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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: February, 2013|
Indigenous Democracy !
|The leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin, has intervened in the Union Jackery crisis in the North with an article in the Irish News (16.1.13). He has the pretence of Fianna Fail party organisation in the North but he does not let it develop. So, when a Fianna Fail Statement has to be made about some issue in the Six County section of the British state, it cannot be made by the indigenous section of the Party in the North. It must be made by the leader of the Party in another state, who does not actually participate in the politics of the North, or allow party members in the North to do so.
Being absent from the North, with only the pretence of a presence within it, Fianna Fail can do nothing towards resolving the Union Jack crisis, or any other crisis. It can only preach from the outside. And preaching from the outside during the past forty years has been either a complete irrelevance or an irritant.
The 1937 Irish Constitution, drafted by Fianna Fail, asserted a right of sovereignty over the Six Counties. But it never did anything towards realising that right. It lacked a credible Army as a result of the Treaty War forced on it by Britain in 1922 but it had the option of working within the North as a party and showing how things should be done. It chose not to do so.
In 1998 it withdrew the sovereignty claim and recognised the Six Counties as being legitimately part of the British state, but it still refused to participate in actual political activity in the North, though extending individual party membership as a kind of pious consolation to Northern residents.
In the Summer of 1970, with the prosecution of John Kelly in the Arms Trial for things he had done in conjunction with the Fianna Fail Government in 1969-70, it began a practice of condemning what was going on in the North. It has kept up that practice ever since, with a couple of interludes. It preaches but it doesn't act.
The nursery rhyme comes to mind:
A hundred people in the world can say what should be done,
With Fianna Fail still claiming to be Republican, a new Sinn Fein movement arose out of the chaos in the North, brought a degree of order to it, extended its electoral activity to the South, and is currently running neck and neck with Fianna Fail. This is naturally disconcerting for Mr. Martin. He has no means of political action in the North. He finds it impossible to adapt to the post-1998 situation in which Sinn Fein is a respectable party of power. He is at his wit's end in finding ways of disputing with it in the South short of condemning it as a bunch of murderers and robbers. And he has adopted a line of rhetoric with regard to Sinn Fein in the North that, if effective, would undermine the 1998 settlement.
He has toned down the rhetoric a bit since we last reported on it. In his Irish News article he merely condemns it for organising a protest movement over a member who was being held in custody on bizarre charges and being refused bail:
"What moral authority does any public representative have criticising a protest that challenges the writ and authority of the PSNI when their party was promoting just such a protest only months ago!"
In other words, because the Sinn Fein party organised an orderly protest about the extra-legal detention of one of its members, it has no right in Government to condemn disorderly protests by Loyalists about a decision of the Belfast City Council about flying the Union Jack, which the Council was within its rights in making.
It seems that Mr. Martin does not yet know what Northern Ireland is. That is not really surprising in a resident of Cork City, whose History Professor has been churning out books saying that it is a State. It isn't a State. It is a form of local government set up by the Parliament of the state at Westminster. All its power is delegated from Westminster. Westminster remains the sovereign body and it continues to run many things directly, outside the remit of the devolved Government. The police practice of arresting people and holding them for extended periods prior to the Court Case was engaged in by the State authority, not by its local authority in the Six Counties. It was therefore entirely in order for a party in the devolved government, but not in the Government of the state, to protest against this action by the State.
It might be added that the demonstration represented more than a protest against the imprisonment of a prominent Sinn Feiner: it was a message to London over they way its current policies towards republicans are destabilising the peace process.
Micheal Martin criticises Sinn Fein for not doing more to improve the position of deprived communities in the North, suggesting that this was a contributory factor to the flags issue. In this he was repeating criticism made last Autumn, before the Flag disorder. Again, he shows his ignorance of Northern structures Welfare is a 'reserved' service. Benefits of various kinds are administered by Westminster. It decides who should get them and what the rates are to be.
That said, it should be noted that Westminster—having decided to change the structures of Invalidity Benefit, to reduce its take-up—forced the Stormont Assembly to ratify the new rules. Sinn Fein tried to delay the vote, for further negotiations to take place with the British Government, but was in the end forced to ratify along with the other Assembly Parties. The alternative was to jeopardise the welfare payments system.
However the Flag Riots may well have the effect of mitigating British welfare cuts in the North. One of the complaints of the rioters has been that the Peace Process has brought no material improvement in their lives; that deprived areas have not benefited. The Stormont administration, in conjunction with Westminster, is thus seeking to access EU funds to put into these areas. And there is anecdotal evidence which suggests that the new Invalidity Benefit rules are not being as stringently applied as in England.
In making these criticisms of Sinn Fein, Martin only shows his own ignorance. No wonder the Irish News tucked his article on the bottom half of page nine!
About the Union Jack issue Mr. Martin says that "if the north's dominant political blocks continue to walk the path they have been for at least the past year, this dispute will go on". He finds it obscene and disgusting but, as the hurler on the ditch, he makes no actual proposal for dealing with it.
The meaning of "dominant political blocks" is not clear. There are two blocks and they are in conflict. That is what politics has always been about in Belfast. The political structures arranged by the State allow for nothing else. But they cannot both be dominant. The struggle between them for dominance is what political life there has always been about.
Martin cannot mean "the political forces that are dominant within each community" because there is general agreement within each community. The SDLP does not support permanent Union Jackery over the City Hall.
The gist of the article seems to be this:
"There are many within the nationalist community who will characterise what's been happening as a unionist problem—to reflect as a brief feeling of moral superiority over political opponents making a spectacle of themselves in the international media. But that would be a mistake. It would be a mistake because anyone with any interest in moving forward its politics in a spirit of equality will look at what has been happening and know that a genuine republican project means nothing if it cannot demonstrate to all communities that indigenous democracy delivers. It would also be a mistake because the thugs who have the front pages of the newspapers do not have a monopoly on disregard for the rule of law. As recently as September we watched the Sinn Fein justice spokesperson in a picket of PSNI headquarters"
—and so on, about the protest about the imprisonment of an innocent person on spurious charges,
What leaps out at one from this passage are the terms "indigenous democracy" and "equality". The term "indigenous democracy" has an ethnic flavour to it. It must, at any rate, mean something other than the democracy of the state. Applying it impressionistically to the situation, one could conclude that the problem is that there are now two indigenous democracies in the North, and that they are equal.
The democracy of the state, which has been denied to the North since Partition, might be capable of demonstrating something to "all communities". The indigenous forces cannot, and applying the word democracy to them changes nothing.
The conflict of communities is ineradicable in the framework of the political seclusion of the North.
The Unionist community has bound itself into that seclusion. It calls itself British but it has no presence in actual British political life, which, as a consequence, sees it as weird and alien. The nationalist community, since it turned to Sinn Fein, has been reaching out beyond the Northern Ireland hothouse with such success that it is now breathing down Mr. Martin's neck. It has also been making a serious attempt to reach out into the Protestant community—a thing which the SDLP never did in its quarter century of electoral dominance.
A generation ago Unionist Ulster refused to demand access to the political democracy of the state of which Unionists claim to be an integral part. They preferred communal conflict in the region in which they were a majority to incorporation into the political democracy of the state. They were secure that way because they were the majority. Their majority status was abrogated in large part by the arrangements of the 1998 Agreement. And now, suddenly, they are no longer a majority. They remain the biggest community in the communal structure of things, but not by much, and the future prospect is of further decline. So they riot, demanding the consolation of having the Union Jack flying day in, day out over the City Hall of the City in which they have lost the majority.
A contributory factor to their despair is the activity of the Historical Inquiries Team of the police. The 1998 Agreement should have consigned action done in the 'Troubles' to legal oblivion. Westminster used to do such things, but is no longer capable of them. Actions done in a situation in which there was no Constitutional order, and law was capriciously enforced, had to be raked over in the name of justice. Unionists, as the upholders of law and order, demanded it. But at the moment it is chiefly Unionists who have suffered from this. During the War, authority often turned a blind eye—and often directed—Loyalist activity. Republicans had been subjected to the blunt end of the law during the War. Because of that, and because the new situation required some appearance of impartiality, Loyalists have been suffering. And a Loyalist supergrass, Gary Haggerty, is wreaking havoc amongst them. The paramilitaries therefore have particular reason to be angry.
Unionist discontent is now beginning to express itself in a "civil rights movement", in a parody of the nationalist civil rights movement of the 1960s which undermined the Unionist Government.
If the One Man, One Vote demand had been conceded, little would have changed. When it was conceded, the change was hardly noticed. But the Unionists would not concede the change because the demand was being made by what was viewed as a front organisation of the IRA for anti-Unionist purposes and it was therefore not authentic. But it was the refusal to concede that slight reform that built up the pressure that caused Unionism to go berserk in August 1969.
There are two Unionist civil rights groups today: Willie Frazer's Ulster People's Forum and the DUP's Unionist Forum. They have no clear, realisable demand, like the CRA had. Nor have they a stupid, incompetent opponent, like the CRA head. And what is upsetting them is that everything, of which they once were master, is somehow slipping away from them.
Mike Nesbitt, leader of the rump of the once all-powerful Unionist Party, complains that there is an "erosion of Britishness". So there is. But who, other than the Unionist Party itself, is responsible for it? This is the same Unionist Party that has spurned the courting of Cameron's Conservatives. In 1921 it accepted semi-detachment from Britain as a "supreme sacrifice" which helped Whitehall to split Sinn Fein and string along Michael Collins with false promises which he should have known were false.
The Northern community that said it was British should have been enabled by Partition to participate freely in British politics. But Partition was used instead, by Whitehall, to separate it off from British politics, leaving it in a position where it could only say it was British, and seize on some inessentials of Britishness to assure itself that it was.
The Britishers were excluded from the reality of Britain and were locked into a communal conflict with the Nationalist community. Ruth Dudley Edwards, who began as a hierarchical nationalist intellectual, and later became a fervent admirer of Orange Unionism, was asked on BBC Radio 4 (9 Jan) what the problem was. She said it was "the political vacuum". By this she seemed to mean that the Protestants were leaderless because they were Protestant, while the Catholics weren't leaderless because they weren't:
Ruth Dudley Edwards: "They have an advantage, a huge cultural advantage. The Catholic community is hierarchical. That's Catholicism."
It has taken Ruth a long time to see what this journal has been saying for decades—that democracy in religious organisation does not tend to produce democratic political ability, and that Ulster Presbyterianism produced an apolitical, almost anti-political, mentality. Which is why Whitehall was able to use it as a pawn in its scheming against nationalist Ireland, and put it half out of the Union in the name of Unionism.
What does Ruth think can be done about it now: "Northern Ireland is in the UK for the foreseeable future. They've won. They've got to be told that."
They're so unpolitical that they don't even know that they've won! Are they really as stupid as that? Or is it that Ruth is groping beyond the reach of her own understanding?
They don't feel that they've won, and the feeling is soundly based. They were pushed out of the political life of the Union 90 years ago, but were cock of the walk at home. They're no longer cock of the walk at home.
The hope is now expressed in some Unionist circles that the Catholics will become Unionists and save the Union for them. Have they forgotten how it all began with their violent rejection of a Westminster policy of securing the Union by basing it on the majority Catholic population, which was willing to undertake that role in 1912?
And is it really any different now? The Union Jack riots hardly encourage Catholics to become Unionists. They are an expression of disgust at the fact that, within Home Rule Northern Ireland, Unionism has been reduced to formal equality with nationalism in many respects, with more in prospect.
Ruth Patterson, DUP Councillor in Belfast, had an article in the nationalist Irish News (12 Jan) in which she listed the steps downhill to equality since 1969, beginning with the disbanding of the B Specials. She asks:
"how much more are the Protestant unionist people expected to take? A once proud, dignified and unstintingly loyal culture and identity lies stripped bare for all to see."
Well, Ulster Unionism chose the wrong road when it allowed itself to be led into a Six County Home Rule corral in 1921 in order to help Whitehall against Sinn Fein. Unstinting loyalty is not a political virtue. And if you take the wrong road it leads you to the wrong place.