Friday, 30 May 2008

Mary Robinson. A united Ireland 'isn't on the agenda' and 'doesn't need to be on the agenda'

Mary Robinson was president of the Republic of Ireland when the state still made an irredentist constitutional claim on Northern Ireland. The offending clauses were altered after the Republic’s voters endorsed the Belfast Agreement in 1998 and it is instructive that ten years later it is Robinson’s view that a united Ireland “"isn't on the agenda" and "doesn't need to be on the agenda". In an interview with William Crawley, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights added that a united Ireland, " isn't even relevant to the context of what is happening [here now] ... There is no constituency of pressure for a united Ireland".

The view which Robinson is articulating is similar to that which Maurice Hayes ascribed to the majority of voters in the Republic who endorsed the 1998 accord. This reading of the agreement views it as a permanent or long-term arrangement for Northern Ireland, departing from the northern nationalist view that it represents a staging post on the route to a united Ireland. The southern electorate, having discharged their emotional duty toward northern nationalism, in Hayes’ analysis saw the agreement as ‘a polite way of saying so-long’.

In ensuring that the irredentist machinery was removed from the Irish constitution and the principle of consent enshrined in the Belfast Agreement, David Trimble and his party strengthened the safeguards ensuring Northern Ireland’s constitutional status, but the process was also facilitated by a desire within the Republic to disengage from northern nationalism. This disengagement is to be encouraged as it engenders realism within northern nationalism and fosters a stable atmosphere in order to strengthen Northern Ireland’s institutions.

The encroachment of Fianna Fáil into the politics of Northern Ireland is an unwelcome retrograde step in this regard, as Hayes observed. There is a danger that further organisation in Northern Ireland will send ambivalent signals to both nationalists and unionists here, with destabilising and unhelpful results.

In contrast, the attitude which Mary Robinson articulates, contributes to a much more constructive atmosphere within Northern Ireland. There are challenges to be met by both sides of the political divide. Unionists must help build a successful Northern Ireland which seeks to include and make welcome the Irish nationalist tradition. Nationalists meanwhile must accept that the constitutional question has for the foreseeable future been settled, and recognize that their acceptance of the principle of consent entails respecting that constitutional position and not seeking to undermine it.


CW said...

I don't think Fianna Fáil's entry into northern politics is a retrograde step, Chekov. Any move away from the crude tribal nationalist/unionist political set-up has to be a good thing. After all, what's stopping Labour, the Tories or Lib Dems from organsing in NI (apart from the fact that it wouldn't be worth their while, as the support just isn't there)? It's a ridiculous situation when the electorate can't even vote for the party of government. NI party politics can never be truly mature or developed as long as the voting system is based purely on tribal affiliation rather than any genuine political ideology and every election is simply a sectarian headcount rather than a true indicator of voter attitudes or the changing political or economic climate.
In any case I can't see how FF's participation could be at threat to the union when the principle of consent has been enshrined, and after a failed 30-year campaign by the provos to smash the union, their political reps are now administering British rule - effectivley an admission of defeat.

Ironically the only party which campaigns in all 3 jurisdictions of these isles - NI, ROI and GB is the Green Party - who despite receiving only a relatively small vote have elected representatives on both sides of the border.

Chekov said...

I wouldn’t share your opinion CW, that introducing the self-styled ‘republican party’ to Northern Irish politics significantly moved us away from tribal politics. If anything we become more deeply mired in that mindset because rather than vote for a party which is relevant to the status of Northern Ireland in the UK, voters instead may chose to live in a fantasy land in which they vote for a southern party believing it puts politics here into some sort of all-Ireland context. I agree that it would be preferable to see parties such as Labour and the Lib Dems organising here, but Fianna Fail’s entrance is not going to aid that normalisation. Whether rightly or wrongly it will cause more suspicion.

Seamus said...

So, if they are unionist parties, ie Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, they are perfectly welcome Chekov. If they are republican or nationalist ie Fianna Fáil, then they can fuck off. Is that what you are saying?

Chekov said...

If they are parties from the United Kingdom's political system, then it is appropriate for them to organise anywhere within the UK. If they are southern Irish parties, whose stated position is that they accept the principle of consent, then it undermines that principle if they organise in Northern Ireland. Simple.

Seamus said...

I disagree. I think the organizing of Fianna Fáil on an all Ireland basis, and the continued organizing of both Sinn Féin and Comhaontas Glas is good for the people of the North. Whether you like it or not, the very people that at least Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are trying to attract, would vote for all Ireland institutions. Thus it is only natural that those people have the opportunity to vote for an All Ireland party.

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