From Church & State: Spring 2007, No. 88

Northern Ireland: The Centre Shares What Power There Is

The centre ground in Northern Ireland has made a kind of settlement . Sinn Fein has made an agreement with fundamentalist Unionism to operate a kind of local government under British authority, but with some connections with the Dublin Government.

The attempt to present the marginal elements of 'Constitutional nationalism' and the pretentious North Down variety of Unionism as the Centre was sustained by official action over a century, but has now been dropped.

It has long been evident that Dr. Paisley has been at the heart of Ulster Unionism. It is almost forty years since he undermined the pretentious and self-deluding Unionism of Captain O'Neill. Ever since then the Official Unionist Party has been unable to look forward because it was always looking over its shoulder at him.

The SDLP during its best days was the electoral wing of the community that sustained the IRA. It was incapable of acting independently of the Republicans because it knew that any earnest attempt to do so would ruin it electorally. Its moment of truth was in the Summer of 1971, when Brian Faulkner—the only 'moderate' worth a damn—proposed to inaugurate a power-sharing system through Parliamentary Committees at Stormont. The SDLP, taken by surprise in Parliament, supported the scheme, but when they came down the hill into the community, they realised that they dare not attempt it. The community was intent on getting rid of Stormont. The SDLP therefore pulled out of Stormont and added its weight to the great surge that led to the abolition of Stormont in the Spring of 1972.

John Hume understood the organic connection between 'constitutional nationalism' and the IRA through the medium of the community which they both served. His successors, Seamus Mallon and Mark Durkan, forgot about that relationship, and the community replaced the SDLP with Sinn Fein.

The new agreement to establish local government in the Six Counties is a practical recognition that the problem in the North is the existence of two national communities, and the non-existence there of the democratic institutions of the British state in which individuals from both communities might act together in politics.

This journal, at its first appearance a third of a century ago, made itself unpopular in the Republic by its advocacy of the 'two-nations theory' of the North. The two-nation view continues to be rejected in the South, even though every practical measure that is undertaken assumed it to be the case.

If there is one Irish nation, why is it not right that majority rule should apply to the whole.

And why is majority rule not applicable even within the region which on unspecified grounds is held to be entitled to set itself apart?

The North is no more a democracy now than it has been at any time since it was set up in 1921. The pretence of democracy, maintained until 1972, has been dropped.

The basic principle of democracy, that the majority rules, has been discarded. Local government is being restored on the basis that there is no more a Northern Ireland body politic, than an Irish body politic, in which the elected majority can govern, even by weighted majority. The electorate is officially divided into two body politics; all the parties elected by each have the right to be in the Government; voting on important matters in the Assembly is taken on a community basis, and a majority of the representatives of each community is needed to carry a measure; and representatives elected from outside the two body politics, are sidelined.

This is not democracy.

The operation of this system will be supervised by an authority superior to it, and that is not democracy.

The supervising authority is the British state, which continues to run the big things in the North. But the electors in the North are excluded from the process of party-politics through which the state is governed: and that is not democracy.

Democracy is not a possibility of the Northern situation. The new agreement is an equalisation of conditions for the Catholic community in the conflict of communities. Communal conflict is all that is possible in the Constitutional entity called Northern Ireland.

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