Tuesday, 2 October 2007

From the nationalist perspective: beyond communal politics

This blog is written from a unionist perspective, by a member of a unionist party and inevitably therefore, debates within unionism tend to predominate.

It is worth pointing out however, that a debate is also going on within Irish nationalism attempting to make sense of where the new dispensation leaves the traditional imperatives of that creed's political representatives, and it is not without its parallels to that within unionism.

I was fascinated and heartened therefore, to read an excellent article by Dr Phil Larkin blogging on The Long Lane, analysing the tasks lying ahead for the SDLP. Larkin comes to some conclusions about the future of moderate nationalism which are not unlike those advanced by the more progressive voices within unionism. The following passage in particular urges the SDLP to look beyond communal politics and its preoccupation with a rights based language grounded in outdated perceptions.

The first truth is that the constant emphasis on individual and group rights indulged in by both communities in Northern Ireland is essentially a hangover from the decades of “zero-sum” politics from which the province suffered. Any advantage gained (or, more usually, perceived to be gained) by one community was seen as gained at the expense of the other, who, in return, demanded the same “rights” off London, or else lobbied Dublin to secure them. This bred a pernicious legacy. Most importantly, it led both unionists and nationalists seeing themselves as victims, and obscured the reality that all groups could work together for a shared and prosperous future. Overemphasis on “rights” by political groupings is not symptomatic of a politically confident and economically advanced society: just witness how far Gerry Adams’ plaintive cry that “people have rights”, when talking about the southern economy, advanced him and his party with Irish voters during the May election

1 comment:

O'Neill said...

Most importantly, it led both unionists and nationalists seeing themselves as victims, and obscured the reality that all groups could work together for a shared and prosperous future.

It's a good piece.

Never mind the "working together for the shared future" bit, there are plenty of issues now, educational selection comes to mind, which the paties have aligned themselves on purely sectarian lines (ie Unionist parties pro-Grammar schools, nationalist parties anti-selection)...and every last one of their voters agrees with them on this?
I don't think so, there are plenty of unionists who see great weaknesses in the present system, likewise nationalists wish to preseve the grammer schools.

Why not informal grass-roots working across the lines on subjects like this, removing the sectarianism which now seems to pollute every issue here, even more so than ten years ago?

Moving politics beyond zero-sum benefits everyone, but also would strengthen a Union. People will not want to risk a safe, economically sound, stable country for some utopian dream that may or may not work. And in the perfect scenario, we'd see Unionist parties gradually working themselves out of existance and the normalisation of politics here.