Confidence Building Measures For Nationalists

If you were the last German soldier to be mortally wounded in Berlin in April 1945, you might think it wasnt worthwhile. Conversely if you were the last Russian soldier to be mortally wounded, you might think it was at least worthwhile. Losing and Winning.

Looking back, the fall of Stormont in 1972 was a good day …for nationalists. Likewise Good Friday in 1998. Although there were some later twists and turns during the course of the day, it was around 8.45am when BBC Radio Ulster finally said it was all agreed. Memory plays tricks….but as I recall, we had almost arrived at my wife’s workplace and as we stopped the car, I said “thats it…we made it”.

Of course others we knew did not live thru it. Not just the people who were killed, including those who were prepared to kill. It is a simple fact of life that if you were born in West Belfast in 1952 and 1958, then we had family,school-friends, neighbours, co-workers who were killed. In my wife’s case it includes a female cousin. Strangely, we both know where we were on a certain day at the funeral…long before we ever met…My wife, then a schoolgirl following the coffin and me, a 20-something standing outside the crowded church.

Of course other relatives like my father or friends like Harry simply died of natural causes in the 1980s and 1990s and they never saw the “end game” either.All those people who prayed at Clonard or who took part in their own services or cross-community vigils…many never lived to see it.

The Good Friday Agreement was a compromise. Compromise is a good thing. We signed up to it because we could compromise without being compromised. Nobody won and nobody lost. Or so we were told.

And yet it was a Big Lie…albeit a Big WHITE lie. Unionists were told it was a series of obstacles to a United Ireland. Nationalists were told it was a series of stepping stones to a United Ireland. At least one tribe was being lied to…and nationalists bought into the lie more than unionists did.
Of course, there can be no denying that it brought Peace.
But the Big Lie is the elephant in the room.
Did the End (Peace) justify the Means (a Big Lie)?
Viewed in 1998, the answer is YES. Viewing in 2016,I am not so sure.
Conflicts DO get resolved.
The Battle of Berlin ended World War Two in Europe. The Fall of Saigon ended the war in Vietnam.
The price of defeat was the process of de-Nazification of Germany. And the re-education of vietnamese in jungle camps.
Conflict Resolution.

The problem is that our Conflict never really ended. We accepted that we just stop fighting and on balance thats a good thing.
Enter the Conflict Resolutionists. They sought to analyse what we preferred not to know…salient facts like the status of Norn Iron as part of the United Kingdom. The LetsGetAlongerist approach to accept the status quo is not a neutral stance. By definition, the status quo is unionist.
Conflicts are resolved…Victory and Defeat.
The role of the Conflict Resolutionist in Norn Iron has been to attribute victory and defeat.
It exceeds their academic brief to socially engineer a LetsGetAlongerist Society….with (altogether now)….Integrated Education. A LetsGetAlongerist Society is an (albeit liberal) unionist society.
Strangely when I first became involved with Slugger O’Toole in late 2009, Conflict Resolution was the “hot topic”. Eames-Bradley, doing something …anything …for the victims. That was how Conflict Resolutionists saw it. It seems that the Conflict Resolutionist way in 2016 is to “just get over it” and the moment for Truth Commissions etc has passed. Isnt it odd that nobody talks about it any more?

It is not the full picture to say that the Good Friday Agreement was undermined by British and Irish governments appeasing DUP and Sinn Féin. Or St Andrews. Or Hillsborough.
There is a long history of “confidence building measures for unionists”. It is almost a cliché.
There are two stories to this election. The constitutionally neutral People Before Profit took two seats from nationalist parties…one SDLP and one Sinn Féin. And the constitutionally neutral Green Party took one seat from SDLP.
Or to put in another way, the number of nationalists seats in 2011 was forty forty three and now it is forty.
More starkly, the nationalist share of the vote has fallen by 5%….SDLP losing 2.2% and SF losing 2.9%.
Nationalists are not voting. Apathy? NO….that does not really explain it. Apathy means not caring and I suspect DISGUST. The nationalist population bought into the Good Friday Agreement more enthusiastically than the unionist population.
Consequently, the nationalists are more disappointed.
For nationalists, the outworking has not been as good as was expected.
For unionists, the outworking is not as bad as they expected.
And the commentators repeat the message. “THE UNION IS SAFE” and with a falling nationalist vote and representaion in the Assembly then surely they are right.
But I dont think that a lot of nationalists went into the polling stations in 1998 to “make the union safe”.

The best Sinn Féin can come up with is to be the junior partner in coalition with DUP. As newly elected Christopher Stalford put it…”happy to be the junior partner in a centre-right coalition”.
Hard to disagree.
The best slogan the SDLP can come up with is “making Norn Iron work”. EH???
Thats not what I voted for. I had hoped that the Good Friday Agreement was so riddled with contradiction, it would collapse.
Indeed when David Trimble signed up to Parity of Esteem, it was the great “GOTCHA!!!!” moment in Irish History. Unionism does not do Parity.
So what did happen to the Irish Language Act? It should have been a red line…and it wasnt. Likewise Flags and Emblems.
Now LetsGetAlongerists might say “it doesnt matter”. But tell that to the nationalists who stayed home on Thursday.
No point in looking to the Dublin Government for inspiration. katherine Zappone!!!!…

But it seems to me the entire process is in danger.
If half the electorate dont give a tinkers curse about PEACE, then they are equally unbothered by Conflict and it looks like we are heading that way.

