Archive | March, 2017

The Beginning of the End of the Six County State

4 Mar

So here we are. For the first time ever Northern Ireland’s government isn’t unionist dominated. Unionism has repeatedly failed its ‘people’, focusing too often on single topics rather than wider issues. It isn’t enough to just want to be part of the UK, you need to do more than lip service – rim jobbing the conservatives in London isn’t being particularly British, but it is what unionism seems to have become. When you’re out of thinking with the rest of the country you so badly want to remain part of on issues like women’s rights, marriage equality, and anything to do with the LGBT community, eventually the voters will desert you.

35% of those eligible still didn’t vote this time round, and their apathy is in part because of the failure of politicians to be forward thinking or responsive. Sinn Féin have succeeded by refreshing the optics, preaching equality (though as I wrote on Friday, I’m concerned about how that will play out for non-republicans once they’re in ‘control’ ) and motivating their populous. Unionism sits on past glories, complacently assuming that the public will come out and vote for them.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, 2009.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, 2009. Image © 2017 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

They now have three weeks to reach an agreement for power sharing. SF have already said they won’t accept Arlene Foster until the investigation into the heating cock up is complete. Arlene refuses to budge. With no agreement then we’d face yet another election or go back to direct rule from Westminster. The latter won’t please republicans, and would surely motivate a return to violent protest and terrorist manoeuvres from the likes of the IRA. But with our assembly now no longer Unionist-controlled I expect the DUP to force through a situation where direct rule is enforced, breaking any progress from the peace process. The DUP is like Nero fiddling while the country burns, willing to fuck everyone and blame the fall out on anyone but themselves. It’s not enough to be linked to the £1/2 billion wasted  through the RHI scheme, the fortunes wasted in court battles over gay blood etc, why not waste yet more in a pointless series of elections until everyone snuffs it or simply grows bored of the whole damn thing.  I could be wrong, but then power balance is shifting and the Unionists know this. The DUP in all probability would rather collapse Stormont than allow a nationalist rule.

Thanks to Brexit  I suspect within ten,  if not five years,  we will have a vote in favour of a united Ireland. And with that a return to civil unrest from small vocal factions. But none of this should surprise. Northern Ireland will simply be following the examples of the other colonies in the former British Empire, redefining itself as a nation shaped and influenced by the British presence but with its own culture. We just aren’t economically strong enough to stand without help from outside.

What would it be like for a Northern Irish Brit in a united Ireland?

I suspect odd. Its hard to imagine that the territorial imagery would disappear, but one suspects there’d be a lot more tricolours flying and that would probably rankle hardliners. None of my protestant friends in the south of Ireland ever seem particularly bothered, and I don’t even recall any of them of British descent complaining about being on the end of prejudicial treatment, and that’s exactly how it should be when reunification finally happens. Defining one’s nationality is a complex business, and most of us have at least one strand of ancestry that is imported from outside the island. Self-identifying as Irish or British shouldn’t stop you living a normal life in either country, or being allowed to display paraphernalia that relates to your nationality. There’s no reason why the Orange Order couldn’t continue to march and celebrate its past (they already do in displays across the Irish republic, which are closer to peaceful pageantry than anything in the North). And finally we could all celebrate St Patrick’s day as a shared heritage.

But I think British residents will be scared, paranoid, and anxious, and likely to fall into antagonistic language and behaviour with little provocation. They know the perceptions of the past just as well as the republicans. Hopefully they won’t be intimidated out of areas or out of the island. In the past, the British might well have treated the native population appallingly, but one needs to remember that we are not responsible for our ancestor’s antics, only our own. Certainly the thought that I might be persona non grata simply because I carry a British passport is most uncomfortable. And I don’t wish to be ridiculed because of my heritage, any more than republicans wish to be for theirs.

Uncertainty breeds fear. Fear breeds anger. Anger breeds trouble. And that is the situation I foresee. This summer’s parade season could be a real melting pot of pent up anger.

Undoubtedly the change is now on us. And I find it hard to believe that things will swing the other way any time soon. We should all begin to prepare for the possible outcomes of an ideological swing and a new national identity. Border poll or not, I will remain Northern Irish – proudly aware of my mixed heritage and upbringing informed by bother British and Irish culture. And I only hope that whatever happens, we are able to retain that sense of identity as the very face of Europe alters.

Power is about to shift…

3 Mar

As I write this, 70 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly Election for 2017 have been announced. And it makes for an interesting glimpse into a changing country. Sinn Féin hold the largest number of seats with 24, and the SDLP have 9. The DUP have 18 and UUP 9. Taking Aliance out of the proceedings that gives a nationalists a five seat lead.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Disappointingly the country appears to have shunned the opportunity to usher in a change in our country’s leadership – the embittered, stubborn, starkly green and orange parties Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party are still on top. And its hard to see how anything is going to change while that remains the case. Northern Ireland is a shared country whether you like it or not. And the only way to move forward is through mediation and negotiation and compromise.

But then I’m a broadly liberal leftist long lapsed from a background of unionism, so its easy for me to say. I don’t hate my fellow citizens because of their religion or their politics or what language they wish to converse in or what way they define their national identity. But it matters to many others out there.

Without a change, I can’t help but wonder if the assembly will not just be brought down again? And if it does, then surely direct rule from Westminster is inevitable? And to do that would be foolhardy, because that will give many militant republicans the excuse they need to reactivate a campaign of violence against the perceived British threat in the country, and take us all back to pre-1997 times. Its not as if the leaders of the two biggest parties actually give a toss about the Northern Irish people anyway, and our democratic views. The DUP backed Brexit in spite of the majority of Northern Ireland voting to stay IN Europe, and Sinn Féin still refuse to sit in Westminster for ideological reasons, which means they aren’t actually helping to represent the people either. A right golden shower the lot of them.

And I’m sitting here thinking about something that I haven’t actually heard voiced yet. But what happens if Sinn Féin come away from this election as the largest political party in Northern Ireland? Ignoring their catalogue of cover-ups (notably with regards sex abuse cases) and their power-hungry control of republican ideology in Northern Ireland (there’s as many kinds of republicans as their are unionists), we’ve never had a republican party as the largest in NI. The balance has always (by design more often than democracy) lain in the hands of the unionist parties, and for decades the unionists and loyalists have been happy because they’ve benefitted in things like employment, funding, rights etc. The republican voice has been silenced (once upon a time, literally), oppressed, which in turn has only helped to stir up support.

Right now we’re at loggerheads, with both sides bashing each other where possible, positioning themselves as ‘us’ and ‘them’. They put down propositions made by the others because of the potential for small victories. They turn simple things into massive issues. They allow prejudice to dictate policy and propaganda does the rest.

Whats scares unionists is what will happen when the power finally switches. It seems rather improbable that a republican dominated political arena is going to sit back and allow loyalism to continue its triumphant marches and shouting and brow-busting. That call for a referendum on a united Ireland can’t be far away now, and that scares the unionists because it might actually go through. Most of us don’t want to leave the EU, and joining up with Ireland is a sure way to ensure we don’t. Britain doesn’t actually care about Northern Ireland. We’re a population of 1.8million out of some 64 million across the islands. We’re a massive drain on resources, particularly bearing in mind our habit of fighting on a regular basis, incurring vast policing costs etc, every time we have a “celebration”. Will the republican brothers and sisters treat the unionists with open arms, and remind them that Ireland has already embraced Protestant culture as symbolised in the orange on the Tricolour? Sadly, probably not. Instead, the sort of hostility that has been shown to many of them is likely to be returned. Its the way of the wild. Captive turns captor. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, not actually how you were treated…

I’m slightly scared for people like me. Those of us who sit somewhere between the ideologies. Not necessarily undecided, but who are aware of our backgrounds, and the complex web that we were born into without say. Northern Ireland is occupied – the politicians decided to remain as part of the UK, not the people themselves, and so a border poll would be interesting, to finally give all of us a say. We aren’t all going to get our way though, and as Brexit has most recently reminded us (and indeed the US elections), when voting is split, things can get nasty. I don’t want to return to violence. I don’t want to be scared of visiting friends across sectarian divides, or to be picked out because I don’t see eye to eye with official lines of whatever persuasion.

Its time to stop being complacent. Time to learn to moderate, to co-operate, and to stop wallowing in the past. Think about the people.