The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Independence Day

 


David Vance • 11 March 2004

George Bernard Shaw got it right when he wrote in "Man and Superman", "Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." The question facing us in Northern Ireland in 2004 is how can we responsibly bring about an enduring political solution that provides liberty and prosperity for all?

From a unionist perspective, there have been three possible solutions. Two have been tried in one shape or form and have failed; the other has been politely ignored.

Devolution, as defined by the Belfast Agreement, has been a cosmic failure. It must be obvious to all but the slowest learner, or the most avaricious politician, that rather like Monty Python's Norwegian Blue Parrot, the GFA has ceased to be! It is an ex-Agreement. The Assembly at Parliament Building lies embalmed - a mausoleum to greed and deceit. Some Unionists have long argued that a process built upon "constructive ambiguity" was always doomed to failure. No amount of tricks with political mirrors, media smokescreens, and euphemistic evasions was ever going to get around the fact that the foundations of this mutant form of devolution were intrinsically flawed.

Like moths to the light, Unionists are drawn to devolution. The DUP and UUP offer it up as their current preferred political solution. There is only one slight problem with this - it has absolutely no chance of ever being made available to them on terms that would merit its acceptance! Mr. Blair merely teases Unionists with the allure of their little toy town Assembly. But in exchange, they are asked to accept changes which are solely aimed at destroying the Union through a de facto, if not de jure, rolling United Ireland. That is why it is not worth having!

Prospective DUP Euro candidate Jim Allister, speaking in the mid-1980's, said "The plain truth is that if Unionists come to terms with Dublin rule through the Anglo-Irish Agreement, then equally, they can come to terms with the full Irish Unity to which it is inevitably is leading." Substitute the words "Belfast Agreement" for "Anglo-Irish Agreement" and we have an update on the real and present danger of devolution. It is a honey-trap for the gullible and greedy. This is an issue that the DUP has to come to terms with, if it genuinely wishes to be honest with the unionist electorate.

The Belfast Agreement also cruelly exposed the ossification of Ulster Unionism. Inept negotiators, conflicting strategies, and a chasm between reality and practicality have resulted in the UUP becoming dramatically weakened and humiliated at the polls. It hankers after a return to becoming "the natural party of government" but time has now passed it by and chasing devolution at any price has proven to be a disastrous strategy. Perhaps whoever succeeds David Trimble as the next Leader may want to reflect on the folly of chasing chimeras.

Integration is the next preferred option of Unionism. Yet Francis Bacon may have summed it up when he stated that "Hope is a good breakfast but a poor supper." Having stood for election on an integration ticket, it was my experience that it does not ring a bell with the Unionist electorate. The primary objection to Integration at grass-roots level is that people feel they will have absolutely no say or sanction over the politicians who are making decisions about issues affecting their everyday life. Schools can close, hospitals can be starved of money - and the electorate can just put up with it. I have come to view this as fundamentally incompatible with a representative democracy. It is my view that people must have the inalienable right to select those that they want as their political representatives and they must have the right to kick them out should they get fed up with them!

A further problem with Integration is that it avoids the reality that one cannot integrate with that which does not want you. Only the most naïve unionist would accept the Westminster establishment really wants them. In fact, they really want rid of them! That is merely an expression of the political world as it is, rather than as one might wish it to be. Lord Carson could not force integration, even when backed up with 100,000 armed men. Does any unionist believe that a dozen MP's can do the job? David Trimble, bizarrely, got it right when he said, "To persuade the London establishment to return to integration is to try and set the clock back 100 years... it is not a realistic option... Moreover the (Anglo-Irish) diktat has underlined how any form of integration is the potential vehicle for the exercise of dictatorial powers over Ulster."

The failure of mutant devolution and the impossibility of full UK integration have resulted in the current default position of Direct Rule. The problem with Direct Rule is that it is at best a holding position. It does nothing to resolve ongoing issues and arouses suspicions and hostilities on all sides. This is exemplified in the delinquent decision by Minister Jane Kennedy to destroy academic selection, despite the fact that the majority of parents consulted on this issue expressed a desire to retain academic selection. Thus tyranny is exercised in the name of democracy. How can anyone be content with this monstrous "default" rule? Sticking with Direct Rule suggests a very low form of self-worth as a people. Aren't we worth just a little bit more?

