin was speaking at the Merriman School yesterday”

    Well, Michéal and the MS organisers are firmly ensconced in the ‘island of Ireland’ bunker:

    This year’s Merriman Summer School in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare will will take a close look at politics, society and culture in the two Irelands over the past 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

    “Ireland North and South: two societies growing apart?
    Éire agus Ulaidh: ag dul a mbealach féin feasta?”

    I ran the Irish subheading through Google translate and came up with this:

    Ireland and Ulster: going their own way in future

    Is there not a disconnect between the two expressions?

  • “This challenge is faced within each of the three strands of the Agreement. .. [The 1998 Agreement] set out a blueprint for strengthening relations within Northern Ireland, between North and South and between these islands. .. The Irish-British dimension of the peace process has long been the most developed.” .. Michéal Martin

    Why is MM using the language of John Hume instead of the language of the 1998 Agreement? Has he failed to note that the Strand 3 Secretariat has only fairly recently been put in place whereas the Strand 2 Secretariat has been in place for most of the time since 1998? It’s not very reassuring that a party leader should be so out of touch.

  • Zig70

    Maybe in light of Robbo’s letter, MM is right. SF and DUP have been hoodwinked into a vacuum, trapped by their own power obsession. A tactic used by the English throughout the years. Give the troublesome locals a bit of power and watch them run themselves ragged. SF ego won’t let them bring down the assembly but the threat of joint authority was the only thing that made unionists compromise. Just a pity SF are too dumb to ask the wider family for help. Nats have no cute whores in the north to combat unionist double speak. A choice between the soft bellied SDLP and the bulldozer of SF.

  • Mick Fealty


    That’s true, but I think the answer may be in the text. Agreements are one thing, but they take political commitment and activism to actually make them work. That means generating fresh ideas to put through the government mill…

    In tertiary level education for instance:

    The recent trend towards formalising connections between universities and Institutes in this jurisdiction is currently due to proceed without any North/South dimension. This is very much to be regretted. There are many institutions whose natural hinterland in terms of both students and academic cooperation is on the other side of the Border.

    The time has come to address this issue in a formal way. A cross-border body which facilitated the mutual recognition of qualifications and transfers between institutions would be to the benefit of everyone. It would not add significant extra costs but it would reverse the drifting apart of institutions which would only get stronger if they worked together.

    In terms of both education and economic development it is also time to establish a formal all-island approach to advanced research. Few areas are as ready for the cross-border dimension as this is because of the international context within which every institution works. The largest research fund in Europe, the Framework Programme, actually requires collaboration between systems.

    He, or indeed any serious Republican challenger, has much political indolence to work upon. For instance, in various the cross border food scares, where was Foodsafe Ireland? As he says:

    “Institutions are in place. Meetings happen on schedule. Speeches about how well everyone is getting on, are delivered all the time. Yet there is absolutely no urgency or ambition.”

    In Northern Ireland under the current partnership symbol far outweighs function. So it is more important to make sure the flag comes down off City Hall than to make sure north south institutions are not only seen to work, but are held to be worthy further investment.

    So it falls to the leader of Fianna Fail rather than the leader of Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland to suggest that Foodsafe Ireland be scaled up into a joint authority…

    The current cross-border body has only part responsibility for the general promotion of the idea of food safety. What it doesn’t have is real powers of oversight and action.

    These remain with separate authorities. The impact of this can be seen in the recent horsemeat controversy which directly damaged the sector North and South but the responses were not coordinated and only partially successful.

    A single, all-island, food safety authority would be a direct benefit to a sector which already has deep North/South connections.

  • “I think the answer may be in the text. Agreements are one thing, but they take political commitment and activism to actually make them work.”

    Mick, MM is essentially ignoring the need for balance across the Agreement’s three strands; he’s playing the green ‘island of Ireland’ card. It’s this sort of nonsense that leads to unionist opposition to otherwise sensible co-operation eg food safety, although there might be an even better case to ramp it up to Strand 3.

  • CoisteBodhar

    Great thread. This is very astute and regardless of where it comes from it smarts.
    I wish I had half the time of some people on here to spend reading and maybe even occasionally posting. Ye all must be in the civil service.

  • Zig70

    Nevertheless, CB, Michael is still in the sphere of problems and not solutions, which to me means his message lacks any punch. The current NI government is such as easy target you couldn’t blame him but you can be sure FF would struggle to get any traction up north. I’d say don’t ignore us but c- for effort.
    I wish I had a civil service job, maybe someday, everyone tells me I would be able to stand it.

  • “For instance, in various the cross border food scares, where was Foodsafe Ireland?”

    Mick, had Martin McGuinness played the MM card, Peter Robinson could have countered with the UK card. When you look at the horse-meat story it looks as if a Strand 3 approach would be more apt than a partisan Strand 2 one:

    .. the meat had come from two processing plants in the Irish Republic – Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods – and the Dalepak Hambleton plant in North Yorkshire.

    The burgers had been on sale in Tesco and Iceland in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, where they were also on sale in Dunnes Stores, Lidl and Aldi. .. BBC source

  • Mick Fealty


    “…had Martin McGuinness played the MM card, Peter Robinson could have countered with the UK card.”

    And what’s so bad about that? So long as the moves therein are positive sum, there should not be a problem either way. Besides the current resort to competitive community politics is drawing us back into a vicious circle rather than a virtuous spiral…

    In fact, what Martin is saying is that East West (meaning Dublin-London) remains healthy, but he’s saying (with some justification) that the leadership northern nationalism is retreating into factionalism (and a zero sum low level war over symbols) precisely because they appear to be either unable or incapable of launching any significant north south agenda…

  • Mick, I thought it was well established in the 1998 agreement and in subsequent constitutional changes that London-Dublin and East-West are not one and the same.

    MM is talking about a good London-Dublin relationship but that has been at the expense of an endorsement of paramilitary control of many local communities here.

    MM’s list is an expression of enhanced factionalism and, unsurprisingly, unionists would most likely veto any growth in this domain.

    The very idea of FF being part of a ‘virtuous spiral’ is a bit far-fetched. It was tales of sleaze from the FF era that encouraged me to have a look at governance here …

  • Mick Fealty


    “a good London-Dublin relationship but that has been at the expense of an endorsement of paramilitary control of many local communities here.”

    Well, forgive me if I have this wrong, but is this not Martin’s point rather than yours?

  • Mick, MM is portraying the London-Dublin relationship as the East-West relationship much as John Hume had done in his pre-1998 analysis. In Hume’s analysis Dublin speaks for the island of Ireland and unionists are merely a tradition on the island. It’s unsurprising that such a position was rejected by David Trimble. The 1998 Agreement is much closer to my analysis than it is to Hume’s.

    MM is still apparently stuck in the Hume groove. He’s blaming MMcG for not doing more in the Strand 2 domain yet it was an FF government that signed up to a unionist veto of such a one-sided development.

    I doubt if MM is admitting to an FF endorsement of paramilitary control of local communities yet that’s what his civil servants were accommodating while he was a minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Some of those civil servants who were using DFA email addresses were from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and they soon clamped down on any spread of such an accommodation to the southern jurisdiction.