Friday 29 January 2010

'Unionist unity' emphasises lack of unionist commitment

The recent hullabaloo over the 'unionist unity' talks hosted by the English Tories, and the later revelation of earlier 'unionist unity' talks hosted by the Orange Order has been a little pointless and directionless. Nationalists have an uneasy feeling about these talks but are not able to pin down precisely why. Unionists respond by saying that talks between members of the same political philosophy are hardly a surprise.

Malachi O'Doherty, writing in the Belfast Telegraph, however has managed to put his finger on the issue, and his article makes uncomfortable reading:

"… Sinn Fein, which no doubt would relish topping the poll, makes the argument that it shouldn't really matter whether the First Minister is a nationalist or a unionist. Their interpretation is that the First and Deputy First Ministers hold equal positions.

For unionists, the difference between the two positions is so important that, apparently, practically every issue which divides the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party can be compromised to prevent Sinn Fein appointing a First Minister in Northern Ireland.

So, what does this say about unionism?

Well, for a start it says that neither unionist party accepts that the First and Deputy First Ministers are equal. There is only one of those positions which either main unionist party thinks a unionist should fill.

By positioning themselves to form an alliance to prevent Sinn Fein taking the First Ministry, both unionist parties are attempting to refute the Sinn Fein understanding that there is currently a requirement on unionism to treat republicans as equals.

If the unionists are seriously saying that they could not bear to serve under a Sinn Fein First Minister, duly elected, under agreements which they have assented to, then there are disturbing implications that follow from that.

The first of these is that unionist assent to the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement are qualified; they are conditional on the maintenance of a unionist majority."

Not only does the unionist determination to retain the symbolic First Minster position say a lot about the future – it also shouts that unionists have never, in the on-off history of the institutions, truly seen Martin McGuinness as co-equal. It post facto colours the whole commitment of unionism to the power-sharing arrangements – implying a completely conditional and incomplete participation by unionism.

There is more at stake in the current 'crisis' than merely the transfer of policing and justice, and the careless assumption that once P+J are transferred 'devolution' will be complete is seen to be very far short of the reality.


Anonymous said...

I'd be quite surprised if anything actually came from these talks, the differences between the various unionists parties are pretty large, spanning the political spectrum and getting convoluted in matters of religion and "family values". The SDLP and Sinn Fein may be irreconcilable and yet in principle they are less ideologically distinct.

Also, we nationalists have a tendency to panic in situations such as these, it seems that no amount of unionist self-destruction is enough for us to feel confident that they will continue their inevitable decline due a chronic, pig-headed mindset that pervades the entire cause.

Unionists don't want to unite and even if they did they don't have the diplomatic ability to do so.

The Orange Order just wants one last ditch attempt to make the unionist parties understand what is happening here - there is a pretty much unbroken, slow but sure slide towards nationalism and 100 years from now, or 50, or 25, it can only be imagined NI will be even closer to reunification, or indeed reunified.

The question is not if but when with irish unity, the only problem is we're talking about probably long periods of time, and what is important now is for Sinn Fein to act quickly before the unionists o get their act together and seize the window of opportunity available here to make a jump of a decade or two by electing a first minister.

ROBERT EMMET 1803 said...

A Chairde go léir;
I have been following the Stormont talks closely over last few weeks and it fills me with pride to see our Taoiseach and Foreign affairs minister negotiating about the future of the 6 counties.Perhaps bringing unity one or two centimetres closer but all helps in this matter.Also one never knows exactly how far away unity is.

One or two things have come to mind which someone might explain to me.

1.Could Sinn Féin and the SDLP ever unite to form one party such as,perhaps,Fianna Fáil and therby hopefully maximise nationalist votes.
2.What exactly is the Irish Language Act and what will it do for ordinary nationalists in the 6 counties.Will sign posts be in Irish perhaps or will government documents be printed in Irish or have I misread the whole thing ?

3.Finally,when will the city of Derry have its name changed to Derry.If and when this happens,will Derry county also be called Derry or is it just the city.
many thanks,
is mise le meas
Robert Emmet 1803

hoboroad said...

Anonymous said...

Robert Emmet, I'll have a stab

1. I wish! SF would probably be happy with an election pact, and with Unionism becoming more an more fractured a majority of it's MPs could quite possibly be Nationalist if there were. But joining up with your political rival to "keep the other side down" as it were is something I can't see the SDLP going for.

2. ILA: I'm sketchy on the details; government documents would be available in Irish, people when dealing with the government would have the option of doing it in Irish. Roadsigns? I don't know. A lot would get torn down. A Unionist council tryin tae promote thon Ulster Scots stuck up Scots signs in a Loyalist estate once. Some of the less bright men on the estate, thinking they were in Irish, tore them down immediately...

3. Good question. Derry Council has already changed it's name from Londonderry Corporation to Derry City. They have applied to have the official name of the city changed to Derry, which London refused. In fairness to London, I doubt the average Englishman gives a shit what it's called, I think they just didn't want to rock the boat.

There's still a lot of bad feeling from Protestants toward the Nationalist councillors in Derry. The SDLP, who run the council, generally try to reach out to Protestants; they have given money to the Apprentice Boys to facilitate marches, they try to encourage Protestants to apply for jobs on the council, and John Hume managed to persuade several large companies to open factories in largely protestant areas like Maydown and nearby Limavady. But Unionists in Derry still say they've been forgotten about, or neglected, or actively mistreated by the council. My own feeling is that the SDLP have been extremely magnanimous in victory in Derry,. but it's still a sore point for Unionists that they lost control of The Walled City. It was sacred for them for centuries.