I’ve just come off Facebook, where I was responding to a fairly detailed comment from Mick Fealty. Not everybody likes Mick (not everybody likes me, for God’s sake, which shows how unreasonable some people are) but I like him, despite his regular assaults on Gerry Adams and all his works and pomps. Anyway, one of the points Mick made was regarding the diversionary tactics, as he sees it, of the fuss over flag-flying, Orange marches, etc. This he sees as a deliberate attempt to hide lack of progress in education, housing, economics, etc.
I think there are two points to be made here. One is that flags and marches and similar stuff do matter. It’s daft to say “You can’t eat a flag”. Why would you want to try? Flags and marching and monuments and commemorations are about things we care about beyond the matter of putting bread on the table and getting an education for the wains and a decent house to live it. Not by bread alone doth Man live…Things of the heart are as important in their own way as things of the stomach or head.
The second point is, if there is no progress in the area of education, housing, economics – whose fault is it? It’s too easy (and, I think, simple-minded) to say “Ach, they’re all a shower up at Stormont!”). Some may be, some may not.
For example if we consider education. From the very first days of the Assembly, Sinn Féin confronted a major blockage for tens of thousands of children: the Eleven Plus. If that bold initiative has been stalled it is because some selfish grammar schools want to keep things as they were, because they benefit and the hell with the secondary school lot. In this they have been supported by unionist politicians.
Or if we take housing: North Belfast is the most obvious case where a population, overwhelmingly Catholic, is in need of decent housing. If you don’t believe me, check with the Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) people. (Google it, Virginia, google the bloody thing.) Who or what is blocking the provision of decent housing? Take a bow once more unionism in general and Minister Nelson ‘The Windows’ McCausland in particular.
If we’re talking about economics, what in the last year or two has been most significant in deterring investors here? Right, the flag riots. Which were jump-started in the first place by? Right again – unionist politicians.
No doubt there are aspects of development that nationalist and republican politicians are culpable concerning. But in the majority of cases, it is the not-an-inchery of unionism in Stormont, where grown-up men and women can’t bring themselves to be even civil to those with whom they are in partnership, that is blocking the kind of development in all sorts of areas where we should have seen it. And did I mention the limp nature of cross-border bodies? If I didn’t, have a think about who’d want to develop them and who’d want to stop them in their tracks. Right. Now you get the picture.
So I share Mick’s concerns but I’d differ with him as to the source of non-movement. In fact I’d be so concerned, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that unionist obduracy could bring the whole power-sharing edifice crashing down.
But then maybe that’s what unionism really really wants. In which case, they’re making good progress.