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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: September, 2017|
Unity By Consent?
|Unity By Consent?
Simon Coveney, Foreign Minister of the Republic, and Colum Eastwood, leader of the former majority Nationalist party in the North, have both gone on record recently against the political unification of Ireland by majority consent.
"Unity by consent" was the slogan used against Sinn Fein during the War years by "Constitutional nationalists" who had no Constitutional policy for uniting the island that was anything but evasive fantasy, but who lacked the nerve to delete the assertion of Republican sovereignty over the Six |Counties made in the Constitution.
That Constitutional assertion remained in place until the IRA, having won the Good Friday Agreement by war, said it would be OK to delete it.
Under the Good Friday system Sinn Fein has become the dominant Nationalist party in the North. The Unionist community, damaged by the undemocratic system of government which was the means by which the area maintained its "connection" with Britain, has been declining relative to the Nationalist community. The Agreement lays down a simple majority arrangement for the poll and implies that, if a majority of the Northern electorate expressed consent in a vote to making the 6 Counties part of the Republic, the British State would facilitate the transfer.
Sinn Fein wants the referendum provided for by the Agreement to be held, and unity to be implemented if the vote shows 50% plus 1 in favour of it.
But "unity by consent" is suddenly off the agenda. A special meaning is given to "consent" which has the effect of negating it:
"Any new Irish constitution must include a commitment not to use violence to enforce unity, the SDLP leader has said" (Irish News 11 August).
The effective meaning of this is that, if the Unionists lose the referendum vote on unity and threaten to use force to prevent the referendum result from being implemented, then there must be no attempt to implement the referendum result. Armed opposition is thus invited.
Also, the SDLP does not seem to have considered what effect this bad faith in redefining democracy would have on the nationalist community. Is Eastwood content to fight a war against dissident Republicans so that a Unionist revolt against the outcome of a democratic referendum result might be placated?
Britain is leaving Europe as a result of a narrow Referendum outcome—one with which the Unionists have been content—but it seems that where Ireland is concerned, different standards must apply!
Colum Eastwood continued:
"It would ensure that those of us who wish to bring about the reunification of Ireland know that it will only ever be worthwhile if unionism and the British identity find opportunity, comfort and belonging in it…"
If this statement is taken in earnest, it means that worthwhile reunification can only take the form of a return of Ireland as a whole to the United Kingdom. Nowhere else will the "British identity find comfort and belonging.
The opponents of Irish unity by consent should discard their empty rhetoric of "Constitutional nationalism" and organise themselves into an all-Ireland Unionist Party and campaign for Irexit.
Fintan O'Toole, who chose to be his master's voice in order to have an affluent career, seconds Coveney and Eastwood in his Irish Times column (August 15):
"In the context of Ireland's future, 50 per cent + 1 is not, as Adams claims, 'what democracy is about'. That kind of crude, tribal majoritarianism is precisely what the Belfast Agreement is meant to finish off…"
What the Belfast Agreement finished off is the system of undemocratic British government established in the Six Counties by Westminster when it was Partitioning the island.
Northern Ireland, an integral part of the British state, was excluded at birth from the democratic system of the British state. It did remain an integral part of the British state in most ways, but it was excluded from the party politics which is the substance of British democracy, and the Unionists were obliged to operate a local system of devolved government in which the British parties did not participate. Westminster pretended that the regional system it had imposed on the Six Counties was a kind of democracy, until 28 years of warfare persuaded it to concede that it was not, and to make new arrangements for the region which were patently non-democratic, so that there might be peace.
This journal campaigned for twenty years to bring the 6 Counties within the democratic system of the British state. We never heard a word of support from Fintan O'Toole. The Irish Times refused to publish letters stating our case, and was commended for it by Martin Mansergh. And Dublin Governments lobbied Whitehall against us. The Unionists refused to embrace the idea. We gave up the project as hopeless about 25 years ago.
What was the alternative?
We opposed the War while advocating British democratisation, but acknowledged that the War was the only alternative to democratisation. When the combined influence of two States, the SDLP and the Unionists made the democratisation project hopeless we gave it up and let the War run its course as the inevitability of the situation. Northern Ireland had no internal dynamic that would enable it to evolve under the mere influence of evasive moral condemnation by politicians who refused to see realities.
Northern Ireland was undemocratically governed because it was not governed within the democracy of the state. What passed for democracy outside the democracy of the state was a gross caricature. But the case against that caricature does not apply to a referendum, which is not the election of a government.
Nor would that case apply to government in an all-Ireland state unless that state governs the Six Counties undemocratically, as the British State did.
'Constitutional nationalists' always refused to discuss the British governing system in the North which accompanied Partition. They only wanted to talk about Partition and berate the Ulster Unionists for operating the system that was imposed on them. But they are beginning to have some inkling of thought about the North as part of an Irish state, and they seem to be inclined towards continuing the Northern Ireland system.
Fortunately that will not be possible, regardless of Simon Coveney and Micheál Martin. Sinn Fein is a major party in both parts of the island and would therefore be a major force structuring the political situation.
Functional democracy is a structure rather than an ideal. Democracy as an ideal has an inherent tendency towards fancifulness. Edmond Burke said the basic right of a people is to be governed, and stable, organised political structures are most of all required to tolerable democratic government in mass society.
In 1922 Lord Londonderry, a Tory politician, assumed that the Tory Party would be active in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the state. He had a base there and he went there to take part in governing. He was ridiculed by his cousin, Winston Churchill, for failing to understand that the purpose of Northern Ireland was to help to break up the Sinn Fein rebellion, rather than to have good government as part of the British state. Londonderry soon got the message. He returned to British politics and became a senior Cabinet Minister in Ramsay McDonald's Labour-led National Government.
If the Tory Party had done what Londonderry expected it to do—if it had done the normal thing—in the Northern Ireland region of the state, the normal dynamic of political life would have led the newly-formed Labour Party to do likewise, despite its nominal anti-Partitionism, and the course of events in Northern Ireland would have been essentially different. There would have been no "tribal majoritarianism". There would have been Tories and Socialists.
We take it for granted that, in the event of an all-Ireland state being established, Sinn Fein will not withdraw from the North to the 26 Counties, and that the 26 County parties will therefore have to contest elections against it in the North, and that there will therefore be an all-Ireland democratic structure of politics in which the Unionists can find a place.
It is a sign of the frivolousness that has overcome Irish politicians recently that Ulster Unionism, reviled for so long, should now be regarded as a treasured national possession that must be preserved in aspic.
Ulster Unionism made a grave mistake in 1921 when it let itself be set up as a sham democracy for use against the elected Sinn Fein Government. It is one that is beyond the resources of Irish democracy to remedy under Partition
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