People still living in an unreal NI

I just want Northern Ireland to be as British as Finchley“. It seems such a reasonable request. And yet, well, it isn’t. It’s actually just unreal.

It was no head banger who said that to me, but rather a successful businessperson.

I had a debate about six weeks ago on Twitter when I stated my contention that unfortunately, in the end, most people in NI don’t really want to share power (and, implicitly, are still unwilling to do so).

For all my criticism of him, UUP Leader Mike Nesbitt is an intelligent, professional man – so much so that in an article recently he accepted that NI isn’t as British as Finchley! Yet in the very same article he demanded that Irish Nationalists accept the Union Flag is their flag. And yet, well, it isn’t. Again, that’s just unreal.

The majority of people in NI still believe, essentially and often quite innocently, that “outright victory” is possible. Unionists, in the broadest terms, still go from the starting point that there are two sets of people in Northern Ireland; Catholics already have their country (the Republic of Ireland), so Protestants should have theirs (Northern Ireland). Nationalists, in the broadest terms, still go from the starting point that there is Britain and there is Ireland and “British” people have their homeland in Britain and “Irish” people have their homeland in Ireland (all of it). Each side believes that, one day, some reasonable arbiter will see the obvious truth of their case (because they do both actually sound pretty reasonable), and all will be solved. Both of those positions, however, are unreal.

That is why the Belfast Telegraph’s call for a “statesman” to represent the “90%” will go unanswered. Firstly, it isn’t 90% or anything like it – in fact I would contend most people fall on one or other side of the cases made in the last paragraph (even if they are perfectly well intentioned towards individuals from the “other side”). Secondly, that statesman cannot be Unionist or Nationalist – because, purely by dint of so being, they would be expected to do their side’s bidding as per the paragraph above… bidding based on an unreal premise aimed at an unreal solution.

The 1998 Agreement has its faults, but one of its clever elements is the way in the Institutions represent NI as it is, in reality. In a fundamentally divided society, compulsory power-sharing is the only way to have laws made with the great bulk of the population will respect. In a society where the narrow majority has a broadly British world view, maintenance of the union with Britain is sensible; where a narrow minority has a broadly all-Ireland world view, cross-border bodies with legal powers are also sensible. It is a wild and complex tapestry and it doesn’t always work perfectly. In other words, it’s real.

We need to get used to the real Northern Ireland. It’s actually quite a fun place with great potential. But for as long as we vote for politicians from sectarian parties whose entire premise is unreal, we will not find proper statesmen among them.


3 thoughts on “People still living in an unreal NI

  1. factual says:

    David Trimble said that it was only because people realized they couldn’t have outright victory that the Belfast Agreement was possible in the first place.

  2. factual says:

    The present imbroglio seems to be to do with “culture wars”.

    Our previous struggle was a constitutional war, with the question of whether it is Dublin or London rule. That seems “so last century” now. (If in doubt, ask where unionist attitudes to Dublin are like today, compared to 1993; a big change right there, and one that is as much due to Dublin as to unionists). People accepted that there was no outright victor in the constitutional war, and then the 1998 GFA was possible.

    So today we may be asking: is outright victory possible in the culture war, given that both sides in 1998 decided it wasn’t in the (previous) constitutional war. Things seem more hopeful for the following reason: there need be no zero sum in culture. Indeed culture is all about fusion and creativity from multiple diverse inputs. Moreover, cultural diversity goes hand in hand with economic growth (in correlation if not causation). So we should be able to find a way out of this without either side expecting an outright victory.

  3. Rather than looking at the no possibility of an outright victor, there is an arguement partition allowed both sides on the island of Ireland outright victoryship, both States simply became more sectarian, more insular and more hostile, as a result poorer economically in comparison to before partition.

    Is it too much to ask for just the basic sensible diplomacy of O’Neill and Lemass, when the alternative is alienation from Britian, alienation in the island of Ireland and detachment from the world?

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