From 1969 these must be about the 982nd round of talks that have failed in Northern Ireland: at least we are consistent, we can agree on nothing. We are walking blindly into the abyss and we have the spectacle of all the parties in Northern Ireland holding out for money that is not there and essentially calling the bluff of the British government.
Listening to all the hub bub after the two prime ministers left on Friday morning, it was interesting to hear a point that Gerry Adams made: ‘none of the parties in Northern Ireland have a mandate to impose austerity.’
That is a fair argument, none of the parties in Stormont have run on a policy of supporting the austerity measures, but equally we can say that none of the parties in Stormont have any tax raising powers, borrowing powers or any financial control at all. What is really being shown here is the impotency of Stormont as a government and the reality that Northern Ireland is a statelet that survives on hand-outs.
What Sinn Fein says is laudable; their desire to help the poor and needy along with the elderly and the disadvantaged youth, is all very well, but where is the money going to come from. On Friday, they kept repeating that David Cameron was hell bent on dismantling the welfare state and one analyst said that Cameron wanted to turn the clock back to the 1930s.
I can’t read David Cameron’s mind but it does not take a rocket scientist to see that the Conservatives are out to make the rich of England richer and the poor of the whole UK poorer.
I have constantly asserted in this column that government policy in all the secular countries of the West is designed to make the rich richer. A country with no social conscience can go nowhere else: only a country founded on Christian principles shall consider the poor worthy of help, secular countries see the poor as objects of production and slaves to the wealthy.
However, whether we like it or not, we are an add-on to the island of Britain, we are not an integral part of the ‘Kingdom,’ we are like a sticking plaster over a cut, put up with but ready to be disposed at any time.
Again, Gerry Adams brought up a very valid point: the British were part of the war, ‘combatants’ in his words, but then he made an assumption that I don’t believe is tenable, that since the British were combatants in the war they should pay for our upkeep for an infinite period of time.
Unfortunately, this generation of British politicians do not see themselves as having been part of any war. Their version of history tells them that the ‘Mother Country’ was only trying to help the natives. Cameron and his cabinet feel no moral pressure because of our wee Troubles.
The war has been over for twenty years, the first ceasefire was called in 1994, and yet we are nowhere nearer to ending the conflict than we were on the day the last bullet was fired.
We also heard Friday afternoon that on the issues of the past, flags, and marching, there had been no negotiations at all, just an endless session of talking: all those words and everyone saying nothing.
One of the worst points in all of this is the total disconnect between the people and the so called government of this province. We assume, and we all believe, that Stormont is a talking shop, not fit for purpose and utterly powerless.
When Cameron left and went home on Friday morning the game was up. They can talk all they want in Belfast, unless they agree to what the money man wants they are wasting their time.
‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.’
As an old country republican who has believed all his life that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity, I once again see that this state is ungovernable, unstable and built on some sort of false premise that Britain is going to keep paying.
It takes £10 billion more than we make to keep us: this can’t go on.
If English politicians won’t look after their own poor, do you think they are going to give the comfortable, let alone the poor of Northern Ireland, a good standard of living which they deny to their own people.
Sinn Fein holds that because almost 4,000 people died here in Northern Ireland that we should be treated as a special case. But we can’t even agree what the war was about, who is a victim or agree where we want to go in the future.
There is an old saying that applies very much to us at the minute: ‘If you don’t know where you are going, don’t be surprised if you don’t get there.’
The United Kingdom is changing; in twenty years the British Isles will be totally transformed from what it is today. One thing we have to keep in mind, people are looked upon as tools in the process; the only thing that is important is making money.
While Sinn Fein and the rest of the parties may shout all they want about welfare and the past and parades, if you are not dealing with money in the way that the paymaster wants, then you are whistling in the wind.
What have we left behind as we have moved away from living our Christian principles?
The first and most obvious point is that we moved from a place where people are respected to a position where money is top dog, essentially we have moved from living in a community to living in an economy.
Recently I went along to the AGM of one of the good community groups that do work in the Mid Ulster area. In order to justify its funding this group had commissioned a professional consultancy firm to analyse their financial worth to the area.
I have no idea how they work these things out but this consultancy firm was able to show the financial benefit of the group to the people of Mid Ulster. There were enough figures to baffle a mathematician and enough statistics to blow a fuse in a computer.
The only thing missing in this community project report was any mention of the good that was done for the people: society and the people in it were reduced to £ signs. There was no mention of the benefits that the group brought to individuals and how the group had improved the lives of people.
