We have to deal with NI *as it is*

This week’s BBC Spotlight programme combined a poll and a political discussion. Analysis has been widespread; however, the key point for me was this: both the discussion and the poll showed Northern Ireland as it is.

Firstly, the typical response to the five-party slanging match which passes for political discussion is to dismiss it as “politicians”. But it isn’t. Politicians are elected by the people and are representative of them. Put two border Protestants, two inner-city Catholics and a North Down academic in a room and the result will be the same. The “debate” – actually three groups of people talking across each other completely at crossed purposes, was typical of Northern Ireland, not atypical.

Secondly, we saw Unionists talk not of promotion of “the Union” but of “Unionists”, right down to Arlene Foster’s demonstration that she views anyone who does not agree with her on symbols as a “Nationalist” when she completely misread the Alliance Party’s (longstanding and entirely consistent) flags policy. Danny Kennedy overly and deliberately displayed an interest only in “Unionist” poll responses – the very definition of sectarianism, as if other views don’t count.

Thirdly, we saw Nationalists’ complete inability to deal with the reality that most of their assumed constituency don’t actually share their constitutional objective – hardly surprisingly, as they have never outlined this “United Ireland” they dream of and sensible people will always choose certainty over uncertainty. Alex Attwood was shown up at the end trying to deny his party’s objective was to remove the Union Flag completely from Belfast City Hall (when this is obviously the case) and thus claiming a compromise which wasn’t his; Gerry Kelly was shown up on the radio the following morning by blatantly refusing to engage in debate on the grounds his opponent was not in Sinn Fein – absolutism reminiscent of Orwell and certainly a million miles from any form of democracy. Fundamentally, in other words, we have two sides completely uncomfortable when confronted with rational debate and the need to represent Northern Ireland in all its diversity, rather than a minority section of it – if we’re honest, this is true of the general population, so small wonder it is true of the politicians elected by that population.

Fourthly, what does the poll tell us? With the usual caveats, I would suggest:

- the “gap” in Unionism is on the harder-line not more “liberal” side, with 45% supporting ongoing protests and 75% demanding the Union Flag permanently on City Hall;

- “Liberal” Unionists are not that numerous and need to reach across the traditional divide in a single progressive movement to generate serious numbers, but also they should be able to do so easily as a lot of Catholics are not truly represented by the SDLP or Sinn Fein (but are also never going to be “Unionist”);

- Catholics will never be Unionist, are not pro-British, but are as likely as not to be pro-UK (note well the distinctions);

- the Alliance Party is seriously under-performing compared to the share of the electorate (25-44%) who essentially agree with it – noting also that as many as two thirds of that electorate may currently be Nationalist- rather than Unionist-leaning (as it is more open to change).

The lesson for all sides is – deal with Northern Ireland as it is, and the rewards will be yours!

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16 thoughts on “We have to deal with NI *as it is*

  1. Well then Alliance has to deal with NI as it is, if it’s under performing compared to the rest then it must not be working as hard as the rest, so the party didn’t earn the vote. On the one hands you have polls that have no intrinsic power and then you have the electorate who at the ballot box do.

    If I can’t get the job I want, do you expect me to blame my competition? Could I even be sure that the job wasn’t readvertised or that the company could even afford to take on a new employee? Similarly if a market survey puts a less successful business ahead of a more successful business does that survey really add up to much.

  2. P. Brown says:

    Hint to the delusional Alliance Party who need a dictionary. Pro-UK = Pro-British = Unionist. Catholics are not Protestant, and have only interpreted “Unionist” to mean Protestant when this is not the case.

  3. nationaliberal1972 says:

    Before I would vote for a putative Liberal Unionist Party, I’d like to know its economic policies, educational policies, politics on immigration, LGBT rights etc

    While all parties are big tents, unionism and nationalism are too big a tent respectively. We have monetarist and socialists in both DUP and SF. What kind of economically cohesive message is sent to the electorate by such entities?

    How does business know what it’s getting after each election?

    Ditto for any Liberal Unionist party. While it would be a pleasant alternative to hear secular liberal voices who are pro union and could reach out to all communities, it would be fighting the same ground as Alliance.

    Come to think of it, it may outflank Alliance if such a party espoused the following:
    Setting up a cultural symbols commission for NI
    Open and generous statement that Gaelic culture and traditions are part and parcel of an inclusive British heritage as Irishness is part of Britishness is it not ? This would appeal to Catholics who are support the union but are not political unionists

    Encouragement of adopting GBs progressiveness into NI so to rid ourselves of our backwoodsman reputation

    Pro choice via a via abortion

    Pro gay marriage

    Demonstrating that Britishness is not the little Ulsterism of the DUP but as an internationalist multicultural nationality that is a club everyone can be proud of belonging to which isn’t mutually exclusive to anyone’s indigenous background. In other words Cool Brittania as opposed to the Grey-Sunday-afternoon-in-Cullybackey school of unionism we all are sadly familiar with.

    Economically third-way

    I truly believe such a party would be cross community and since it would be non agnostic on the Union, it may encourage those of the Gaelic tradition but pro union to vote unionist therefore election results would truly demonstrate and reflect de facto support for UK/UI

    It would be fresh, vibrant and imagination capturing and perhaps could cast the dinosaurs of DUP/UUP/SF to the wilderness

  4. otto247 says:

    “Catholics are not Protestant, and have only interpreted “Unionist” to mean Protestant when this is not the case”

    Hint to delusional P Brown

    When the product you’re selling is entirely counter the UK mainstream (when you’re anti-equality, anti-minority languages, and you use the Union Flag as a excluding territorial marker rather than an inclusive symbol of belonging) then you can’t just say “unionist = UK” and expect anyone to take you even a tiny bit seriously. You’ll need to try a hell of a lot better than that.

