The Blanket


A journal of protest & dissent


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead



Accomodating Diversity

Towards A Second Republic - Introduction


Ciarán Irvine


Many commentators have made many criticisms of the Good Friday Agreement. In so many ways it is an imperfect - even deeply flawed - document. Yet most of this criticism has offered other than vague utopian-isms on how to make it better. And defenders of this particular Agreement eagerly seize on this lack of constructive criticism to “prove” their case that there is “no alternative” to the GFA.

One reason for this apparent lack is that critics on the Republican side of the fence have no interest in constructing an Even Newer And More Improved Stormont Mk III! I personally believe that those unhappy with the current anti-democratic structure should be concentrating on developing a comprehensive framework - theroetical, constitutional, institutional and legislative - for a Second Republic that we can all call home. And I mean all - Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter, Atheist, Hindu, Muslim, Nationalist, Republican, Unionist, Loyalist, Southern Anglo-Irish, Southern Gaels, Sino-Irish, Nigerian-Irish, Romanian-Irish - anybody and everybody that resides upon this island.

A major task, yet not an impossible one. We have the examples (good and bad) from many other countries to to complement our own native talents and experience. Building a big enough tent to hold everybody who is Irish, in the broadest sense of being from this island, can be done with a bit of imagination and effort. There are those who cry that it is impossible - I say it’s never been tried, and that those who resist it generally benefit in some way from the chaotic and unnatural current state of Irish politics and society.

Our first lesson lies in one of the primary flaws of the GFA - its institutionalisation of sectarianism. By forcing everybody to “take sides” - Unionist, Nationalist or Other - and ignoring the votes of the “Others”, the GFA crystallizes the divisions, formalises and perpetuates them. Every act by politicians within the GFA framework now boils down to, in essence, playing in one of two inter-related games:

a) seeking dominance of one’s own “side” from intra-community rivals e.g. the battle between the UUP and DUP or that between the SDLP and SF; or
b) ensuring that over the medium-term your “side” remains/becomes the numerically dominant faction.

Nothing else is really important within the system. The performance of an Executive Minister is largely meaningless due to the London/NIO control over the purse strings and strategic policy objectives. The Sectarian Swindle is the only real game in town. Thus, as a mechanism for reducing divisions and promoting reconciliation, the GFA is not just a failure but positively perverse!

We should also bear in mind the utter failure of similar “diversity promotion” schemes over the last 30 years around the world. Affirmative action, quotas, special-interest-group lobbying, exemptions and dispensations - none of these actually work, and none succeed in reducing inter-group tensions. The fatal flaw should be obvious, yet policy-makers around the world persist in making the same mistake again and again. The flaw is this - by the mere act of creating categories to be monitored, the vital sense of “otherness” is created in the minds of everyone, and group allegiance dynamics automatically come into play. In simpler terms, while an individual may initially resent being categorised and placed in a particular “camp”, it is only human nature to seek out others in your category and to instinctively cheer on your “team” - even if a “victory” for the team may mean a loss for other individuals. Put even more simply, once people are divided people up into categories it eventually and automatically leads to a certain level of dehumanisation of the “others”. And so group tensions and rivalries are merely reinforced by any such programme, whether the situation be Northern Ireland, US race relations, protection of ethnic/religious minorities, gender equality etc…

In the existing Republic, a high level of centralisation of all power in Dublin has led directly to the ludicrous imbalance in economic development between the East and West - with the social problems of rural depopulation and poverty in the West and an urban underclass in the East, as a result. The brown-envelope planning scandals currently under investigation, the other excesses and abuses of the Haughey era, current problems in the Garda Siochána, clientelism and “parish-pump” politics - all of these are the result of massive power at central level and no real power at the local - and no mechanism to separate central political control from impartial oversight.

Putting all this together we need a system which creates a Big Tent for all Irish citizens; accommodates geographically concentrated groupings - with various differing national identities/affiliations; avoids the possibility of majoritarian tyranny; avoids excessive centralisation of power; discourages corruption; and protects and promotes equality of opportunity for all citizens without explicitly endorsing sectarianism and group interest politics.

But what system could meet these requirements?

Towards a Second Republic - Framework




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




The Blanket



INDEX: Current Articles



Latest News & Views

Index: Current Articles

 Book Reviews 



The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002

Republican Voices



To contact the Blanket project with a comment, to contribute an article, or to make a donation, write to: