I try to ignore Brian Walker’s contributions to Slugger, really I do, and broadly, in this endeavour, I am successful. His dense swamps of prose are easy to identify by their lack of paragraphing, and they rarely contain enough content to snag an unwilling reader’s eye. Just occasionally, however, my Walkerdar lets me down and I am unfortunate enough to find myself knee deep in the muddled, muddy mulch which comprises Brian’s political analyses.
Today, regrettably, I’ve been forced to extricate myself, one boot at a time, from such a sucking, fetid morass.
It is a confusing experience, as one finds oneself surrounded by disconnected, swirling sentences, untethered to a coherent argument. In truth there is generally some type of emotional core identifiable, deep within a Walker post, although usually it is better to feel it instinctively, rather than attempt to understand it by following through its so called logic. Around it forms a dizzying and condescending miasma of woolly worthiness.
In this case Brian’s central emotion is anxiety that non Northern Irish parties might disturb the serene vessel which he understands represents our politics. Not that Walker is a fan of the DUP or Sinn Féin you appreciate. He believes that they are parochial parties and that Northern Ireland’s politicians are incurably short-sighted. However, woe betide any party which seeks to look beyond the boundaries of these six counties. They are in danger of ‘widening the sectarian divide’.
Apart from the mysterious expansion which this religious cleavage is set to undergo, through the introduction of more secular political discourse, Walker also contends that national British parties’ involvement in Northern Irish politics, “throws into confusion what people are voting for”. The same thesis holds if parties from the Republic, and Fianna Fail are the primary case in point, decide to run candidates here. That’s it. That’s the entire substance of the argument.
Asides from the gaping logical lacunae and the awful writing, the most offensive aspect of this type of post, is that it is profoundly, jaw droppingly patronising! It rests on an assumption that people in Northern Ireland cannot be trusted to participate in normal political discourse. In order to render the ‘sectarian divide’ manageable they must forever be required to submit to its political manifestation. Whichever democratic verdict they reach on the province’s constitutional status might be reflected by an illusion of respect for the principle of consent, but in reality they are doomed to exist in political suspended animation (albeit for their own good).
It might be nonsense derived from a liberal sensibility, but nonetheless it is offensive. And it is based on a serious misinterpretation of the Belfast Agreement. The Good Friday accord entitled people in Northern Ireland to determine their constitutional future and required that that determination be respected. It certainly did not entrench in law a tacit understanding that politics here should remain perpetually semi-detached.