Can social conservativism redefine political division in Northern Ireland?

You might think listening to some of Northern Ireland’s commentators that in every instance any centre right case for freedom is doomed against a centre left case for equality since the latter is already a done deal: ie, that the centre right loses not simply on merit but because they have no popular support.

Yet the largest and (at least by the limited terms of elective democracy) the most successful political party in Northern Ireland is also the least loved by the media. Increasingly it also likes to define itself as centre right.

Yet as the Economist points out (h/t Kate), playing each issue as it comes has its merits, not least in the case of #CakeGate where the DUP is making common cause with non secularist of both communities:

Paul Givan, a young politician from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose roots are in sharp-edged Protestantism, invoked Catholic as well as Protestant concerns when he floated a piece of draft legislation which would allow businesses and other organisations to turn down jobs if issues of deeply held personal belief were at stake. He cited a recent decision by Catholic bishops to withdraw backing from an adoption agency rather than treat same-sex couples on the same terms as heterosexual ones; and the story of a bakery whose evangelical owners (pictured) turned away an order for a cake which would have carried the slogan, “Support Gay Marriage”.

The idea of a sort of pan-religious “moral majority” is perfectly realistic, Mr Givan insists. He told me that in his constituency south of Belfast, some Catholics had assured him they were voting for the DUP because of its conservative stance on abortion and gay marriage. At a launch event for his proposal, he was happy to welcome a representative of the Belfast Islamic Centre. That suggests a happier turn in relations between the DUP and local Muslims, who felt patronised when party leader and first minister Peter Robinson said that he would trust a Muslim to “go down to the shops” for him.

Secularists and gay-rights activists say they are appalled by Mr Givan’s initiative, which in their view could lead back to the bad old days of businesses picking and choosing their customers on sectarian or ethnic grounds. As John O’Doherty of the Rainbow Project, a gay-rights group, put it: “We don’t have a problem with Christians, but they seem to have a problem with us—and it’s a very fundamental problem, because they object to who we are. When they tell us that we shouldn’t be who we are, it’s like us telling Christians they shouldn’t worship on a Sunday.”

The outcome of Northern Ireland’s escalating culture war will depend a lot on how each side manages to frame the issue. A Britain-wide opinion poll suggests that the “gay-cakes” affair could be a gift to social conservatives, because many people appear convinced by the bakery’s argument that it was not turning away a customer, but merely declining to play an active role in propagating a message that offends its conscience. On the other hand, the same poll found clear majorities for the view that businesses, including hotels, should generally be obliged to treat all customers, including same-sex couples, alike.

Writing in the print edition of the paper the same writer concludes:

So should Catholic traditionalists vote for the DUP, even though Paisley once called the pope “the scarlet woman of Rome”? Senior DUP leaders, who resist change to a restrictive abortion regime, say their party is a logical choice for faithful Catholics.

Father Tim Bartlett, a Catholic spokesman, insists that the church will never tell people how to vote; but it does urge the faithful to assess the parties’ stance on moral matters. For Catholics, he adds, the issues of abortion and gay marriage might now be “of a higher order” than the old quarrel over flags which has been “parked” by the peace process.

It doesn’t mean the Christian schisms of the 16th Century will disappear soon, but an interesting faultline in the political landscape that has had scant attention from a definitively liberal press and media.

, ,

  • Religion trumps social right and liberal left? Though all three display a virulent propensity to know what’s best for people, even if people don’t know it or appreciate the rather imposing moral superiority.

  • James Martin

    You may have noticed aspects of this in the passage of Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill where social conservatives from across the parties worked together to see all aspects of the Bill passed- including the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services. The liberal media elite in NI hated the idea, virulently attacked it and then ignored it once they realised they were on to a hammering. Social conservatives are a force to be reckoned with in NI even if the media hardly represents them at all…

  • Jurassic Parke

    It’s akin to ‘silent Tories’ in England.

