Protests and riots – the Fundamental Problem

Following on from the debate about “Liberalism” and “Northern Irishness”, it is perhaps apt that we turn to something which I believe to be fundamental, but which is essentially missed in the debate about the on-going protests and indeed in the discussion around the meaning and potential of a “Shared Future” – namely that both Unionists and Nationalists claim exclusive ownership of this part of the world and neither is willing to cede this point as the fallacy it is.

For Nationalists, the 1920 settlement was an aberration, giving the “Irish Nation” its rightful “Irish State”, just not encompassing the whole of Ireland and the Irish within that State. Nevertheless, implicitly, this makes Ireland “our state”, where “our” means Irish Nation(alist), and even allowing “British Planters” to live here is generous (far less allowing them to have their own symbols, culture, etc) when they have their own “British” country across the water.

For Unionists, the 1920 settlement was a reflection of the fact there are two nations in Ireland – the Irish/Nationalists (aka Catholics) who got their State, the Republic; and the British/Unionists (aka Protestants) who got their state, Northern Ireland. Implicitly and even often explicitly, this makes Northern Ireland “our country”, where “our” means British/Unionist, and even allowing “Irish Catholics” to live here is generous (far less allowing them to have their own language, culture etc) when they have their own “Irish” country across the border.

Herein lies the Fundamental Problem – both “sides” think Northern Ireland rightfully belongs to them. It so happens Unionists are in the limelight currently, and just look at some of the language – “This is our country, and…“, “If they don’t like it they can go to their country“, etc. But Nationalists are no better under pressure – “The British presence“, “Brits Out“, etc. Every single one of these is unreal, in the sense that it is not a reflection of the Northern Ireland populace as it is. Yet each is keenly felt by a significant minority – typically, sadly, that minority is from parts of Northern Ireland which sense they have little else to lose but “our country”.

It is possible that this “Fundamental Problem” can only be solved by the Alliance Party and its new-found supporters in the media, in civic society and, dare I say, even in other parties. Long the party of consensus, it now has a unique opportunity to be the party of leadership.

And here’s the first thing I think it needs to state clear: the 1920 settlement was actually an act of “containment”, telling “us” (by which I mean all the people of Northern Ireland) that we should just confine our problems into as small a space as possible. Social changes across Europe in 1968 meant it was no longer viable for London to leave Unionists in permanent majority government nor for Dublin to leave Nationalists to their fate; the outcome was the Agreements of 1973, 1998 and 2006 which all ostensibly reflected the same key point: we are (currently) British constitutionally but we are (always) British and Irish nationally. In other words: regardless of its constitutional status now or in the future you can describe Northern Ireland as “our country” only if, under “our”, you include both people who are British and people who are not.

This is a matter of fact, not opinion, not least given the last census numbers. And it begins to address the “Fundamental Problem” that for too long we have allowed minorities to claim privileged status in the name of the term “our country”. Once we accept that Peter Robinson, Naomi Long and Martin McGuinness are all “us” (whether we like it or not) in the same way we accept Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy are all “us”, we may begin to get somewhere.



21 thoughts on “Protests and riots – the Fundamental Problem

  1. harryaswell says:

    ROTFL!! Trying to rescue Alliance from the depths of despair again I see? – FAR too late I fear! – You are still trying to be logical? There IS no logic with this problem. You, like Alliance, are missing the point altogether. Sinn Fein, aca all Irish Republicans, will never, ever accept anything other than a United Ireland. The British amongst us, and in that I include many Roman Catholics, want NO truck with a United Ireland, for very many differing reasons, not least being the fundamental issues within the Republic such as being Bankrupt, reduced to a Banana Republic and the massive criminality and corruption, not to mention the fact of their massive loss of sovereighnty to the United States Of Europe! We British are a substantial number regardless of majority rights or not, and as such will not agree to any further clever clever manipulations, political fudges and agreements with no background or accptability. The sooner everyone accepts that for the time being NI is British, then the better. The Union flag should indeed be allowed to fly 360 days if we want it to. To stop all this nonsense of nightly rioting, all they have to do is to stick it back up again on the City Hall! – Common sense, surely. Will Alliance never learn? It seems not!

