No structural reason Sinn Féin could not win power in a majority rule Northern Ireland

Here’s an intriguing line from the Fiach Kelly piece that Pete blogged yesterday…

Over the past week, Sinn Féin was, according to those with knowledge of the talks, ready to deal but was not met with equal enthusiasm from Arlene Foster and the DUP, which is understood to be looking for commitments that the Executive and Assembly cannot be easily collapsed.

This is not an inconsequential holdout position. Of course, it was relatively easy for SF to collapse the Assembly by refusing to re-nominate, but it was something the clever clogs at St Andrews clearly did not anticipate.

If they’ve done it once, apparently without political impairment, why would they not do it again? And if they can do it again, why put such unstable institutions back up without looking at how it might be repaired?

Malachi O’Dohery’s gone back to the dusty shelf and brought down something that might possibly fit better now than the last time it was looked at:

…in our exasperation with trying to find a heartbeat in a recumbent horse, we might be overlooking another important change that has occurred in that same time period.

And it is this: the old structure of Northern Ireland, which inspired power-sharing in the first place, has changed. There is no longer a majority unionist community and a minority nationalist one. Both are minorities.

The prospect of a resumption of the 50 years of misrule is gone. So, why do we need power-sharing?

That’s really not a bad question to ask at this point, even if most of the answers to are likely to be a reflexive NO! And this is why..

If we scrapped power-sharing, Sinn Fein would probably find itself in Opposition against the DUP, but perhaps not. And, even so, it would have a realistic prospect of power next time.

It could woo friends in the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance and form a coalition that would govern. The numbers are there. Of course, it would have to change.

In British politics there is an understanding that a party can only take power if it appeals to the middle ground; if it can sell its message to people who might otherwise vote against it. This is a moderating dynamic.

Tories may secretly dream of an American-style health service and directorships on retirement with insurance companies, but they cannot declare that to the electorate. They have to be nicer.

If we had a simple majority rule system, Sinn Fein would have to attract soft unionists; the DUP would have to attract soft nationalists.

We would have a dynamic that worked against sectarian factionalism. The dynamic of power-sharing, on the contrary, works to promote sectarianism.

He correctly understands what remains valuable of the Middle Ground in Northern Ireland. It’s not rocket science, but it certainly deserves a proper (and civil) hearing.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    True. I suppose the test is, what is the status of the separate identity post-“assimilation” – more or less strong and accepted than before.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    10 years ago

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we can have both, just needs SF to end the wrecking tactics

  • MainlandUlsterman

    no, the secondment was something of a favour from my employers. We needed to be in Dublin as a family while my wife worked in various archives there (she’s a historian). It was an expensive time.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it doesn’t *have to* in theory but in reality, given the ethnic atavism towards P/U/L people which is common within northern nationalism, it surely would.

    I wasn’t suggesting the GFA guarantees UK sovereignty forever, nothing can.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Of course it will be different, but then identity is a collective and relative thing, and not some eternal verity. The identity of Unionists before partition was far more Irish than the crafted identity which came out of a few generations of isolation from the rest of Ireland. I have had the luck to have family living in both places, and for me at least the alterations appear to be consistent with a commonality which shows genuine cultural continuity within the natural process of change.

    The current “Ulster” identity will change, just as it has over the last century, and its “Britishness” must change in changing circumstances, but the very last thing any identity requires is to be cryogenically frozen at some instance of time. I would expect the inheritance of the older dissenter tradition of the 1780 Volunteers to be the steady characteristic, with its questioning liberalism, a far more valuable inheritance than the current bellicose and hubristic character of much of political Unionism.

  • mickfealty

    What we all signed up to, north and south in 1998. Not a smidgen more, not a smidgen less. Is it really too much to ask that we respect the will of the people (sovereign in the Republic) north and south?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    but you think only unionist identity changes – other identities, separatist Irish for example, are immutable? I thought we’d seen rather big changes in what it means to be Irish since the De Valera vision, for example, not to mention Britishness generally. Of course identities evolve and shift – there is elasticity there. But the elasticity is not infinite – there are continuities too. For the Ulster British, the sense of a positive historical and emotional connection with the bigger island is one of those.

