The Blanket

Academics on Independence
(Part 3)

Paul Fitzsimmons

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”
British physicist and Royal Society President Lord Kelvin (1895)

“The whole procedure [of putting rockets into space] presents difficulties of so fundamental a nature that we are forced to dismiss the notion as essentially impracticable, in spite of the author’s insistent appeal to put aside prejudice and to recollect the supposed impossibility of heavier-than-air flight before it was actually accomplished.”
British astronomer Sir Richard van der Riet Woolley, reviewing, in Nature (14 March 1936), Phillip E. Cleator’s Rockets Through Space (London: 1936)

“Space travel is utter bilge.”
Sir Richard van der Riet Woolley, U.K. Astronomer Royal and
space advisor to the U.K. government (1956)

“Space travel is bunk.”
Sir Harold Spencer Jones, U.K. Astronomer Royal (1957, two weeks before Sputnik was launched)

“Ideas for constitutional change must pass the test of intellectual credibility and potential support: [Northern Ireland] independence, unfortunately, can not pass either.”
Robin Wilson, head of Belfast think-tank “Democratic Dialogue” (1997)

“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.”
Nobel Prize laureate Bertrand Russell, from his Skeptical Essays (1928)


As recounted in “Academics On Independence, Part I,” I wrote the following in August 1999 to Prof. Brendan O’Leary:

Mr.[ Robin] Wilson, as I have learned firsthand, is so dead-set against the notion of independence that he-in direct contrast to you-won’t even engage in an intellectually honest discussion thereon (as documented particularly through his and my participation in Dr. deBono’s 1997 Internet conference on Northern Ireland, portions of which I have included in earlier e-mail transmissions to you; those conference submissions may yet be available in full on the Internet), this notwithstanding the fact that he heads a political think-tank calling itself, for some reason, “Democratic Dialogue.”

Set forth below are my postings from the “Constitutional Change” portion of the “On-line Conference” on Northern Ireland sponsored in September 1997 by Dr. Edward de Bono (currently found at <http://www.edwdebono.co.uk/debono/ni2301.htm>; <http://www.edwdebono.co.uk/debono/ni2302.htm>; and <http://www.edwdebono.co.uk/debono/ni2303.htm>), prefaced by Dr. de Bono’s invitation for discussion on possible constitutional change. (NB: typographical errors from the original postings have been corrected herein, and emphases have been added to try to mitigate the generally soporific effect of this piece’s oppressive length.)

The postings headed “4.31: (paul806) Tue, 16 Sep 1997 14:11:45 BST” and “4.53: (paul806) Thu, 25 Sep 1997 15:12:22 BST” exemplify my view that all too many academics in Ireland and Britain have shamefully failed to take on - with any modicum of intellectual honesty or intellectual courage - the unorthodox issue of Northern Ireland’s possible negotiated independence. (Cf. Nobel Prize laureate George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”)

****


N_I_2nd_Stage.4
Constitutional change
N_I_2nd_Stage.4.1: Edward de Bono (edwdebono) Tue, 09 Sep 1997 23:00:14 BST (4 lines)

Please post in this topic clear suggestions of possibilities for constitutional change. Laying out options with a particular emphasis on new options even if these have never before been tried. Attention to why these might, or might not, be acceptable.

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.3: Negotiated Independence (paul806) Wed, 10 Sep 1997 00:36:16 BST (36 lines)
Most respectfully and sincerely, I ask that all members of this Conference use the rare opportunity of this electronic forum to consider intently a very straightforward approach for constitutional change, but one that few of Ireland's leading citizens dare to discuss even in whispers: fair and workable negotiated independence.
Please be aware that the possibility of independence has at various times crossed the minds of various intelligent and thoughtful people in Ireland, North and South, sometimes as a goal affirmatively to be pursued but more often merely as a "second choice" constitutional option. These people have included the DUP's Reverend Ian Paisley; the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Sean McBride (who, in the second half of the 1970's, represented the IRA in joint talks with the UDA on possible independence); the UDA's late leader John McMichael; the UUP's Reverend Martin Smyth; Belfast's Methodist College's late headmaster Dr. Stanley Worrell; members of the SDLP leadership in the mid-1970's; as well as others. According to the DUP's Peter Robinson, the possibility of political independence for Northern Ireland also at least crossed the mind of David Trimble a decade ago ("UUP leader under fire over document," Belfast Telegraph, 29 April 1997); that mid-1980's event, according to Mr. Robinson, shows Mr. Trimble to be "wobbly" on the issue of union. [In fact, Mr. Trimble formally advocated Northern Ireland’s independence in 1988; while teaching at QUB, he wrote a paper on this topic which included the following: “When we come to agree on the inevitability of some form of independence, we can shape our political offensive.” (P.A.F., September 2002.)]
Unsurprisingly, it is very politically dangerous for these people to take any genuinely affirmative stand regarding possible negotiated independence; for this reason, they generally do not - and probably will never - do so. As a result, a middle ground approach may never in fact be put to a vote of the people unless some group outside of those "traditionalist" politicians successfully prevails upon the British and Irish governments to make that possible. Hence, I feel this group's efforts could be particularly valuable in helping to turn over this "stone" that has thus far gone unturned.
(If Dr. de Bono would permit, I'd like to make available to members of this group various materials, accessible on the Internet, that I have written on the topic of independence for Northern Ireland.)

