Irish Nationalism & Party Representation – Nation Building?: Guest Post from Cleenish

Hi everyone. As I had noted previously, I was in many ways somewhat beat about politics back home, hence why some of you may not have heard too much from me on your sites, even though in my absence you all have persevered and appear to be making something of a splash in general as noted over on Mick’s site (that is the number of Nationalist bloggers that appear to be proliferating). I had come up on something of a writer’s block in relation to politics, but then again I normally do at this time of year and come September I am usually back on the wagon so to speak. Well, never fear because my friend Cleenish has been in contact and forwarded a number of essays that I hope will start something of a conversation on Irish Nationalism among us all much like he did previously here and here. In many ways, it has got me out of my block and I hope to be writing something of my own in the coming days. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy his first piece with a few more to come and as always, if you would like to contribute something please either email me at or send me a tweet at @footballcliche1 and we can take it from there.

Irish nationalism is currently in a state of agitated flux. The sounds of angry retorts surround the debacle & furor on SPAD Bill, victims and the past. The trumpeting of the newly identified Northern Irish Catholics and their emerging attachment to the UK and ‘our own wee country’.

So is Irish Nationalism a spent force and concept? Left increasingly high and dry by the tide of change?MM FF

Can any party raise their eyes from the fray of political battle to look beyond the GFA and lead us towards a new horizon?

A horizon that offers a new vision, new challenges and exploits new opportunities.

I feel that we need to raise our eyes above the current political controversies, the problems of the GFA and the holy grail of liberal unionism to find a marketable vehicle to entice nice UK-friendly Catholics to vote for a unionist party, anyone tempted by NI21 😉

We need to review and assess the landscape unfolding before us, to consider both the emerging trends and the future strategic direction for Irish nationalism and what the parties can offer. The two are irrevocably linked.

We have become accustomed to the slow tectonic struggle between Unionism and Nationalism, to the sterile and often juvenile ‘debates’ between, and within, both isms and the near inviolability of the Northern Ireland construct. We all know the unwritten rules of the game being played; elections in the golden ‘wee country’ have always been elections within elections for the leadership of unionism and nationalism respectively. The tectonic movement of the two monoliths pored over for signs of the demographics moving towards a 50:50 society and/or the holy grail of a nationalist majority, all measured in decades.

The groundhog arguments, sentiments and attitudes repeated down the generations, change slow and painfully slow at times. It’s weirdly comfortable after a fashion – which is a troubling thought in itself.

Do you sense that we are beginning to enter unchartered waters; with rising catholic numbers, with what seems to be an increasingly fluidity on multiple identities the effects of immigration and mass emigration again affecting our young people? We may be entering a period of fundamental change, a change that may in part be exercising and recognised by Unionists and by NIO/English, and who may be attempting to shape that change.

The slow tectonic shift in numbers may be the source of the British/NIO encouraged letsgetalongerist alliance, where a competing vision of ‘a new NI, a NI as a shared nation within the UK’ aims to ensure stability. Britain’s own let sleeping dogs lie strategy that will only change if & when Britain recognises that change is inevitable. We Irish will have to contend with an England that increasingly looks self-absorbed where the Irish (of all hues) are regarded just as a pesky, annoying problem!

AMD SDLPThe dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone may be submerged once again in passivity or  changed by the tides of history about to break over them and once they inevitably arise again, will they be green tinged or orange tinged?

We may therefore be on the cusp of interesting times for Irish Nationalism; where the old certainties are lessening their grip and where the future is more fluid. The next 10 to 15 years could in future years be seen as a watershed period, a period that shaped the future ancient quarrel of the Irish people for a number of generations to come.

Change brings many, many questions, new challenges and risks, and most importantly new opportunities – if we can but recognise them and act on them.

How our political parties face these challenges is crucial, our expectations should be high; on leadership, on shaping the future and on creating a new vision for the future for our nation. Will they be a generation of nation builders or managers of a continued low level conflict within a connived British construct?

We need our political parties to develop a pragmatic strategy to achieve their vision, the ability to forge relationships and common purpose with others, and pragmatic plans for a re-awakening of the national Irish consciousness and the re-integration of Ireland. Will Irish Nationalism be able to present a new vision for Ireland that resonates and accommodates all of our peoples?

