Monday 7 June 2010

Martin Mansergh's mysterious message

Long one of unionism's bêtes noires, Martin Mansergh – former Senator now TD, and southern Protestant republican – has a letter in today's Irish Times in which he appears to say, in a circuitous way, that constitutional republicanism is an ideology that everyone can and should embrace, "unless one is a unionist".

So Mansergh is aiming his message fair and square at the nationalist community in the whole country, but obviously more specifically in the north, and his message appears to be one of ideological unity, if not unity of political parties.

There is no democratic, historical or ideological justification, or any basis in international law, unless one is a unionist, for not embracing a constitutional republicanism, now that we have at long last succeeded in creating a foundation for future active cooperation between Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter and other more recent traditions. The original peaceful constitutional ideals of William Drennan in 1791, when the United Irishmen were founded in Belfast, have something that everyone, even unionists, can in part identify with.
However his message contains other, slightly veiled, hints that he sees the political future – in the short-term at least – as containing two separate Irish jurisdictions:

While I respect the view – which I shared – that equates a free Ireland with a united Ireland, recent developments as a result of the peace process, which give us new freedom to achieve freedom in Ireland as a whole, suggest that we have now taken a broader and more pragmatic view. […] Self-determination, as the term suggests, and as international law prescribes, permits the free choice of more than one outcome.
Since Mansergh is seen by unionists as one of Fianna Fáil's key pointmen on the north, these remarks will be interpreted as a significant change of tack by that party, and one that signals a move away from the anti-partitionist, pro-united Ireland rhetoric of the past. It is too soon to tell whether they are right, and, of course, Mansergh's remarks chime with the official post-GFA line, that seeks to give the northern institutions time to 'bed in'.

Nonetheless, his remarks appear to be a carefully coded message to both nationalists – saying that republicanism is both right and correct, but only if constitutional – and to unionists, saying that, as far as the southern government is concerned the 'seige' is lifted, but on condition that they also move towards 'republican' ideas of fairness and inclusion (the mention of Protestant United Irishman William Drennan was a clear message).

Why Mansergh chose to publish his message now is less obvious. There are no immediate 'crossroads' on the political horizon, and the threat he implicitly invokes – that dissident republicans will hijack the centenary of 1916 – is hardly immediate. Perhaps his message was just part of a slow subtle campaign to mould consciousness north and south in a direction that suits the needs of Fianna Fáil at present. Faced with pressing economic problems to resolve, Fianna Fáil does not want either dissident republican or extreme unionist agitation north of the border to upset its attempts to steer the south back to calmer waters.


Ciaran said...

As far as Fianna Fail politicians are concerned, they are the ruling party of their nation, Northern Ireland presents too much of a problem for them to really uphold any ideology - after all this is a party of crooks, cheats and opportunists, they *have* no ideology, they will adopt any attitude to the North that makes their lives easier.

Sinn Féin is the only all-Ireland party that has any ideology or ideals.

Anonymous said...

I broadly agree as my own Blog today covered some of this ground. But the one factor I think youve missed (although you hint at it) is "Old Time Religion".
The Republic might well need a Second Republic (where the catholic Church is shorn of its quasi feudal/aristocratic role)to be attractive.
Likewise the men and women in the Belmont Bowling Club have replaced garden centre unionists......they at least voted. Its hard to see pragmatists rally round the creationism of McCausland or global warming denying of Wilson.
The Tory link up is a beaten docket for UUP.
The key is the Equality Agenda in the GFA. Unionism/momarchy is incompatible with equality (republican values) and that is the trojan horse in the process.
I am not convinced about nationalist unity. I prefer the broad coalition.