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13 Responses to Confidence Building Measures For Nationalists

  1. hoboroad says:

    Compulsory voting is what is required. With a none of the above box on the ballot paper for those who dont want to dirty their hands.

  2. Political Tourist says:

    Why are there no PBP types showing up in working class loyalist areas?

    • Thats a good question.

    • boondock says:

      Well out of carrolls surplus 2300 went to SF/SDLP and er 30 went to DUP/UUP so there is your answer making a slight mockery of the other designation

      • Yes.
        The “other” designation is a tactic. PBP might see themselves as “Other” but if Carrolls vote would be much reduced if voters in West Befast had been aware.
        More so, if Eamonn McCann had gone out of his way to tell people that he was neither unionist or republican, then theres no way he would have won the seat.
        The surplus is interesting. CLearly his voters are nationalists but in part (a very very small part) of the explanation is that there were more nationalists in the field.

        Interesting also that I spoke to Workers Party people before the election and on polling day and they were (as usual) spoofing about being neutral.
        You know my position on the Stickies …its deep and its as personal as it can get….but they would say anything.

  3. hoboroad says:

    Will the PBP MLAs be taking a working mans wage?

    • I think the first big argument will be about dress code.
      Completely irrelevant of course but the first thing they will do is stage some kinda show.
      Ultimately theres only two lobbies in Stormont. They either go into YES lobby or NO lobby. If there is a real Opposition they either support it or dont support it.

  4. Kev Hughes says:

    John, I feel you are conflating a number of matters here or over egging things a little.

    TBH, this was a bad election for Nationalist ‘Parties’, that is something very different from Nationalists per se. I do not wish to kick you and the SDLP when down but criticisms had been levelled against them for sometime up to this election by myself and others here and elsewhere, including your favourite site. Personally, I would recommend a read of Kensei’s comments via his Disqus account and you’ll see as good an insight as many and that.

    I do believe and am certain comments of mine would be found here and elsewhere where I have categorically stated that Nationalism requires many more voices, and I believe that the sooner FF comes north the better for the electorate here. But I would also want FG and others to come here too even if I would never consider voting for many of them.

    PBP’s success is interesting from the POV of the constituencies they received their representation from and how their transfers went after. I put it to you that WB and Derry are going the way of North Down as in these are areas where demographics now allow for people with a certain demographic or group to vote outside of this without letting the other group to gain a seat. This may sound incredibly ‘sectarian’ but the electorate of the North never fails to confirm this time and again.

    Further, let us not pretend that all of a sudden a bout of ‘letsgetalongerism’ is breaking out in WB or Derry; these votes are votes of protest and dissatisfaction, and I fully understand this. These are votes of the heart, IMHO, and not of the head, for what do we think these guys will achieve in Stormont of any real impact? I would love to be proven wrong.

    • I just dont know. I have been critical of SDLP performance after 1998. Really SDLP need to face up to the problems of their own making before they can hope to advance.
      In many ways theres enough material to write a dissertation as much as blogging. The dissertation would be a permenant record but blog posts are day by day…up or down.
      Nationalism is in a trap.
      Whether a nationalist person believes in politics or conflict..or whether they believe that there is a time for one and a time for another, we are all locked into this.
      A United Ireland is further away than ever. We called it wrong in 1998 and really as a new generation of voters comes on board, we get further away from it.
      There was a window of opportunity in the years after 1998…..its gone.

  5. Interesting analysis.

    Just to clarify on one point, PBP would reject the assertion that they are constitutionally-neutral. In their own words, they’re a 32-county Connollyite party, albeit one that designates as ‘Other’.

    See here:

    “Asked about the left wing challenge to Sinn Féin in the coming Northern elections, Gerry Adams defended himself with a blatant lie. People Before Profit were, he said, a ‘two nations’ party.

    The ‘two nations’ approach was used by the late Conor Cruise O’Brien to defend partition by suggesting Ireland was one island but had two distinct, Catholic and Protestant nations in it, incapable of uniting.

    This has never been the position of People Before Profit and Gerry Adams was trying to deflect from the real issue.

    Gerry Adams only defence strategy is to play the nationalist card. But it will not work.

    People Before Profit is a 32 county party that stand in the tradition of James Connolly who predicted that partition would produce a carnival of reaction. We believe that the only way to bring people together across this island is by building a grassroots movement from below, based on people power and socialist politics, not one that is based on locking in the two existing Irish states.

    We want working class unity to develop from a 32 county anti-austerity movement that challenges both Irish states.”

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