A thought has just come to me as I write this: we are behaving as if the war is over. We incessantly go on about the past, who were and were not victims and try to blame each other for everything that happened.
What we don’t appear to grasp is that the war is still going on, only the tactics have changed. We don’t fire bullets any more, we fire words and hatred.
The Unionists still insist on being able to do whatever they want, they insist that the only thing wrong with Northern Ireland is that nationalists do not know their place.
Jim Allister of the TUV asserts that mandatory coalition can’t work. He is probably right but Northern Ireland has shown before that majority rule can’t work either.
Sinn Fein talks about a ‘peace process,’ but a process is something that leads onto something else. In the peace process where are we processing too?
What is Sinn Fein’s ‘something else’ and are they being honest by being part of something they wish to destroy (Stormont) if that is their aim.
In the middle of all this the SDLP and UUP are being side-lined and appear to have nothing to add to the debate. Whether that is right or wrong I don’t know but on Friday’s Talkback, the SDLP were given about three minutes on a 90 minute show. Hardly augurs well for them.
In a sense the problem in Northern Ireland is the same as the problem in the rest of the UK: the ordinary people don’t count. While in Britain the ordinary people don’t count in relation to the rich of the nation, the toffs from the Shires, here the people don’t count because for us it is the party position that is most important.
A flaw exists in Sinn Fein’s strategy for this land. It is a very basic flaw that every other party except them has seen as obvious: you can’t have an ‘All Ireland’ party that is relevant in both parts of the country and hold on to your principles.
As Sinn Fein have become more mainstream in the Free State, more and more power in the party has shifted to people who have never lived in Northern Ireland. These newcomers have no knowledge about what it is like to live here.
They have been brought up with Free State attitudes and principles since that is where they lived, which are totally different from those of Northerners.
Whereas Sinn Fein supporters in Northern Ireland see Sinn Fein as the party that stands up to unionism and are not really interested in making a country work, because we have never had real power, Sinn Fein in the Free State are aiming for tangible power in the next coalition government.
This has brought in ambitious politicians who have no understanding of what Northern Sinn Fein is all about. Sometimes when you hear Gerry Adams talk you begin to wonder if he is moving more in the direction of the Free State section of the party.
Of course it is perfectly legitimate to say that a political party exists to bring about change, but the measure of change possible in the north and south has always been of a different order.
There is another point that Sinn Fein has to think hard about as they push the British government to the limit on welfare reform:
If Sinn Fein brings instability here in the north then all the parties in the run up to the 2016 election in the south will have a field day beating them down with it. Also, it is hard to see ambitious politicians in the south lose their chance at power because of what is going on north of the border.
Sinn Fein runs the risk of having to deal with that most common of all political problems in Ireland, the dreaded ‘split.’
And yet, we find ourselves into the last few days before Christmas, the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. What would he say about all this?
Perhaps he would ask us, “In a world of plenty why do millions die of starvation every year?” or he might even make it a little more local, “If you can all build such great houses why are 22% of children in your wee province living in poverty?” (Report: Improving children’s life chances, for OFDFM, 2013)
Even more pertinently Jesus might ask each one of us, “Why are there elderly in your estate that people never visit, why do you leave these people to intolerable loneliness?”
If you listen, beneath all the talk about victims and welfare you can hear the voice of self-concern: what will happen to my votes if I give in on this point? What will my grouping think of me if I appear to give way?
Maybe I am being too cynical but unlike leopards, I have watched politicians change their spots so many times that I cannot take any of them seriously now, but unfortunately, no matter what I believe their actions or lack thereof affect us all.
Then I look to myself. I was brought up in and strongly influenced by republican thinking: the northern state was a failure and had to be destroyed, the Free State was utterly corrupt and once the northern state was eradicated then an equally hard struggle would begin politically in the south.
Actually I now believe this more than ever, but I have also grown to know that even a lifetime of war will not make things better.
As I have grown older I have come to see that the only hope for us all is that we listen to the child whose birthday we are soon to celebrate. His political policy is not that hard; distribute wealth fairly, look after your neighbour, love your enemy and do good to him. This type of love is not doing things begrudgingly or expecting to gain something in return. Christian love as proclaimed to us by Jesus, is a love where wish the good of the other person, seeking nothing in return.
And he also gave us a warning: “A house divided against itself shall fall.”
These words should awaken in all of us a desire to make our neighborhood and country a better place to live.
“Happy Christmas, the King of Hope is coming.”
The views expressed are not necessarily those of
the editor but are the views of the writer.
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