Today, for instance, I inflicted upon myself Brian’s thoughts on a mooted Fianna Fail / SDLP merger. In actual fact, he is right to welcome news that the Southern Irish party has dropped this proposal from its agenda; however, the logic by which he arrives at this conclusion is parochial nonsense. To summarise, Walker believes that pursuing realignment with larger parties, whether they are from the rest of the UK or from the Republic of Ireland, is an unwelcome distraction from ‘the internal affairs of Northern Ireland’ for Northern Irish parties.
“The same goes for a Conservative government in London. The only thing that would revive the idea would be a full merger between the Ulster Unionists and the Conservatives. Mergers with metropolitan parties in London or Dublin are the product of wishful thinking, the dream of achieving the nirvanas of a secure Union or Irish unity by the back door – and in the short term dishing the Shinners or the DUP. All they’ve achieved so far is to cause left-right splits within parties that are still essentially communalist i.e. tribally-based. and if they have any sense, the metropolitan parties will avoid getting dragged into the mire.”
What a depressing and contradictory credo! We must maintain our communal politics in order to prevent the ‘national question’ assuming centre stage in “an Assembly system designed to move it to the edges”. In order to complete the “hard graft of making Stormont work”, Walker thinks we must insulate ourselves from national political issues, accept the marginal and non participatory status quo and entrench and institutionalise communal division.
An SDLP / Fianna Fail merger was a bad idea. It would have failed to recognise constitutional realities and implied disrespect for the principle of consent. Encroachment by the Republic of Ireland’s governing party would represent a destabilising influence and alert unionist suspicions as to the constitutional bona fides of the Dublin government.
Alignment between the UUP and Conservatives is not remotely comparable. Such an alignment will give people within Northern Ireland the opportunity to participate directly in the wider politics of the state to which they actually belong. The result will be stabilising rather than destabilising, it will normalise politics rather than maintaining focus on the constitutional issue.
Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom and the politics of the United Kingdom bear direct relevance to Northern Ireland. There is no serious argument to be made that UK parties offering UK voters a chance to participate directly in UK politics is a retrograde step or threatens to undermine power sharing. Maintaining one eyed concentration on how exceptional we are and refusing to look beyond our traditional communal morass does not represent the best way forward.