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From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
Date: January, 2020
By: Angela Clifford

The Northern Election

The Northern Election
Carson’s seat in North Belfast has fallen to Sinn Fein!! But Carson’s policy for the Six Counties fell a long time ago: ninety-nine years ago. Edward Carson opposed the dressing-up of the Six Counties into a distinct political body within the British state in which the Catholic third of the population would be governed by the Protestant two-thirds. It used to be said, as a debating-point in anti-Partition propaganda, that no Six County MP had voted for Partition. That saying has fallen out of use. We have influenced things to that extent at least. There was no vote for Partition. Westminster, heavily indebted to America in 1920, did not want to have it said that it introduced Partition. So what it did was introduce Home Rule in two parts, and left ‘the Irish’ to sort it out for themselves. It set up two Irish democracies instead of one. And, if democracy is a good thing, then the more the better! What no Six County MP could be said to have voted for was not a Partition Bill but a Home Rule Bill setting up Irish Home Rule in two parts. Carson spoke against that Bill, explaining why a Six County Parliament and Government would be a bad thing. But Westminster, with its landslide War Coalition majority, carried on regardless; and the Six County Unionists were given to understand that, if they did not operate the Northern Ireland system under the Bill, they would come under Dublin rule. Carson resigned the Ulster Unionist leadership. His place was taken by James Craig, who was a Junior Minister in Whitehall in 1920—and was the last ‘Ulster’ MP to hold Office in the Government of the State. Carson, in retirement, was persuaded to remain silent in the face of the inevitable, and even to give a muffled squeak of approval to it on one occasion. The incident is entirely excluded from Carson biographies, friendly or hostile, and from histories of Northern Ireland. But it is all there in the newspaper reports of his election campaign in December 1918 and in the Hansard report a year later. The two peoples in the Six Counties were at war with each other (as part of the Anglo-Irish War) when they were constituted into a little local ‘democracy’ and required to operate a little Home Rule system of government, which could never be anything but the policing of one community by the other. And the Westminster political parties, which did this deed, then virtuously withdrew from the Six County region of the state, and the Ulster Unionist fragment of the Unionist Party was left to fester in isolation for half-a-century, until the Nationalist minority was provoked into making war of the State. None of this was due to Carson. And the Ulsterish Unionist who lost North Belfast to John Finucane of Sinn Fein is not a Carsonite. The significant development within the meaningless Six County participation in the British state election is that the SDLP has given up its ‘constitutionalist’ posturing by facilitating the victory of the party of the men of violence in North Belfast. Seamus Mallon was shocked when Tony Blair remarked to him that the difficult thing about the SDLP was that it didn’t have an Army. The message has finally sunk in. In the profoundly unconstitutional structure called ‘Northern Ireland’ there is no virtue in mere constitutionalism, and there is no vice in abstentionism. Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster are spectators, except on the very rare occasions of hung Parliaments. The SDLP held the balance of power forty years ago. Gerry Fitt maintained the Labour Party in Office. But then he brought it down because it ended the under-representation of Northern Ireland at Westminster, and opened the way for Thatcher. More recently, the DUP maintained the Tories in Office but did not understand that it was an extraneous element, just as much as the SDLP had been, because it was outside the party-system, which is what English democracy is all about. It refused a Brexit deal with May that was better for it than any other it was likely to get; after May fell it threw away its bargaining power by putting Johnson at the mercy of an obstructive Commons majority, and suffered in the consequent Election. The British news says there is now a Nationalist majority in Northern Ireland—as if it mattered how the marginalised political life in Northern Ireland was represented on the Westminster back-benches—or that most of the Northern majority prefers to stay at home. From a rational Northern Ireland viewpoint, Westminster is a waste of time. And BBC news about Northern Ireland is Fake News as a matter of course. When Britain introduced party-political broadcasts on the BBC about sixty years ago, the Prime Minister of the old Stormont system thought they should not be broadcast on BBC, Northern Ireland as none of the parties making the broadcasts contested the elections there. He was over-ruled by Whitehall. He was told that the BBC was a state institution over which he had no authority, and that the broadcasts would go ahead just as if the Labour, Tory and Liberal Parties were fielding candidates in the Six Counties.
The Radio Ulster voice of the BBC these days is Stephen Nolan. He conducts long phone-in programmes every day. He also conducts phone-in programmes on ‘mainland’ BBC at other times of the day, raking in the money. One would have expected him to notice that something essential to Britain is missing from Northern Ireland—its political parties. He could not fail to notice it. But no hint of it ever issues from his lips—even when he is harassing politicians from the viewpoint of British normality. The Good Friday Agreement, which enabled the War to be ended, is a very strange political arrangement. The BBC does not emphasise the strangeness which makes it effective, and often seems to forget it. A threatened Nurses’ Strike was in the news just before the election. Its demand was parity with Britain. The DUP, when in Office, had reduced it below parity on the grounds that the cost of living was lower than on the mainland. Nolan tried to implicate Sinn Fein in that decision in an interview with Conor Murphy. Murphy explained that it was entirely a DUP decision. But, said Nolan, it must also have been a Government decision. So Murphy tried to explain, between Nolan’s interruptions, that the Departments were autonomous within their Budgets, while Nolan was determined that the awfulness of this ‘Government’ decision should not be allowed stand. Under the GFA arrangements there is no Government. The ministries are autonomous Departmentsof State. The system is that after Elections the Parties choose which Departments to take, with the Party with the most votes having the first choice, etc. The Departments do not then cohere into a Government conducted by a Cabinet but are conducted autonomously by the parties. Each Department is given a Budget, but the Minister is entitled to spend it as desired. The nearest thing to a Government is the requirement that there should by a First Minister, but not a Prime Minister, chosen by agreement (which is to say that it goes to the largest party in Stormont); and also a Second Minister, the Deputy First Minister, on a par with the First. Legislation by the Assembly is subject to a “Petition of Concern” by either of the officially recognised national communities. There have been no Ministers since early January 2017 because Sinn Fein will not agree to the appointment of Arlene Foster as First Minister unless she agrees that there should be an Irish Language Act, which was previously agreed but not implemented. The Alliance Party, which affects to be neither Orange nor Green, made substantial gains in the British Election, but that is irrelevant to the GFA. In Six County affairs Orange and Green are the substance of things. That was always the case. The GFA only formalised it and devised a system for it. The Alliance deplores it but could only end it by overwhelming it with ‘Others’ in a Six County election. But, if it did that, the Others would then have to decide whether they were Orange or Green. It is not possible in modern times not to be part of a state. Northern Ireland, is not, never was, and never could be a state. And there are only two states available for it to be part of. The relationship between those two states is in the process of undergoing a great change.

