If politicians won't change then the voters will have to
STILL in the eye of the storm, eight months after the controversial Bobby Storey funeral, Sinn Féin finally produced more of the non-apologies, in which is specialises. Looking forward to the next assembly election, no doubt the cynical calculation is that it will all be forgotten by then, it has always worked before.
Lincoln famously identified different groups of voters and while SF is well able to fool many, all of the time, it is increasingly clear that Lincoln’s second group, those who can be fooled some of the time, is shrinking, possibly rapidly, hence the belated, if hardly heartfelt, SF apologies.
Sinn Féin and the DUP are already in campaigning mode, are they ever not? Even in the face of the worst pandemic in 100 years, the urge to view every decision through the prism of how it will play in an election campaign has been unshakeable. In reality, it is almost certain that after the 2022 assembly election, SF and the DUP will be reinstalled in one or other of the first and deputy first roles. For the DUP resorting to the old, tried and tested, circle the wagons tactics, allied to the PR system might be enough, especially if the supposedly moderate, non-voting garden centre unionists, (do they exist?) continue, with a few exceptions, to sit it out. As to Sinn Féin, one wonders if the party hit its electoral high tide in 2017, with RHI disgust, and now its endless, cynical tub thumping will prove counter-productive? As both parties shed seats, SF’s vote might even fall further than the DUP, given its recent antics along with the range of non-unionist electoral alternatives.
It would be ironic, just as Mary Lou is preparing to tell southern voters: “It’s time for a change”, if voters in the north settled on the very same idea, resulting in more politicians from the other parties gathered around the executive table. Who knows once voters discover that the sky will not fall in, that devolved government can even be positive, if not normal, they might vote for alternative parties even more strongly again in 2027. After all, if the politicians we have won’t change, then the voters will have to change politicians.
Impartial police service is welcome and something we could get used to
THE Bobby Storey funeral debacle reveals an existential crisis for unionism and to a lesser extent Sinn Féin. For almost 80 years the RUC was the “military wing of unionism,” designed and set up to be a Protestant police force for a Protestant people. While many will rightly say that there were decent RUC men this does not take away from the fact that the ethos of the RUC was unionist and its behaviour during its lifetime bore this out. Using tactics more in tune with the old South Africa, the RUC lost all credibility. Out of its ashes grew a new modern police service, the PSNI.
While SF has shrewdly taken its place on the Policing Board and monitored PSNI activity, unionism has been unable to adapt to the new reality of an impartial police service. The ingrained unionist mentality that the police should serve their political ends “has not gone away, you know”. The rage of Arlene Foster and other unionists when no-one was charged, displayed the inability to deal with reality that has plagued unionism from the inception of the state.
Simon Byrne was placed in an impossible situation. Crowds were going to turn out for Storey’s funeral, Covid or no Covid. To many people Storey was a hero, a legend, and people felt a desire to express their feelings. Unlike the chief constables of the RUC, Byrne knew that he couldn’t order his men to beat nationalists off the streets. Any reasonable person would see that he did the best he could in the circumstances.
The rage of unionism reveals how much they resent the emergence of modern impartial policing in NI. While policing by nature is never perfect, it is certainly much better than before. The existential challenge for unionism is, can they adjust to the new reality of a Northern Ireland where policing is not political. For SF the problem lies in the fact that its voters are becoming quite content in this new state that bears no resemblance to what most of us were brought up in. Experiencing an impartial police service is a new thing for us; we could get quite used to it.
Dysfunction is hindering unity
THE partition of Ireland prevented the exercise of self-determination by the Irish people. Those in the six counties who had fought for, voted for and given allegiance to the Republic were forced into a polity that denied their rights and sought to submerge their identity.
A border poll under the terms of the GFA will by contrast be the exercise of self-determination by the Irish people north and south with in-built safeguards for British identity following reunification. People will vote for or against reunification based on the prospectus before them and some will of course be disappointed with the outcome. This is true of every electoral exercise. There is, however, no coercion involved and there will be no ‘captured minority’ facing discrimination, gerrymandering or a denial of rights.
Those attempting to create an equivalence between the imposition and the removal of partition may wish to impede constitutional change. This ploy is neither credible nor convincing and need not long detain those working to initiate such change
It is not, however, possible for the north to move beyond the cycle of rhetoric, riots and recrimination without considering where the remedy must lie when a polity, the political institutions it incorporates and the political discourse it promotes are continually dysfunctional. This question would therefore offer a more productive area of focus.