The question of the SDLP, its purpose and existence as a significant political force has come under particular scrutiny and has been the subject of much debate recently. The inept handling, positioning and lack of forward thinking by the SDLP has exposed deep weaknesses in the party and how it conducts itself. (although tempting, I will refrain from kicking that particular dog, as I like dogs ;))

Prior to this there have been a number of blogs which questioned their direction and indeed the need for the party itself; by FC and also by Seamus. The SDLP itself may be entering a watershed period on its ability to shape the future of Irish nationalism and by extension Ireland.

In any discussion on party politics you really have to preface it with a basic statement on your own leanings. I am an avowed political party agnostic, I’ll happily vote, and transfer my vote, to the party that provides Irish nationalism and the Irish nationalist community with leadership and which best represents our interests. I am left leaning and believe we have a responsibility to act together for the common good.  I am socially liberal, with a tolerant and ‘live and let live’ attitude. Doesn’t that sound suspiciously like a prayer.

The starting point is to outline what appears to be each parties strategy and approach on the ‘Irish Question’ and the leadership they provide. I have no inside knowledge whatsoever, so it’s essentially what can be gleaned from what’s out in the public domain. Given such circumstantial evidence, my take may be a rather shaky house of cards!

For me the most important aspect in any such a exercise is to keep at the forefront of our minds the primary purpose of any nationalist / republican party, that of building a new Irish nation. An Irish nation that reflects our diversity, is at ease with itself and confident to express all identities within our nation.

As individuals, and collectively as a people, I feel we need to consider for ourselves whether we ourselves are capable of rising to the challenges of the future. It is not all about the parties.

Are we capable of bringing a settlement to all of our people based on mutual respect for our differing identities? Are we capable of MM SFbeing the generation of nation builders who can conceive, innovate and deliver an Irish nation at peace & reflective of all identities, including its British strand?

I think we have the grit, imagination and ability to transcend the current thinking and to create Ireland anew.

It is now time that we recognised that politics has moved to a post GFA environment, and that we should be raising our eyes towards the horizon and the task ahead. We can and must create a vision for Ireland that can engender a new sense of pride and of belonging, which can enthuse our people and produce a credible, pragmatic strategy to achieve it

Can any of the political parties meet the challenges of changing times and produce a new inclusive blueprint for the Irish nation? The catholic, inward, repressive and mono-culture Ireland is no longer an option. What vision now best represents and reflects our people?

I hope to put up, with FC’s indulgence (FC – you got it!), later posts to critique each party in respect of their strategy and to address some the questions I’ve raised. It is not for me to give definitive answers, who am I after all, but rather in a small way to help encourage a wider thinking and discussion.

11 responses to “Irish Nationalism & Party Representation – Nation Building?: Guest Post from Cleenish

  1. Great post.
    Two points. First of all nationalism DOES need two parties. Thats a given.
    Are things changing…Yes but they always do. Thers an 800 year long struggle that has been fought out against a background of war lords, feudalism, reformation, dynasty, revolution, rebellion, …nationalism and whatever comes next…for another 800 years.
    We cannot bind our successors but it will go on …in some form.
    The reality is that I am 61 and for 40 years I have seen things ebb and flow. Good years to be a nationalist and bad.
    A lot depends on Age. Simply put in say 1981…with Hunger Strikes and Thatcher in her pomp…I was not yet 30 and yet amid that negativity, there was a realisation that there would be better days. Had I been say 75 in 1981, my perspective would have been different.
    There is no end game. There never will be.
    The best we can hope for is that when we breathe our last…that nationalism will be in the ascendency. DIE HAPPY.
    To use a terrible metaphor. If I had been a Polish soldier mortally wounded in 1939, I might have thought I was dying for nothing. What would happen my loved ones.
    yet a Polish soldier fighting in April 1945 and being mortally wounded…the perspective is different.

    • Thanks for dropping by FJH.