  • Skibo

    The problem for equal finances is you and others lump the money spent to educate through the Irish Language in school into the budget for Nationalist culture but nobody bothers to put the spending on the English language on the scales on the other side.
    Does the OO not have a couple of museums? Is the Ulster folk and Transport museum not air on the side of the Unionist population? Where is all the money spent in policing Loyal Order parades be logged? How much money was spent to protect a caravan, places at a flash point rather than the place where the parade was stopped?

  • Skibo

    But I and my family have been assimilated into the British people. It has not stopped up preserving our Irish culture and since 1998 can openly state we are Irish.
    In 1922 a third of the population of Northern Ireland was assimilated.

  • Hugh Davison

    So it’s tribalism, at the end of the day, just like in Afghanistan or all the other ‘stans’?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    yes, the ethno-identity divisions we have are a central feature of Northern Ireland society. And yes we are like everyone else in the world, we have ethnic belongings and perceptions of in and out groups that shape our responses to politics and our own stories.

  • Ryan A

    What you have to remember is the advances of technology make it virtually impossible to mount a campaign of violence/terrorism like we have seen in previous decades. It might be Flags x 5 but I still don’t think it would be incontainable.

    You also have to remember others in the world over the course of history were more than happy to help republicans to cause trouble – the same will doesn’t extend to those trying to cause trouble for Ireland.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Where did you get the idea that I imagine only the Unionist identity changes? I’d have thought that a critique of immutability was hot wired into the very way I was discussing the idea of change. The problem with Unionism is that it was always prone to an exaggerated perception of the notion of a difference, building the very idea of stark differentiation into their politics in s manner in which, say, constitutionalist nationalism never actually did.

    For me the real continuities here are far, far deeper than the century and s half blip of exclusivist Unionism. As I’d suggested, the dissenter spirit is a far deeper character of place for our people, and its partial eclipse by Dr Cooke’s Presbyterian alliance with Conservatism in the 1840s, and the outcome of this in the Conservative Unionism of the 1880s is not the whole story of who we are or who we may be.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Good heavens, MU, I could be listening to the paranoid rhetoric of the first UUC in 1905 who predicted that the new reorganisation of county councils would bring in Catholic dominance and the hunting out of the Protestant community, in some bizarre rerun of their more lurid imaginings about 1641.

    If one mixes in both communities as I do, the idea that somehow there is some ethnic pogrom awaiting non- republicans in the north has strong echos of some of the worst tin foil helmet websites out there. Spend some time on the ground here perhaps to readjust what is a quite eronious perception.

  • Hugh Davison

    Gosh. Sounds just like the government in power when I grew up here, from 1946. Uncanny description.

  • Hugh Davison

    America won’t let you in. That ship sailed a couple of hundred years ago. If Scotland goes for independence, they won’t let you in either, unless you have a real present-day connection and not some fantasy 400-year old one.

  • Distancerunner

    and yes, they will bring about NI’s demise as surely as if that were the plan

  • Sprite

    So what if a new Ireland took 12 July as a national holiday, officially observed Armistice Day, protected and invested in Apprentice Boys and Orange/Black demonstrations? I know the more rabid republicans here couldn’t stomach that but if we genuinely mean to accommodate all traditions in a new settlement, these have to be amongst the possibilities.

    Right now and in the future people from Cork to Culdaff are going to choose to serve in the British armed forces, that’s an uncomfortable reality for republicans; thousands of Irish people make their living in GB and live quite contently in a blend of Irish/British culture and that’s not going to change. I believe that a huge obstacle to peaceful co-existence in a UI is Irish republicanism in its most intolerant form. In a UI, people of a British/Irish background must be allowed their traditions too and the state should make space to recognise their history and those traditions.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    That’s a more enlightened form of nationalism and I appreciate its respectfulness.

