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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: June, 2021|
Some Realities For The Parlour Politicians
The newly-elected leader of the DUP is of the opinion that the world is 6,000 years old. That is a ridiculous opinion based on a book of fictitious tales. In this scientific age we know the world is a lot older than that. So how old is it? No figure springs to mind.
Science has been unable to find a beginning to anything but some local changes in our immediate neighbourhood. It has been unable to find a beginning of the whole thing. And, if a beginning cannot be found, the opinion that the universe had no beginning because it was always there arises naturally, even in the most advanced scientific minds. And, if it was always there, then it has no age. The philosopher Kant gave the matter some serious thought a couple of centuries ago and concluded that the opinions that the world had a beginning or that it had no beginning were equally absurd. And, in that case, the matter is not worth thinking about. It gets you nowhere in the end. And, in current affairs, a belief in 6,000 years is certainly no more disabling than a belief in 6,000 billion years, or in infinity.
The only relevance of the 6,000 years is its indication that Bible Christianity remains a constant orientating belief in Unionist Ulster after 400 years of existence, while Roman Christianity has collapsed in Nationalist Ireland without being replaced by any other orientating world view.
The Ulster Unionist Party broke apart in 1972 when Whitehall denied it a military role in the War launched by the IRA in 1970. It became three Parties—known as the Treble U C. One of them, led by Brian Faulkner, accepted the status quo while refusing to conduct a Government under it. Another, the Vanguard Party led by William Craig, effectively became an Ulster Independence party, declaring "Ulster A Nation". The third, led by the Biblical fundamentalist Paisley, had a policy of proper integration of the North into the British state. Though Paisley was persuaded to de-emphasise integrationism, his party has been the de facto British party in the North. In a dispute with ex-Conservative Minister Enoch Powell (who joined Faulkner's party), he asserted John Locke's "social contract" view of the State against Powell's absolutist view—with Powell, as we recall, being supported by the historian Marianne Elliott.
The point at issue was whether the requirement of obedience on the part of the subject—there was no British citizenship in those days—was conditional or unconditional. Was there a reciprocal relationship between the subject and the sovereign, or was the sovereignty of the State absolute and one-sided?
Paisley's social-contract view—that the State has obligations towards the subject, and that the loyalty of the subject is conditional on the State meeting its obligations—seems to have been reasserted by Joel Keys in his evidence to Westminster's Northern Ireland Select Committee on behalf of the Loyalist Communities Council.
The Irish Times comments that the election of Edwin Poots to the DUP leadership "is a step backwards towards a more confrontational style of politics". It says that "his primary objective" is removal of the Protocol (which governs trade between Northern Ireland and Britain under the withdrawal agreement). But, the paper says, the Protocol is the instrument of "an international treaty" and therefore all that Poots can do about it is "huff and puff". When the DUP members see that Poots can do no more than Arlene Foster did, they will leave him. Some will go to the even more fundamentalist Jim Allister and Traditional Unionist Voice, while others will go to the "centre-ground", the Alliance Party presumably. Therefore "the elevation of Poots could well increase the potential for the growth of a strong middle ground alternative", and "the appeal of tribal politics" would be undermined (IT 17.5.21).
Politics is a very confrontational business. It is so under democracy where small differences are grossly exaggerated between rival parties. It is even more so in Northern Ireland, which is not a democracy and has never been a democracy. It is an undemocratically-governed region of the UK state, excluded from the party politics of the state. In democracies the electorate swings to and fro between the rival parities. In NI the rival political bodies are not parties. The main ones represent nationalities.
The Irish Times chooses to refer to them disdainfully as tribes. The formation of the Northern Ireland structure reinforced their existence as "tribes". There have never been electoral swings between these!
The middle ground between Unionist and Nationalist has never constituted an "alternative". It had a brief moment of illusory existence as an alternative after 1998, when Mallon led the SDLP and Lord Trimble led the UUP and they were both on a policy of breaking the Provisionals. But nothing came of it.
Gerry Fitt's insight told him that a Unionist is a Unionist is a Unionist. When the Union is what is at issue, adjectives have no currency. And, by the same token, a Nationalist is a Nationalist is a Nationalist.
The kind of thing the Irish Times means by the middle-ground is on the margins. The Alliance Party lives on the margins. In the classifications of the 1998 Agreement, it is Other. Because it is marginal, it can evade the issue and pick up the votes of those whose position is that they wish the world was not what it is and are determined not to deal with it as it is. (Its other source of support is tactical voting by minority populations stranded in areas in which they cannot possibly hope to elect a 'tribal' representative.)
Because Alliance was marginal, it was decided at the outset that it should have the Justice Ministry, which could not be trusted to either Unionists or Nationalists. But, if the Party grows beyond a certain point, it must become either Unionist or Nationalist—unless it strikes out on an Ulster independence course.
The Irish Times—Britain's newspaper in Ireland—was fiercely anti-Brexit and it is having difficulty in orientating itself after Brexit. It points out that the DUP might have prevented the Protocol by supporting Teresa May's deal with the EU. The paper, expressing the failed, patrician, Protestantism of the South, has never felt at ease with the very different, and very vulgar, Protestantism of the North, and therefore has never understood it.
Teresa May's deal would have kept the UK as a whole virtually within the EU, bound into its arrangements, but without representation in the governing arrangements. The DUP, committed to leaving the EU for is own reasons, helped to ward off that half-way house, and helped Johnson to hold out against the attempt of the anti-Brexit majority in Parliament to prevent the Government from either governing or calling an election—without having the coherence to form a Government of its own—until the Scottish Nationalists buckled and allowed an Election to be held. And now the Unionists expect Johnson to deal with the Protocol compromise that was needed to get the Referendum result implemented.