    Not fashionable, and there is barely any noise made on their behalf, but come election time their impact is great.

  • Sliothar

    Would anyone else like to comment on the fact that the spokespersons from our various sects of fundamentalist, Taliban-like organisations – especially on a women’s moral right to decide what to do with her own body – are invariably MEN who are against that right?

  • aber1991

    “Invariably men”. Please stick to facts.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you, aber1991, for clearly ‘proving’ Sliothar’s point! Why is it that you cannot see just how agressive and bullying MEN deciding what women can or cannot do legally actually is.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Yes, you can thank your sweet nothing that pro-choice groups like the the Progressive Unionists and the Irish Republican Socialist Party don’t get involved in our sectarian squabbles.

  • William Cable

    That comment makes no sense. Opinion polls show women are more likely to be pro-life than men.

  • streetlegal

    I think Mr Givan doth protest a little too much…

  • Kevin Breslin

    You might think listening to some of Northern Ireland’s commentators that in every instance any centre right case for freedom is doomed against a centre left case for equality since the latter is already a done deal: ie, that the centre right loses not simply on merit but because they have no popular support.

    Yet the largest and (at least by the limited terms of elective democracy) the most successful political party in Northern Ireland is also the least loved by the media. Increasingly it also likes to define itself as centre right.

    Well let’s take division out of the equation for just a minute … let’s compare it with the rest of the UK and Ireland … our greater political hinterland so to speak:

    Isn’t it funny that even in the most liberal of papers there: the big political shakers are the likes of

    Nichola Sturgeon & Alex Salmond (religious),

    Gordon Brown (religious)

    Nigel Farage (religious)

    and Gerry Adams (religious)

    Are media darlings while secularists like:

    Eammon Gilmore (non-religious),

    Nick Clegg (non-religious)

    and Ed Milliband (non-religious) are not,

    Even the Irish Labour leader, while possibly religious is quite critical of the church. Joan Bruton who lost the record of her biological family due to the church and she like the rest of the Irish political establishment and getting little sympathy for it.

    Perhaps there is a greater piety in the so-called “liberal media” elsewhere in the UK and Ireland to the politician who builds his house on faith rather than the one who does not.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Just to further my point even more … who is the big media hero over here in Northern Ireland ?—

    erm Jim Allister (religious, liberal????)

    Not Anna Lo, Not Stephen Agnew, Not Eamon McCann, or even Dawn Purvis

    … Alex Kane, Newton Emerton, possibly even yourself Mick and all the other “liberal” journalists love and empathize with Jim Allister.

    Any wonder why the apparently socially conservative journalists like Mike Nesbitt and Ferghal McKinney get involved directly.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But it will be men who predominantly organise and, as legislators, vote on these issues! Try a head count at Stormont for example!

    The women you are speaking off follow a strong patriarchal line, usually for reasons of a conservative commitment to ideologies that seek to privilidge male centered attitudes.

  • aber1991

    Have no women opposed the liberalisation of the laws on abortion?

    Are you suggesting that men have no right to vote on such a subject?

    In 1983, in his column in the Irish Times, Conor Cruise O’Brien suggested that Eire should indeed have a referendum about abortion with the right to vote restricted to pregnant single females. I saw a lot of merit in that suggestion. It is a pity Conor Cruise O’Brien had not extended that logic to other matters. Perhaps we should have had a referendum on IRA disarmament with the right to vote restricted to Catholics who had been burned out of their homes by the Protestants.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Agnew and Lo are the only ones who are openly in favour of abortion on demand. That’s still only one from each gender. The vast majority of elected women still oppose abortion on demand, even without the men.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Also the spokesperson for Sinn Féin is often Ciatriona Ruane, but they still claim to be a pro-life party.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thanks Kevin, you are perfectly right! But this is the result of our living in a very conservative (small c) place with strong patriarchal attitudes. Friends I bring over from the USA, or even from London, quickly notice the atmosphere of mysogeny, even if some of us have problems even seeing it, like the lobster and the boiling pot.

