Thursday, February 09, 2006

Northern Ireland, the debate continues

Well, my post from last night has generated some comments here and elsewhere, and another post on United Irelander. Specifically, I've just had a comment from 'an deoraíocht' of The Northern Irish Magyar, and it's both a good one and specifically disagreeing with a number of my points; I typed up a response, but it's long enough to justify a follow up post. I've snipped some of what he said, as the full text of both would make this, well, too long; apologies if it's a little dijointed to read...
Hi matgb,
Hello to another new commenter, guess I'll have to get used to this sort of thing if I keep kicking worm cans ;-)
First, you're use of the term "Protestant ascendancy"- you need to update your history books mate!

The most recent Census in Northern Ireland showed that that the Shankill(overwhelmingly Unionist) ward was also the most socio-economically deprived, 5 out of the ten most deprived wards in Belfast were also Unionist.
To be completely honest, I used the term both as a short hand and a catch all. However, I've heard it said, and there are people (in GB as well as quoted in NI) that do agree with the ascendancy; it's also one of the reasons the province was created, etc. Yes, it's completely outdated, but there are still those who believe in it.

I'm, obviously, not one of them. But they are out there, it's not just a historical relic. I'd also surmise that there are those within Shankill that believe in the Union because, despite being poor, they're still not Catholics. They may be a dwindling minority, but they were there 10 years ago, I suspect they're still there now.
Now, I know you're not daft enough to think we all live in castles, but also the use of the word "Protestant" probably also is outdated, don't let what you see on 30 second snatches on tv fool you.
I do not, in any way, believe that all unionists are loonies, I'm actually talking mostly about why Britain is still there and why it was there; and protestantism was part of the reason we were there.

I am, of course, saying the idea of a protestant ascendancy is over, but that was one of the reasons for the Union in the first place. If one of the basic reasons is compeltely outdated, and others no longer apply, why keep it?

Note, however, I'm not talking about your perspective as a resident, but from mine as a 'mainlander'. We, it seems, don't want to hold on to the province any more.
"We (well, I) no longer want them, and consider them no more British than you; part of the British Isles, but that's it, Britain is this side of the water."

I'm sorry that you feel like that matgb, but it doesn't take away the fact that I was born and will die British. Your opinion on that matter is neither here nor there;)
You may have been born British; but you weren't born in Britain, merely a territory of Britain, part of the UK, an entity I, personally, feel no attachment to or desire to maintain. As, essentially, Westminster can, legally, change the status of the province without the consent of the residents, my opinion, as a voter with a Westminster MP, is very much her and there...
The proposal you suggest( and I know this wasn't your intention) has a whiff of ethnic cleansing about it. Troublesome group of people don't fit into their surroundings, move them out of their home and country regardless of their own wishes.
You're right, of course, a brief comment reply in which I quickly summed up my views doesn't do them, or you, justice; if I'd known UI would quote the comment as a whole, I'd have framed my words slightly better, but the basic principle remains.
Now, if you'd said that it's up to the British government and the Irish to prove to us why it would be in our long-term interest to break our constitutional link with Westminster, then I could have accepted that.
Which, if I was writing a full post on the subject, I would have. I'll give it a go now:

I believe that Westminster/Dublin need to resolve the conflict with a long term plan for the status of the province. Part of that plan must be to explain to yourselves and others that, essentially, we (in GB) don't necessarily care about the status of the province any more, we just want the problem solved. It is in the long-term best interests of all involved, but especially the residents, that a solution be found that can last passed the next election. That may mean a break, and will almost certainly lead to a change, of the link with Westminster.

Ergo, we have to persuade you, you're right. That's why I said it's not (yet) the time for a significant change. If it comes across that I was suggesting some form of cleansing, I most certainly was not, and apologies.

The essense was that if the settlement will involve a change in the status of the province such that you are no longer formally British but a citizen of something else, then you must be given the right to remain British if you so wish, and either live in Britain proper or live as an overseas citizen. I would not deny your right to be British at all.

I would remove all claim that Britain has to the 6 counties if I thought it was a valid long term settlement. I don't, currently, and suspect it never will be. It is also my belief that Westminster leaders are failing to be fully honest with Unionist politicians; Paisley (and his voters), need to be told, and understand, that when he comes on any media and rants int he way he is wont to do, he alienates more and more British voters from the Unionist cause; one of Nationalism's greatest assets is currently Paisley's outdated ranting; ironic, n'est ce pas?
The sad truth for the little Englanders(no offence) and United Irelanders of this world is that no matter how much you dislike it, the Unionist of N.Ireland are British and are here to stay. By all means use negotiation and persuasion to change their mind, but this kind of" they can accept whatever settlement we offer them" nonsense has zero chance of delivering a peaceful solution to the present situation.

And I'd never be offended when someone insults little Englanders, as I do it all the time.

I'm Devonshire, English, British and European; essentially we made one Union, it worked for its time, but now I look to a greater one. Cleaning up the mess our ancestors jointly made is something that has to be done.

Essentially, I'll accept any solution that gives us a long term settlement. I suspect complete autonomy and dual-sovereignty is the best option. But it's not my place to decide. It has to be a question for all the citizens of the UK.

I wonder, if put the question "would you give up sovereignty over Northern Ireland and end the United Kingodom" was put to the populace as a whole, which of us would like the anser most?

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Formed by the Act of Union of 1800, as amended by various other devices.

Personally, I'd repeal the thing and stick to the 1707 Act, but that's just this bloggers opinion...

And, having checked that twice, I give up on spotting typos, they're still there, I can tell it...

15 comments:

Toque said...

"I'm Devonshire, English, British and European; essentially we made one Union, it worked for its time, but now I look to a greater one. Cleaning up the mess our ancestors jointly made is something that has to be done."

What are you talking about Mat? I find it very amusing that you wish to withdraw to the boundaries of the 1707 Union but are content to label people like me - that are content for any and all of the UK to remain united should it be the collective wish, but with the stipulation that England should have a national legislature as the rest do - a little englander. As a little britisher you obviously don't see the irony in that.

United Irelander said...

The British government have been subsidising the north of Ireland annually to the tune of £1.5bn.

That cannot continue.

The North is sucking up British taxpayer's money and you make an interesting point, Mat - what if the British people throughout the UK were asked in a referendum if they wanted that to continue?

I'd bet any money that the British people would vote to be free of NI.

If devolution can't be restored in the North then we should have Joint Authority from London and Dublin paying the cost equally.

That is the only fair solution if the North's institutions cannot be restored.

jonn said...

There's always the Kosovo option: have the UN/the EU/NATO run it as a protectorate until more permanent arrangements can be sorted out. I hear Lord Ashdown's available again...

Toque: England having a national legislature seems a bit of a silly idea to me, since it would quite closely parallel the House of Commons (although different electoral cycles would obviously affect that).

Regional devolution of the kind recently rejected in the north east seems much more sensible to me. Splitting England into regions of a few million people - Anglia, Yorkshire, West Country etc - shouldn't be too hard, and would hopefully prevent whole chunks of the country from being starved of investment and influence over economic policy like they were in the 80s.

The problem, of course, is that the instant reaction of the press to any such proposal would be "Another layer of bureaucrats wasting YOUR money!" and public support would collapse.

Good feature on constitutional reform in February's Prospect, by the way.

an deoraíocht said...

”I am, of course, saying the idea of a protestant ascendancy is over, but that was one of the reasons for the Union in the first place. If one of the basic reasons is compeltely outdated, and others no longer apply, why keep it?”

The point that I was making was that in the South, those who considered themselves primarily British rather than Irish, were (obviously) Protestant and of the landed class, “Ascendancy” was an appropriate term. In the 9 counties of Ulster, this was never the case, the majority of settlers and their descendants were, what we would describe today, as lower middle and working class. To be a part of the“Ascendancy” you need to have material advantages over those you are “ascendant” over and as is proven by the stats, this is no longer the case in NI.

Also, whilst the overwhelming majority of Unionists (who vote) would classify themselves also as Protestant, an increasing proportion of those who are satisfied with the link with Britain are Catholic or (like me!) heathen non-believers!

Anyway, that’s the pedantry over with!


You may have been born British; but you weren't born in Britain, merely a territory of Britain, part of the UK, an entity I, personally, feel no attachment to or desire to maintain. As, essentially, Westminster can, legally, change the status of the province without the consent of the residents, my opinion, as a voter with a Westminster MP, is very much her and there..”

Yes, you are entitled to your opinion of course and technically of course, Westminster could remove my legal right to be British. But it wouldn’t change my national identity, only my legal one. Thus I’m 100% sure, I will die British!

“I would remove all claim that Britain has to the 6 counties if I thought it was a valid long term settlement. I don't, currently, and suspect it never will be.”

The British government no longer has any economic or military reason for holding onto N.Ireland, the sole reason that NI remains British is that the majority of its residents wish it to remains so.

“It is also my belief that Westminster leaders are failing to be fully honest with Unionist politicians; Paisley (and his voters), need to be told, and understand, that when he comes on any media and rants int he way he is wont to do, he alienates more and more British voters from the Unionist cause; one of Nationalism's greatest assets is currently Paisley's outdated ranting; ironic, n'est ce pas?”

No argument with you there. The greatest chance of survival of the our link to the Uk rests with the emergence of a secular and modern type of Unionism. And this is also the greatest threat to Sinn fein’s ultimate dream of a United Ireland. Hence their and the IRA’s destruction of Trimble and the fledging liberal strand of Unionsm by refusal to disarm pre 2001.

”I wonder, if put the question "would you give up sovereignty over Northern Ireland and end the United Kingodom" was put to the populace as a whole, which of us would like the anser most?”

I suspect it would be the lowest ever turnout in a referendum anywhere in the free world!

But you outline the crux of our whole debate here.

Who should have that ultimate responsibility to decide their own destiny?
The people of Northern Ireland themselves?
Or should that decision be taken over their head by the rest of our fellow citizens in the UK?

I’d argue that by all democratic principles it’s the only people of NI who should have be able to make the choice of whether we are governed by London or Dublin.

(and well done Mat, you’re at least making me think on a cold, wet Friday morning!)

jonn said...

An deoraíocht: agree that the key determinant has to be what the people of NI want, but the popular will on the mainland (or in the Republic, come to that) can't be ignored. Again, it's the money issue: the six counties are a pretty deprived region, and someone has to pick up their bills... That someone is the British (or Irish, if the island were reunited) taxpayer. I don't think those are the people who should have the final say, but they are a factor.

...this is fun, isn't it? Not very bloggy though. Maybe we should hurl a bit more abuse at each other.

Jago said...

I always thought the Protestant Ascendency were the old landowners. I went to school with one in the fifties, Dad was a major and owned a deer park in Tyrone, son went on to Eton. People like William Yates and Samuel Becket were of the Prot Asc. The people of the Shankhill are the planted of the plantations facing post-industrial poverty.

jonn said...

Aren't most of the strongest feelings about the Irishness or Britishness of the six counties held by the poorer communities anyway?

A friend from Antrim once told me that NI had three major newspapers: one for the protestants, one for the catholics and one for the middle-classes who didn't think in those terms. Is that accurate?

Katherine said...

I've always wondered who in Great Britain (as in the big island) had particularly strong feelings either way on whether NI should stay as part of the UK or join Eire. And why they would have those strong feelings?

My view, as a mainlander, is that what the NI people want (i.e. vote for) the NI people get. If they wanted to join Eire, why on earth would I or anyone else want to stop them doing so? But then, I have never understood why any country would want to keep hold of an area that didn't want to be kept hold of. I could never be a nationalist.

United Irelander said...

Katherine

"But then, I have never understood why any country would want to keep hold of an area that didn't want to be kept hold of. I could never be a nationalist."

Surely a nationalist wants the opposite? To be part of an area that does want it!

We tend to forget that the people of Ireland, north and south, would prefer to live in a United Ireland but yet we cannot because of the majority in NI who don't want it. The NI state was built to give a gerrymandered unionist majority which is where the problem stems from.

I would argue that it is unionists who wish to be part of an area that doesn't want it - the UK.

an deoraiocht said...

Jonn
"Again, it's the money issue: the six counties are a pretty deprived region, and someone has to pick up their bills"

We're not the only deprived region in the UK and remember that we pay exactly the same amount of taxes as you do! In fact now that you mention it, I might push to have Liverpool and Newcastle pushed out of the UK also, I'm sick of subsidising those workshy Scouse and Geordies ;)

UI

"We tend to forget that the people of Ireland, north and south, would prefer to live in a United Ireland but yet we cannot because of the majority in NI who don't want it."

I think the last part of your post is the exact point that Katherine was making. Why hanker after a territory, when the majority of the people within their territory( which you admitted yourself) want nothing to do with your state?

In other words,is the land of the six counties more important than the opinion of the inhabitants who live in it?

ken said...

Why should the whole UK vote on keeping NI in the union when only the Scots and the welsh were alowed to vote on semi leaving. Of course I agree it somthing that concerns all of us not just the people of NI, or Scotland or Wales.

United Irelander said...

an deoraíocht (still getting used to this!)

"I think the last part of your post is the exact point that Katherine was making. Why hanker after a territory, when the majority of the people within their territory( which you admitted yourself) want nothing to do with your state?"

But the point I was making was that from a nationalist standpoint, the territory is the island and the majority want unity!

"In other words,is the land of the six counties more important than the opinion of the inhabitants who live in it?"

The issue is, what is the territory which takes precedence? For nationalists it is the island, for unionists it has traditionally been the island of Britain and the 6 counties but will that change seeing as the British seem to want rid of NI?

an deoraíocht said...