      This is a theme you have ran with before. Does Nationalism require 2 parties here in the North? Indeed, I would even go to say we may need three as whilst I am most certainly not conservative (ie right wing) in my leanings there clearly are Nats in the North who are and do not have effective representation, therefore instead of FF organising a Cumann how about FG (no laughing at the back there) orgainse one instead?

      As for the ebb and flow of Nationalism, we clearly have good days and bad. Right now we are having a bit of both especially after the debacle that was the SPAD bill but the OO making a haims of things in North Belfast and the feeling I get that this year (some 15 years later than it probably should have happened) appears to be the one where the OO and its coat dragging, triumphalist nonsense is no longer being tolerated by ‘the great and the good’ which is clearly a win for Nationalism.

  2. I think if we’re going to talk about Ireland as a nation – that is a re-united nation – then we need to outline clearly what we’re talking about. What benefits would it confer socially or economically. The economic argument is used to claim that great numbers of Catholics/nationalists would not vote for an end to the union with Britain. And clearly unionists would not vote for an end to the union with Britain. So we need to know: on what grounds? If there are economic benefits, let’s have them spelt out. Let’s have clear information from London (not always an easy thing to get) about how much the north gains in the block grant and how much the north feeds into British coffers, and what’s the difference between the two sums? We also need to have a clearer picture of what place minoriities would have, what role they would play, in a united Ireland. And how that united Ireland would differ from the sad excuse for a republic that currently is the south of Ireland.

    In the meantime, we in the north – unionist and nationalist – need to see how much we have in common and what we can gain from each other. I think the central axiom here should be: how would we feel if they did this to us? As a nationalist I think immediately of the Orange Order and its never-ending marches and its triumphalist, anti-Catholic ethos. So how would unionism like if nationalism had similar marches, insisted on passing close to Protestant/unionist homes, etc. And what is it if anything that nationalists are doing that they would not like to have done to them by unionists?

    Finally – and I hesitate to say this because it sometimes triggers knee-jerk reaction – what do we mean when we talk about accommodating the Britishness of unionists within a re-united Ireland? I’ve heard and read people talking in these terms but I’ve never heard or read anyone saying in specific terms what it means. Or does it mean anything beyond a kind of soothing mantra that’ll not startle the horses?

    • Jude, thanks for the response, I’ll try and tackle each point in order.

      An economic argument will be one of the main planks to any discussion about a new, united Ireland and as you have noted above we would need all of the numbers on the table. I actually find it (perhaps) quite telling that we are not given access to the actual figures including what figures can be attributed to VAT collection here as well as NI specific corporation taxes of multi-nationals that operate throughout the UK, without these figures how could we seriously discuss what we would be bringing to the table? But as an aside, I always find it amazing that many think we would be in a much poorer position if we joined with the South as opposed to remaining in the Union. Nearly all that I know who work in the South are paid far better than their Northern counterparts, even the benefits system is a whole lot better if you wanted to live a life of ‘scrounging’!

      Which leads me to conclude that the economic argument used is essentially a sham of a scare tactic, in essence, if you leave the Union you will not have access to the NHS (a big concern) or other benefits from the Irish State, however, I believe that is due in large part to poor communication by Nat parties who are unwilling to delve into the technicalities and tell the electorate that we could build a welfare state just as good if not better than what is in place in the North and that in some ways what is available in the South is better than in the UK and in some other respects it may not be as good, but that is a problem of communication IMHO and not fact.

      As for how we should try and mend bridges or at least try and live in some kind of harmony, that axiom of yours could be summed up as ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ which for our friends who like to walk a lot at this time of year should be something they are very familiar with yet seemingly don’t like to practice that often. Granted, we can be just as bad it’s only the fact that the examples of late where that is the case seem to be thin on the ground.

      Ah, accommodating ‘Britishness’, I have no idea what this means either. If it means essentially allowing the Chosen Tribe to think they still rule the roost and they may overlook the point above then I’m sorry, that just won’t fly. If it means that they want their identity(ies) respected and acknowledged, go for it, let’s see what it is they want and the manner they want it recognised and we can have a talk, but it will be within a 21st century framework of legislation and protections and will recognise your identity as being equal (though is this not already the case in the South?). TBH, I fail to see what this request actually means as when I have tried to prod an answer from someone on this very issue I get a lot of hubris and big words but it’s all too short on actual concrete matters.

