Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Another failure to grasp the consequences of the principle of consent

Another desperately silly article about the Conservatives’ alliance with Ulster Unionists has graced the Irish News, courtesy of Fionnula O’Connor (again). The requisite insinuation that offering people in Northern Ireland access to mainstream British politics is an infringement of the Good Friday Agreement is included; likewise, anything which buttresses the principle of consent, and the consequences which flow from it, is presented as a backward step.

A few reminders are due Ms. O’Connor and her ilk.

Firstly the Belfast Agreement does not require that the British government should be neutral on the constitutional question. On the contrary, if the British government believes in the values and institutions of the United Kingdom, it should promote them, within Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Certainly the government is bound to ensure that different cultures and political aspirations are respected equally, and it is legally required to uphold the decision of the people of Northern Ireland, as regards its constitutional future. Neither of these obligations requires it to refrain from promoting the Union and its benefits.

Secondly, a “re-emphasis on Britishness”, is neither a pre-occupation solely of the Conservative party, nor should it be equated with a dramatic rightward swing. Examining the values, history and institutions which bind together the UK, is an essential exercise, aimed at determining who we are, what we stand for and where we are going. If, as an aspirant government, the Conservatives were not engaged with such questions, we should be asking why they wish to take power in the first instance.

Thirdly, if ‘British Northern Irelanders’ are disorientated by a national party contesting elections here, they should be worried about the type of Britishness which they are promoting and the essence of the dispensation which they are operating.

Westminster is the national parliament, not simply an actor “in the settled pattern of modern British Irish relations”. If the DUP is ‘bewildered’ by the electorate in Northern Ireland being afforded an opportunity to vote for the next United Kingdom government, then it should be required to explain to voters why they should not have extended to them an ability to fully participate in politics associated with their preferred constitutional arrangement. If nationalists are bewildered, then they should start examining the nature of the principle of consent which they have purportedly accepted.

When this misguided article is distilled to its essentials, we are left with the old nationalist chestnut, conflating equality of aspiration with equality of outcome.

“David Cameron has yet to accept that Sinn Fein and the SDLP are in a Belfast administration on the basis that Irish nationalism has equal status with British unionism.”


David Cameron has certainly not accepted that Irish nationalism has equal status with British unionism and nor should he. The very simple reason lies with results at the ballot box, and acceptance, through the agreement of both sides, of the principle of consent. That is not to say that British unionists and Irish nationalists should not be treated equally, they should be and largely they are. The Conservative government will continue to underwrite this equality, but there can be no equality of outcome whilst democratic principles continue to underpin Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.

10 comments:

Gary said...

Good article mate. That sort of bull that she wrote always reminds me of how, many a time, I got labelled a bigot because I didn't/don't agree with a united (sic) Ireland. It nuts.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of learning to be done in Nationalist / Republican circles.

There is no imperative on the British Government to be neutral on the UK just as there no imperative on the Irish Goverment to be neutral on a UI. Cameron has made it very plain that he isn't and will fight for the UK.

That is the way life is in 2009

The Conservatives and Unionists are here to cement the relationship with Westminster not break it up in a UI or Ulster Nationalist state - people can choose to vote for their message or not but it will be clearly on offer.

Anonymous said...

Another desperately silly article by a blog that is rapidly becoming a one-trick pony!

Chekov said...

Care to explain what is silly about it anon? And which trick is this blog preoccupied with?

Anonymous said...

Well actually there is nothing silly with your rebuttal of O'Connor, howver the blog is becoming a one-trick pony in terms of your complete obsession with the UUP-Tory link up. Some new subject material would be good and I don't mean recycling Empey or Paterson press utterances.

Anonymous said...

Shock horror! Someone who is a liberal unionist supports the CU's; that really is the stuff of headlines.

When F O'C writes absolute crap it needs to be dissected which is what Chekov has expertly done.

Ignore people who may want you to go soft on articles like this.

Chekov said...

Don't worry anon. Reading between the lines I think what annoys your namesake is criticism of the DUP. I don't intend to start pulling my punches in that regard.

Anonymous said...

Good blog FOC is a really poor journalist

O'Neill said...

Not really connected with the main gist of her article but this line was interesting:

Easy to see why the Irish of the north might find this unsettling but some might think it favourable for unionism.Ms O'Connor is obviously taking the ethno-nationalist line of the likes of Feeney- not possible to be both Unionist and Irish obviously in their narrow little world.

SK said...

Interesting article, and as a nationalist I agree wholeheartedly that the UK government is under no obligation to take a neutral approach to issues regarding the constitutional question.

What I fail to understand however is how you can hold this view on one hand, but then simultaneously declare that it is inappropriate for the southern government to be anything other than an 'honest broker'

Surely if neutrality is not a necessity for the UK government, then the Irish government is under no such obligation either?