  2. The Fundamental problem can only be solved in any case by society, not simply the political elites. I think Alliance Party doesn’t do society any justice if it thinks merely existing outside the rest provides the solution to the problem. Only work can provide a shared future and any discussion on a shared future without work clings to intangible idealism. Leadership in the political sence here often draws entirely exclusively from political idealism.

    For example, if only Alliance’s leadership can produce a shared society then why are there more peace walls under David Ford, why has only one been tackled with?

    The answer is quite simple, parties aren’t going to deliver a shared future even when they are in agreement, it comes down to communities, families, people. To an extent this is a liberalism, it relies on the positive aspects of human nature, we’ve seen too much of a negative.

    Harryaswell, here’s the way I see it, the Union Flag means something to you, but the nationalistic rhetoric will deter both Irish by any means they choose to identify and foreign workers contributing to the status quo, that is simply barefaced xenophobia and denies the existence of the many cultures that did contribute to a British identity. The second idea that many Catholics are happy here, how can they be?

    How could any Catholic be content when there is a unionist forum likely to include those who stoked up the burning of churches taking place, a Unionist forum without a single Catholic voice in it? Even the most ardent British Catholic would call this sectarian. Indeed how does it really benefit Unionism to marginalise Catholics, to demand their votes but to silence their voices? What other British culture since 1800 does that?

    Do you honestly think A Unionist Catholic like Ian Duncan Smith would feel welcome there? I don’t.

    Can’t you see why many British people here have solidarity with the Irish here, even so much to call themselves British and Irish.

    Thirdly you criticise the Republic of Ireland’s economy and lack of Sovereignty, Northern Ireland needs to look in the mirror, they can’t even push through a move to get student teachers into deprived areas, where the skills of talents of the non-British and British alike could help emancipate East Belfast, instead we are getting claims of cultural apartheid to impose cultural apartheid.

    The rest of this globalised world actually tries to network outside of itself, Northern Ireland struggles to do it within itself?

  3. How is Northern Ireland sovereign if decisions that are democratic and legal in all purposes get overturned simply because a minority protests and riots, at least ROI is not under threat of being slaves to thuggery and the preservation of a basket case economy.

  4. harryaswell says:

    Kevin, you are trying to do too much!! Despite the sic., “agreement”, the nationalist/republican/ira supporters have failed. dismally, to stand up to their promises of forgive, forget, respect each other and each others’ culture. Sinn Fein are composed of unreconstructed terrorists with one aim in life, that of forcing a UI by fair means or foul. So far it has been foul. The Unionist community, particularily the Working Class community sees this as a dangerous threat to their rights. I happen to agree with them. Northern Ireland is sovereign because the rest of the UK is sovereign and we are part of that. The RoI is indeed subject to thuggery and criminal behaviour, not just from the criminal classes but also it’s very self rightious elite. What other way can you describe the behaviour of your banks, bankers and property developers? The RoI when I last heard was, indeed, a basket case economy, and still is! As regards “Catholics”! Well, first off you should get the terminology right. All Anglican Protestants are Catholics. Did you realise that? The difference is in those who are subject to religion from Rome and the Pope, that is, ROMAN Catholics. That is what the majority religion is in Ireland. Why should Roman Catholics NOT be perfectly happy within British Northern Ireland if they bear no allegience to the Republic? I believe your arguments to be specious and spurious, not to mention deliberately provocative. We cannot hope to make progress whilst Sinn Fein/IRA (they haven’t gone away you know!) and the naieve Alliance keep interfereing with such things as flying the Union Jack from the City Hall in Belfast all day every day. Also, the obvious trap set by Sinn Fein/IRA in bringing up a vote that need not have occurred until February, thus trying to ruin the Christmas economy. It should not have been allowed and Alliance should not have supported them.

    • Where is the British cultural fight back against those using violence and mob rule to express their Britishness?

      Where is the respect for British rule and the rights of working class loyalists when Nelson McCausland can’t come towards the Assembly and tell the chamber what’s replacing it for fear of debate?

      That is what this situation is creating. A Unionist version of Ciatriona Ruane.