UI
"The issue is, what is the territory which takes precedence? For nationalists it is the island, for unionists it has traditionally been the island of Britain and the 6 counties"

but it's not territory in reality we're talking about here, but people. And how I'm seen as on the mainland really doesn't bother me. I pay my taxes and if in the future the cause was just(eg as in WW2) I'd fight (like my grandfather's generation) for my country, despite what the rest of my countrymen think of me.

This is where in my opinion Irish nationalism makes it's biggest mistake, the return of the "6 counties" territory has become a mantra,and very little thought has gone into what it would actually entail in personal terms if that happened tomorrow.

Different history, culture, heroes and as we've discussed once or twice before(!) football teams.

The first objective should be a reconciliation of the two traditions within Northern Ireland. Without that, there'll be no lasting peace whether we under Westminster's or the Dail's jurisdiction. If that's achieved then the recognition of each other's Britishness or Irishness is a logical progression. That's what we should be aiming for.

(It's much more comfortable & fun debating this in a neutral blog isn't it?;)

MatGB said...

@ Gareth: Never (ever) referred to you as a little Englander, by the semi-serious definiation I use, anyone that moved entire country is most certainly not insular. And I'm very aware of the irony, but essentially I'm looking for long term solutions. BTW, am reading that article you linked to from the Constituion professor, very good, but a little dry, have it printed and will take notes and write up a proper review, I think it deserves it.

@John, I wouldn't call it silly, but I would say it's not the right answer to a very serious question that is passed addressing.

@AD (and Jago), on pedantry, I probably haven't mentioned that I've also had in mind that the idea of an ascendacy was also part of the reasons Britain was there, and I have actually encountered it, in discussions, with people younger than me on the mainland; words to the effect of "we can't abandon them, we sent their ancestors there to fight for our [protestant] cause". It's relevent to observe that those sentiments are out there, on both sides of the sea; thee and me think they're outdated, but they're still there. Marginalised, perhaps, but asserting it as so is needed to get the point across, especially to Paisley and the Loyalist extremists.

@ John; the civility of the discussion, and the interesting ideas put forward, is great. I think it's a sign of the different blogging culture we're developing on this side of the Atlantic, civility even when talking about very serious issues.

@ Katherine; essentially, I agree, I wouldn't ever force a settlement on anyone, but I do think the inhabitants need to be aware that the 'mainland' view has changed, and the Unionists no longer have our carte blanche support.

@UI; while I'm happy to acknowledge that the majority of Irish residents want a united Ireland, I also acknowledge that the inhabitants of the 6 counties do not (at least the majority, anyway). Can't force them to change their citizenship, thus a compromise is needed; the "most of us that think ourselves as X want this" argument was, lest we forget, also used when a certain German leader annexed the Sudetanland (sp?) as well. NB; I'm not, at all, sugggesting you'd support such a move either, but you need consent of inhabitants for a change.

I hope that that consetn will come faster if they get to understand we no longer care one way or another over here in GB.

@AD, the significant difference is, of course, that there isn't a significant body of opinion on Newcastle, etc to leave the UK. But you're, of course, right, economics and cost can only be part of the argument.

Your second point in that comment I've covered above.

@Ken; a)the Scots and Welsh haven't 'semi left', they've merely got devolved powers, that can be overridden, at any time, by Westminster and/or the Privy Council, they remain integral parts of GB, just on different terms; I've heard both described as 'glorified county councils', and I'm inclined, as it happens, to agree.

b) Because NuLab handled things incredibly badly and haven't either completed the settlement or run a full, national consultation, is not a reason to dismiss it out of hand; NuLab could mess up the best idea in the world, let alone something opinion will always be divied over...

@UI; covered already

@AD, you're right, of course, it's people that matter (ever watched Brassed Off or listened to the sample thereof on the album version of Chumbawamba's Tubthumping?)

You're also right that the 6-counties mantra is as outdated for Nationalism as the insularism UI highlights is for Unionism. Oh yeah, I hate football, displacing patriotism into sport is something I really dislike.

The first objective should be a reconciliation of the two traditions within Northern Ireland. Without that, there'll be no lasting peace whether we under Westminster's or the Dail's jurisdiction.
Absolutely, agree completely. Um, would you, as a Unionist resident, accept dual sovereignty if it meant a potentially lasting peace?

(It's much more comfortable & fun debating this in a neutral blog isn't it?;)
Am very happy to be having it hear, I'm both enjoying the conversation and glad I started it. Essentially, the Irish and NI 'blogosphere' is something I've mostly not looked into. That really ought to change.

*more blogs to read? I have a job to do as well...*

Blimey, 13 comments while I've been out of the county. Very cool, and especially pleased with the civility and engagement.

I'm liking this blogging lark more and more.

MatGB said...

Y'know what would be really nice? If blogger and blogspot would let me publish a blog post. Gah!