Editorial from Irish Political Review, July 2004

Northern Ireland: Movement From The Stalemate

Northern Ireland is in political stalemate. Stalemate is its natural condition. The net result of the Good Friday Agreement has been to bring out the fact that stalemate is the normal condition of political life within this strange creature of the British Constitution. Six years ago it offered the illusion of movement, but the effect of its working has been to dispel illusion, and to destroy the party which committed itself to illusion—the SDLP.

The slang of party-politics in a democracy was diligently applied to the political affairs of Northern Ireland by British and Irish politicians and commentators. Words like "middle ground", "moderates" and "die-hard" were used. We have been pointing out for thirty years that "moderation" is not a policy—taken by itself it is an adjective in search of a noun, or an adverb in search of a verb—and that there is no middle ground. A middle-ground in politics is the ground between two parties seeking an electoral mandate to govern a state, and it is occupied by voters who fluctuate between the rival parties. The parties in Northern Ireland have never sought a mandate to govern the state in which they exist. And there has never been a body of voters which fluctuated between Unionism and Nationalism, sometimes giving the victory to one and sometimes to the other.

Political activity in Northern Ireland has always been communal, and given the structures set up in 1921 there was no possibility that it might be anything else. In a functional democracy, the individual can choose his political party. But the individual does not choose his community. He finds himself in it. And, when politics is a simple expression of communal existence, there is no effective choice for the individual.

The only element of political choice lies within each community. The interests of the community might be pursued by different methods. But the pursuit of the interests of each community by methods which might be described as "moderate" does not bring about a convergence of interests between the "moderates" of the conflicting communities.

John Taylor (now Lord Somethingorother), a Unionist "moderate", has invariably treated the SDLP and Sinn Fein as two of a kind, both being Republicans because both have the aim of incorporating the 6 Counties into the Republic. And Gerry Fitt (now Lord Fitt), before opting out of political reality for fantasy-land, ridiculed the term "moderate Unionist", because a Unionist is a Unionist is a Unionist, and the adjective is absolutely governed by the noun. This was a perfectly reasonable and sensible view of the matter. In a political arena where conflict is exclusively between Unionism and Nationalism, and where each is the expression of communal existence, there can be no common middle ground, and in the last analysis every Unionist is die-hard. (Somebody on the British Left thirty years ago said that "the lonely hour of the last analysis never arrives", but he had no experience of Northern Ireland, where nothing but the last analysis has ever existed. The ultimate question has always been the only question. First and last things are the same and there has never been an interval between them.)

That is the sense that the situation made to Gerry Fitt after a lifetime of socialist endeavour in the political vacuum called Northern Ireland, which has always been a political vacuum regardless of whether the Devolution fig-leaf was on or off. He opted out because the grinding attrition of the communities was not to his taste. He would have done a public service if he had stated this honestly, and had attributed blame where it rightly belonged instead of hiring himself out to the blameworthy party and scapegoating people who stayed behind in Northern Ireland and did their best in an impossible situation.

The Good Friday Agreement was not a possible framework of settlement. But it could have been spun out a bit longer if Blair and John Reid had not aligned themselves with David Trimble to wreck it—and if Dublin had not helped them for reasons of domestic politics in the Republic.

Blair took time off from supervising the shambles he has brought about in Iraq to warn that, unless the Agreement which he has undermined is functioning again by September, he will do—— he didn't say what he will do, and he didn't exude conviction that his threats were weighty. The DUP seems content to wait and see what the outcome of the next British Election will be. And Sinn Fein, which gets stronger every time the two states try to damage it, appears to have got over the sense of desperation that was evident in Martin McGuinness's attitude when the operation of the Agreement was suspended. It now sees that there are other lines of development.

Northern Ireland is in stalemate, but things have happened. The main thing that has happened is that there is now, for the first time in 80 years, a functional all-Ireland political party.

The Catholic community in the North has protected Sinn Fein from every manoeuvre against it by increasing its representation, and has done so as a means of preventing itself from being rubbished. And now the electorate in the Republic, a a moment when the very existence of the state is being vilified by British propaganda dominance in Irish academia and publishing, is re-asserting its historic authenticity by returning to Sinn Fein.


Movement From The Stalemate.

A Just War - Or Just A War?

Ireland versus Civilisation
Pat Walsh

Our Very Own Hero From Zero.
Jack Lane

The Irish Times: Its Prurience And Double Standards.
John Martin

Faith And Identity (Part Two)
Seán McGouran

An Cor Tuathail: The Revolt Of The O'Rourke's
(Compiled by Pat Muldowney)

Eamonn O'Kane:
An Appreciation

The Irish Times And The British State.
John Martin

D-Day's Excluded Nationality
Manus O'Riordan
(Irish Times, Unpublished Letter)

Martin Mansergh And The Two Nations.
(Report Of Correspondence)

Two Nations Once Again!
Brendan Clifford

The Election In Northern Ireland.
Seán McGouran

Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:
June Eleven Elections: SF Double Vote: Fianna Fail Lose 80 Seats

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