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.8: Re Robin819's 4.6 comments (paul806) Wed, 10 Sep 1997 23:24:24 BST (84 lines)
Robin 819: Having thanked you in 3.6 for your 3.4 comments, I hope you'll forgive me for now opining, conversely, that you are thoroughly wrong in your 4.6 comments [which concluded: "Ideas for constitutional change must pass the test of intellectual credibility and potential support: independence, unfortunately, can not pass either."].
In May of this year, I responded to then Foreign Minister Dick Spring's comments - similar to your own [regarding lack of popular support therefor] - as follows:

****
First, you suggest that "there is extremely limited support in either community in the north" for this approach. In that regard, however, I would respectfully refer you to a 9 April 1997 Belfast Telegraph article reporting on a Telegraph/Queen's political survey. The results thereof showed enormous differences between Protestants and Catholics regarding their respective preferences for London ties, Dublin ties, and "joint authority." However, regarding the fourth examined possibility, the cross-community results were stunningly similar: as to a "Separate Northern Irish State," fifty percent of Protestants said they would at least tolerate that result as part of a final settlement, and forty-eight percent of Catholics reported the same view. Particularly against this background, it seems at least reasonably possible that spelling out definitively three particular points might well convince half or more of the "dissenting" group to switch their positions in favor of fair and workable negotiated independence: (i) independence would not be a "halfway house" to a united Ireland; (ii) independence would not entail any reinstitution of the pre-1973 Stormont rule; and (iii) independence could in fact be financially viable, particularly with the help of long-term subvention. Those points would manifestly best be spelled out through the presentation of a plebiscite "offer" in fact reflecting those several characteristics.
****

Regarding your 4.6 comments concerning the "3-4 billion per year" now being pumped into Ulster, you seem to assume that Britain is content to pay, perhaps in perpetuity, such amounts to a province ever troubled but that Britain wouldn't consider paying a similar amount, for some period of time, to a neighbor establishing itself in a new settlement. That assumption may indeed be faulty.
More broadly, regarding the aim merely of looking formally into possible negotiated independence, I would reiterate something I wrote a couple of weeks ago in reply to a letter from Ireland's Presbyterian Moderator Rev. Dr. Samuel Hutchinson:

****
A proposal on negotiated independence would inevitably be a "package" containing several elements; conspicuously among them would be a "constitutional" element and a "financial" element. Taken at its broadest, my argument is simply to craft the best possible constitution and to bolster it with the best possible financial support that Northern Ireland's neighbors and friends can muster (see book at 171-72). If, at the end of the day, it appeared that the financial support so offered would be inadequate, then the Northern Ireland electorate might do well to vote down that "package." At least, though, at that point, Britain and others could say, 'we tried our best,' and Ulster would be able to say, 'the choice in declining the proposal was our own.' (Unsurprisingly, this same basic approach could underlie other key areas regarding an independence proposal: try one's best and see, through a vote, whether the effort was good enough.)
****

Confident that you'll sympathize with my desire to get home at a decent hour this evening, I ask that you forgive me for quoting again from my letter to Mr. Spring:

****
I would respectfully urge, though, that - in light of humanity's great capacity to solve complicated problems - such potential difficulties should not be anticipated so as to foreclose any attempt at all[ regarding possible negotiated independence]. John Stuart Mill, in his On Liberty, wrote something along these lines that I often quote: "There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation." A failure in this regard could only be counted as a noble one.
****

After all these years of failure through "conventional" approaches, let's not unilaterally declare possible negotiated independence "dead on arrival" ... essentially, declaring that it cannot work in order to foreclose any investigation that might prove or disprove that assertion. Over the past three decades, the "powers that be" have not been reluctant to propose constitutional approaches that, even in theory, are woefully inadequate. In theory, negotiated independence might work. Why don't we try to see negotiated independence taken down the road as far as it might go and, if it gets as far as the point of a vote in Northern Ireland, why not let the people have the final say?

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.13: (paul806) Thu, 11 Sep 1997 14:57:56 BST (81 lines)
Robin819: Regarding your 4.10, I'd take exception in one key respect: I think you are under no obligation whatsoever to react positively to what I (or anyone else in this group) writes. To the contrary, I think this discussion is best served when you say precisely what is on your mind, as you apparently did in your 4.6; by doing so, we get to the nub of issues that are on a lot of people's minds. À la Voltaire, I think your 4.6 comments were entirely wrong, but I'd defend to the death your right to say them ... and without any sort apology from you for having made them. (In turn, I'd be grateful to hear any specific counterpoints that you might have to my 4.8 comments ... or even to learn that I may have, in some respect, convinced you on some of those points.)
Furthermore, and perhaps not to your surprise, I'd also dissent from your other 4.10 comments. Your suggestions are, at base, little different from what has been going on in Northern Ireland since Stormont was prorogued in 1972: trying to put some measure of new wine into an old wineskin. I see two enormous problems with that approach.
First, I sincerely doubt that "Northern Ireland being highly autonomous as a region" will suffice to end the paramilitary battle. This is part of what I wrote in mid-July to Irish Times Northern Editor Deaglan de Breadun:

****
Moreover, so long as Republicans find the prospect of swearing allegiance to the British crown and of formally accepting its sovereignty as unacceptable preconditions to their taking full civic part in their native society (a feeling that would seem destined to continue for quite some time yet), that movement will lack any ability to come to terms with any solution involving continued union. Relatedly, for as long as Republicans feel the current constitutional situation to be unjust - i.e., go brach, perhaps - their options will be either to leave or to fight; staying to wage an entirely "constitutional" battle is a prescription for a lifetime of political failure, according to the demographics Mr. Blair claims he sees three quarters of a century into the future. Thus, any suggestions, hints, or implications that Republicans might voluntarily accept any intra-UK settlement can only be either (a) tactical diversions ("Sinn feints"), (b) wishful thinking on the part of the observer, or (c) some combination of both./2/

NOTE 2: This analysis [truncated within the context of this posting] tends to establish that there exist only five possibilities regarding fundamental aspects of potential change in Northern Ireland's political future: (i) one side might vanquish the other (thirty years has demonstrated this will never happen); (ii) one side might simply surrender (similarly, this will not happen); (iii) one side's "desire" may become impossible (other than the unthinkable - that the Republic would forswear any future reunion - this would involve a demographic change wherein Ulster voted 50.01% or more for reunion: London ties would, at that moment, become forever impossible); (iv) Northerners might very broadly accept genuine condominium of Ulster (this event would not occur due, inter alia, to substantial Unionist opposition thereto); or (v) Northerners might implement a fair and workable negotiated independence (UDI is, for various reasons, impossible). The only alternative to such change is the maintenance of the status quo: i.e., the Troubles.
****

The second main problem (perhaps better categorized as a deficiency to your suggestion) that I see is that, even if your approach might stabilize the political situation, it would most likely do little or nothing to end or reduce the prevalent "us versus them" aspect of Northern Ireland's society.
Conversely, if each side in Northern Ireland publicly (and, of course, simultaneously) gave up their most cherished "union" and "reunion" desires/goals, each side could see the other as making a huge contribution to a political society to which each could give full and genuine allegiance. At that point, various other aspects of Ulster life could begin a perhaps slow but steady improvement.
In sum, before seeking merely a minor variation on what has already failed over years and decades, why not try an untried approach? Again, as I recounted in 4.3, various leading Ulster thinkers have gravitated towards independence (for varying reasons); nonetheless, that approach has never been taken up seriously because of, inter alia, the "logistical" problems you suggested in your 4.6 comments. Let us see whether those "logistical" problems can be overcome (without the input of local Northern Ireland leaders); if they can be, we'll then be able to see what those leaders' positions on independence in fact are when they are presented with what I have termed a "ready-to-wear" proposal for fair and workable independence.

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.15: (paul806) Thu, 11 Sep 1997 18:08:21 BST (53 lines)
Endeavoring to keep this somewhat shorter, I would suggest that possible negotiated independence would not ask "unionists and nationalists to renounce their respective allegiances/identities." (From [Robin819's 4.14, which began, "Paul806: I'm loath to get into a long dualogue [sic; “duologue”] (as against dialogue)."].)
To the contrary, and as I have elsewhere argued, dual citizenship, for any so desiring it, would be fully compatible with an independence scheme; in a very large and real sense, dual citizenship would permit a continuation of allegiances and identities held dear without those allegiances and identities serving as exclusionary devices within a "middle ground" society. In that setting, people could have an honest-to-God "parity of esteem," as in, "She's also a citizen of the Republic (or a British subject), which is her own business and her own choice, but she and I share an allegiance to our local government." (The term "parity of esteem" is, I think, largely bandied about these days as though it is something that can be handed out like so many lumps of coal. That use of the phrase often arises in contexts similar to Mr. Blair's May 1997 Balmoral speech: there'll be union for as far as the human eye can see; there'll be additional ties with Dublin only as the Ulster majority sees fit; but, we'll give Nationalists "parity of esteem.")
Agreeing wholeheartedly (from 4.14) that others in this Conference should get into this discussion, I would reiterate that the past three decades have not demonstrated that constitutional half-measures can effect any real improvement nor have those decades proven that fair and workable independence cannot work. Along these lines, Sir Something-or-Other (I don't remember his name; he was Ms. Thatcher's advisor on Ulster who then went on to be High Commissioner of India) wrote to me in early 1987, after receiving from a third-party the proposal on investigating negotiated independence. His response was, essentially, 'tut, tut ... let's just see how the November '85 Anglo-Irish Agreement does.' That Agreement was a dozen years ago; the situation in Northern Ireland remains such that concerted international efforts (not excluding this Conference) are being made to address serious and continuing problems in Ulster.
My main points here are two. First, I do not want negotiated independence for Northern Ireland ... what I fervently want is for the people there to have a chance to vote on the best plan for independence that human hands can fashion; what they might do with that opportunity would be entirely for themselves to decide. Second, a proposal for negotiated independence would have the huge benefit of certainty: within a year's time, such a plan could be crafted and voted upon, whereupon it would be accepted or rejected. Thus, at the end of that time, all would know whether a middle ground had been reached (perhaps somewhat, or largely, grudgingly) or whether the approach of negotiated independence had been demonstrated to be inadequate.
The alternative of attempting some small "tweak" to the 1973/1985/1993 Anglo-Irish attempts brings speedily to mind the recent colloquial phrase, "Been there, done that."