With devolution dead in the water, integration a failed illusion, and Direct Rule a patronising insult, where to for thinking democrats? I posit the notion that it is high time that we thought the unthinkable. Have we the common ability to think post-unionist, post-nationalist? Or do we stay locked up in mutually incompatible boxes forever, wondering why it is we never make real progress?

Woodrow Wilson said that "Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of the government. The history of government is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of government, not the increase of it."

Can this concept be grasped and applied to our political context? If so, what are we prepared to give up in order to obtain lasting liberty? Unionists certainly wouldn't want to surrender to Reunion, but would they consider sacrificing their current Union for a genuine settlement? Nationalists certainly wouldn't want to surrender to perpetual Union, but would they consider sacrificing Reunion in the future for a genuine settlement today? Could the consideration of such mutually assured radicalism, in the form of a Negotiated Independence, actually bring about a worthy solution? Or do we continue with this failed formula of creeping gradualism, ongoing terrorist violence on all sides, and political dysfunctionalism?

What benefits could Independence yield? Well, according to the former First Minister, clarity would be amongst the first. As he once put it, in his particular style, "To simple minds it can seem that our part of the United Kingdom is an improper intrusion into Ireland and that we are merely the agents of British imperialism. A move towards independence would clarify that position."

He further added that by being free from London and Dublin interference would create a problem for the IRA as "It would thus deprive the IRA of its emotional power house, namely the desire to drive out the British 'army of occupation' when the 'occupation forces' are gone and replaced solely by native Ulstermen."

Trimble's position back in 1988 was clear - Independence was the best way forward. Eight years later he had assumed leadership of the UUP and pivoted away from Independence and back to devolution. Was this an opportunity lost?

When Independence is mentioned, Unionists' hearts tend to flutter. I fail to see why! All that is being proposed is that men and women of goodwill consider sitting down and exploring how this province could be transformed into a prosperous, stable, self-governing entity. Issues that would require careful examination would include how could international goodwill be exploited to support a radical low tax/high value economic model for Northern Ireland? Could we make Northern Ireland a magnet for international investment? Would Britain, the EU, and the US offer us the support needed? Is it imaginable that the men and women of Northern Ireland could set aside ancient enmity in exchange for future prosperity within a region they truly shared?

Rather than dreading our liberty, as George Bernard Shaw warned, should we not be embracing it? A day must come when Northern Ireland steps away from the shadows of the past. That day will be Independence Day.

 


 

 

 

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Index: Current Articles



12 March 2004

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Try Not to Forget It
Brian Mór

 

Time to End the Silence on Stakeknife
Martin Ingram

 

Confident No More
Mick Hall

 

Sinn Fein & Democracy Be Damned: Interview with Martin Cunningham

Anthony McIntyre

 

Bobby Tohill: Pub Brawls and Death Threats
Liam O Ruairc

 

Ardoyne Suicides
Eamonn McCann


Independence Day
David Vance

 

The Half Loaf of Good Friday Will Never Satisfy
Liam O Comain

 

Special Exclusive on Special Relationship
Matthew Kavanah

 

The Proposed UK-US Extradition Treaty: Concerns
Francis Boyle

 

The Decolonization of Northern Ireland
Francis Boyle

 

1 March 2004

 

The Enforcers

Anthony McIntyre

 

Reference Guide to Provisional IRA Attacks on Republicans, 1998-2004

 

Stand Down, Mr Hyde
Liam O Comain

 

Civilian Adminstration?
George Young

 

Adams Nearly Quit Sinn Fein - Peace Process Hero Angered by IRA's Violence
Barney de Breadbin and Eamonn Codswallop

 

Double Standards - Questions Need Answering
Raymond Blaney

 

Brilliant, Bloody Brilliant
Brian Mór

 

POWs and the Challenge of Partnership
Aoife Rivera Serrano

 

 

 

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