    But I do think there’s a deeper issue to be addressed around what the fundamental identity of the new all-Ireland state would be. It still sounds like a very Irish nationalist place, just one where the Ulster Brits must be tolerated, allowed to sound off and parade harmlessly away from the action. Yet it is sold as a merging of equals, all on the island being equally valued and equally part of the new state. So shouldn’t the new state itself look and feel different to reflect that? So far the symbolism of the Irish state has been exclusively Irish nationalist symbolism. The history taught in schools there has told that country’s story from a broadly Irish nationalist perspective. In a new all-Ireland state, presumably it would need British symbolism to be there too at the heart of the state, to reflect the section of its population who are British. The flag would have to go, like the old South African flag did; the anthem; state crests and so on would have to be redesigned. History in schools would have to be taught differently so that Ulster British experience is properly reflected and understood. This is a huge upheaval for nationalist Ireland, indeed the end of nationalist Ireland as we have known it. And here’s the odd thing: I’m not getting the impression reading and listening to people across nationalism now that too many are really up for that, let alone preparing for it.

    So for now, we’re still left wondering, is the Irish unity plan really a plan for a merger or a takeover? It still feels like the latter.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    thing is though, the ethnic divisions are there regardless of what country the region might be part of. Getting on with each other, by showing acceptance – rather than trying to poke and provoke people into angry recrimination, as is SF’s modus operandi – might be a good idea.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    would you welcome being assimilated more in the UK?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    sorry, where’s the slip?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think we know their claimed reasons, we just think shooting and bombing was deeply wrong. And we also think their claimed reasons are not the whole story. There was and is a deep undercurrent of unacknowledged ethnic hatred and attachment to silly, romantic ideals about “blood sacrifice”.

    Few unionists defend the record of the Stormont governments these days and you’ll find most accept nationalists had reason to complain in that era. But we are nevertheless irritated by the exaggeration of grievances and the blaming of unionists as if we had personally wanted them or caused them. We caused some, and should apologise as a people for unfair behaviour done in our name – many privately are happy to and am doing it publicly now – but the truth is also that a lot of the disparities arose for all sorts of complex reasons, not simply because all unionists were awful to all nationalists. It would be good to hear from nationalists a narrative of those decades which acknowledges that while unionist leaders of that era rightly cop some blame, there are limits to how much they can blame unionist people then or now for their situation; and that nationalists too erred, in particular in treating UK sovereignty as illegitimate when it was legitimate – with all the problems that mistaken view brought in terms of encouraging anti-British violence.

  • Shane

    Of course all will be up for negotiation, but should unity come about the simple rejoinder to demands about the flag etc will be “they didn’t do any of that for us, so it’s a bit rich making demands now”. It’ll be shaky ground for those unionists demanding parity for symbols, because they’ll rightfully be identified as hypocrites.

  • Sprite

    Symbols and emblems will continue to be a problem I fear. Without a doubt, in the north, the tricolour has been sullied by its association with the IRA. I don’t know if that is redeemable but it’s a big ask for the British/Irish community in the north to ask everyone else to change the national flag.

    I’ve thought that the Irish President’s flag could become an alternative as it is based on the historic symbol of Ireland, a gold harp of a field of blue – this also appears on royal standards so it could be developed to reflect that historical relationship with Britain as a symbol it could provide some continuity for both traditions.

    On the other hand, I believe a new national anthem would be a necessary change.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    as would nationalists

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Those are the kind of lines along which I think nationalism needs to think, if it really means it about wanting a new shared all-island state. I think you get it, but I’m not sure many other nationalists really do. I think what I hear from most on here is a future united Ireland which is as Irish nationalist in state symbolism as the ROI is now.

    I think your biggest ally though is the collapse of the Catholic Church in the Republic. It’s made it much easier for the ROI to present itself as a secular place. The ROI has stopped really being a “Catholic country” now in moral and religious matters.