Poots has indicated that it is not his intention to tackle the Protocol head on. His first task is to bring Unionism together for the next Assembly Election and win 45 seats—a majority—and then see what happens.
One thing is certain: Unionism cannot be united against what the IT calls its "heartland"—only by its heartland.
Between Unionism and Nationalism as political forces there is no "middle ground". The difference between them is not comparable to the difference between political parties in a state. They are not, in the Six Counties, parties competing for the right to govern the State. The Six Counties is not a state. The issue is which state they should belong to. The region in which they operate is a politically disconnected part of the British state which is, in other respects, an integral part of the British state.
The 26 County state asserted de jure sovereignty over the Six Counties for 60 years. It revoked that claim of sovereignty in 1998 with the permission of the IRA and changed it into an aspiration. It is not an aspiration that is actively pursued by the old established parties of the Free State. They hoped and expected that Provisional Republicanism would wither away under the influence of the radical reforms it had brought about in the internal structure of Northern Ireland and the peace made possible by those reforms. But it did not wither away. It not only displaced the SDLP as the major Nationalist Party in the North, but re-established itself as a major party in the South, where it had gone into decline in 1926 with the formation of Fianna Fail.
In the mid-1920s the Party that won the Treaty War kept Fianna Fail out of the Dail by means of the Treaty Oath. In recent years the Treaty Parties (Fianna Fail having become one of them) have kept Sinn Fein out of Government Office on the grounds that it is a Fascist Party. The Party which alleges that Sinn Fein is a Fascist Party is Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail is in office with Fine Gael, which was founded as a Fascist Party in the early 1930s. In the thirties, when Fascism was a going concern in Europe, Fianna Fail as an Anti-Treaty Party fought off the threat of Treatyite Fascism with the active support of Sinn Fein.
Fianna Fail disowned its Anti-Treaty origins a generation ago, falsified its history, and went into decline, making way for the rise of Sinn Fein, which outvoted it at the last Election.
But Sinn Fein is not actually filling the position once held by Fianna Fail. It is ill at ease outside the Six Counties. Instead of standing by the state that was actually constructed by the nationalist movement in defiance of British power, it disparages it and declares itself willing to throw it back into the melting pot—at least its Leader does.
Thirty years ago the doctrine of post-nationalism was preached at the National University. And a book about the end of history by an American author became a world best-seller. The arrival of the era of the Last Men was announced. Henceforth the world was to consist of nondescript consumers in the world market. For the last US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, perfection would be reached when there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in every major street in a world of streets.
In Ireland in recent times difference has come to be earnestly deplored as being divisive. The Black and Tans were to be commemorated in future as comrades of the Volunteers. There was even talk of professionalising the GAA. It began to seem that all that would remain would be the insidious force of music—the medium which Plato insisted should have no place in his orderly Republic. RTE had made a brave attempt to suppress it but had failed—and by trying to suppress it and failing had made a gift of it to the other side—the historic "illegal organisation".
Throughout this process of existential melt-down of the culture of Nationalist Ireland, Unionist Ulster remained what it had been ever since it took a stand against Cromwell on the ground of the Covenant in 1649 and declared support for the outlawed King Charles II.
Demands are now being made from various quarters for the holding of the Referendum on unification provided by the 1998 Agreement. The Dublin Establishment has no appetite for it, but at the same time it cannot opt for a Partition settlement.
Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny sold to the EU the idea that the Partition in Ireland was of a kind with the Partition of Germany. Even he must have known that there was no substantial resemblance between the two. The nationality on both sides of the German Partition was German. The Irish Partition ran between Irish and British nationality, though with an Irish minority on the British side. And the British nationality was not a mere extension of personnel of the British state, as the Anglican body in the South had been, but was the organic growth of an early 17th century colonisation—partly by migration and partly by official settlement. It had a will of its own—a thing which the Protestant Ascendancy of the Irish Parliament never had, even though it took advantage of England's difficulty in America to gain Legislative independence in 1782.
It still has a will of its own and it seems determined not to tolerate the degree of unification by stealth achieved by placing the Irish economic border in the sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The British Government too seems intent on eroding that economic border within the UK. And there are signs that it is feeling out the possibility of making Northern Ireland part of the general consciousness of the British public in a way that it has never been in the past.
The working out of this uncertain situation depends on the art of politics, rather than on determination by any overall force. And the art of politics is not something in which the EU excels just now.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has said repeatedly that the holding of a Referendum would be divisive and he is against it. Whenever it is held it will be divisive, because it is about a division. But the holding of a Referendum is provided for by the Agreement that ended the War and, insofar as the Dublin Government played a part in negotiating that Agreement, it insisted that there must be an Irish Dimension—which was divisive.
It seems probable that a Referendum will be held only if Sinn Fein establishes a position at the next Election that makes it impossible for a Government to be formed without it.
The Agreement, as far as we recall, provides for a Referendum to be held in the Six Counties, assuming that, since the 26 Counties has always represented partition as a basic national injustice, it is for unification as a matter of course. The decision is to be made by a majority: 50% plus 1, with the uniting to take the form of a Constitutional transfer of its semi-detached political position within the British state to full incorporation into the Irish state that actually exists, with the various Ulster forces then being left to find their place in the politics of the state, influencing it as best they can. This is what was NOT done with the Six Counties when they were made into Northern Ireland.
If the Referendumists do not stand by the Irish state that was actually constructed by the Irish independence movement, but an ideal state that it to be remade according to the heart's desire, then they will only be chasing rainbows.