Friday, 16 May 2008

Fianna Fail, consent and undermining unionist confidence in the Republic's government

Maurice Hayes has been outlining his thoughts regarding Fianna Fail organising in Northern Ireland and the mooted deal between that party and the SDLP. The former Republic of Ireland senator adjudges any serious incursion into northern politics a possible destabilising influence which could undermine the underlying purpose of the Belfast Agreement, as accepted by a large majority in both Irish jurisdictions.

Hayes’ article raises a point which is worth picking up on from a unionist perspective. He interprets Southern Ireland’s overwhelming endorsement of the Agreement as “a polite way of saying so-long rather than a bid for further and closer engagement”. The motivation of this relative disengagement is inspired by a desire to give breathing space to northern politicians in order to let them establish their own institutions and order their own affairs.

He argues that Fianna Fail’s movement into Northern Ireland is contrary to this impulse and that it will have an unsettling influence on politics here, particularly for unionists. He is quite right to highlight this danger. Fianna Fail’s direct involvement in electoral politics here will reinforce unionist suspicions that nationalists have not wholeheartedly subscribed to the principle of consent and that an agenda of constitutional encroachment subsists alongside a rhetorical commitment to respect unionism’s democratic position.

Unionists expect and can deal with Sinn Féin’s attempts to subvert Northern Ireland’s constitutional position. Even the constitutional nationalist mindset is such that a narrow line lies between strengthening ties with the Republic and seeking to rebalance the state’s constitutional equilibrium toward Dublin. But in order to win space for agreement, it has been necessary for the Dublin government to persuade unionists that they can be something of an honest broker.

The most concrete manifestation of Dublin’s bona fides was of course dropping articles 2 & 3 of the Republic’s constitution but a sequence of more subtle diplomacy has built up a vital element of trust between unionists and the south’s political establishment. Hayes is an astute enough observer to realise that this fragile edifice could incur serious damage if Fianna Fail make serious inroads in Northern Ireland.

1 comment:

yourcousin said...

The motivation of this relative disengagement is inspired by a desire to give breathing space to northern politicians in order to let them establish their own institutions and order their own affairs.

This is where I think you are mistaken. The electorate were not being altruistic and the political class of the Republic don't know the meaning of the word. They voted for peace because it was the thing to do and even the Republicans were backing it. Short of another '69 or hunger strikes, the South could've always cared less about their bretheren in the North,or you for that matter.

The GFA allowed FF to help achieve peace (always a vote getter) and still play the "Republican party" card. It was opportunism in '98 and it's opportunism now. If I was to be concerned about Southern involvement up north the bigger concern would talk from the ROI of investment projects as that kind of action will inevitably hold more sway than something as insignificant a few councillors or an MLA or two. Or maybe a better way to put it is that Northern Ireland is a bride in waiting who's family is playing two potential suitors off of each other to see who'll pony up more, regardless of who the bride likes.