  5. otto247 says:

    “We have monetarist and socialists in both DUP and SF”

    Neither party sets macro-economic conditions so it’s hardly going to reach the falling-out stage.

    A new “Liberal Unionist” party wouldn’t do that either.

    “it may outflank Alliance if such a party espoused the following:
    Setting up a cultural symbols commission for NIOpen and generous statement that Gaelic culture and traditions are part and parcel of an inclusive British heritage as Irishness is part of Britishness is it not ”

    Support for an Irish Language Act has nearly universal support in the Alliance Party – probably universal but one Belfast councillor was playing Devil’s advocate at the party conference at which it was endorsed. Time to promote that a bit more actively?

    • The Alliance Party’s stated position is for a Languages Act, not specifically an Irish Language Act.

      I honestly think the gap is for a party which gets out of taxpayers’ lives, rather than inflicts on to them more costs!

      • otto247 says:

        Well that’s you and at least one other Ian.

        Personally I can’t really believe a bit of extra ink on the road signs will bust us.

        Any idea of the costs in Wales or how projected costs break down for here?

        And what are the economies for sharing translation services with the south?

      • James Campbell says:

        “I honestly think the gap is for a party which gets out of taxpayers’ lives, rather than inflicts on to them more costs!”

        Can’t keep a good Conservative down. You’ll be telling us next that it is right to stop subsidising the poor; and that the disabled should bear some of the brunt as we are all in this together; and that high earners deserve a tax cut; and that tax credits are a bad idea; and that the rich elderly deserve subsidy so that their offspring can inherit unearned wealth. Perhaps all tthese things are already in Alliance policy documents?

        “Alex Attwood was shown up at the end trying to deny his party’s objective was to remove the Union Flag completely from Belfast City Hall (when this is obviously the case) and thus claiming a compromise which wasn’t his”

        Ian, I’ve hitherto respected you as someone who understood language. Did Attwood vote against the “flags” compromise ?

      • I’d say “getting out of the way” is what a good Liberal does, not a good Conservative!

        You do have some weird ideas!

      • James Campbell says:

        Ian,

        iam sure you know that the term “Liberal” is effectively meaningless. when unattached. Margaret Thatcher was a follower of Hayek (“The Constitution of Liberty”), who believed that democracy should be constrained to preserve choice. Peter Singer has described his utilitarian ethics as “Liberal”.

        As to my “weird” ideas, I live in the real world; you live in NI

  6. The Listener says:

    Not quite sure about your statement that “C- Catholics will never be Unionist, are not pro-British, but are as likely as not to be pro-UK (note well the distinctions);

    I know people accross the board in N.I. who would consider themselves British/Irish/Northern Irish. I even know some in the Republic of Ireland who in the face of logic emotionally consider themselves thus. Those to whom I refer who are Catholic in Northern Ireland might not feel comfortable with a Unionist Party but would never vote SF or UUP and sometimes would vote Alliance, and some who vote and are members of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland. I am sure that there are some of the Catholic faith who are deeply nationalist but having wisdom understand economics, who would be well descibed as “not pro-British” The point is that you cannot generalise.

    Secondly you are correct about the behaviours on the TV screen. This is simply as you allude to an ingrained, “Us and Them” attitude, hardened by the fact that it is easier and time and cost efficient to connect with ones own perceived tribe in tribal terms. If both the Unionist Parties and the SDLP as centre parties had privately agreed that they would stop baiting each othe on irrelevant issues and on the othe hand to organise their rspective activists to knock doors, take time to explain social policies, which had been generally agreed in prnciple by other centre parties and have tea (if invited in) with potential constuents.

    I understand that the above would be wearisome, time consuming and probably only for the enthusiast, with good interpersonal abilities, however the reward for party membership and for all of us would be beneficial.

  7. Ian Duncan Smith, now responsible for MOD, is a Catholic, and I would assume also a Unionist. I assume those who say “support our troops” while burning Catholic Churches realise that many of that faith alongside members of other faiths fight in and alongside the British Defence Forces, indeed many Irish Army personel work with British and other European counterparts on peacekeeping missions in places like Kosovo.

    • The Listener says:

      Kevin, You speak the gut truth. It is a very very sad fact that the more intelligent and self satisfied in N Irish society have very little interest in politics or politicians. In part it is due to a prolonged period of Direct Rule. They, the politicians, were apparently not needed so why should they be needed now? Better to play golf, or sail, or socialise than worry about self seeking politicians. On the other hand the less politically savvy loyalists, to whom you are really alluding, are the same foot soldiers for their tribal leaders I have referred to in the second paragraph of my last contribution. All sides have a long way to go before we can have a true “shared future”. There is no short cut. Conscientious politicians and social groups have their work cut out for them, and only where there is a Will, is there a Way.

    • James Campbell says:

      IDS is not responsible for MoD; he is SoS for Work & Pensions . And in this role is promoting policies directly contrary to Catholic social teaching. “Punish the poor to help the rich” runs through pending reforms like “Failte” through a stick of rock. A better reference would be James Magennis VC and his treatment by the Unionist Ascendency Party

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