      With regards to the banking situation, it’s a known fact that the banks in both UK and the Republic of Ireland owe each other roughly the same lump sum. That the Republic is re-entering the bond market and that will benefit the UK as it pays off an emergency bailout with interest. Beggar thy neighbour is a folly, there are so many interdependencies between the regions. British rule depends on Ireland, Irish rule depends on Britain, the nations are political allies on many issues.

      Should the UK ask what is Northern Ireland doing, what would be the answer? Millions of pounds of damage a day, a leadership scapegoating and politicking on its rivals, all that the stay dogs and rubbish collection building can reverse the decision to put up a flag. Putting up the flag 365 days a year may be seen as a sign to Alliance voters, retailers, and Roman Catholics that those who burn down Churches, shops and Constituency surgeries should be rewarded, perhaps even over the heads of democrats in Belfast City Council.

      I wonder what explanation or ownership of that decision the Unionist Forum would take. I wonder if they would consider reversing the status quo as much an act of rewarding terrorists as Margaret Thatcher did giving political status to the Hunger Strikers?

      • ‘ replacing the Housing Executive for fear of debate.

      • harryaswell says:

        Well well! The usual specious response I see. From Dublin too!! The Republic of Ireland IS a basket case economically, and the Banks there are to blame for being far too greedy. Your post regarding the Britishness of the NI Working Classes show you have an abysmal knowledge of what is going on! A Unionist version of Ciatriona Ruane?? – Oh, I really don’t think so! Nelson McCausland is NOT involved in the Flags argument, so why bring that up? – Stop whinging about riots, for goodness sake! – The riots last year in England were far worse. As for the Flag, NI is British, and as such there should be NO dispute over when and where it is flown and for how long. The real problem lies with Sinn Fein/IRA who are waging a political and economic war on Northern Ireland. The simple answer to the riots and protests about flags is simple. Put it back up again!!

  5. Let’s just get our facts right Harry: Alliance did not support SF, either on the timing of the motion or on the motion itself.

    You do realise how daft it is to blame Unionist violence carried out by Unionists on Nationalists and Liberals?!

    A bit like blaming a Republican terror campaign carried out by Republicans on the British, that’s how daft.

    • harryaswell says:

      You are being specious,or maybe spamming? The point of what I said is exactly that the Protestant Working Classes have got very little out of the “agreement”, whereas the RC Working Classes have scored repeatedly. Just as the media pointed out today, new and improved schools, better housing for starters. Nationalists and Republicans are set to destroy the Union and to weaken the Britishness of Northern Ireland at any price. That includes those supporting Alliance. That is why Alliance will see the difference at all future elections. That is why people see Alliance as sitting on the fence, as indeed do LibDems.

      • Specious? How you do love using this word Harry, how about you get a thesaurus and use a different word chap, it loses it’s impact if you keep using all of the time. 🙂

      • harryaswell says:

        HEH!! I fear you do not seem to know the meaning of “specious”, or if you do, you don’t like it! Look it up in “your” Thesaurus and see what it actually means. Precisely what I wanted to describe!

      • My thesaurus? Do we all have a different one now? Can I have sight of your version please? Sorry, but you seemingly have some kind of internet ‘word of the day’ on the go and use a word you have found quite a bit. Again, try and use something else as you merely come across as a nasty and boorish piece of work.

      • harryaswell says:

        OK, so you think I am boorish! Makes two of us in that case. We are supposed to be discussing the Belfast riots. Why bring up your stiupid opinions regarding myself? You must be very young and obviously an Alliance supporter! Dear me!

  6. Richard Cronin says:

    Harry’re a mentaler.

  7. Carson was from Dublin, he interfered here and the Stormont Parliament was an adoption by Unionists of the Nationalist concept of Home Rule. Like it or not Irish nationalism.was a force in the creation if the UK state, long before partition, and long long before the Good Friday Agreement. There are plenty of people from Dublin and elsewhere in what is now the Republic of Ireland from Connolly on the left to Burke on the right. There is a Strand Two clause a DUP minister is using to get a Dublin based minister to help finance a radiotherapy centre in the mutual interest. Just recently Dublin hosted several of the Unionist politicians for the visit of the Queen.