  3. The old economic arguments about the loss of the north-eastern industrial zone to the Irish nation post-partition may no longer be true (and haven’t been since the 1980s at least) but there are many others that weigh in favour of a unified, nation-wide economy. Most are blindingly obvious in terms of increasing the tax and revenue base as well as a significantly larger domestic market (though that needs to be weighed against the poor socio-economic environment in the north-east). The argument about Ireland (the 26 Cos.) being simply too small to sustain itself in the manner to which its citizens have become accustomed factors in here. Comparisons need to be done with other similarly sized European nations in terms of where we wish our own to be (Denmark for instance).

    Many of the economic arguments that were put forward against a reunited Germany ultimately proved to be false. Reunification did not cripple or fatally wound the German economy. There was a considerable period of adjustment, and the old east still remains relatively poorer and more deprived than the the old west, but the nation as a whole actually thrived through the creation of a single, large economic zone.

    Even the EU’s policy of “enlargement” and “integration” has relevance here. A reunited Ireland is a variation of European policies and with many of the same perceived or claimed benefits. An enlarged and integrated Irish economy covering the entirety of our island-nation.

    As for the British minority community in the north-east “protection” or “recognition” comes through regional governance for the north-east within a reunited state with separate region-specific laws governing linguistic, cultural and religious rights. If required a semi-detached branch of An Garda, the judiciary, etc. A Bill of Rights, an Official Languages Act, British consular or inter-governmental offices in Belfast, etc, etc. It is all actually quite easy to do.

    In theory! 😉

    • In theory!

      I like the Germany comparison as to what can be achieved and I think and recent polls show that the same attitude in the South prevails as it did in Western Germany before reunification, ie, that the populace is massively for it and even willing to subsidise what may be an expensive exercise.

  4. One point that i havent seen, and it maybe a minor one in the grand scheme of things, is the whole issue of cars.

    It is considerably more expensive to tax your car down south, as the links below show.

    In general, it is more expensive to insure your car, and i think this is one other aspect that people who are striving for national unity, need to look at.

    The nationalist parties have to maybe show the other side, that people in general would have a higher annual salary that they would down south, and fuel is cheaper down south as well, thus partly negating the extra cost to run your car.

    Another thing that has come into my head, is that if Ireland was reunified, would there be tolls put in place on the Motorways and main dual carriageways in the north?

    • Hi Sean, thanks for the comments above.

      Whilst I think the points you’ve raised are all valid and something we should definitely think about (the practicalities), this series will be very much focused on what the parties are doing, where they stand and what Cleenish has in mind regarding where they are in relation to the North. In fact, we did discuss some of these practicalities on another thread if you’d like to take a gander?

      • Hey, cheerrs frothe reply, had a look at cleenishs other posts I thought they were really good, hopefully he will try to take those aspects on further.

        As for this post, and what the main nationalist parties need to be doing, I think one of the things that has to be set out is what shape or form will their envisaged re united Ireland look like? Do they strive for a32 county republic? What about a federal republic, with regional parliaments for each province? Will they allow flexibility in heads of state, if indeed that is even possible? I think I will now take a peek at your other posts here, keep up the good work!

      • I couldn’t agree more Sean, we need to have that serious discussion and tbh the vast majority of Nat parties are sleeping at the wheel on the whole issue. I am a firm believer that we should start to have that discussion and try and build up a head of steam, make the ‘impossible’ possible. Whilst it will ultimately come down to the will of the people in the North, we can persuade people by espousing the benefits of a unified Ireland, what we will take from the South, what we can give to the South and also the same for the North being applicable. This was kind of the reason behind these posts from Cleenish and also to a smaller extent myself. It was to try and focus minds not on past grievances, as real as they may be, but to focus our attention on what it is we really want for the future as opposed to sifting through the bones and dilemmas of our ancestors.

        Feel free to comment, all are welcome here so long as it’s civil of course!

  5. Pingback: Irish Nationalism & Party Representation – Nation Building? Sinn Fein, Part 1 | footballcliches·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s