If you haven’t heard of Richard Haass you may get used to him because you are going to hear plenty about him over the next few months. Richard Haass is a super duper negotiator in the mould of George Mitchell, the US Senator who came here in the ‘90s to teach us all that jaw-jaw was better than war-war.
Poor Richard has drawn the short straw and he does not even know it yet; he has taken on the job of chairing talks to resolve the parades dispute, the flags dispute, and the symbols and emblems dispute.
Perhaps we’re going to apply to join the Union when Scotland leaves the UK next year!
I have a bit of bad news for the poor old Orange Order; they are on a hiding to nothing if they negotiate with Richard Haass. Listen to what Richard Haass says: "Disagreements are fine, disagreements are to be expected, but again disagreements are to be dealt with verbally and done within a legitimate and accepted political process."
The Orange Order is making three mistakes which leave them that they are trying to fight with one arm tied behind their back.
The first misunderstanding is that they don’t fully comprehend their opponent. I am serious about this. Their opponent is not Paddy and Mick from Ardoyne or Sinn Fein or the British government.
Their opponent is the new attitude in western culture that everyone is an individual, that everyone has equal rights and that no one, not any person in society, dare be insulted in any way. In a society where everyone’s rights are equal then your right to march does not trump my right to privacy.
The second misunderstanding that the Orange have made is that they don’t recognise where Haass is coming from. If you are going to negotiate with someone then you should try to get some sort of understanding of their background and their mode of thinking. The worldview of the Orangeman and Richard Haass are poles apart.
The Orangeman sees himself as part of a group, a society, which is in some way acting for the common good.
For the Orangeman, Ulster Protestants are one united block who are trying to keep their identity and traditions alive; they see themselves as working for the common good of Ulster Protestantism and the Unionist people. They are a community and are interested in working for the good of that community.
Haass, on the other hand, comes from the most ‘ego-centric’ society in the world. To a sociologist, an ego-centric society is a society where the individual comes first and Haass views the world from a standpoint of what the individual can gain from it.
The common good is unknown to him.
The Orange are by definition a ‘socio-centric’ society, where the group, in this case the Ulster Protestant, is supreme. Again, Haass and they are poles apart.
The third big misunderstanding that the Orange are making is that they think they understand what Haass means when he says: "Disagreements are fine, disagreements are to be expected, but again disagreements are to be dealt with verbally and done within a legitimate and accepted political process."
The Orange Order believes that Haass is saying that verbal agreements shall be made within a legal framework and that the verbal agreement shall take precedence.
What Haass is really saying is that the law shall come first and what the law says shall be the rule no matter what people think.
You see, basically the Orange Order and Haass are using the same words but speaking two different languages.
Isn’t it amazing how societies are in constant flux. Where there was once a unionist majority there is often now a nationalist one.
Another aspect which astounds me is that I believe Catholics have really bought into the ego-centric view of society. We have turned our back on family life, social life and scoff at any idea of the common good.
Why do you think there is a death of vocations? I’m not only referring to priests.
Is God calling fewer people?
In an ego-centric society where the individual comes first, where society is seen as a place from which I as an individual only take what suits me, then a life of service to God, society or to others is seen as a waste of a life.
I’ll give you an example of how embedded this ego-centric view has become.
I was sitting on a diocesan committee a few years ago and at a meeting of the committee two parents were chatting. One said, ‘my daughter is thinking of becoming a nun’ to which the other replied, ‘how do you feel about her wasting her life like that?’
Now we were on a committee in the dioceses so by definition we were all committed Catholics and this was the attitude among some of the people!
A life of service to God and others was seen as a waste.
So the world view of the average Northern Ireland person has changed. We are losing all idea of working towards the common good. We don’t like it because working for the common good requires effort and asks us to give up dearly held selfish ideas.
When we talk of the common good in relation to the marches, the first thing we all think about is the cost of policing. We point out that millions is spent on parades and that this money could be put to better use in other places like the health service and education.
In fairness, in a society like ours where we receive a limited pot from the treasury, such thinking is understandable.
But the common good often calls for much more than an economic appraisal; sometimes it calls for stretching out the hand of friendship and perhaps even a little forgiveness.
Here again the poor old Orangeman falls into a double trap. Firstly it has to be admitted that there are still in the ranks of the Orange Order people who simply cannot conceive of the Catholics as having any rights whatsoever. They are dinosaurs from the 1940s and 50s when Northern Ireland was basically a Protestant club.
Secondly, the Orange Order has a decided lack of leadership. An organization without a coherent plan put in place by effective leadership is going nowhere, either by politics or by marching.
This lack of leadership is shown by the great split in the behaviour of the Orange Order in the country areas and in Belfast. Throughout the rest of Northern Ireland the marching issue is all but solved. There were very few, if any, contentious marches these days.
Contrary to what the Orange Order led its people to believe, the world did not end when they were refused permission to march down the Tunnel in Portadown all those years ago, just as Armageddon didn’t strike the six counties when Paisley famously walked through the doors of Stormont with Gentleman Martin lending him a kindly arm.
enter Stormont hand-in-hand
This was a hugely significant symbolic gesture from Paisley although he probably didn’t understand it as such. The second big symbolic gesture of recent years was Martin and the Old Dear from England shaking hands.
We Catholics may not like to admit this, but by shaking hands with the Queen, McGuinness symbolically accepted British sovereignty in Northern Ireland. It was a brave act by McGuinness which recognised political reality.
The sands have shifted in Northern Ireland. There is no way now that the Northern Irish Nationalist or Catholic can say that he is being treated as a second class citizen by his Unionist counterpart. There shall always be petty injustices in any society but the days of institutional injustice in Northern Ireland are gone for now.
The wheel has turned full circle. Perhaps it is time for us Catholics in Northern Ireland to ask ourselves “What kind of an Ulster do we want?”
Do we want an Ulster where our Protestant neighbour cannot feel free to be an Orangeman? Do we want an Ulster with clearly marked lines of Protestant territory and Catholic territory and where no one can do anything outside of their own wee area?
What I am really asking is “Do we want an Ulster where the institutional bigotry is shifted from the Catholics to the Protestants?”
Hmnn, now that’s a thought that might be appealing to many!
We are not yet doing this in Northern Ireland and until we reach that stage we are going nowhere. The new north shall take time to grow into a state to which we all feel we owe allegiance.
I would propose that the common good in the case of marches in Belfast is not the amount of money that can be saved on policing and rioting.
The common good here is much deeper than that; it is the perception by one side of how we see the other, which begs the question; should there be ‘the other’ side at all.
The common good for Northern Ireland asks us if we are trying to build a place where all people can live together in harmony and at peace. Sometimes this asks hard questions of us, questions like what am I prepared to give up for the good of others.
If I stick to my ego-centric view of life, I shall be willing to give up nothing because I will persist in seeing the world as a place from which I take. Real leaders lead people outside their comfort zone to places that will benefit everyone.
Those leaders from any side who insist on ‘our rights’ are doing none of us any favours and are only leading us up a cul de sac.
Perhaps we will have to wait ‘til this generation of leaders have gone before we can even begin to address such questions. Maybe the hurts and pains of the Troubles are still too raw for us to talk with honesty about what we really feel about our Protestant neighbour.
Or perhaps we like the feeling of power that we now have as Catholics, the feeling that we don’t have to cow down before the Orange Order any more. Maybe we even feel justified in our feelings of the Catholic Ascendency.
Conflict resolution takes many forms; could we learn from history?
Let me take you back to the Treaty of Versailles. When it was signed at the end of the First World War, the French insisted on the following line: that "Germany accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage."
The French went on to demand horrendous financial reparations from the Germans for the damage done to their country. In making these unreasonable demands, the Allies punished Germany too much and sowed the seeds of the Second War.
We need to be careful in Northern Ireland that we do not do something similar here; years of discrimination and humiliation built up a huge reservoir of resentment in the Northern Nationalist. Now that we are gaining the upper hand we don’t want to see history repeat itself.
Nationalist leaders need to ask themselves some serious questions which go way beyond the marching issue.
Our leaders in Sinn Fein and the SDLP have accepted British Sovereignty, although they may not like to admit this. People would run a mile from any talk of a United Ireland; only a madman would want to be part of the most corrupt country in Europe.
Unionist leaders, whether they admit it or not, have now accepted nationalists as equals, so why can’t we start from here, a place where we are all equals.
• Are we prepared to face the fact that in every society there are a certain amount of mad bigots, be that against blacks, Asians or Jews or whomever?
• Can we accept that Northern Ireland is all we have as a state at this time and is likely to be all we have for the foreseeable future?
• Can we define the ‘common good’ as it applies to our country and to the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves?
Perhaps Haass would be safer asking us all these questions. If we can come up with a reasonable answer to the last question the marching season shall look after itself.
Why waste Richard Haass’ time and our time hoking and poking at what are not even the real issues?
PS: For a healthy society we need a wide range of views and cultures. Getting rid of our Protestant neighbour with his slightly different way of understanding the world and his unique cultural history would be a great mistake.
Would you really want to finish up a ‘mono-culture’ place like the free state?
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