For unionists, the sight of Martin McGuinness at the heart of the North’s government must a pill beyond bitter. Republicans may point to this to emphasise the massive changes that have occurred and how the Orange state has been effectively dismantled. Their goal remains a re-united, independent Ireland. Their problem, however, is how they should regard the state of Northern Ireland in the meantime.
Charlie Haughey famously described the north as a “failed state”, and he was right, in that Northern Ireland could not exist without a huge annual subvention from London. However, exist it does. Sinn Féin now share its government with the DUP and other parties. The problem for republicans is, do they want to see Northern Ireland prosper or perish?
For decades the bombs and killings gave the unambiguous answer: they wanted it to perish. Now that the peace process is firmly in place, what should republican attitudes be to the state they’re in?
The obvious answer appears to be that they will work in a positive spirit to making the place the best it can be. Partition has damaged north and south not just economically but in all sorts of other ways as well. But given that partition remains in place, republicans appear set on not just healing old wounds but making the northern state as successful on as many fronts as possible.
And therein lies the irony. The more republicans work for the success of this state, the more (presumably) unionists will come to trust them as co-workers and old divisions will begin to vanish. However, the more successful the north becomes, the stronger the argument for continued union with Britain. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?
I think there are two answers to that. The first is that success cannot be measured in economic terms alone. Certainly a full belly and a decent job are a necessity for most of us; but it’d be wrong to say that concern for economic success crowds out all other concerns. The recent poll in the south indicates that a sizeable number of southerners would welcome unity, even if that had negative connotations for their own living standard. Man does not live by bread alone, nor woman either. That’s why we shouldn’t be too quick to respond with a dismissive snort when polls are constructed that attempt to measure happiness as distinct from merely economic success.
The second answer has to do with something we Irish are not always good at; self-respect. Were the northern economy prospering, were the material conditions of all the citizens in the north to be comfortable and getting better, it would still be a sad reflection on our immaturity that we depend on an annual hand-out from London and the control of such matters as taxation and foreign policy from that outside source.
With those two matters in mind, maybe there’s less irony than there seems in republicans working towards a better Northern Ireland. This isn’t a peace settlement, it’s a peace process; and it’s not one that aims to stop with a resurgent northern state.
Good piece, Jude, like your book! A couple of observations. I agree with the irony and the dichotomy between waging an armed struggle to bring down the state and then at a time of an agreed peace promoting the state and helping its people prosper. Firstly, I would argue that the state we live in today, though the six counties and though attached to Britain via the union, is indistinguishable from the state that you and I grew up in more than it is similar. Had the Ulster Unionist Party conceded our rights back in, say, Good Friday 1969, then many less people would have died in a conflict, though the UVF would have continued bombing etc to try and halt change.
Unionists probably accept that their opposition to unity, once allegedly based on the Home Rule is Rome Rule mantra is no longer valid, but they argue the economic benefits of the union. Implicitly this is an acceptance that the state is economically unviable. If one really had self-respect one would work feverishly to become economically independent of Britain (even if one, as a unionist, still wanted the link for whatever reasons). This brings me to the other point you made and about which I am not entirely convinced. That is, that the more the North prospers the less likely is a united or federal or confederal Ireland. In fact, with the assumption of equality and the bedding down of peace, I believe that unionists will actually become more relaxed about their identity (the term northern Irish is increasingly being used)and more open to persuasion about progressively building cross-border or all-Ireland social, cultural and economic links. Furthermore, the less burden that the North represents to the people of the twenty-six counties then the more likely that more people in the South will view positively reconciliation and a rapprochement.
WHILE I AM HERE, THANKS FOR AGREEING TO LAUNCH MY NEW NOVEL ON 13th DECEMBER!
When you get a pat on the head from Danny Morrison,you must know that you are preaching the Gospel according to Connolly House!It seems to be a mutual appreciation society as you have kindly agreed to launch his new novel!Of course ,nary a word from Danny about the Provo campaign and the effect it had on delaying the “peace process”.
Anonymous sounds like one of those disgruntled members of the SDLP who cannot accept that Sinn Fein is the party of choice of the nationalist community. In relation to the IRA campaign I have had lots to say about it. But when it came to delaying the peace process and breaking the ice one need look no further than those within the SDLP, including its deputy leader, who did not support John Hume’s talks with Gerry Adams.
Good post Jude.
Where I part with Danny’s logic is the idea that any of this is about or can be settled by ‘argument’. David Ervine always used to say you cannot get anyone to move from a position they’ve taken up emotionally by showing them the illogic of that position.
Doing rather than talking is the only viable way forward. The concept of a journey put forward by Hugo MacNeill, I think, is an enabling one, particularly for nationalists and Republicans. In this regard my view accords, somewhat, with Danny’s.
Home is where the power lies to remake relations on the island by, for example: decreasing the subvention and reliance on London exchequer; creating the basic outline of a sustainable economy; and a shared sense of stability and equality of citizenship before the law.
Most of these things are also (publicly at least) desired by unionists. None should provide anyone with the excuse not to get on with undertaking a journey into the future. And, in the jargon, without preconditions.
I also agree with Dan that progress on a broad range of socio economic issues may create the opportunity to create some political progress alongside it. The thing is, there is no guarantee of that.
The challenge for nationalists is to begin to live with that uncertainty, after years of being told it was all going to happen, whether unionists liked it or not.
How many times have you heard from women friends the story of how they got pregnant just after they had given up hope of ever having a baby?
Thanks, Danny and Mick. I think you’re both talking about an act of faith in the future which I do applaud, while at the same time remembering MacMillan’s warning about “events, dear boy, events”. Another thought sticks in my head: a point made to me years ago by a prominent SDLPer: ‘Politics is about power, full stop’. The act of faith for nationalists isn’t just after years of being told it was all going to happen – it’s also faith in a development that has no historical parallel I can think of.
By the way, in Danny’s comments above, the word ‘indistinguishable’ should be ‘distinct’. I’m trying to amend it but I’m computer illiterate.
Anon 17:21 – when you publish a book I’ll be very happy to launch it for you as well. You won’t have to pat me on the head, I promise you, but you will have to take off your Anonymous mask.
What a compliment ?Getting responses from both Danny Morrison and Jude Collins.I feel suitably honoured!
Very interesting post above.
It is something of a challenge for Republicans/Nats isn’t it? Bleed the Exchequer or make this place work? Personally, I think they need to make it work, being positive in politics pays off a whole lot better than constantly being negative. If you are the harbinger of change, out front and taking the hits then you get to control the agenda as opposed to being reactive to what’s happening.
From a Southern perspective, yes, it makes it easier for you to vote for something when you are not taking on something that is seen as damaged goods and where parties/stakeholders have shown an ability to work together to try and overcome some matters.
If you go for the opposite now, it is akin to having the chance of getting out with that girl you’ve always fancied who was always very good looking and maybe good in bed but who has a massive drink/drugs problem and is slightly psychotic too; too much work and hassle, best to leave it by the way side, move on and try your hand with that German who is dependable and ‘really nice’, though not great looking.
Up North, I think that if the SDLP and SF really work with the DUP and Alliance (the UUP are done folks, best ignore them) and make this place viable it may even make it somewhat easier for some natural unionists to be a little more comfortable with a UI, ditto it may make more Nats comfortable in the union.