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More Than Politics to NI Process

David Adams • Irish Times, 29 April 2005

For the most part, the conflict in Northern Ireland is now confined to the political arena, which, considering our recent history, is a significant improvement.

Yet politics are still deadlocked here, leading many to regard the entire peace process as being, at best, in severe difficulties.

But political development, or the absence of it, in the North should not be the sole yardstick against which we measure progress. Besides playing to our Northern tendency to self-absorption, such an approach completely ignores the other strands of a process which, we should remember, is concerned with addressing all of the relationships within and between these islands. Internal political arrangements within Northern Ireland, while very important of course, are part of but one strand of a far broader project.

There seems little chance the Assembly and all-inclusive Executive will be reinstated anytime soon. Yet, regrettable and frustrating as that is, we shouldn't allow it to blind us to progress that continues to be made on every other front, the extent of which becomes apparent when one considers some of the more overt examples of interaction now taken for granted, but which would have been problematic, if not impossible, a few years ago.

The two governments are accepted and treated by all as equal partners in the peace process; the Garda and PSNI co-operate openly and to an unprecedented degree; Northern politicians from all of the political parties (including the DUP) travel regularly to Dublin to meet Government Ministers and business leaders; the reverse is the case as well, with visits to the North by Southern politicians of every stripe considered commonplace; and President Mary McAleese comes to Northern Ireland often and hardly a local eyebrow is raised.

But just as important, if not more so, are the less obvious changes. During 2003, extensive research was undertaken on behalf of the British Council in Ireland and the findings made available in a report, Through Irish Eyes, released in February 2004. The research explored attitudes and opinions towards Britain among ordinary people in the Republic and found that a vast majority now see Britain in either a benign or favourable light.

It is hardly coincidental that such positive attitudes have developed against a backdrop of close partnerships being forged between successive Irish and British administrations as they struggled together to develop the peace process, often in the most trying of circumstances.

Continuing their timely exploration of contemporary Irish attitudes towards Britain, the British Council last month launched a book of eight essays, Britain & Ireland: Lives Entwined, written by Irish people of various political and religious persuasions. At the same event they hosted a debate on the motion: "This house believes Britain is just another foreign country."

The motion was roundly defeated, but what became apparent during the debate, and confirmed earlier findings by the British Council, is the extent to which people in the Republic feel little or no affinity with Northern Ireland. Like their counterparts in Britain, they struggle to understand what drives the Northern conflict. Or, probably more accurately, they struggle to understand how in this modern age and on a part of the island they inhabit, religion and politics can still prove so volatile a mix as to drive conflict.

And why, in particular, with a comprehensive agreement at hand, people and politicians in Northern Ireland still choose to rehearse ancient enmities.

As the peoples of Britain and the Republic have become more at one in outlook and attitude, they have both become increasingly disconnected from Northern Ireland. It is ironic that neither feels they have much in common with people who take such pride in their Britishness or Irishness.

Ironic but not surprising, for it is the extreme nature of the Britishness and Irishness too often on display in Northern Ireland that renders it foreign-like to people who are part of the religiously, politically and culturally diverse societies that make up the Britain and Republic of today. To both, the North seems more like a foreign land than anything remotely like where they live. And that is no bad thing.

For it signals to those of us who live in Northern Ireland that it is not enough merely to profess undying allegiance to one country or another, but if that sense of allegiance and commonality is to be reciprocated, and if acceptability by the object of our affection is to be gained, then there are societal standards and codes of behaviour to be lived up to as well.

As relationships founded on mutual respect and friendship continue to flourish between the governments and peoples of the Republic and Britain, historical animosities are being superseded and ancient myths destroyed. Differences that once existed and were open to exploitation have all but disappeared.

Political development in the North forms part of one strand of the peace process, but that things have stalled there should not cause us to lose heart or judge harshly the entire project.

Reprinted with permission from the author.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

29 April 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

I Believe
Eamon Sweeney

Behaving Justly
Anthony McIntyre

Stop the Cover Up -- Give Us Peace
Kathleen Coyle

Justice Needs Done
Damien Okado-Gough

More Than Politics to NI Process
David Adams

Jude the Obscure Republican
Anthony McIntyre

Shared Ultra Conservatism
Dr John Coulter

* More Election Coverage *

Europe and the General Election
John O'Farrell


24 April 2005

Robert McCartney's family appeal to Sinn Fein
McCartney Family

Kevin Cunningham

'Dreary Ireland'
Anthony McIntyre

An Ireland of Welcomes Should Be
Mick Hall

Brian Mór

A Spartan's Story
Anthony McIntyre

* Election Coverage *

Martin Cunningham, Newry and Mourne District Council



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