The Northern Election. Editorial Pat Cox And His Achievements. Jack Lane Britain Decides. Dave Alvey (December Brexit Summary Readers' Letters: Corbyn. Donal Kennedy LEST WE FORGET (13). Extracts from Irish Bulletin. This issue lists British Acts Of Aggression, 3rd - 10th January 1920 (ed. Jack Lane) The O'Connor Column (Sweeney astray: social democracy and historical fictions; Poland’s ghoulish horror show) Two Irish Media Commentaries. Dave Alvey Es Ahora. Julianne Herlihy ((Clair Wills And The Story She Tells, Part 15) English Democracy. Editorial Northern Ireland & The UK Election. David Morrison Looking Back! Wilson John Haire A Fairytale Moment On The Late Late. Dave Alvey The Philadelphia Exercise. Paul Hyde Photographs, Photostats And Typescripts. Tim O'Sullivan An Imagined Nation. Brendan Clifford (A Meeting At Skibbereen, Part 2) Biteback: Ryan Commission Embarrassing Statistical Error. Unpublished Letter to 'Irish Times', Niall Meehan 'Ulysses' Cartoon. Submitted by Niall Cusack Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (Climate Change And The Environment; Chambers Of Commerce) Poems. Wilson John Haire (Politics Of The Bathtub!; Love On A Bed Of Nails) Labour Comment. Recruiting: Let The Wastrels Go! James Connolly