Hope and Governance and Society in Northern Ireland – By Independent EU candidate Neil McCann

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The state of affairs that is life in Northern Ireland has come a long way since the ceasefires of 1994. I was then Chairman of the Dundalk Urban District Council and a desperate supporter of what was called the Hume Adams agreement. So many who are now adults in our society were not yet born in that year, and indeed many adults in Northern Ireland now do not have a memory of the troubles.

The Belfast Agreement and its successor treaties marked further extraordinary breakthroughs. They are an arrangement that gave political and administrative structure to the ceasefires and subsequent acts of decommissioning of weapons. Many observers have correctly noted that this is not necessarily the final curtain on what was called by some an ‘armed struggle.’  However the Belfast Agreement, together with its add-on amendments, was neither designed to be nor took effect as a comprehensive settlement. It did provide an end to what we had collectively endured and still describe as the Troubles. Its limitations were and are many, not least that it inadvertently institutionalised the tribal structure and divisions that appeared to be inherent in Northern Ireland society by its structures along tribal lines. I say ‘appeared’ quite deliberately as it is my firm belief that these divisions are not endemic and I suggest that now is the time or at least the beginning of the time in which we move beyond the tribe. The inspiration to do so appears in the reflection following this article below.

The executive collapsed in January 2017 and the lacuna thus created has had severe consequences. The lack of authority and the unease created by the UK referendum of June 2016 to leave the European Union have placed an unfair burden on the civil service and police alone as the major stabilising factors of society in Northern. This arrangement functions of course with the general assent of the population to be so governed, voting by our feet in the carrying on of daily life in this circumstance. 

In the muddle created by all of this, noting record low unemployment levels, I am suggesting it is now time to find a more enduring way forward. The current talks as between Sinn Fein and the DUP appear to have traction though no real negotiation can take place till after the European election results are in and analysed. It remains to be seen if these will be productive. The spectre of uncertainly on leaving the EU, second referendum or revoke hover over our Northern Ireland world. The state of politics in Britain has become increasingly uncertain with the rise and rise of the newly formed Brexit Party. The humming of quiet talk towards thinking in terms of a thirty-two county Ireland has made only minor gestures towards Protestants and it is urgent that attention moves to the concerns of that tradition. 

I have been living in Northern Ireland since 2013. I remember that bright sunny Saturday clearly, crossing through Cavan to the first weeks in a rental house in Derychara Estate in Enniskillen and enjoying the magnificent discovery of the Beckett Festival, Happy Days. In the years since then with many additional life experiences to recall, it seems that there is a softening of the divisions. The Fermanagh people among whom I have lived are decent folk, warm and friendly but it is difficult to discuss the tribal elephant in the room in social situations. It is also difficult to move within new social groupings. I now live in Belfast within all the superstructure of the divide, in ‘Peace’ walls, tribal areas, with political parties that are largely one side or the other. Peter Robinson as First Minister in 2012 referred to Northern Ireland in his introduction of the Fiver Year Plan of that year as ‘this community.’

Are we really at a turning point? The tragic events in Derry, the deliberate fomenting of conflict in the streets and sorrowful loss by murder of Lyra McKee is not only tragic – It is a cold warning of what may lie ahead if we do not move now with foresight, compassion and a spirit of adventurous dialogue for each side to embrace the community of the other. As well as commencing a new spirit of genuine reconciliation, the interim political settlement of George Mitchell, the Clinton, Blair and Ahern governments, and those who delivered the settlement on the ground, not least Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, John Hume, and David Trimble to name several, has been exposed as too interim to endure. Now a new vision is needed. The time to move from a divided society to a single identity community has been reached. Are the inhabitants of this beautiful place up to this challenge? Is it too soon in history to address this thoroughly? 

I believe that the time has come to relinquish the divisions that have been the flags, emblems, fires, rifles and bombs of the past. It is time to put all this behind us now and embrace the future grounded in this beautiful land and all its enchanting people. Let ours be the last generation of the troubles and of the conflictual past that arose from the often fraught relationship between the peoples of these neighbourhood islands, of North West Europe.

To bring this about, vigorous and managed discussions of our future together are needed to take place in the public space. I am suggesting that participants would be by random selection with measures to avoid excessive weighting in favour of any tribe or former tribe. There can be five locations and five citizens’ forums. It is no longer as simple as restoring the Assembly and Executive and hobbling along to the next hiatus. It is no longer about settling it at the administrative and governmental levels but deep within the neighbourhoods and countryside. In this I dream to live in a Belfast where no area can be called Catholic or Protestant but each would have the unique characteristics and even quirks as would apply in many great cities of the world. Belfast is already greatly loved by its hundreds of thousands of visitors and this ordinary level of love and respect needs now to be adopted here locally among ourselves. It’s time to settle this finally with hope and respect for all traditions and cultures. It is to be noted that at this time also there are many many residents in Northern Ireland who were not born here – this old tribal business is not their business. Seamus Heaney’s profound and oft quoted words imagine an era when ‘hope and history rhyme’ apply not only to governance but to us all, in our hurly burly or calm and quiet daily carry on. Let us all now embrace that hope that leads to the promise of enduring peace, justice, a decent society for us all and the coming generations.

Beyond the Tribe 

You thought that you were tribes.

Who taught you that?

You are not.

Then what are you? 

You are folk of here.

You are the people of this land

This land of unspeakable beauty.

Wherever your ancestors left

To come here, and all of us came 

Here from somewhere

other than here, 

Wherever you came from

You came to learn love

You came to experience

Separateness and tribes

temporarily.

Now is the moment.

Now is time

To step beyond tribe 

Beyond class

And above all beyond

Senseless dying and shouts

That you call threats,

To step beyond separateness

And claim the oneness

To which we all belong.

If you sense a force beyond

The world you see,

That force is one,

That force is love,

That mothers you savagely

And tenderly until you know

We all belong, inside

One great universe,

Of Love.                                       

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  1. Billstewart on

    We all aspire for fair play between people irrespective of their religious or ethnic Persuasions,however handing over Ireland’s destiny to a body of non elected bureaucrats determined to impose theirCapitalist system upon us will not solve our problems.The E.U.supports further privatisation of the wealth of its states and this increases corruption within those states in the pursuit of profit,the sacred cow of Capitalism.These ideas can lead to economic crisis and depression as we have seen in the banking world.The e.u has nothing to offer the working classes and is anti trade union in its outlook.It is now asking that we support an European army and is a partner of the NATO war Blok which was to be abolished after the collapse of the Soviet union.The Irish Republic hs already signed up to the P.E.S.C.O treaty which eradicates the neutrality of our country making us a target in conflicts.The class nature of the e.u. structures
    and rules highlight
    It’s bias for the rich and not the less well off..Such a set up can never solve our problems.We must exit the e.u.and open free trade with all who choose to trade with us on an equal basis.only a Socialist approach to our ills can do this.As Corbyn said a system for thesny and not the few

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