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.19: Importance of "Oath" (paul806) Sat, 13 Sep 1997 16:52:03 BST (21 lines)
James897 (re your at 4.17): I agree that the recent vote in Scotland is of interest vis-à-vis Northern Ireland; but, as Northern Ireland itself had, for fifty years, a parliament roughly equivalent to what Scotland is getting now, and as that Ulster parliament did not resolve - but rather helped foster - the current "Troubles," I wouldn't go so far as to say the Scottish vote "puts a completely different perspective on NI."
However, your observation regarding the fundamental importance, to the current situation, of the Oath of Allegiance is extremely well taken. Nonetheless, it could be that even going so far as to oust the Crown entirely, even if done tomorrow, might be inadequate "remediation" vis-à-vis the current conflict. Moreover, certainly more likely in the real world is that Britain will spend the next one, two, or three generations figuring out what role, if any, the Crown should have in Britain's social/political life; in the meantime, the "Oath" problem you rightly identified will persist.
For this reason as well, I yet think that, before still another generation goes by in Ulster, formal examination of possible independence should be made.

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.21: (paul806) Sat, 13 Sep 1997 20:10:07 BST (48 lines)
Frank884: Thanks for the question[ on economic considerations], which manifestly is key.
Buried, I'm afraid, in my overly long 4.8, was the following:

**********

Regarding your 4.6 comments concerning the "3-4 billion per year" now being pumped into Ulster, you seem to assume that Britain is content to pay, perhaps in perpetuity, such amounts to a province ever troubled but that Britain wouldn't consider paying a similar amount, for some period of time, to a neighbor establishing itself in a new settlement. That assumption may indeed be faulty.
More broadly, regarding the aim merely of looking formally into possible negotiated independence, I would reiterate something I wrote a couple of weeks ago in reply to a letter from Ireland's Presbyterian Moderator Rev. Dr. Samuel Hutchinson:
****

A proposal on negotiated independence would inevitably be a "package" containing several elements; conspicuously among them would be a "constitutional" element and a "financial" element. Taken at its broadest, my argument is simply to craft the best possible constitution and to bolster it with the best possible financial support that Northern Ireland's neighbors and friends can muster (see book at 171-72). If, at the end of the day, it appeared that the financial support so offered would be inadequate, then the Northern Ireland electorate might do well to vote down that "package." At least, though, at that point, Britain and others could say, 'we tried our best,' and Ulster would be able to say, 'the choice in declining the proposal was our own.' (Unsurprisingly, this same basic approach could underlie other key areas regarding an independence proposal: try one's best and see, through a vote, whether the effort was good enough.)
****

**********

Additionally, Frank, I would add that this financial consideration constitutes, in another respect, a main reason why Ulster politicians cannot institute any formal investigation of possible negotiated independence: not only would they have to run the risk of huge "backbench" disapproval of their risky efforts, but they'd also have to come cap-in-hand to London (and, perhaps, elsewhere) looking for financing to make it possible.
If, though, another group were to make this call, it could say: "London, negotiated independence might be possible if a good enough constitutional and financial package were put together. Give it a try!"

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.25: Democratic basics (paul806) Mon, 15 Sep 1997 13:55:33 BST (31 lines)
There's been quite a bit of recent discussion regarding what "consent" does mean, should mean, or might mean in the current Ulster context of possible constitutional change. In a recent letter to a British official, I wrote:

****
Rather than basing my position on the answer to a question that may be essentially unanswerable - i.e., whether, from some moralistic standpoint, Ulster's majority or Ireland's as a whole should prevail regarding Northern Ireland's constitutional status - I have sought to urge people to consider a second question whose affirmative answer would obviate the need to resolve the first. That second question is: might there exist a some political structure that could receive the support of both a majority in the Republic and a supermajority in Northern Ireland?
****

Along those lines - and putting entirely aside any consideration (or speculation) about feasibility - I have suggested that people from all sides might agree to the following:

*************************************************
In light of fundamental principles of democracy, we the undersigned must conclude as follows: were a proposal for Northern Ireland's independence to receive approval from the British Government, the Irish Government, the people of the Republic through a plebiscite, and at least two-out-of-three voters in a Northern Ireland plebiscite, such approval would constitute a legitimate democratic mandate.
*************************************************

I would be most interested and grateful to hear from members of this Conference either "I would agree" or "I would disagree" and, if the latter, any reasons why.

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.28: Re Frank884's 4.27 (paul806) Mon, 15 Sep 1997 17:58:02 BST (16 lines)
Thanks, Frank for responding directly[ and affirmatively to my 4.25 posting].
You are literally correct about my having "le[ft] out the population of Wales, Scotland, and England." I had long thought that support at Westminster per se would adequately represent those electorates, though I have no particular objection to plebiscites in those regions as well. On 21 December 1980, the Sunday Times commissioned an opinion poll similar to the one you suggest (as Ian Paisley had done, seventeen years ago). The results "showed that, in a Paisley-styled referendum, 50% of Britons would vote against union, 29% for, and 21 % would abstain or didn't know what they would do." "Diary of Events," Fortnight, no. 150, March/April 1981, pp. 9, 10.
My guess is that, seventeen years later, a vote in Great Britain would be considerably more lop-sided in favor of Ulster's independence.

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.29: (paul806) Mon, 15 Sep 1997 18:03:18 BST (52 lines)
Robin819: I was sorry that, in your 4.26, you didn't respond to my 4.25 comments, which attempted to address - and even to establish - at least one fundamental point regarding a "democratic dialogue" in this situation.
(Several years back, I posed a question via fax to all the "traditionalist" political leaders in Ulster that is very similar to my 4.25 inquiry, namely: "If a plan for negotiated independence were approved by the British government, the Irish government, the people of the Republic (through a plebiscite), and more than two out of three of those voting in a Northern Ireland plebiscite, would you personally accept that decision of the voters?" Only one politician replied, promptly and directly: Dr. Alderdice, saying that, while he was personally against such an approach, he would nonetheless answer "yes." Within days thereafter, at a January 1994 New York meeting (prominently featuring the then-recently-visa'd Mr. Adams), I posed the same question to Mr. Hume in the course of a quite public question and answer session (as I had stated, in my aforementioned fax to him, that I would attempt to do). Not entirely surprisingly, he ducked and dodged the question, never answering it directly.)
Please permit me to address your 4.26 comments in light of my 4.25 reflections: a Republican or Nationalist might indeed respond to your suggestions by saying, 'I don't want variable geometry nor weighted majorities nor similar devices; what I want is the British governmental presence to be out of Ireland because the majority of the people in Ireland want that result and, thus, that is the democratic result.' Naturally, a Loyalist or Unionist might indeed counter that assertion by saying, 'The majority in Northern Ireland is the group which, democratically, should decide Northern Ireland's constitutional future.' Both sides, I feel, would have a substantial case to make regarding whose version of democracy should control; hence, my attempt to circulate an alternative which might, at least in principle, satisfy both.
Please bear in mind two key points. First, my 4.25 inquiry does not ask whether one might want independence for Northern Ireland, nor whether one thinks independence might be feasible, nor whether one thinks it might ultimately be supported adequately at the polls. Second, and still further, it does not ask whether one would agree that absolutely any proposed constitution imaginable which received the level of support described ought to be regarded as democratically valid.
Instead, it asks merely: if an independence proposal received that described level of support, could that decision be regarded as anything other than a democratic decision? If yes, precisely how and in what way might that decision be regarded as "undemocratic"?
I yet hope that the participants to this Conference will address these fundamental questions (thanks again to Frank884 for having already done so).

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.31: (paul806) Tue, 16 Sep 1997 14:11:45 BST (43 lines)
Robin819: While some of your 4.30 is a bit obscure - e.g., "extremely long positionalising of a fundamentalist character is not dialogue" - several points in our recent postings are hugely clear: (i) I posed a very plain question to the whole group in my 4.25; (ii) you ignored it in your 4.26; (iii) I responded to your 4.26 comments in my 4.29 and expressed my regret that you hadn't answered my 4.25; (iv) you responded in 4.30 but manifestly did not answer my 4.25 question. This record speaks for itself and does so quite plainly.
In your 4.30, you said, "I am sorry to be so frank," whereas I would prefer that you were much more "frank," as in Frank884, who in his 4.27 directly answered the question you've twice tried to avoid answering.
You assert, "it is impossible to have a real dialogue about an unreality." (4.30.) Please permit me to respond by suggesting that it is difficult, if not impossible, to have real dialogue where one party poses a question and the other party refuses to answer it plainly, honestly, and directly.
Being a "voice ... in the wilderness," as you suggest of me (4.30), isn't the worst thing in the world, I say from some considerable experience. Worse, I feel, would be to do nothing while observing police officers being shot in the back of their heads on patrols, young women being shot in the face as they sleep, old men being tortured and killed, people looking for a cool drink in a pub winding up fatally on the receiving end of a mob's boots, etc.
At base, what I hope for is rather modest: for an untried "middle ground" approach, already espoused by intelligent partisans on both sides, to be formally examined in order to see - for the record - whether it might succeed or fail.
The fact that we are having any "dialogue" at all unarguably stems from the fact that a dozen or so approaches over the past quarter of a century - each, at least in some senses, less "radical" than the one I propose here - have all proven manifestly inadequate. You, though, (a) decline to answer a question I pose on fundamental democratic principles and, instead, (b) argue merely for what I would term yet more constitutional "baby steps" (presumably a position you've recently come to and not one that you have been "[r]ehearsing ... for a long time"). Would you forgive me if I expressed a very strong disinclination to defer unconditionally to your position?

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.32: (paul806) Tue, 16 Sep 1997 22:00:54 BST (59 lines)
In response to the comment that "most people[ in this Conference] are still operating on a reductionism mindset" (posting:1.96), "reductionism" is defined in my dictionary as "a procedure or theory that reduces complex data or phenomena to simple terms," but that definition goes on to add, "esp.: OVERSIMPLIFICATION."
The 1.96 comments, and the overall Ulster situation, remind me, somewhat, of the history of the development of television.
Some people may be unaware that, before "electronic television" (i.e., television using a cathode ray tube to display its picture), there existed a device known as "mechanical television." Using a system of overlapping metal disks - each having a certain pattern of slits, which would spin in opposing directions at precise rates via gears and electric motors - light would be shown through so as to project a variable pattern onto a translucent screen. This system would indeed allow pictures to be sent across distances, but its "costs" were very heavy: especially in view of the rather poor quality of images rendered, the mechanics of the system were intricate, costly, and cumbersome, and people in front of the camera had to endure bizarre makeup (as I recall, purple face paint, orange lipstick, and the like) and blazingly hot stage lights. One inventor spent decades of his life trying to improve and perfect this "mechanical" system ... until he first saw an early and crude version of the "electronic" system. No one, including that inventor, spent time with mechanical television thereafter.
My point is this: many people seem to think that the Northern Ireland political situation needs only a couple (or several or many) small "tweaks" in just the right places to get that lovely region properly on track (sort of like the "mechanical" television inventor trying to find out whether purple face paint would render better images than would green face paint, etc.). The past quarter century, I think, has shown this "tweaking" approach to be extremely unpromising: there have been many constitutional tweaks (or attempted tweaks) over this period but no substantial advancements (remember, there's been direct rule for all but a few months of the past twenty-five years). It seems at least arguable (I personally would say, it seems virtually unarguable) that some new system needs at least to be considered ... that mere "tweaks" will not get the current Northern Ireland political system working adequately.
Under this analysis, certainly no one would be obliged - nor asked - to state, "we were wrong to tweak and we must never tweak again." But such people might simply decide to take a brief time-out from tweaking and say, "before we tweak further, let's try a markedly different approach, even if only to see it fail (or, alternatively, if only to prove that it will fail)." After such a failure, these people could go back to "tweaking," and they could do so to their hearts' content and in the firm knowledge that they have not unwisely permitted to go unexamined a promising (perhaps merely a slightly promising) alternative.
In this regard, please bear again in mind my favorite quotation of John Stuart Mill (from his On Liberty): "There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation."

