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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: April, 2017|
May's June Election!
|May's June Election!
It is evident that Mark Durkan dearly wished to be a British politician. He has the style of a House of Commons Man—as had his great predecessor, Joe Devlin. But, although he has been sitting in the Commons for many years, and has occasionally been called on to make a thoughtful intervention as if he belonged, he did not belong. He has always been politely marginalised as an outsider.
A precondition for being a British politician is to be a member of a British political party—Tory, Labour, Liberal, or SNP. If you hold a seat which one of those parties might win from you, that makes you a British politician. If you don't, that makes your Westminsterism futile from the viewpoint of your constituency.
Westminsterism has been a fetish of 'Constitutional nationalism'—which, in fact, has never been Constitutional in the sense of participating in the political life of the Constitution. It has only been pacifist. It has pursued an anti-Constitutional aim—that of removing the Six Counties from the sphere of the British Constitution and transferring them to the Republic—by means of debating points. Its fundamentalist commitment to pacifism, regardless of circumstances, meant that the politicians of the Constitution needed to pay no heed to it.
Brexit appears to have had the effect of bringing this point home to the guardian of Constitutional nationalism, the Irish News. It anticipates, in a most relaxed manner, that the surprise Westminster Election will bring gains to Sinn Fein and losses to the SDLP. Abstentionism is no longer a great issue for it in the Brexit era.
The same cannot be said for Fianna Fail, however which, under instruction from Stickie Eoghan Harris, continues to brandish Sinn Fein's unConstitutionalism as a stick. A spokesman had accused Sinn Fein of being powerless over Brexit. He notes the strong opposition to Brexit of Michaelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein's Northern leader, and asks whether her candidates will—
"actually show up and speak and vote against these measures or continue to simply claim expenses from Westminster and use the facilities there?"
He goes on to suggest that—
"The SNP does not want Scotland to be ruled from London and opposes a hard Brexit and Conservative austerity policies, but is far more effective by putting forward its views in the chamber of the House of Commons."
"Given that Sinn Féin has changed its attitude to the European Union, surely a similar change to actually voting and being counted when decisions affecting this island at Westminster are being taken is now warranted?" (Cllr. Malcolm Byrne, Irish Times 22.4.17).
The jury is still out as to whether a majority in Scotland is serious about independence. The country is part of not only the British body politic—with both Tory and Labour serious about winning representation there—but also of the essential Britain in a way that Ireland never was: there was no equivalent to Balmoral, at which the Royals Christmased ever year, in Ireland.
But, apart from that, it is hard to see all the "effective" opposition to Brexit by the Scots Nats and others making the slightest difference to Britain's intentions in that regard. Certainly, the few extra anti-Brexit MPs from Northern Ireland are of no consequence.
Fianna Fail has long skated around organising in Northern Ireland. It established a couple of branches but has baulked at contesting elections. It is our view that a major disincentive to doing so is that a successful intervention would bring Fianna Fail up against the issue of taking their seats in Westminster.
The Party has gone dodgy over when the Irish Constitution came into force, taking the Treaty Dail as the starting point—as opposed to the views of its founders who would have looked back to 1916 and the 1918 Election. Could it also renege on the basic policy of the founders of the Irish state—abstention from the British Parliament: the policy of Sinn Fein in the 1918 Election.
One wonders why De Valera, Arthur Griffith, Cosgrave, Collins and the other MPs elected in 1918 on an Abstentionist platform did not realise the value of, as Councillor Byrne says, "actually voting and being counted when decisions affecting this island at Westminster are being taken"!
During the month Kieran Conway of Dublin, formerly an active Provo, latterly a dissident from the Peace Process, who has now purportedly retired to private life and given up interest in all that kind of thing, appeared on BBC Radio Four's Today programme to say that the Provos were defeated in the War. That was on the morning of April 11th. In the evening BBC's Panorama was all about Stakeknife and the success of the British Army in penetrating the IRA and disrupting it from the inside.
Officialdom in the South denies that there was any Northern Ireland War—or, alternatively, if there was, it says that the IRA was defeated. That is the anti-Treaty viewpoint. And also the Treaty viewpoint. If the War was about the Treaty, the IRA did not win. And, from a Southern viewpoint, what else could it have been about but the Treaty? What else was there for it to be about?
This journal originated in West Belfast just as the War was about to begin in 1970. It began out of the defensive insurrection of 1969 that had nothing to do with the Treaty or Pearse's ghost. It was all about the communal suppression of the nationalist community under the Northern Ireland arrangement. What was said about Partition was that it was irrelevant.
At a later stage, there was intervention by anti-Treaty politics from the South. It was a useful intervention, because the particularity of the Northern situation had never been clearly articulated—except perhaps on a couple of occasions by the Capuchin Annual. Rory O'Brady provided political orientation of a general kind while the forces generated directly out of the Northern situation were gaining coherence. Around the mid-1980s those forces took command of themselves and felt their way towards an interim settlement on the ground on which the insurrection had begun.
So the anti-Treatyies can say that the War was lost because Northern Ireland still exists. But anti-Treatyism could never have given rise to the War that was latent in the Northern Ireland situation from the start. And the community that sustained the War knows that it won—that the terms of the Northern Ireland system have been changed fundamentally in its favour. And this has been done without prejudice to united Ireland ambitions.
The prospects for an ending of Partition on Irish terms are indisputably much better now than they were before the War.
Northern Ireland is not a viable state. It is not a state at all. It was, and remains, an undemocratically governed region of the British state.
Unionism repudiates British politics.
Sinn Fein pioneers Irish politics.
Northern Ireland, inherently unstable in itself, can only find stability within the democratic life of either the British or the Irish state.
Since Unionism refused to contemplate a British political existence, the only other way to go is Irish.
The Irish Times, under new Editor Paul O'Neill, says (18.4.17):
"Sinn Fein and the DUP have only a few weeks left to prove to the Irish and British governments and indeed to the voters of Northern Ireland that they deserve to be taken seriously as grown-up politicians"
—which is an infantile comment.
Northern Ireland can never settle down to be something in itself. It was set up to be a front organisation within the British state serving a British purpose against nationalist Ireland. Nationalist politicians within it who take it to be a stable and substantial political entity in which "normal politics" might develop, demonstrate that they are not grown up.
It has always been governed in substance by Britain, behind the local political facade. Anyone who has lived in the North for an appreciable length of time must know that.
The mischievous facade has served British interests well as a disruptive element in the political life of nationalist Ireland. Whether it will continue to serve it well in the Brexit situation remains to be determined.
Sinn Fein is fighting the June election on an anti-Hard Brexit ticket and hopes to bring in votes from outside its traditional hinterland.
Its stance as the leading force in the North which is opposed to the departure from the EU has already brought it new friends, North and South—including in the Irish Establishment. The question in the June election will be how much its position will be strengthened.