Friday, January 15, 2010

How Fragile is Ireland?

Specifically the bit in the north of the island. Watching Question Time last night I realised I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the way the 'peace process' in Ireland is being used as a way of avoiding political questions and ends up being simply code for maintaining the status quo.

All the politicians lined up to say how the question of a corrupt MP who broke her marital vows must not be allowed to 'derail the peace process' as if attempting to resolve any contentious political issue might suddenly see the region erupt into petrol bombs and internment without trial.

It's as if we are being asked to simply accept political wrong doing for the sake of the children. The problem is that if any public row might see a return of the darkest days of the troubles (and there's no evidence at all that this is likely) it means that politics in the north of Ireland is over. If politicians can't have a good old barny in the six counties then the British government ends up making all the decisions by default.

That's a very comfortable position for Peter Hain to advocate. Slanging matches between the parties in England is all very well because we are a mature and stable democracy populated by exemplary, grown up statesmen like Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, but these childlike Irish can't be allowed to disagree because who knows where it will lead.

I have a few simple questions about the Iris Robinson affair. If we can't deal with financial misconduct in a politically confident way does that make the institutions in the north of Ireland more or less robust? In the long run are people going to have more or less confidence in those institutions if every scandal gets fudged and every difficult question avoided?

If every political question, no matter how unrelated, comes down to the peace process how are we ever to return to 'normal politics'? Why are heated rows in one part of the UK seen as normal but they are forbidden in another part of the UK?

Is every disagreement or crisis really a herald to a new dawn of violence in Ireland's north when they are the political norms in both the south of the country and in the rest of the UK?

Where is the evidence that we are on the brink of a renewal of sectarian violence in earnest? Or is it simply the cack handed structural set-up of the institutions that mean that even the bread and butter of politics (a leader stepping down) supposedly threatens the stability of the entire government?


Peter said...

Thanks for this, Jim. I grew up in Belfast. Politics in the north of Ireland has always been crippled by an obsession with border questions. This is very much to the detriment of the people of the north.

The problem has been two fold:
1) A reluctance of both British and Irish governments to reward compromise. This has pushed politics to the extreme. Nationalists now vote Sinn Fein, Unionists vote DUP.

2) The failure to develop any culture of class politics to supersede sectarian politics.

The rise of TUV, accompanied by no equivalent nationalist party means that Unionism is likely to end up without the largest party in the Assembly.

It may even mean that it is impossible to nominate a FM or DFM because neither the DUP nor TUV will be politically able so to do.

This would mean an end to the Assembly. There's every likelihood that dissident republicans would go back to violence in an attempt to create a united Ireland.

And that provides the greatest opportunity for class politics in over 100 years. Hopefully the people of the north will boot out the unionists and nationalists and replace them with parties that represent their class interests. Obviously I'd like the Greens to be part of that, and there's every chance it will happen.

But it's vitally important that Irish and British Labour follow the Tories and Fianna Fail into organising in the north.

So, it's an important time, and one that merits real thought by all of those wanting a better world.


Reuben said...

Excellent post Jim. They have been saying something like this on your least favourite site.

Reuben said...

Excellent post Jim. They have been saying something like this on your least favourite site.

Jim Jepps said...

You can be very cruel Reuben, very cruel indeed