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.34: (paul806) Wed, 17 Sep 1997 18:08:28 BST (23 lines)
Will959: Thank you for the thoughtful question in your 4.33[ on a new "label" for the people of Northern Ireland].
Did you see my suggestion somewhat along these lines in 4.15?

*****
[D]ual citizenship, for any so desiring it, would be fully compatible with an independence scheme; in a very large and real sense, dual citizenship would permit a continuation of allegiances and identities held dear without those allegiances and identities serving as exclusionary devices within a "middle ground" society. In that setting, people could have an honest-to-God "parity of esteem," as in, "She's also a citizen of the Republic (or a British subject), which is her own business and her own choice, but she and I share an allegiance to our local government."
*****

I think there would arise a "joint identity" - through a joint, chosen citizenship - where each side had decided to take a giant step to a fair and workable middle ground; actual solidarity between the communities could develop from that point, regardless of whether those people thereafter called themselves Ulstermen, North Irish, both, or something else.
Without a genuine political settlement, though, I fear that just a new label describing the two groups wouldn't make much difference.

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.36: (paul806) Fri, 19 Sep 1997 01:27:59 BST (40 lines)
Steph852 re your 4.35: You pose some damned good questions ["Is a united Ireland or civil rights the more important to the Nationalist community? Is being in the UK or living in peace the more important to the Unionist community? If civil rights and peace are not the definite answers to the two previous questions for the clear majority of N. Ireland then would independence not be difficult to sell?"]; I wouldn't even pretend to tell you that I know for sure how a vote on a proposed independence plan would turn out ... whether it would be 8% in favor or 80% in favor. One of my basic thoughts in this regard is as follows (from a letter earlier this year; cutting and pasting saves me some writing time):

*****
[P]erhaps the largest political mystery of Northern Ireland is why folks there (and elsewhere in Ireland) might even dare to hope that there could in fact be any resolution of the conflict absent some genuine change in one or more of the following points: Unionists/Loyalists want ties (a) with London but (b) not with Dublin, whereas Northern Nationalists/Republicans want ties (i) with Dublin but (ii) not with London.
*****

Continued union (absent joint authority) would mean that Unionists/Loyalists would "win" by a score of 2 to 0. Conversely, reunion would involve a 2 to 0 "win" for Nationalists/Republicans.
Joint authority (a 1 to 1 tie), which would likely present yet another version of constitutional disaster, is manifestly unwanted by Unionist politicians; it therefore seems very unlikely joint authority could form the basis of a "Talks" settlement.
Negotiated independence (the other possible 1 to 1 tie) - if proposed directly the Northern Ireland voters - could present those people with the first genuinely difficult electoral question they've ever had to face. Each might conclude, 'it is less than I want, but I'd not be forced to give allegiance to a government I don't feel genuine allegiance to.' If a good enough constitution were fashioned (certainly with equal rights features, probably with "dual citizenship" opportunities), and if adequate interim and long-term financial support were there, perhaps the package would turn out broadly to be adequate ... perhaps it would not. No one would be able to say authoritatively what the answer to that question would be without putting together a package, letting the people examine and consider it reflectively, and asking the people to mark their ballots. Virtually beyond dispute, though, is that such a poll would take on directly and honestly (and perhaps even equitably) four of the largest of the root causes of the current conflict.

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.38: (paul806) Fri, 19 Sep 1997 14:14:16 BST (17 lines)
Seam920 re your 4.37[ which began, "A small comment on the contribution 4.31 by Paul806, being rather trenchantly critical of Robin819."]: I hope you'll reexamine my various contributions to this conference (not least of which, the first paragraph of my 4.13) to see that, consistently, I have hugely desired open and dignified discussion and exchange of ideas.
When, though, I have put forward a point, and another party cavalierly dismisses it - not through genuine argument but through a mere wave of the hand and a curt "that's impossible" - I naturally feel compelled to point out the paucity of considered thought. I genuinely hope and expect that what I post in this conference will come under the close scrutiny of the participants; it would be rather odd if I felt differently about what other people post.
On substantive points I have raised, I would be most grateful to hear specific comments from you on where you think I have erred ... or, perhaps, regarding where you feel I have somehow stumbled onto some minor truth.

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.43: (paul806) Sun, 21 Sep 1997 15:16:37 BST (58 lines)
Steph852: Thanks for your 4.39[ "Paul806 makes sense when he suggests that the electorate may compromise when it comes to a vote on independence, certainly they are more likely to do so than many of the political leaders. This could be another way to keep momentum in the talks."]. I appreciate your tending to concur with the opinion that the Northern Ireland electorate might be able to compromise on a "middle ground" approach that their respective leaders cannot compromise on themselves.
How possibly to bring about that opportunity for the voters in Ulster is what you further discuss in your 4.39. Your comments brought to mind an analogy that's been on my mind for some time.
Let's say you have a car you want to sell, and you believe with all your heart that it's worth 1000 pounds, but you've advertised all over and no one has offered that amount. A first prospective buyer says to you: "If I can borrow 100 pounds from each of two cousins, get a 100 pounds advance from my boss, scavenge 100 pounds worth of old metals from an abandoned factory site, and combine those amounts with the 100 pounds I already have, will you sell me the car for 500 pounds?" It wouldn't be at all surprising if you said the polite equivalent of "shove off" (such as, "Come back and see me when you've got a 1000 pounds in your pocket."): life is short, this person hasn't offered you any substantial evidence that he can get together even 500 pounds, and that 500 pounds would only be half of what you wanted in the first place. (You might well further conclude that, if you give this guy any sort of encouragement, he'll come back next time and say, "I could only get together 300 pounds, but you suggested last time you'd take 500 pounds, and 300 isn't really that much less than 500, so will you sell for 300?")
If, though, a second prospective buyer comes by, takes out his wallet, counts out 500 pounds in cash, and says, "Do we have a deal?," you would be faced with a very different question: that amount, too, is only half of what you want, but it's the best offer you've yet seen, and this deal - unlike the first one - can be fully consummated immediately. I'm not telling you that I know exactly what you'd wind up doing, but you'd be faced with one hellova lot tougher decision. You might ultimately decide that that bird in the hand was worth more than the two in the bush you've been hoping for.
My points are these: (i) if a "first buyer" type of offer regarding possible independence is ever presented formally to the Northern Ireland voters, as through some "preferendum," we should expect to hear a rather resounding "no" response (this Conference itself has demonstrated that some people seem to believe - resolutely though entirely incorrectly - that even putting together an honest-to-God "ready-to-wear" plan for fair and workable independence is impossible) but (ii) no one knows - or can know - for certain how those same voters would in fact react to a "ready-to- wear" plan that would give them, politically, only about half of what they would like in a perfect world (which, rather plainly, we don't live in).
The British government, particularly with Labour's large majority, has the power to see if a "ready-to-wear" plan can indeed be fashioned. If a group such as this Conference encouraged Blair to do so, we all might see directly answered an interesting question whose answer we cannot know today: would fair and workable independence be good enough to settle the matter?

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.46: (paul806) Tue, 23 Sep 1997 23:36:25 BST (38 lines)
Steph852,
Regarding your 4.45 ["The best way to convince people in this conference that a 'ready to wear' independence[ is possible] is for you to provide one."], I couldn't possibly agree with you more ... which is why I spent a year in Belfast writing a book with precisely that goal in mind; the book was published in the middle of 1993. After six overview chapters on the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the book included the following as its "Part II: A Chance for Peace in Northern Ireland": Chapter Seven: "Non-Solutions"; Chapter Eight: "Independence: A Constitutional Framework"; Chapter Nine: "Towards Implementation"; Chapter Ten: "Could a Proposal for Independence Succeed?"; Conclusion; and Postscript Conclusion.
In light of your suggestion, you might be interested to review the following, an early and a concluding portion from Chapter Eight:

*******
[I]t should be abundantly clear that nothing here is written in stone - everything [discussed in this Chapter] would be subject to additional study, discussion, and modification. The main contention of this chapter is that this constitutional proposal, taken as a whole, could meet the political needs of Northern Ireland today.
****
The aim of this chapter was to present a prima facie case for the feasibility of constructing a workable constitution for an independent Northern Ireland. ... It would be, at best, fatuous to assert that implementation of this or any other constitutional proposal could solve all the many and varied problems of Northern Ireland. The argument here is, instead, that the adoption of a constitution following this, or an equivalent, framework would establish a political structure within which the general situation in Northern Ireland could finally begin to improve.
*******

