Partition Once Again?
BY SEAN MARLOW
She hasn't gone away you know! Like a recurring nightmare
Margeret Thatcher comes back to embarrass the British Tories and
spew her venom. Free the mass-murderer Pinochet! Lock up single
mothers! But it was the revelation by Douglas Hurd that she
wanted to repartition Ireland that intrigued me.
As admitted by anti-republican Sunday Tribune commentator Stephen
Collins, ``it implicitly accepted the IRA analysis that partition
is the root cause of all the problems on the island'' and debunked
Collins's own view that partition is a symptom rather than the
cause of the problems.
other relic of the past who once promoted re-partition is Conor
Cruise O'Brien. At least he has moved on, via a rather circuitous
route, to argue that a united Ireland may give (ex) unionists
more say in their destiny than they would have under a reluctant
British Government. He seems to think that republicans could
never accept this because of their ``hatred of Protestants''!
The bould Conor could not be more wrong. Sinn Fein has always
argued that a united Ireland with maximum power decentralised to
local communities would give ex-unionists and everyone else in
Ireland far more control over their lives than they have under
the two highly centralised states on this small island.
The problems caused by this over-centralisation are becoming more
apparent every day. The traffic chaos, accelerating house prices
and environmental destruction in the east of the island is
mirrored by depopulation and rundown in the west.
It is for this reason that I support the call by Sinn Féin
Councillor Sean McManus and Caoimghin O Caolain TD for the
regionalisation of the 26 Cos to maintain Objective 1 Status for
the poorer regions. It is a sad fact that 13 counties in the
west, midlands and border areas still have a level of only 67%
GDP of the EU average compared to 121% in the greater Dublin
region (This is much higher in well-off districts as Dublin
includes many areas of intense poverty).
The big danger is that the Dublin government will engage in a
cosmetic ``decentralization'' solely to wrangle the maximum funding
from the EU while retaining all real decision-making at the
centre, as it did by moving a few government offices down the
It is no accident that the most deprived regions lie primarily in
the west and around the border. The border counties suffer
because of the artificial division imposed by the border which
has separated these
counties from their neighbouring counties (which are also the
poorest in the Six Counties) and prevented normal trade and
economic interaction. Paradoxically, the relative economic
decline of the west and midlands (and, indeed, areas like
Ballymun in Dublin, Ballyphehane in Cork and Ballymurphy in
Belfast) is at least partly because the people of these areas
have no real control over their own affairs.
What is needed, then, is to give ALL the Irish people a real say
in the political and economic decisions that affect their lives.
This can be done by first breaking the unequal link with Britain
which takes power further away from the people and removing the
artificial border which fosters head-counting sectarianism. In
the new Ireland we need a radical system of local and regional
government based on the principle of decentralising maximum power
to the lowest possible level. Thus, for example, primary and
secondary education, community policing, housing and all local
services could be under the control of local councils while
regional government might look after third level education,
industrial development, large hospitals and major roads. The main
central authority then, would be a written constitution (which
citizens could change), based on the UN Declaration of Human
Rights to protect the rights of women, Travellers, immigrants,
gay people and anyone else who might be discriminated against.
Given the alienation felt, not only, by people in the west and
border counties (of both the Six and 26 Counties), but also by
many communities in our cities and towns, Sinn Fein can set
itself clearly apart from the establishment parties if it
vigorously promotes its unique decentralisation principles and
says openly how wealth can be transferred from the very well-off
to implement them.
Not only would this Power To The People policy be a vote-winner
for Sinn Fein, but it would help tackle many of our country's
problems- traffic congestion, housing shortages and environmental
damage around Dublin and Belfast; economic decline in the west;
poverty and drug abuse in working class areas of our cities and,
as Conor Cruise O Brien says, the fear and alienation of many
working class unionists in the North.