Let’s reconcile but don’t forget we’re British

What does ‘reconciliation’ mean? In everyday language it suggests that people who for a short or long time weren’t getting along together have now made up their differences. Does it mean the same thing in politics? Presumably.
Sinn Féin is pushing forward with a reconciliation programme headed by Declan Kearney. It’d be fair to say that  the bit in Gerry Adams’s Ard Fheis speech where he spoke about working class republicans and working class loyalists uniting to pursue mutual concerns was part of that reconciliation programme. Sounds good to me, especially when we remember that the thirty years of the Troubles were conducted – and suffered – very largely by people from and in working-class areas. The middle classes – again, for the most part – remained blessedly free from the impact of the conflict and so had an insulated view of what was happening. In which case it makes sense that the working class, who suffered most, should be the focus of reconciliation. If that’s what people want.
“Eh?” you say. “ ‘If that’s what people want?’ Of COURSE it’s what they want”. Mmm – maybe. There are people so bigoted they can’t entertain the idea of getting closer to those who were their political and sometimes paramilitary enemies. These people feel more comfortable within their own insulated bubble, confining their contact to those of a like mind to themselves. It’s cosier, less stressful.
But there are others who are open to new thinking, who  see the need for new approaches to people who were pitched against them for decades. Recent comments from the PUP suggest they are open to such thinking. Their very existence suggests they don’t feel the DUP (or UUP) are reflecting their concerns or working for their benefit. 
But there are at least three problems with the PUP position.
  1. They are electorally very weak. So weak, in fact, they’ve changed their leader almost as often as some people change their socks. Given that, what they have to say may not reflect the thinking in unionist working-class districts.
  2. The PUP has made it very clear that this coming-together, this reconciliation should be carried out at a social level and not a political level. I don’t know what that means – do you? Is it suggesting that the people we elect to represent us have no part to play in achieving reconciliation? On the face of it that’s absurd. Everybody has a political perspective, even if s/he isn’t aware of it. Politics is about pursuing particular goals for your society and reconciliation is one of them.
  3. The PUP, having finished saying that politicians or political involvement won’t work in terms of reconciliation, goes on to say that the position of Northern Ireland within the UK for the foreseeable future must be accepted by all sides if reconciliation progress is to be made. Whiffs of having your cake and eating it. Having dismissed  politics and politicians as facilitators of reconciliation, the PUP immediately poses a precondition:  anyone working for cross-community reconciliation must accept a common political viewpoint: that we’re all British and we’ll be staying that way for as far ahead as we can see.
        In other words, they’ll allow into the Reconciliation Tent only those who carry a ticket with                  ‘British’ stamped on it. If that’s the case, the PUP have nothing to contribute to reconciliation and not much to anything else. 

11 Responses to Let’s reconcile but don’t forget we’re British

  1. Anonymous April 24, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Declan Kearney is exactly the same with his talk of “national reconciliation” – he's just using cuter language.
    Are you being cute, or just stupid, in failing to note that?

  2. Jude Collins April 24, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Anon 10:47 – thanks for your thoughts. I don't agree re Kearney. I don't remember him saying that politics must not be part of the road to reconciliation – quite the reverse in fact. And I'm afraid I can't say whether he's being cuter, or whether I'm being cute, when I don't know what you mean by that word. I do know what 'stupid' means, however, and yes I am sometimes stupid or act stupidly. Not all the time but sometimes. What about you?

  3. Anonymous April 24, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Jude;would you describe yourself as a member of the middle classes?If so,would you accept that you had an insulated view of what was happening?

  4. Jude Collins April 24, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Anon 17:50 – Yes and no respectively. I am indeed a member of the middle class (God help me) but no, I don't think I have an insulated view of 'what was happening', if by 'what was happening' you're referring to the period of conflict. I certainly had an insulated view for a number of years which mercifully I eventually got past. But my life generally, like most middle class people here, wasn't affected in anything remotely like the way the lives of many working class people were. And while I sometimes enjoy (and more to the point, have time ) answering queries like yours, please don't expect an answer to every question. I figure a near-daily blog is a reasonably full statement of my views on a topic, without adding to it again and again in discussion. I hope that doesn't offend you – I do genuinely find the views of readers of my blog interesting – even and maybe especially when they differ from my own. We all can learn if we try to be honest with ourselves as well as others.

  5. giordanobruno April 24, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    Jude
    Their statement does say something about wishing to facilitate the Nationalist narrative, which seems to me an acceptance that not everyone needs to accept the label of British.
    They refer to the political reality that N Ireland is a part of the UK a situation which Sinn Fein has accepted should continue until the people choose otherwise.
    As for the foreseeable future bit, well no referendum has even been agreed yet, so it seems factually accurate to me.

  6. Anonymous April 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

    Sorry to have offended you by commenting on your blog,Jude.Most of the the wording I have used comes from that blog.I just thought that as you were formerly an academic,it might be a relevant point to make.I suppose not all academics live in ivory towers!

  7. Derek April 24, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    You do seem to attract more than your fair share of smart arse and just plain rude comments, Jude.

    Not sure why that is when other blogs with similarly strident views don't seem to as much.

  8. Anonymous April 25, 2013 at 12:06 am #

    The PUP position seems to be that reconciliation requires nationalists to stop pursuing a United Ireland, i.e. stop being nationalists.

    I see their logic: unionists wouldn't have the thorny problem of reconciliation with nationalists if there weren't nationalists.

    But isn't it odd to tell nationalists to stop pursuing a united Ireland using constitutional political methods, when that was the very thing Westminster & unionists told them to do since the Troubles erupted?

  9. Ceannaire April 25, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    giordanobruno24 April 2013 20:40:

    1. Their statement does say something about wishing to facilitate the Nationalist narrative, which seems to me an acceptance that not everyone needs to accept the label of British.
    2. They refer to the political reality that N Ireland is a part of the UK a situation which Sinn Fein has accepted should continue until the people choose otherwise.
    3. As for the foreseeable future bit, well no referendum has even been agreed yet, so it seems factually accurate to me.

    1. So they accept the Irish dimension and its culture, in totality, just like the British dimension is?
    2. You say SF has accepted the UK part – so why the need for this (pre) condition?
    3. A week is a long time in politics – the foreseeable future is…well…we'll see.

    In saying that…a PUP/SF initiative is more likely to work (and yield results) than some of that rubbish in Stormont. And not for the first time have they resolved problems together more quickly than the middle class representatives.

  10. giordanobruno April 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Ceannaire
    I don't know if their intentions are going to match their words but the statement referred to is pretty clear :
    “We welcome a process that facilitates the nationalist narrative and contributes to a wider understanding of the impact that conflict had on the nationalist community.”
    Sinn Fein are administering British rule in Stormont. Clearly they accept that under the terms of the GFA, until such times as a vote offers the opportunity for a constitutional change.
    Neither you nor I can foresee, at the moment, a date for a referendum so the foreseeable future is indeed that NI is part of the UK.
    In the meantime,if the PUP are genuine in their words about reconciliation then let us hold them to it.

  11. Anonymous April 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    anon[1.06] re – Last para 'But isn't it odd to tell nationalists….' I suppose they really mean by telling nationalists to only pursue their nationalism by constitutional methods, IF YOU MUST but for the unionists generally they subscribe to the 'croppies lies down' dictum. This is also seen in Orange marchers telling residents to stay in their houses while march passes so as not to be offended, knowing the drums will be thrashed louder to make sure offence is taken.[madraj55]