Monday 30 November 2009

Does P+J really matter?

Sinn Féin say 'yes', and the DUP say 'because you say yes, we're going to block it'. Or something pretty close to that.

Why does Sinn Féin want the transfer of policing and justice? They say, of course, that it is important that these powers are transferred in order that the key decisions over how Irish people are governed are taken by Irish people. This position tends to gloss over the larger issues of wider sovereignty over Northern Ireland – worse, it gives the impression that Sinn Féin are willing to administer British rule in Ireland, as the dissident republicans frequently accuse.

But does Sinn Féin really think that having an Alliance Party nonentity administering policing and justice in Northern Ireland is really worth all this fuss?

Sinn Féin openly admit that:
" … the impasse over policing and justice is about something deeper than a transfer of powers. It’s about whether political unionism is prepared to co-exist with republicans in equality and partnership; and, prepared to accept the rights of all citizens – regardless of political allegiance – to equal treatment and parity of esteem."

And that is also a valuable lesson that needs to be taught. Whether unionism agrees to the transfer of P+J or not, it loses in nationalist eyes. By rejecting the transfer unionism positions itself as a negative, distrustful, even discriminating, throwback. By agreeing with the transfer it would be forced to admit that much of its post-1998 stonewalling was counterproductive and negative.

So nationalism – in its eyes – wins regardless. Why then is Sinn Féin staking the future of the whole institutional arrangements on something so irrelevant (since it does not, in fact, bring Irish unity and independence a day closer)?

Perhaps the real reason lies at another deeper level. The constant stonewalling by unionism, and the 'regretful, disappointed but still hopeful' response by nationalism, may actually be exactly the situation that Sinn Féin want, and have carefully constructed.

One of the strongest and most enduring justifications for the ending of Northern Ireland's sorry history as a separate state is the fact that it has always been a state that lacks the overwhelming legitimacy that normal states enjoy. If it can be seen to be a 'failed political entity', its demise would be both natural and desirable. The corollary – a successful legitimised state – could put back the cause of Irish unity by decades.

So Sinn Féin needs Northern Ireland to fail, and to be seen to fail. It is no news that they do not want it to succeed, but this has not brought about its destruction yet. If, however, the failure of the institutions can be shown to have been caused by unionist inability to play their role, then truly Northern Ireland has failed, and there is nobody left – apart from the miniscule Alliance Party – who would still want to make a go of it.

Perhaps Sinn Féin, by appearing weak and powerless on policing and justice, is simply giving unionism the rope it needs to hang itself, and its Project Ulster.


Watcher said...

Most Unionists don't want policing and justice administered by people who were involved in violent Republicanism. It's as simple as that. How the hell can those who used violence (unsuccessfully) to achieve the aims of Irish Nationalism be trusted to police today's violent Irish Nationalists who are pursuing by violence the very same goals?

In any 'normal' state this would never happen - but then in any 'normal' state democratic political parties would not be forced to share power with those who had only recently been involved in violent insurrection against the state.

Anonymous said...


I think you are underestimating the constitutional and symbolic importance of having police and justice administered in Nothern Ireland as it sits right at the heart of the legitimacy of the present arrangements not least because more Irish involement obvioulsy means correspondingly less British.


Anonymous said...

Good grief - you don't actually believe that - do you Watcher?

If we kept to that rule we would be run solely by The Alliance party and the SDLP. An awful lot of governments are run by ex-freedom fighters/terrorists. It's the nature of the game and always has been.

hoboroad said...

I see Ladbrokes Bookmakers are offering 20/1 on Scottish Independence before 2015.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Sullivan:

For England to shrug off the fiscal burden of Scotland and Northern Ireland would be a huge gain for the over-taxed English. And Saint Andrew wouldn't be too miffed either.

Nor St.Patrick.

Anonymous said...

England MIGHT be much better off without Scotland or N.I.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article on demographics below in todays Belfast telegraph

And more from UTV website below


Anonymous said...

Q. Horseman's email?

bangordub said...

I have no idea, I dont think he wants his e-mail directly available but if you post here he'll get it

Horseman said...

Quite correct, Bangordub. I have no wish to engage in private conversations - anything I have to say is public on this blog, and anything anyone wants to say to me should also be public.

Though, having said that, there may be occasions when people might want to slip me a tit-bit or two, so perhaps I'll consider putting an email address on the blog.

Leave it with me.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, I just wished to forward a document. ?

Horseman said...

OK anonymous, I've added an e-mail address (as an image, of course - I don't want spam). I hope I don't have cause to regret it!


Watcher said...

I see only 29% of Scots favour independence. Bad news for those hoping Scottish independence would in some strange way lead to Irish unity.

Watcher said...

Any news on the wealthier areas of The Republic ditching the poorer areas to save cash? I'm sure it makes sense...

Anonymous said...

The Scots spend much of their time blaming the English for everything, even the weather at times. Those against independence last time around (a lot of the educated people) were mainly afraid of commie shipyard workers and socialists running the country.

They'd rather keep them on the English dole.

A nation afraid of self-government is nothing more than colony.

Anonymous said...

I am not going to be original this time, so all I am going to say that your blog rocks, sad that I don't have suck a writing skills