A recent debate over on Slugger about the prospect of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth was yet another disappointing reminder of how both “sides” of the “traditional divide” continue to seek an unattainable “victory” in Northern Ireland rather than the necessary “compromise”. It is quite obvious that Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth, in the same way that it is quite obvious the Union Flag should fly on a restricted number of days on all public and civic buildings including City Hall – but only if you have set out for “compromise” rather than “victory”.
There has been a lot of focus on Unionism recently, hardly surprisingly – even on Sunday night, blatant and outrageous attacks by Unionist street protesters on police (i.e. the legitimate forces of law and order) drew not a work of condemnation from a single Unionist of any hue (but they did, of course, draw the usual undemocratic claptrap from a local Unionist Councillor about how “themmuns” had somehow magically caused it all). The very notion that waving a Tricolour on St Patrick’s Day is somehow offensive, when people right across the globe (not least in the rest of the UK) are doing precisely that, is another example of Unionists seeking “victory” – a “purely British” society where the Union Flag may be flown everywhere but the Tricolour never at all (but where of course British pluralist politics on gay rights and such like are ignored).
Nevertheless, Irish “Republicanism” in its current guise is also notable for seeking “victory” not compromise. We are expected, for example, to remember the “Gibraltar Three” with “pride” – a ludicrous nonsense. We are expected to tolerate campaigns to release convicted terrorists ahead of time or to name play parks after those widely known to have embraced blatantly sectarian terror as a legitimate. We are expected to believe an all-Ireland Republic outside the Commonwealth (i.e. an essentially anti-British all-Ireland State) is feasible and desirable. Such moves are all about trying to present the IRA campaign as “legitimate”, but any form of pride in being British in modern Ireland as “illegitimate”. That the reverse is true isn’t even the point – the point is that “Republicans” are seeking “victory” for their historical and world view, not compromise with other historical and world views and, far less even than that, acceptance that their own historical and world view is simply not accurate from any remotely objective angle.
Where are the Unionist leaders prepared to say that a “pure British” society with only Union Flags was not even a very good idea in 1965 and it certainly isn’t in 2013? Where are the Republican leaders prepared to say that outright victory for an entirely non-/anti-British Irishness pervading right across the island of Ireland is neither possible nor even desirable? Where are the Loyalists, who once existed, prepared to embrace Irish identity the way the Presbyterian Radicals of the 1790s did? Where are the Nationalists, who once existed, prepared to embrace Protestantism as inherent to 21st century Ireland and Britishness as inherent to modern Irishness, and to advocate Commonwealth membership, war memorials and so on as a means of demonstrating it? Those serious about an impossible sectarian “victory” do none of these things – those serious about a necessary pluralist “compromise” would be doing all of them.
Where are the pluralist compromisers making a rallying call for the heart and soul of contemporary Northern Ireland?