    In this atmosphere the Stockholm syndrome kicks in and the fact that “the vast majority of elected women still oppose abortion on demand, even without the men” need some serious unpacking in ths context, where conformity rather than reasoned evaluation dictates opinions. I’ve used the term “voting by standing order” about elections in the past on Slugger, I sincerely wish this was not so, but all too many of us simply grab and hold tight to attitudes that have never been thought through carefully. Both abortion, and its refusal, can seriously harm lives depending very much on the individual person involved. But lack of intellegent debate, where laws are simply backed by opinions that were pre-cast before use will always destroy lives.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Seems referendum seems rather pointless when it was the IRA Council that who voted to disarm.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Many of the women who adopt these “strong patriarchal lines” as you said, have gone through the risks of pregnancy themselves, they’ve built careers for themselves, it’s clear that they can think for themselves, it’s clear they have an awareness of their own bodies too. Why should MPs and MLAs who are matriarchs such as Naomi Long for example, an engineer, a major, an MP be easily dismissed as “male-centric” just because she’s pro-life? I say this knowing as far as I am aware tha Dawn Purvis has children too.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Kevin, I stand by what I’ve said above. In a strongly mysogenistic society, even the most strong willed women must be affected in some way, and although the Stockholm syndrome comment has an edge of my customary outrageousness, I really think it deserves to be taken into account seriously as an unconscious driver in much of where we find ourselves, with many of our habits of thought and behaviour encoded into our DNA after centuries of colonial rule.

    But this really is a very complex issue with some very grey areas, and is not really open to black hat/white hat statements. The decisions made by individuals in each case is always going to be particular to the psychology and life experience of the individual involved, both as someone demanding an abortion and as someone making a judgement on what is going to be right for them. There are no absolutes in this, except where ideology or religious values demand that a person comes to the table with an already fixed opinion on the matter.

  • aber1991

    How do you know?

  • aber1991

    That does not change the fact that most of the people who were clamouring for the IRA to disarm had never been hurt by the Protestants, lived at a safe distance from the Protestants and were members of the tribe who stood idly bye in August 1969. Nor does it change the fact that Conor Cruise O’Brien failed to apply the same logic to leaving the Catholic people of Northern Ireland defenceless as he had applied to abortion.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Except the loyalists also voted to disarm, and the anti-Agreement LVF decommisioned bullets themselves first.

  • aber1991

    That does not change the fact that O’Brien had applied a different standard to abortion that he had to Catholics disarming.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, aber1991, because I commission very expensive polls through questionaires that I construct in a slanted manner to get that result, of course!

    That, and simply having travelled and worked in more enlightened places such as California, I keep my eyes and ears open, observe how people behave, speak with people about me, and through all of this see the difference between men and women here and in other places! How else?

  • aber1991

    What is “enlightened” about California? You come over as being very arrogant.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well I still don’t get your point, 338 Northern Irish Catholics were killed by the IRA that’s not counting those who were killed in the Republic of Ireland or those Catholics maimed and injured as a result of “community policing”. The IRA didn’t have a mandate, and supporters in Sinn Féin didn’t have a bigger mandate than the SDLP throughout the Troubles since the SDLP formed, and had no bigger mandate than the Nationalist party before that.

    So a group that didn’t need a mandate to kill, would not respect a mandate if it was forced upon them. Conor Cruise O’Brien probably thought (like the majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland still do) that the IRA made their quality of living much worse and reinforced Protestant opposition to Irish unity through sectarianism and the death of 790 locally born Protestants as well.

