It’s almost 15 years since Trimble, Hume and Adams thrashed out an agreement for how the North would work within the framework of cross community governance, increased co-operation North and South as well as with other assemblies and parliaments in Ireland and the UK, yet at this juncture as we proceed to the fifth year of self-inflicted austerity across the western world and with so many matters in our grubby little part of Ireland left unresolved, whether it is parades, the Irish language, reconciliation, dealing with the past, effective government, effective opposition or oversight and the respect of cultural expressions of each community, and I am leaving aside coherent bread and butter issues (let’s not even touch that area just yet) I wonder will this whole facade we work with simply fall apart under the weight of its contradictions?
I do not, for a moment, imagine that we will go back to serious inter-communal violence or physical conflict, however, I have to wonder what will happen as we approach the summer marching season and the political system is placed under further scrutiny and strain with having to deal with the trouble that will inevitably flare at well known flash points and maybe a few others we haven’t even considered or know of now. Will we have Nelson et al telling us that civic disorder is ok with him and many others? Will we have continued violence on the streets of Ardoyne as the marchers are bused into the area so that they can walk past the shops to make a point?
What about any further HET findings that may come out, how will this play out in political unionism when we add this into the mix with what’s happening with the flags protest? Will this merely make political unionism circle the wagons and resist any further investigation into what happened in the past as they feel it’s so very 1 sided, rightly or wrongly?
We recently had the report into the state assisted murder of Pat Finucane where one of the findings from the Da Silva report was that the RUC provided approximately 85% of the intelligence for murder victims of loyalist paramilitaries; am I the only person who finds this incredibly shocking? I almost feel numb when I read that little factoid and when I mentioned this to a few friends they thought this was frankly, unbelievable, as in the did not believe me and wanted to see where I got that from. In many ways, it nearly justifies what large numbers of former IRA supporters have said all along, that they were at war with the British authorities and that nationalists were being targeted in extra judicial killings by the state, therefore they had to use as much force as possible to deter them and hopefully defeat them. This is something I have heard on many an occasion from old men and supporters of physical force republicanism, something I am pretty uncomfortable with myself as I have never raised my hand in anger, yet I didn’t grow up in West Belfast during the 70s or 80s, I only visited it from 87 on and it was such a world away from what I was used to in Massachusetts or Co. Clare, it was just bleak and angry, it was another world to me.
The Agreement itself came about thanks to large doses of ‘creative ambiguity’ where Bertie and Tony thought it best to fudge things and hope that if we get the lowest common denominator of a deal in place and running then they will hopefully sort themselves out over time, and I have to thank them for this thinking. In many ways, they’re right and were right to go along with this policy. As has been noted over on FJH’s page, no one won and no one lost in our grubby little conflict therefore how can a victor impose the terms of their victory? Simply put, they cannot, therefore, conflict continues by other means.
Personally, I feel that a ground swell is happening back home where a lot of the old certainties no longer hold true. We see it in unionism where the middle ground of ‘civic’ unionism is now fracturing between the APNI and Basil McCrea and John McAllister’s leaving the UUP, however, it could be argued that this has been happening before this when Sylvia Hermon left and became an independent or before that with the appointment of Reg Empey who must go down as one of the most ineffectual political leaders of all time, totally lacking in charisma or vision. Unionism appears to be being forced into trying to reconcile a number of things at once, whether there’s is a cause tied solely to a constitutional aspiration or cultural abhorrent notions too which when challenged seem to contradict what mainstream thoughts of being British means in the 21st century.
In nationalism, well we have what may be a rejuvenated SDLP on the march, though I remain to be convinced. I do not think there is much in the Mid-Ulster bye-election for Patsy McGlone though I wish him the very best of luck. Will the SDLP carve out an effective niche and alternative to Sinn Fein in their policies, tone and thoughts? Who knows, but I have always thought it is a win win for nationalism when we have two strong voices in the open in the market place for ideas, it helps everyone raise their game and focused on the goal. For Sinn Fein, their time in government is something of a mixed bag really. John O’Dowd has been very diligent and for me has really grown as an MLA and statesman. He’s honest, down to earth and likeable. As someone from Upper Bann, specifically Craigavon, I had found the SF polity back in the early 90s to be somewhat amateurish but I must admit now that they have really upped their game and have come on leaps and bounds, however, can this be said for everyone? How about in places like South Belfast, Banbridge, Coleraine and Warrenpoint? Why is there not more cross border cooperation, why are nationalist parties who have ministerial briefs not trying to find and push for greater cooperation with their Southern counterparts? Must we wait for all party agreement when we know it will never be forthcoming?
With all of this in mind, I believe that something will give sooner or later, probably close to the next elections for the Assembly as Stormont, in my eyes, does not look like it does what it’s supposed to. Will we have all party talks in some English, Scottish or Welsh castle where we thrash some more deals out and settle some outstanding issues like the Irish language, parades, cultural expressions and most importantly, the workings of the Assembly with strengthened cross border links? Who knows, but all I do know is that weare not happy with what we have at the moment and people will not allow this kind of grid lock to continue on ad infinitum.