Ulster Unionists Communications Director Alex Kane has written an astoundingly ignorant piece in today’s Newsletter http://www.newsletter.co.uk/columnists/Don39t-kid-yourselfSinn-Fein-hasn39t.5075496.jp
First let me say that I agree that Martin McGuinness and the rest of that Provisional IRA leadership should admit that their violent actions of the past 4 decades were wrong. They should also fully disclose the truth of their actions to the survivors and to victim’s families. Of course, the same goes for the UVF, UDA and state forces (RUC, Army etc).
That however is where our concord ends. Kane’s argument is intellectually flawed. Ostensibly he conflates constitutional republicanism ideology (SDLP, Fianna Fail, today’s Sinn Fein, etc) with that of dissidents, saying it provides succour to the latter. This is as cheap and crass as suggesting that the UUP is responsible for the Shankill butchers. Evil men do evil things and the noble aspirations of good men should not be tarnished for that.
He also yells that trust cannot be built on the basis of a ‘us-and-them’ arrangement, as St. Andrew’s clearly is. Yet he also calls upon the SDLP and Sinn Fein (it appears) to agree a final settlement within the 6 county state.
Therein he betrays a fundamental weakness. For all the talk of a pluralist union, UCUNF still sees this as a tribal conflict. SDLP Republicanism is defined by its values and its aim of Irish unity – Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter and Immigrant united in harmony and equality in one state. These twin pillars are indivisible and undeniable. Once a Republican agrees to a perpetual internal 6 county settlement, he is no longer a Republican.
So any ‘final settlement’ can settle tribal quarrels, but it cannot accommodate any meaningful Republicanism. That appears to be what Adams has settled for in St. Andrew’s, but the SDLP puts national unity ahead of tribal share-out.
And how can Republicans ever be satisfied with the trustworthiness of a state that is politically driven by tribal intent? The Republicanism of Tone deigned for more than that.
Kane says “Gerry Adams is reduced to pretending that the Assembly is a mere tool for the promotion of Irish unity. Indeed, in Adams’ original statement last Sunday he clearly implied that the dissidents were interrupting this promotion.” What does Kane want? Adams promoting unity (however badly) in the Assembly is surely not a ‘reduction’ from the IRA killing for it. And – ethics aside – the dissidents’ attacks do interrupt the constitutional republic project to win unity. John Hume won this argument within Irish Republicanism 20 years ago – that we must spill our sweat together not our blood. Kane seemingly hasn’t noticed.
He is right that we should break down the ‘us-and-them’ society. But this cannot be on the basis that nationalists have to give up their political beliefs. That is why Alliance have never made inroads into the SDLP vote. Most SDLP voters have never been tribal Gaels awaiting incorporation in the union. They have been constitutional republicans seeking a strategic democratic path to Irish unity. Wanting an integrated North of Ireland doesn’t mean you have to give up on unity. On the contrary, unity requires that we pursue integration. Without it, we cannot convince unionists or the South that unity is desirable or that the state will be stable.
Mr Kane should reconsider his description of the SDLP as “supposedly moderate”. Thinking SDLP activists do not see it as moderate. Democratic yes, but more creative than Sinn Fein and more radical in its thinking. Again, Kane misses a key point. While the SDLP is avowedly pro-unity, it is also avowedly pro the right of unionists to think, act and be British both today and within the united Republic once it comes. That seems a radicalism too much for Kane to comprehend.
This is the real corker: “Unionists have accepted, albeit slowly and reluctantly, the uprooting of conventional democratic principles and the enforced sharing of power with a party which was, until very recently, a participant in and justifier of terrorism. I don’t think that nationalists/ republicans yet appreciate the sheer scale of the change within unionism. But nationalists/republicans, on the other hand, have barely changed at all. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP still rattle on about their all-Ireland dreams and agendas”.
Here Kane shows two things. First, the total and utter strategic futility of the Provo IRA campaign which allowed unionism to portray concessions to Provos as constitutional compromise (Martina Anderson and friends take note). Second, it shows that some unionists truly have failed to recognise the fundamental compromise that the Good Friday Agreement entailed. Does the acceptance of the UK framework not register at all with them?
Why do Kane, Gudgin et al insist on nationalism self-immolating before they rest easy? They do not require it and it will not happen. Such demands are hardly the utterances of defenders of a ‘secure’ union.
Nor does it rest easy with the UUP idea of a pluralist and modern kingdom. Does Kane similarly demand that the SNP or Plaid Cymru abandon their political principles. What next -banning of democratic parties? The diverse Republic seems all the sweeter in comparison! And does his new boss David Cameron suggest that the SNP and Plaid have no right to work for self-determination. Is the Empire striking back?!
Conversely, does Kane really believe that the SDLP and Sinn Fein abandoning unity as an objective would undermine the dissidents? On the contrary, it would prove a better recruiting agent over the medium term than even Bloody Sunday.
NBNW suggests to the Ulster Unionists that their best bet for undermining the dissidents is to promote the devolution of justice powers – preferable to an SDLP Minister as the Agreement intended. In tandem, intelligence primacy should be handed to the accountable PSNI. These steps will take more ideological wind out of dissident sails than anything else.
Then let’s work together on bread and butter issues, respecting each others’ identities and aims. And let the best plan win.