    But yeah, if those 338 Northern Irish Catholics weren’t killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, they may have indeed be killed by Protestants, although I think one of the IRA leaders was Tiomoid O’Stiofan a Protestant and he believed blowing up city centers in minor versions of the Omagh Bomb was the way to drive the British out, not getting into bed with the SDLP and trying to undo the immense damage to community relations which the IRA contributed to.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Aber, aber, arrogant I may be, (sure!) but that’s only because I have a massive intellect and am probably the most brilliant, liberal, enlightened person in the whole Wee Six. Seriously, though, I never fail to be shocked at how most men I meet on a day to day basis think and talk about women here. What I say and think on Slugger is entirely aimed against this conservative hangover, in the vain hope taht something I can say or do might in some tiny way help free up the lives of the women I know! Check out my more serious comments below in reply to Kevin.

    And if you do not know what is “enlightened” about California, you do not seem to have ever been there. Although I met a lot of humourless people in Hollywood (and up at Big Sur at weekends) I also met a lot more happy, fulfilled, openminded, non-violent people who actually read real books (not Kindle pap), knew about painting, theatre and movies, and laughed at people who loathed others enough to pass laws to try and force them to think and act as they did (they call then “Democrats” and “Republicans” over there, but I think this is meant in the ironic manner of inverse sense phrases in Irish such as “Sean Bui”).

    Please, please don’t simply look at a screen and think you know everything there is to know about a place. Get a cheap flight, go to California, meet the people, see just how much more at ease and confidant in themselves most women are there, and get back to me then. But perhaps that’s not how you think women should be…….

  • aber1991

    That still does not change the fact that O’Brien lived at a safe distance from the Prod murder gangs and demanded that Northern Ireland Catholics be left at the mercy of the Prods.

    P.S. I notice that, although you state the precise number of Northern Ireland Catholics killed, (in most cases, accidentally) by the IRA, you forgot to mention the more than twice that number of Catholics killed by the Prods. You are obviously anti-Catholic.

  • aber1991

    I am glad that you admit to being arrogant.

    I have been in California – only twice – in 1983 and again in 1986. I was not impressed. But some people obviously like it.

    “Reading books” “Painting, theatre, movies” Sorry, not my scene. I am working class. Anyway, if you like that sort of thing, enjoy it. So long as you do not try to impose your middle-class values and behaviour on us working class people, I have no quarrel with you.

  • Superfluous

    I supported Ashers on this particular issue (albeit I don’t support the freedom of conscience law) – so am I really a social conservative? Oh god, I was just trying to be liberal – in thinking that, as much as is possible, no one should be able to coerce other people into doing things they don’t want to do. The Religious can not tell people what to do with their sexual organs and the Gay lobby can’t tell the Religious to bake cakes with Gay activist slogans – everybody just leaves each other alone, ffs.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m actually a Roman Catholic economic Irish nationalist.

    I know all about the IRA’s liberation theology, I’ve been to republican funerals. I know the sence of outrage at Bloody Sunday, internment, discrimination, gerrymandering, loyalist violence and British collusion.

    However, why should I as Catholic think that the IRA were protecting my father in Magazine Street from “the Prods” by a range of acts of terror such as torturing Catholic women like Jean McConville who was driven from her home to the Falls by loyalists? How does blowing up the Europa Hotel or Allied Carpets, or tying men to bread trucks stop loyalists, drive out British rule or unify Ireland?

    The Loyalists had their own liberation theology too, part of it just became keep their land from the IRA by any means possible. For this reason we have a patchwork Belfast.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m not liberal with that sense of liberalism. To be honest here I’m happy for any group to tell me what to do, just as long as I can ignore them.

  • aber1991

    Were you born in Rome? If not, you are not a Roman anything. “Roman Catholic” is an offensive term which Protestants use to describe us in order to insinuate that we, are in some way, foreign and so do not have any right to equality with them in Northern Ireland.

    So you are an Irish Nationalist. I had suspected as much – from your complaint about the Catholic crusade against tyranny having alienated Northern Protestants even more from the prospect of a United Ireland. Many Eire people want us to submit to Protestant tyranny so that they will find it easier to make friends with the Protestants and so achieve a United Ireland. But there is no harm in their wanting.

    I had assumed that you are a Stater but your reference to your father in Magazine Street (presumably in Derry) throws that into doubt. Nevertheless, I suspect that you have lived much of your life in Eire and so have developed a “Stater mentality.” Or, perhaps, you are a comfortably off middle class Catholic who has never had to endure Protestant tyranny – perhaps a teacher or priest who, by the very nature of his profession, has been insulated from the Protestants. Then, again, your pro-abortion agenda causes me to dismiss the suspicion that you are a priest.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Jack Charlton, Katie Holmes, Wolfe Tone … all Protestants and Irish heroes to boot.

    To get back on point: Conor Cruise O’Brien who’s politics went from nationalist to unionist and possibly back again, was clearly no fan of the IRA, his views on the abortion debate being restricted to single pregnant females seems a bit bonkers too.

    O’Brian himself as part of Bob McCartney’s party UKUP I think, would have been no fan of the IRA, but his demands on disarmament were carried out even if his then party left the talks in frustration.

    When UKUP left the talks, they left the political scene, but his call to disarm was supported by the decommisioning part of the Agreement, to which the 8 remaining talks parties signed up to (the other parties minus the DUP+UKUP):

    The Woman’s Coalition, the Labour Coaliton, the Ulster Unionists, the Alliance Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and the Ulster Democratic Party, the Progressive Unionist Party and Sinn Féin.

    More importantly this agreement that the IRA should be disarmed was voted for by 85% of the Northern Electorate with the majority of Catholics, and the majority of Republicans. The majority of people in the Republic of Ireland agreed that the Southern Government to change Article 3 of the Bunreacht na hÉireann to include the lines:

    It is the firm will of the Irish Nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island.

    The Irish people had two referendums on IRA disarmament they voted yes to both.

  • aber1991

    I see nothing bonkers about O’Brien’s suggestion re the abortion debate. My gripe is with his failure to apply the same logic to Catholics disarming.

    I have no gripe with O’Brien being a Unionist. So am I.

    My gripe is with his hatred of Catholics. His lurch back to nationalism was prompted by his fear that Catholics would rule Northern Ireland. He knew that, in a United Ireland, the people of what is now Eire would pander to the Protestants and we Northern Ireland Catholics would continue to be oppressed.

    He detested us – and also detested any Eire people who are practising Catholics. e.g. He supported Ms Eileen Flynn when she was dismissed from her employment in a Catholic school for conduct incompatible with the promotion of Catholicism. He did so even though it was public knowledge that she was a member of Sinn Fein. That behaviour by O’Brien shows the sheer depth of his anti-Catholic bigotry.

    Nor can I forgive O’Brien’s behaviour in March 1983. In his column in the Irish Times, he reprimanded Cardinal O’Fiach for his (the cardinal’s) supposed opposition to integrated education. What right had O’Brien (or any other Stater) to reprimand any Northern Ireland Catholic about anything relating to Northern Ireland? Could he (and other Staters) not have left the clamour for integrated education in Northern Ireland to the people who would have to endure same? To add insult to injury, O’Brien cited Queens University in support of integrated education. He should have been hanged for directing that cruel taunt at the victims of Protestant tyranny.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Aber, I like California, I certainly really like California women, you don’t, but as Brendan Behan says in “The Hostage”, “It’s all the same thing in the end, A case of sentiment.” and I’m not trying to impose anything on anyone, I’m trying to argue that the ideologies of some (“Pro-Life”) should not be imposed on those who may need to terminate a pregnancy, also that the “little woman at the kitchen sink” “stay at home mother and wife” image should not be imposed on women as the only option in life, which is pretty general here.

