We were treated yesterday to yet another pathetic bun flight between the DUP and Sinn Fein, as both continue to deflect attention both from the fact that they are in government together and that, contrary to their own reading of the situation, there was never any other option other than power-sharing of such a nature from 1973 on. With time taken up on such sham fights, very real damage is done to Northern Ireland as proper business gets missed out altogether.
The focus of this particular bun fight appears to have been a survey revealing that 26% of Sinn Fein delegates believe the “armed struggle” is still legitimate because Northern Ireland remains in the UK. This is indeed a remarkable figure – remarkably low. Remember, just 16 years ago, all delegates at Sinn Fein ard fheiseanna believed in “armed struggle”! This figure has now reduced to barely a quarter – at that rate, by 2016, not only will Northern Ireland still be part of the UK, but almost all delegates at Sinn Fein events will tolerate this being the case while rejecting “armed struggle”.
Yet again, Unionists just don’t get it, do they? If anything speaks for the success of the “peace process” David Trimble embarked upon, it is the fact that Unionism’s constitutional opponents have given up the “armed struggle” to which they were once innately wedded. This is a remarkable triumph both for democrats and for Unionists.
Of course, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that “democrat” and “Unionist” are two distinct terms, with very little overlap. At best, too many Unionists are merely “conditional democrats”.
This matters for many of reasons, one of which is this: the real scandal of the Sinn Fein ard fheis was the sale of “Sniper at Work” T-shirts (which I assume to be an accurate report since no one has corrected it). This is an outrageous attempt at justifying an “armed struggle” which, on their own terms, the vast majority of Sinn Fein members now reject. The “armed struggle” was to “remove the British presence in Ireland”, yet with Northern Ireland still part of the UK and UK troops still stationed within it, the “armed struggle” is now rejected. This calls for “Sniper at Work” T-shirts to be burned; and for Sinn Fein to work towards an outright apology for an IRA apology which was unnecessary, illegitimate and destructive.
The problem now is that Unionists cannot call Sinn Fein out on any of this because they themselves apply democratic norms only conditionally. Only at the weekend, illegal paramilitary flags were erected on a major thoroughfare – illiciting not a single response from any Unionist public representative (not even Basil McCrea, who was more concerned about being besmirched when not elected Deputy Speaker). In December, a democratic decision was followed by disruption, mayhem and violence – egged on by Unionist public representatives. In the summer, Unionists endorsed people breaking Parades Commission determinations, even though such determinations have legal force. All of these represent blatant opposition to the Rule of Law – the very Rule of Law Unionists call on Sinn Fein to stand by.
The fact is, both “sides” are much, much more similar than they care to admit. They spend most of their time demanding the other “side” live up to standards they themselves deliberately do not live up to. They spend most of their time talking to their own community about how the “other side” is at fault for everything. And they spend most of their time doing everything they possibly can to avoid actually governing – lest anybody notice they’re not actually very good at it.
“Lack of political leadership” is a dreadful cliche – but an entirely accurate one.