Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Partition remains a problem

The main political parties in the Republic of Ireland continue to meet to discuss the fallout of last week's election results but right now I'd like to turn my attention to how the election results are being perceived north of the border and, specifically, how this relates to the issue of Partition.

I've been very annoyed to hear many commentators in the North mistaking Sinn Féin being rejected at the polls as Partition being rejected at the polls.

Take for example Monday's Radio Ulster Talkback programme (last half an hour) which focused on Sinn Féin's election performance. This broadcast referenced an article by Balrog's Chris Gaskin who is angry that his piece was used to attack his party. That's fair enough but I'm more angry about the programme using the election result to make out that we in the south are no longer interested in Partition. Sorry, but this is totally untrue.

The broadcast featured the woefully inept Henry McDonald of the Observer who felt that the election shows we in the south are no longer interested in the North and that we are content with Partition. Henry then went on to say, much to my amazement, that we in the South do not like people in the North because of their accents! He justifies this because he went to a meeting in Dublin once and a lady insulted him over it. I'll tackle this man's nonsense in a moment. First let me touch on the issue of Partition so I can set a few people straight, mainly naive unionists, who seem to think that the apathy towards Sinn Féin reflects an apathy towards Partition.

First off, the party which won the election - Fianna Fáil - are a republican party. They want to see Ireland reunited. The same is true of Fine Gael, Labour and every other party in the south. Consistently polls in the south show a majority of the inhabitants in favour of ending Partition, hence why the parties hold the views that they do. The reason why Partition was not an issue in the election is because in recent years we have taken steps to ensure that it is no longer an issue! This is what unionists have long sought. The constitutional question settled. Under the Good Friday Agreement, a united Ireland can only occur if both parts of the island vote for it. Since a majority in the North have to vote first (and since this doesn't look to be happening in the near future) why on earth would we in the south talk about a united Ireland? We can't do anything about it down here until the people in the North take the necessary steps first.

Don't mistake silence for acquiescence. Starvation in Africa was not discussed in the general election. It doesn't mean we don't care about that issue. The violence in Iraq was not discussed in the general election. It doesn't mean we don't care about that issue, and so on and so forth. I think a lot of people in the North are having difficulty understanding the election results because the elections in NI go very differently. Up there the constitutional question remains at the forefront. In fact, it defines the whole political system. People are more used to hearing unionists express their love for Britishness and nationalists expressing their love for Irishness and the key issues like health, crime, the economy hardly get a look in. Rhetoric rules the roost. Here in the Republic, as well as in Britain, the key issues do take precedence. Chris over on Balrog wrote:

"We must also remember that the electorate in most of the 26 counties are not as trusting as the Northern voters. They require and demand proper policies and proper strategies from us. It's not like South Armagh or West Belfast where you could stand a donkey with a tricolour and they would get elected."

I don't think it's a case that Northern voters are more trusting. I think they're more naive. I agree with his main point though. We in the south aren't interested in who flies a tricolour or wears a republican badge. We want to know that our candidates can handle the bread and butter issues of politics. Rhetoric just won't wash. Just because people in the south are less susceptible to rhetoric does not mean we are less interested in reunification. Sorry to disappoint any unionists.

If there is a gulf developing in Irish politics it is northern nationalists who need to reflect on this. Prior to the election in the North, the SDLP (not Sinn Féin) received praise from the main parties in the South. Now you can argue that this is because it is in the interests of the south's main parties that Sinn Féin do poorly, and I concede there is a large degree of truth in that, but I think the reality is that the SDLP are the kind of party that we in the south can identify with. Nationalists in NI flocked to Sinn Féin and have made them the largest party in the North yet in the south they now possess only 4 seats out of 166. It seems to me that the reason a gulf may be forming is because northern nationalists are now pledging their support to the extreme wing of Irish nationalism whereas this is something we in the South will never do.

To me, the real question is not "why did Sinn Féin do so poorly in the South?" but rather, "why did Sinn Féin do so well in the North?" This is what the majority of us in the South are wondering.

Now then, let's go back to Henry McDonald's idiocy. Henry claimed that the election results indicate we in the south are content with Partition. That we feel there are two very different nations on the island and that we regard the North as a foreign entity. As someone born and reared in Dublin I can confirm categorically that this is fanciful rubbish. Henry needs to ask himself what Irishness actually is. You see to me and most people in the South, Irishness is Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught. It is 32 counties. It is learning the great Irish myths in school and about the Ulster hero Cúchulainn. It is learning the Irish language (and the various dialects including Ulster's). It is learning Irish history and the huge significance that Ulster has had on Irish history. Plantations, United Irishmen, Home Rule etc. It is Gaelic games. It is meeting up with a pal from the North and watching the all-island rugby team together.

We regard the North as a different place? Bollocks Henry. It is our country.

As for Henry's theory that Sinn Féin might have done badly because we in the South dislike Irish accents, it's probably not worth my while responding to this kind of infantile crap but I will. Firstly, as a caller mentioned to him, our President, Mary McAleese, is from Belfast. Secondly, going into this election, Gerry Adams had one of the highest approval ratings of all the party leaders - his poor grasp of the economy was his downfall. Not his bloody accent.

Right now the Republic has a huge immigrant population with non-nationals estimated to make up 10% of the population. Unlike countries like Britain and France which have had race riots, the immigrants in Ireland have had a mostly warm welcome from the majority. On United Irelander I put this point to Polish Ambassador to Ireland Witold Sobkow. Here is his reply:

"Ireland has no huge problems with immigration because of many factors. In France, for instance, you have a sizeable marginalised Muslim community, which is a legacy of France's colonial past. Ireland has no colonial past. For Ireland immigration is a relatively new phenomenon. For France, Britain or Germany it isn't. Ireland is pragmatic and presents an attitude worthy of praise: "if you have a problem, solve it constructively". One example of such a positive attitude is a decision to give up the requirement of knowing the Irish language for Garda recruits - as a result more than 200 immigrants are being trained to serve the Irish and their national communities - this is a step towards a better integration. There are Polish shops, churches, school, and cultural centres in Dublin. We feel at home."

And so despite Irish people welcoming Poles, Lithuanians and other non-nationals, Mr McDonald, a well-paid journalist I'm sure, seriously believes that we in the South have a problem with people from the north of Ireland...and their accents? I've never heard such utter nonsense in all my life. I'm really sorry that Mr McDonald encountered an unpleasant Dublin woman on a visit here. Hell, I know how he feels because I encountered plenty last night when I went out with some friends. The fact is however that this is not symptomatic of Dubliners being xenophobic, it is symptomatic of the fact that there are arseholes in every part of the world and you happened to meet one. Don't tar us all with the same brush. I've been to rural parts of Ireland and have encountered hostility due to my Northside Dublin accent. I didn't jump to the conclusion however that the entire population were bigots.

I hope Mr McDonald cops on because I don't wish to see him embarrass himself further by spouting such insular twaddle. I also hope he doesn't jump to the conclusion that my hostility towards him is based on him being from the North. I assure him that it is purely because he has the logic of a baboon.

In closing, let me make clear that we in the south love this country - by which I mean this island - a great deal and the various people who reside here. We love it so much that we will not be truly content until the disgrace of Partition is removed for good and the people of this country, north, south, east and west, can move forward as one forever.

When will Partition cease to be an issue for the people of the south? When Partition ceases to be.


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