Sinn Fein’s Latest Call for a Border Poll
Patricia McCarthy and Mick Rafferty.
Gerry Adam’s in his article ‘Demographics and attitudes are crying out for a border poll’ (Irish Times 16/ 1/13) is as cited ‘the politics of fantasy’. Coming as it does after six weeks of rage and rioting of mainly loyalist, this cry from the Republican movement demonstrates a surprising lack of subtly and indeed reality. No national or ethnic conflict between people sharing the same territory has ever been solved by one side out growing the other particularly in a sensitive post conflict situation. The politics of head counting will not advance the peace process. The way forward as contained in the Belfast agreement, must be mutual respect for the traditions of the two dominant sides the planter and the gael.
If the nationalist/republicans are waiting for them to become the majority and then put the boot into the Unionist/loyalists (As they did in Belfast City Council over the Union Jack issue) the conflict will continue ad finitum and we will still be looking at the dreary spires of Monaghan and Tyrone. Will the new majority do to the new majority what the old majority did to the old minority? Surely after over 40 years of struggle, pain and political mayhem Mr. Adams is capable of better?
Surely a slow process of pluralism and integration is the desired politics and not the winner takes it all
that a head count implies. In this year of the anniversary of the 1913 lock out Sinn Fein have an opportunity to awake from its from its Nationalist slumbers and seek ways of all people on the island benefiting from the peace process. They must ask themselves how do we go about building a society of equals where issues of social need become more important than narrow ephermal symbols of identity.
The alternative is for each dominant group to continue to lock each other out of the richness of both traditions.
In moving into the peace process Sinn Fein underwent profound change. Not only did they abandon the armed struggle as a means of obtaining a united Ireland they also embraced the principle of consent. In abandoning the armalite and going exclusively for the ballot box they must maintain the principle of consent and not use it as another means of coercion. Their brave move within the republican movement was not to pander to the republican extremists who of course became the dissidents. Mr Adams present strategy seems to be to stem the haemorrhage of their supporters in working class areas into dissident groups. He is trying to tell republicans waverers that the ballot box strategy will deliver a United Ireland but there are dangers in this strategy. In appeasing his waverers will he agitate the extremists on the other side?
In moving into the peace process Sinn Fein never abandoned their Republican soldiers and many ex volunteers are now members of Stormont and government. The same process did not happen on the loyalist side, in order words the loyalist paramilitaries did not have the same political representation as their republican counter parts. This contradiction within the Unionist/ Loyalist camp is graphically demonstrated by a story Billy Hutcheson, the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, tells. He was elected a member of Stormont in the first assembly. It was clearly a time of promise and developing new relations from the debris of the past. He was in the foyer of the building when The Reverend Ian Paisley stood beside him when the lift arrived. Hutcheson said ‘after you Reverend’ and Paisley bellowed ‘I will not get into a lift with a terrorist’. A bit taken back Billy said ‘If you had told me that thirty years ago it would have saved me 14 years of my life’. Of course since the riots over the flags Unionists of all hues has attempted to fill that vacuum. It has actually taken a coalition of community workers in East Belfast to try, unsuccessfully so far, to convince the rioters to stand down. Mainstream Unionism has very little influence on the rioters.
Mr Adams does not have to fill such a vacuum on the republican side. Mr Adams should be wary of abandoning the complex consensus process for the sake of fantasising about winning a head count on A United Ireland.
Mr Adams himself comments on the recent survey on how people in the North name their identity but draws the wrong conclusion. There is now emerging a strong middle ground whose identity is becoming fluid, embracing the complexity of what it means to be Irish, Northern Irish, Ulster and British. The McIlroy syndrome? Surely Mr Adams knows that a simple head count of such complexity will not translate into votes. In this regard if he persists in such naïve thinking could he not be hoisted by his own petard? Now we see the DUP putting it up to Sinn Fein.
Patricia Mccarthy and Mick Rafferty.
Both are voluntary community activist and have been working with distressed Loyalists communities in Belfast for the past number of years.