    That’s the thing about the Union, it evolved, Britain was a Union to itself and Ireland was separate, then it became a British colony, then part of a united state, then two home rule entities, then partition … All the way through Unionist lead rule, direct rule and power-sharing. The people have the right and the freedom to decide their own union, if any … The union cannot decide who its people are. The Orange Order is a proud reformist organisation that destroyed the Nation of Charles II and absolute monarchism to produce a different constitutional entity based on democracy, that not only forged the political structure of Westminster but also the Dáil Éireann too. The people have a right to change their state and sometimes they change others.

    In the Republic there is still a spiritual union of sorts with GB ad with NI, but the entities holds onto its political power.

    Also the main force destroying Britishness are the violent protesters, they are also pushing austerity onto all the people, but especially the working class. I really don’t see how John O’Dowd speaking English on the BBC about his favourite Bond movie shows the massive success of the de-Britishness effort of this region by Sinn Féin. An extra flag is not going to make a difference to Sinn Féin, the absence of the flag isn’t going to make 200,000 to 500,000 people vote for a United Ireland overnight. Britishness is hardly a foreign culture in Ireland and neither is the reverse. You attack the LibDems for abandoning British identity, but they have a British war veteran in Paddy Ashdown.

    Britishness is not the thing under threat. Irish people love many of the aspects of British culture and vice versa. Unionism’s own culture feels under threat, a culture which needs the flag 365 days a year when many British councils fly designated days of national importance. Loyalism perhaps wasn’t rewarded the way it once was with the British establishment during the war and industrial years.

    Perhaps the paradox within certain areas of unionism is that people might feel confident in their Britishness, confident in British unity, but not so sure in the role Unionism/Loyalism plays in any of it, probably with the possible exception of UKIP who don’t define their Unionism by Hibernophobia or even anti-Catholicism. Maybe Irish nationalism has its own issues but you yourself claim it has gained advantages, that’s a different debate, they pay their taxes, they invest in shops and state services of unionist and nationalist alike, probably buying the same things and doing the same jobs of many unionists do, completely indeterminate outside the privacy of their homes and social groups, they still provide at least a third of NI’s internal domestic market, whether they buy Celtic tops or Poppies or both.

    Unionism has Strand 1 to forge what cooperation it wants with Nationalism and the others but also to assert its footstep on the North.It has Strand 2 to forge however close or distant a diplomatic relationship it wants with the Republic of Ireland. It has Strand 3 to forge contacts with the constituent UK regions, the Republic of Ireland and the crown dependencies. There is arguably a 4th strand and thats politics connection to the civic community which is being used but It has three other tools to redefine itself for the 21st century in the post recession age.

    With regards to the working class, yes why can’t Nelson Mc Causland explain in chamber what is replacing the Housing Executive and the impact it will have on both Catholic and Protestant social housing issues. This should be more deeply concerning than simply them and us. Surely we have to realise that these demoralising actions are driving some away from peaceful protest into a state of hatred and anger at being alienated by all politicians. Why can’t a DUP minister try to listen to other views on this difficult matter? This is deliberately going unnoticed due to the flags argument, we may not see the eating of flags but people from both communities relying on the heat of flags.

  8. Ok lads, back to the subject please!

  9. P. Brown says:

    Northern Ireland was explicitly created to represent the self-determination of the pro-British population in Ulster. It had nothing to do with “containment” — the more recent “agreement” may indeed have been about containment of a problem, but Northern Ireland certainly was not.

    • If that were case, it would have remained an integral part of UK, as Ireland was 1801-1921.

      Instead it was given devotion. This was an encoded way of saying “You’re semi-detached, (and ideally you’d be fully detached)”. All UK policy towards NI only makes sense once that is realised.

      • P. Brown says:

        Any “containment” in 1920s British policy was to Ireland as a whole, not merely to Northern Ireland. The devolution enshrined the self-determination of the local pro-British population in Northern Ireland, just as it enshrined the self-determination of Irish Republicanism in Southern Ireland.

        Sounds like you’ve been visiting too many seminars by counter-productive “conflict resolution” obsessives who have incorrectly framed what was an all-Ireland problem (and agreed solution) as a Northern Ireland problem while forgetting that the compromise and conflict also heavily involved Southern Ireland.

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