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.49: (paul806) Wed, 24 Sep 1997 17:48:46 BST (68 lines)
Jam978: Your 4.47 comments voiced feelings that are likely widely shared ["Independence is 2nd best solution for most Unionists and is a non-starter for Nationalists. Stormont was bad enough but there's no way u'd let them run the place on their own. ... Solve what is possible not what is impossible."]. Please allow me to address a couple of them.
I think it is hugely important that any independence plan receive very broad support. For that reason, it has been my view that no such plan should be implemented unless it can get the approval of the Irish government, the people of the Republic (through a constitutional referendum), and at least two out of three voting in a Northern Ireland plebiscite.
Maybe getting that level of support - even for the most fair and most perfect independence proposal that humankind could ever imagine - would, at the end of the day, prove to be impossible. But, particularly where Northern Nationalists - whom the last election demonstrated to be roughly 40% Northern Ireland's voters - would themselves be able to "veto" such a plan, what would be the harm (especially after seeing three decades of failure in other efforts) in actually trying to see whether such a plan for independence might be possible and acceptable? (Along these lines, I'd greatly appreciate hearing your specific comments on my posting:4.25 and the second-to-last paragraph of my posting:4.13.)
You correctly say that independence is a second-best solution for Unionists, but I'd respectfully disagree with the notion that it is a "non-starter" for Nationalists. Over the course of several years in the second half of the 1970's, Sean McBride was himself serving for a representative of the IRA in obviously informal talks with the UDA on possible independence. At about the same time, there were backbench calls (which were unsuccessful) within the SDLP in favor of examining possible independence; as I understand, at least one high-ranking person ultimately left the SDLP over that issue. Of course, I'm not trying to tell you that, today, Nationalists are widely and constantly screaming for this approach to be investigated, but these Nationalists and some others have indeed been interested in looking into it further.
You wrote that there's no way you'd let Unionists "run the place on their own." What if a government could be set up so that Unionists would clearly not "run the place on their own"? What if it could be constructed so that - entirely different from the pre-1973 Stormont - Nationalists would have genuine and real participation in that government? (Please note that I'm not talking about setting up bogus "watchdog committees" in some new parliament; I'm proposing that Nationalists have honest-to-God power and direct impact in such a government ... and I'm suggesting, too, that that government could work well.)
Here's perhaps my greatest concern regarding what you've written. I think a "ready-to-wear" plan for independence could be constructed and that it could ultimately receive the support of voters in the Republic and more than two out of three voters in the North, whereas you think that independence is simply "a non-starter for Nationalists." If I am wrong about my position, and if a proposal aspiring to that end is formally developed and put to a vote, it will simply fail; the situation at that point wouldn't be a lot worse, if at all, from what it is now. If, though, you're wrong about your position, and if independence is disregarded merely because people tend to believe and assume it to be impossible, then people will have walked away from a middle-ground approach without ever giving it a fair look or an appropriate chance.
Your position can be proven completely correct by trying what I suggest and seeing it fail somewhere along the way ... but that's the only way you can prove your position to be correct. Otherwise, one person's guessing that independence wouldn't work may not hold any more water than someone else's guessing that it might work. Especially given the stakes, why not find out for sure instead of just guessing?

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.53: (paul806) Thu, 25 Sep 1997 15:12:22 BST (41 lines)
In posting:4.51, Robin819 agrees with posting:4.47: "Jam978 is right to criticise paul806's monologue on independence (to which old Northern Ireland hands have already been relentlessly exposed)[.]"
Robin819 fails to note, however, that, in posting:4.50, Jam978 kindly begins his reply message (to my posting:4.49) by saying: "Paul, I have no problem with your proposals being put to a referendum."
What I find very difficult to understand is this: if a person is so confident that a fair and workable plan for independence could not succeed, why should he be so reluctant to be proven correct? Why not let Britain work up such a plan, put it to the appropriate plebiscites, and see it fail? (The answer can't be simply a "waste of time" argument; look at all the time that's been wasted already in woefully inadequate political approaches over the past generation.) Such a person would then be in a position to trumpet: "Though I may not have found a way forward myself, I have definitively demonstrated that Paul806 was wrong!!" Rightly or wrongly, I personally would find no great shame in that result; I tend to think - particularly in matters of great import - that it is better to try and fail than never to try at all.
Whatever relentlessness I may have in this regard stems largely from the fact that these most recent "Troubles" may hit their fourth decade and may even go beyond that point: they haven't been solved yet. Perhaps they will prove entirely beyond the wit of man to solve. Perhaps they will be solved by a seventeenth or twenty-ninth or forty-third round of constitutional tweaking.
But perhaps they might be resolved another way that some people seem resolutely determined to assume - with an unsubstantiated veneer of authoritativeness - cannot succeed. As I wrote in a letter earlier this year:

******
In the end, it seems difficult to disagree seriously with the Easter message (Belfast Telegraph, 31 March 1997) of Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Robin Eames: "We all long for a breakthrough in relationships which will remove the obstacles to a community at peace with itself." Along these lines, "[t]he Archbishop said Northern Ireland needs more men and women of vision who can ask the question: 'Why not?'"
******

N_I_2nd_Stage.4.56: (paul806) Thu, 25 Sep 1997 23:58:13 BST (10 lines)
Steph852 re your 4.54: Thanks for the encouraging comments and suggestions and, all the more, for your open-mindedness[: "I think everyone should give Paul806's idea a chance"].
What I think might be best would be if I were able to work up a text file for one or more of the parts of my earlier writing (especially, Chapter Eight on "Independence: A Constitutional Framework") and see if there might be a way to make it accessible through this Conference.
The administrators are very prompt in their responses, so perhaps we can figure out a way to do this in the next few days.

All postings should be regarded as (c) The Creative Team and (c) The Author, unless otherwise stated.

 

 

 

 

Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

Home

 



 

 

It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
 
Index: Current Articles

27 October 2002

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Bloody Sunday
Seaghán Ó Murchú

 

Under the Ulster Hand

Brian Mór

 

Security Forces

Brian Mór

 

Selling Ideas
Liam O Ruairc

 

Dirty Harry
Anthony McIntyre

 

Thoughts On The Coming War (Part 2)
Sean O Torain

 

Academics on Independence (Part 3)

Paul Fitzsimmons

 

Reform By Imprisonment
Sam Bahour

 

24 October 2002

 

Stand Up And Be Counted
Mickey Donnelly

 

Read It And Weep

Mick Hall

 

Particularity Or Universality?
Liam O Ruairc

 

Time Has Run Out For An Armed IRA
Anthony McIntyre

 

Thoughts On The Coming War
Sean O Torain

 

The Letters Page has been updated.

 

 

 

The Blanket

Home

 

 

Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
Letters
Archives
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices