Saturday, March 10, 2007

The inexorable drive to a United Ireland

Northern Ireland is the most polled corner of the United Kingdom, with 35 election or referendum campaigns in 34 years. The cumbersome process of counting the votes in this latest poll has taken two full working days, but once again the 81-year-old Rev Dr Ian Paisley has emerged as the people’s choice as First Minister. His party secured 36 of the 108 seats, with Sinn Féin taking 28. The Ulster Unionist Party won 18 seats, the SDLP 16, and the Alliance Party seven seats.

Dr Paisley now has a decision to make – possibly the most difficult of his life – and he will be damned either way. He either agrees to a power-sharing arrangement with Sinn Fein/IRA, or he resists and is blamed for abolition of the Stormont Assembly, with direct rule restored, and cross-border bodies imposed. A foreign country, run from Dublin, would then have direct governmental input into the running of this part of the United Kingdom. Either way, the March 26th deadline will see a further step towards a United Ireland. As recently as 2005, Dr Paisley said that sharing power ‘would be treason and we would never be guilty of that’. It was this stance which ended David Trimble's primacy and obliterated the UUP. It hardly seems likely that Dr Paisley would do a u-turn, and yet…

There was a time when a DUP vote of this magnitude would have spelt the end of all moves toward power-sharing in the province. Dr Paisley was the absolute Dr No, and his battle cry was ‘No surrender’. But this time DUP voters have voted for devolution and the restoration of Stormont, and resistance will be put down to Dr Paisley being a cantankerous, stubborn old man.

And what is to be his legacy? Will he finally share power with the ‘Fenians’, make concessions to the Nationalists, compromise with the Catholics? Or will he reject the whole arrangement as a dog’s breakfast, and ask why the poll losers should be rewarded with government portfolios? This is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Her Majesty is Head of State, and the Throne is Protestant by law. If one may be excluded from Westminster by refusing to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the maintenance of this settlement, why should one be permitted to govern any constituent corner of the Kingdom if one is sworn to terminate her title and end her jurisdiction? And why should parties that come second, third or fourth end up running education, health, or housing? If Ulster’s voting system were to be replicated at Westminster, only about a third of the Cabinet would be Labour; the rest being comprised of portfolio holders whose politics would be antithetical to everything that Labour stands for. It would be a recipe for no coherent government at all, and yet that is what the system expects from the politicians of Northern Ireland.

It is not quite mixing oil and water, but it is certainly a formidable political objective of high improbability. It is like asking Israel to ‘share power’ with the Palestinians, or India to ‘share power’ with Pakistan. These are all sensitive issues of mutual exclusion, in history, religion, and sovereignty, yet only in Ulster is the alternative to agreement the insensitive imposition of ‘power-sharing’ with Dublin. Gerry Adams and his illegal army must be delighted. One wonders if the Loyalist paramilitaries have really ‘gone away’…


Anonymous Voyager said...

It is brilliant really. Dr Paisley is 81 - he goes into power-sharing - he deceases and his successor whomever that might be decides he wishes to renegotiate aspects, or consult more widely - it is Sinn Fein that is trapped.

10 March 2007 at 14:38  
Blogger Man in a shed said...

If the Unionists were bright - they would negotiate for a United Ireland on their terms, whilst they are in a position of strength. With the Catholic church removed from its positon in the Irish constitution and federal government with a weak centre.

If they play their hand right perhaps with the Irish back in the commonwealth ;-)

10 March 2007 at 17:46  
Anonymous Ulster Man said...

Can't agree, Voyager. I'm certain Sinn Fein want to do a deal with Paisley before he dies, precisely to end all speculation following his death, of 'What would Paisley have done/said?' If they know he went into power sharing on certain terms, no successor would start to renegotiate because they knew what Paisley wanted. A successor would only get the post if they agreed to 'honour' the great man's achievements. If he dies without agreement - that's an eternal problem for Sinn Fein.

And I won't bother replying to Man in a shed. Unionists can be very bright, probably a whole lot brighter than you, so stay in your shed, cos you plainly don't know what you're talking about.

I'm pleased you've drawn attention to the weird devolved government we've got here, Cranmer. Can you imagine Blair being PM, Cameron chancellor, Ming foreign secretary, Paisley home affairs, Donaldson education, Salmond health, Hume defence, etc etc. Yes, I know it's not quite that, but you get the gist. What is supposed to be the common language? What's the worldview? Ideology? But we're supposed to put up with it, or shut up. I can't see the rest of the UK putting up with that kind of treatment.

10 March 2007 at 19:23  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Weird is true. A completely different voting system from the rest of the UK designed specifically to rig a result.

They certainly have worked hard to make Northern Ireland a "Peculiar" doubt it will come in useful when Leicester and Bradford have power-sharing with Islamabad

10 March 2007 at 19:43  
Anonymous bob said...

I think there are historical reasons as to why this particular form of devolved power sharing government is used in Northern Ireland. Unionists seem reluctant to admit that under the Stormont administration of the 1920's-1970's there was at the very least a degree of civil rights infringements against Nationalists.

10 March 2007 at 19:58  
Anonymous Ulster Man said...

There have always been 'civil rights infringements' in just about every part of the country - it was only in the 1920s that women got the vote, but no-one's insisting that half the cabinet should be made up of women because of this! The only infringement in Ulster at the moment is against Protestants - for example policing. For recruitment purposes, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Moonies, are all classed as 'Protestant', just to increase the proportion of RCs who of course are a special case and keep their distinct identity. No-ones suggested lumping ethnic minorities in with the RCs, and they wouldn't tolerate it in any case.

10 March 2007 at 20:08  
Anonymous bob said...

Well then maybe it's because the Unionist track record in government comes with undesirable baggage, and the inclusion of other strata of Northern Irish society is there to keep them honest - although honesty and Sinn Fein wouldn't strike me as being synonymous, but I guess that's the irony of Northern Irish politics.

10 March 2007 at 20:16  
Blogger Scott said...

Brave old Unionists fighting the good fight! Absolute betrayal to allow a United Ireland, but I find the idea of a Unionist-influenced mereger intriuging: specific constitutional concessions like perpetual membership of the Commonwealth, curbs on EU integration, membership of NATO, dual currency, abolition of that stupid Irish language nonsense, etc would be very welcome.

10 March 2007 at 20:47  
Blogger Scott said...


10 March 2007 at 20:48  
Anonymous Voyager said...

1920's-1970's there was at the very least a degree of civil rights infringements against Nationalists.

Funny how Unionists were unable to flourish in the Republic under de Valera....was it simply wrong church or a bit like being a Serb in Kosovo ?

10 March 2007 at 21:13  
Anonymous bob said...

De Valera wasn't in power for 50 years so I suggest you familiarise yourself with Irish political history.

The cause of Unionism in the Irish Free State, and later in Ireland was a bit of a dead duck really - it's called democracy when 95% of the people don't want to be part of the Union, you pretty much go with the will of the people.

However if you're talking about the plight of Protestants in Ireland during that period then that's a different matter - there was discrimination, there was violence. There was a number of Protestants who fled to the North, although exactly how many is unknown. However, at the same time De Valera's 1937 Constitution, acknowledged the special position of the Catholic Church in the life of the state, also stated "The State also recognises the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, as well as the Jewish Congregations and the other religious denominations existing in Ireland at the date of the coming into operation of this Constitution." I would ask where the similar legal protections were for Catholics in Northern Ireland. (The article (44) in question was removed from the Constitution in 1972)

10 March 2007 at 21:34  
Anonymous Voyager said...

I would ask where the similar legal protections were for Catholics in Northern Ireland.

I would doubt that Northern Ireland had a Constitution nor any special place for any particular church. I can only assume that the majority in Northern Ireland were feearful of the minority and any proclaimed loyalties to an irredentist state to their south.....South Korea has a similar fear of North Korea and Gibraltar of Spain

10 March 2007 at 22:12  
Anonymous bob said...

There's probably merit in your argument. There's a longstanding mistrust between Ireland and Northern Ireland, a mutual unease, and perhaps a mutual reluctance to accept their respective roles in past wrongs, and as an Irish citizen I'm probably as guilty of that as any. But I also feel there's some merit in my own arguments.

10 March 2007 at 22:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Voyager rightly says the dog's breakfast that is N.I.'s electoral and governance system is merely Labour's dry run for when the right on pc liberals and lefties achieve their multicultural nirvana of renaming the UK as North Pakistan, adopting sharia law and entering into "power sharing" with the mullahs and mosques.

12 March 2007 at 00:18  

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