    And I’d never regard my values as “middle class”, I’ve long fumed myself into apoplexy on other Slugger threads about the nice same homogenised, non-cultural world Tony Blair wanted us all to inhabit as Middle-Classlesness, his own wee version of the “classless” society. Me? I’m what is called “declasse” or “bohemian”, rather arty, anarchist back in the Peoples Democracy days, but much more radical now, but certainly no money, unlike all those priviledged people I went to school with who signed up for the Thatcher Revolution are now “rolling in it.”

    And hey, nobody pays any attention to me, I’m the resident flâneur, ( literal meaning:”stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”). Most of the time I’d be offended if anyone took me at all seriously. But there are some things I reall care about, issues such as Áine’s abuse and Adams’ weasel reaction, which makes me incandesent with rage, and the manner in which all politicians of whatever hue and those people generally with a bit of power to play with seem to use it to abuse ordinary people simply trying to have a life of their own. The abortion issue rehersed above is a similar case. I know of women who have had their lives entirely ruined by both the refusal of a termination and by its easy availability, women who have developend serious mental problems from both situations, especially where teh choice has been taken from them by someone else. For I do not feel that any man or woman has a right to force a woman to carry a child through term that they have a serious, well thought out reason to wish to terminate, any more than anyone should be able to compell them to terminate a pregnancy. Both I feel are a kind of rape, and where it is men acting from an ideological belief that abortion should never be permitted, the element of rape is self evident in this to me at least.

  • aber1991

    Do you live in California?

    As for abortion, I have never campaigned on the subject – neither for not against it. No interest in the subject – other than opposed to any Catholic being bullied into getting involved with one.

    I am not impressed by the proponents of abortion – they tend to have anti-Catholic views on a whole range of topics.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Aber, I live up the hills in County Antrim. If you check the “Cartoonists unite in support of Charlie Hebdo” thread, you’ll get a bit of an idea who I am and where I’m coming from, from a rather autobiographical posting I made over there. As for anti-Catholic, I’m from an Anglo-Catholic background myself (High Church Anglican) and I doubt that you’ll find anyone less anti-Catholic anywhere in the wee six, although I’d regard myself as a very liberal Catholic, you meet a lot like me in California, where I have family and have certainly spent some of my film career. My record in NICRA and the PD for a start should make it clear that I’m not a hardened Unionist, I’ve mentioned it on Slugger times out of mind. Although I once had my hair fuzzed up by Lord Brookborough when I was a child (little did he know then that my family were “Auld Home Rulers). As I made it perfectly clear above, I’m for entirely free choice for women, Catholic or Protestant (or anything else, for that matter) free choice, note, not any form of compulsion or bullying.

  • eiregain

    This is nonsense,
    Im a young working class nationalist form Derry. I do not see it as middle classed to be educated and well read, to have perspective.

    once again aber proves himself to be no more thn a loyalist troll

  • aber1991

    “once again aber proves himself to be no more thn a loyalist troll”

    Why are you so arrogant?

    The fact that YOU do not see it as middle class to be educated and well read does not mean that I cannot see those vices as being middle class.

    Can you prove that I am a Prod or a troll? I certainly do not share your middle-class values. Nor do I share your desire for a united Ireland. Neither of those attitudes makes me a troll. Still less do they make me a Prod.

    Please apologise for calling be a Prod troll.

  • eiregain

    The fact that YOU do not see it as middle class to be educated and well read does not mean that I cannot see those vices as being middle class.”

    Education is a vice now….along with alcohol and hoaring? Good One!

    Can a welder not enjoy Tchaikovsky?

    Can a personal trainer not also be an accomplished flautist?

    Can a brick layer not write a book about WB Yeats?

    These three examples are real people from my neighbourhood, all working class nationalists that are well educated and have a lot more perspective than you.

    You regularly spew nonsense that reflects poorly on the nationalist argument, Therefore I will continue to label you a loyalist troll

  • Susan Faludi makes the same point that anti reproductive rights activists are mostly men.
    In fact, she writes that what women were there were kept from the front lines of the protests. She actually did the research.

  • Link to such a poll please.