North needs a new political vocabulary
North needs a new political vocabulary

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

In 1989 the American academic and political philosopher Francis Fukuyama wrote his most famous article, ‘The End of History’.

He asserted that, with the sudden unexpected collapse of communism, competing ideologies had vanished and that liberal democracy was going to emerge as the only viable political system in the world.

You got a sense that on a much tinier Irish scale a similar sea change occurred on Monday when you watched Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley sitting nearly beside each other at Stormont.

After 40 years - some would say 80 - of ya-boo abuse between unionists and republicans, massive and intense violence, draconian security powers, military repression and all the rest of it, here they were agreeing to work together as equals, sharing the administration of the north and, according to Ian Paisley’s statement, fully participating in all the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement which includes all-Ireland bodies.

So, just as unthinkable as it once was that republicans would fully participate in administering and policing the north from Stormont, it was once equally unthinkable that unionists - and Ian Paisley’s unionists at that - would fully participate in devising and sharing policies for the whole island of Ireland.

What is immediately clear is that, whatever about institutions, a new political vocabulary for the north is needed.

The UUP and SDLP did themselves no service with their begrudgery about the new deal.

The Alliance Party in their bewildered reaction confirmed their utter irrelevance in the new arrangements - for if there is one consequence of Monday’s compact it is that Alliance politics have nothing to do with the north of Ireland.

Their party spokespersons waffle on about ‘normal politics’, apparently completely unaware that the north is more like Belgium or the Netherlands or even Switzerland, in all of which countries specific governmental systems had to be devised to cope with the difficulties of a divided community and in some cases multiple divided communities.

In such places normal politics means those communities sharing governance together in acceptance of each other’s differences. In such places ‘bread and butter’ politics proceeds just as you would expect, belying the absurd assumption that a British system of politics is a necessary requirement.

In this place it was the refusal to accept difference as legitimate but instead to push it to division that caused the trouble.

It was the pretence, in defiance of all the evidence of elections, housing, education preference and culture, that there is only one community and only one world view that excluded any manifestation of Irishness that bedevilled politics and society here for generations.

One of the first tasks of any incoming executive will be to purge the civil service here of its Alliance mentality, the pernicious view that ‘neutrality’ is and should be the preferred aim in every endeavour, and substitute it with the thinking which lies behind the Good Friday Agreement, namely a full recognition of equal rights for unionists and nationalists.

It was that Alliance mentality in the NIO which ensured that the north’s quangos were stuffed with ‘nayce’ Catholics and Protestants, whose only qualification had to be that they were neither overtly nationalist nor unionist and therefore did not represent the mentality of the majority of people living here. The aim being that somehow the north could come to resemble Finchley.

What an ideal to aspire to.

What’s to happen now that unionists and republicans don’t have each other to abuse but instead recognise each other’s rights? What’s to happen now that the SDLP and UUP don’t have Sinn Féin and the DUP to criticise and blame for delay and obstruction?

Well, everyone, including some of the new partners in SF and DUP, is going to have to learn the new language of politics in the north. For a start, it’s just plain stupid to keep talking about how the party leaders have stood on their heads and sold out on their basic principles.

That’s what the voters have just encouraged them to do. It’s not as if Monday’s deal was unpopular. It’s exactly what the majority in both communities wanted.

So there’s no point in criticising Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley for doing what the people voted for.

Get over it.

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