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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: November, 2016|
The futility of Irish Constitutional Nationalism at Westminster was demonstrated yet again at the Commons debate on Syria, but essentially on Russia, on October 11th, when Mark Durkan intervened in an effort to broaden the moral concern, on the basis of the principles that were being invoked, to include atrocities which it would be of no benefit to Britain to condemn. He asked:
"Does the Foreign Secretary not think that more weight would be attached to the strength of his words about the International Criminal Court if the regime of President al-Bashir of Sudan—who has also been bombing his people from the air, who has recently been seen to be using chemical weapons against them, and who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity—was not now being embraced by the UK Government through the UK-Sudan strategic dialogue as a partner in countering terrorism and managing migration?_"___
The Foreign Secretary responded:
"I take that point very sincerely, but it is vital that we concentrate our efforts and our censure on the Russians and on the Assad regime, who are primarily responsible for what is going on in Syria now. We can get lost endlessly in all sorts of moral equivalences…"
Political morality is interest-oriented. It always has been everywhere, and nowhere as much as in Britain.
The mathematical axiom, that two things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other, does not hold good in political and social affairs. Such "moral equivalences" are empty debating points. Political morality is national. England has had its singularly national morality for about half a millennium and, at the moment when it is striking out on its own again, it has no intention of dissolving itself into moral equivalences.
It has its own absolute morality determined by its interest, and there is an effective consensus about this within Constitutional politics. Durkan just struck a jarringly irrelevant note. He did so because the Constitutionalism of the SDLP is merely imitative. It has never been a participant in the Constitutional system by which Britain is governed, and it has developed no insider sense of what is appropriate.
The founder-leader of the SDLP—Gerry Fitt, who tried hard to be a Brit—used to deplore the "tribalism" of the people he had to deal with in the Six Counties, but it is in Westminster that something like a real tribal spirit operates. It functions as a sort of Council of Elders which irresistibly generates substantial consensus, subverts the expression of earnest antagonism, and marginalises those who do not succumb to the influence of the obligatory language of the clan.
Irish Constitutional Nationalism at Westminster is a contradiction in terms. Even before Partition and Independence, when it was 80 strong and held the balance of power, it failed to achieve its very moderate object of making Ireland a Home Rule participant in the Empire. Since Partition it has been nothing but the flimsiest of fig-leaves helping to disguise the systematically undemocratic nature of Northern Ireland government.
At home in the Six Counties it is neither one thing nor the other—neither British nor Irish in any effective way. It was founded 46 years ago. During 28 of these years a Republican War was fought, and it routinely condemned the acts of war along the way, repeating that there was another way and that it stood for that other way—to do what?—to make United Irelanders of the Protestants, and to do it by peaceful persuasion.
The current SDLP leader, Colm Eastwood, urged the Unionists to attend an all-Ireland forum to discuss the problem that Brexit poses for Ireland. He reassured them that "those attending will not be sprayed with holy water at the door". This demonstrates that the fixed idea of Ulster Unionists as mere religious bigots, asserted 46 years ago, remains in place.
Everything that the SDLP hoped for in 1970, in the way of shaking Ulster Unionism out of its bigotry by breaking up its political structures and breaking the very tenuous connection of the UUP with the Tories, was achieved, but Unionism still stood its ground. And, all the SDLP can do is echo itself from 1970—giving Newton Emerson the opportunity to say something sensible:
"The implication is that unionist objections to all-Ireland co-operation are of a piece with deranged religious bigotry. Lest anyone accuse this in turn of being a gratuitous sectarian insult, the SDLP carefully directed its statement at "political unionism". This is a phrase used to separate unionist people from their politics, so it is of a piece with the dismissal of unionism as a false consciousness" (Irish Times, 20.10.16).
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