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What's new

Nonviolence News August supplement

Nonviolence News July 2017

Editorial: Northern Ireland - Wrong deal, no deal

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Lessons from Grenfell Tower

Readings in Nonviolence: Alternatives to Violence Project impact

Billy King: Rites Again

Editorials

These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 115: Decmber 2003

1. Northern elections; Bi-Bi Blues

We didn't really need yet another illustration of how bipolar Northern Ireland is, but the recent elections certainly provided an unfortunate and classic example of a divided society. It's not that we believe in 'the politics of the middle ground', the idea that Alliance and other so-called 'moderate' parties would grow to become infectious, and balance out other people's 'bigotry' - fortunately or unfortunately that theory bit the dust a long time ago and, for example, this time the Alliance Party vote was again badly squeezed (though they managed to retain their six seats) and the Women's Coalition disappeared from the Assembly altogether. It was as if people heard the Alliance Party's slogan "Alliance works. Tribal politics doesn't" - and decided the exact opposite.

People can vote how they like, and they do - for all sorts of reasons - but individual decisions add up to have larger consequences. With the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin as the largest two parties, having put the skids under, respectively, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP, anything more than a virtual Assembly in the near future looks unlikely. It is not that David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party did particularly badly in the voting but that the DUP did very well (see statistics below). The war may be over but the cold war continues. Perhaps at some stage the DUP will provide a go at accommodation with nationalists in general and Sinn Féin in particular but that seems a long, long way away, almost certainly after the effective departure from the scene of Ian Paisley Senior. It would appear very difficult to consider any rapprochement in the near future but one rule about Northern Ireland is 'never say never'.

With the relative annihilation of the representation of smaller parties in the Assembly, the bipolar nature of Northern Ireland comes back more starkly into view. And also perhaps disappearing again over the horizon is the period when, around and following the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, it seemed that for once politicians might be rewarded for attempting accommodation with the other side rather than confrontation. And within each of the two sides, Catholic/Nationalist, and Protestant/Unionist, we see also more clearly the bipolar nature of each camp. So we have now, as in the title above, 'bi-bi blues'

The removal of the relative plurality of parties in the last Assembly is sad. Democracy is about including minorities as much (and sometimes needs to be emphasised more than) allowing majorities a key say (because the latter will get they say anyway). The failure of the UDP/Ulster Democratic Party to make it into the last Assembly, and thus provide it with a voice, must have been a contributing factor in the UDA losing patience with the 'peace process'. If you're not in, you can't win, and losing means also losing face and credibility, and, ultimately, political oblivion. While the proportional representation system with the single transferable vote (PR-STV), as used both North and South, has its merits it has no mechanism for 'topping up' representation above and beyond individual constituencies so that the proportion of seats mirrors the proportion of votes as near as possible. And PR-STV is not as good at encouraging cross-community voting as the voting mechanisms propounded by the de Borda Institute.

Now that the two challenger parties have overtaken the two previously largest established parties on either side, it might seem that there are no more changes to happen. What the DUP and Sinn Féin have been aiming for has come to pass. Whether they can hold and extend their new prime positions remains to be seen in the years to come. The one silver lining in a rather dark sky is that as the more militant parties on either side they are in a better position to deliver on any agreement should one eventually be forged. But that is unlikely for some time.

So Northern Ireland is in for another sustained period of direct rule from Britain. This is hugely ironic insofar as the Stormont institutions, and local decision making, were very popular across all the parties. But it seems that Protestant disenchantment with the Good Friday Agreement's outworking regarding decommissioning, changes to the police, and so on, were felt to be too much to bear. This seems to be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater; the bathwater did certainly seem to have got somewhat dirty, but the baby of local decision making in Northern Ireland should not have been abandoned so lightly. And it is all doubly ironic in that republicans, in the shape of Sinn Féin, have arguably had to journey further than anyone on the Protestant and Unionist side. And while no one would exactly describe Northern Ireland as a 'peaceful society', it is also patently not a society at war, as it once was.

Getting out of the mess that history inflicted on Northern Ireland was never going to be easy. It has now proved to be as difficult as anything the most cynical or negative person could have predicted. And as we have said before even at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, history will continue.

For those who do want to build, not just across the divide but a just and peaceful society where everyone, and their contribution to society, is welcomed, the challenges have just got greater. Eventually we will be able to rise to meet at least some of those challenges, and maybe the end result will lead to DUP-type loyalists feeling more included. But don't start counting because mathematics may not have developed a number sufficiently large. There are plenty of things people can do, at any level, as we mentioned in our last editorial. But climbing out of the hole just got a little bit more difficult.

THE RESULTS: Party, seats, +/- seats, percentage vote this time and gains or losses in seats.

  • Democratic Unionist Party 30 seats= +8 (25.71% first preferences, 18.1% in 1998),
  • Ulster Unionist Party 27 = -1 on 1998 (22.68%, 21.3% in 1998, so ironically its % vote was slightly up),
  • Sinn Féin 24 = +6 (23.52%, higher than the UUP but getting a few seats less, 17.6% in 1998),
  • SDLP 18 = -6 (16.99%, down from around 22% in 1998),
  • Alliance 6, previously 6 (3.67%, down from 6.5%),
  • PUP 1 (David Ervine) = -1 (1.16%),
  • UKUP 1 (Bob McCartney),
  • Independent 1 (Kieran Deeny, hospital campaigner, Omagh).
  • Other parties standing in a number of constituencies included the Workers Party and the Green Party whose largest vote was 730 in North Down (2.37%) though Eamonn McCann in Foyle standing on a Socialist Environmental ticket got 2,257 votes (5.53%) and made it to the 6th round.

Further details and discussion; see www.sluggerotoole.com

2. Another velvet revolution

'Georgia on my mind', and what a contrast it is in this instance to the popular disunity of Northern Ireland. It is of course the Georgia in the Caucasus where Eduard Shevardnadze got booted from power through a popular, nonviolent revolution during November. Given that Shevardnadze was himself a survivor from the Cold War era, when he was foreign minister for the USSR, made it all rather ironic. He was autocratic and corrupt and another fiddled election was the straw that broke the back of his rule; the opposition and people had had enough. It was all rather reminiscent of the popular uprisings which overthrew communist rule in eastern Europe almost a decade and a half ago. It is also a timely reminder that power does not necessarily grow out of the barrel of a gun but from the acquiescence and acceptance, or not, of the people.

Luken From Below

Nonviolent News hopes to have a regular poetry slot with Lothar Lüken from Co Cork - we're delighted to welcome you to these pages, Lothar, and we look forward to sharing your poems with readers - Ed.

Cuddles for Hitler

What if that screaming baby boy,

Born to the Hitlers in Braunau

By the cool grey alpine river Inn,

Had been picked up by passing gypsies!

Had with a gaudy painted wagon for home

Conquered sleepy eastern market towns

With ancient sweetly haunting tunes

Which wildly would flow from his fiddle.

His for ages wandering tribes mates then

Might not have been herded to Auschwitz

What if that lonesome brooding lad

Home from school had been welcomed

By a smile and a kiss and a tender hug

From his gentle, affectionate mammy.

He'd have befriended and understood

All sorts of folk with a difference,

And without prejudice, shame or disgust

Perhaps even made love with a man.

His warm brothers might not have suffered then

From cold men stoking ovens at Auschwitz.

What if Hitler'd been born with Down's

And his daddy gave him a football!

He might have dazzled with leadership skills

As German captain at the Special Olympics.

Or if he'd suffered from Polio,

And been taunted from early youth -

He would have won his 'Triumph of Will'

Just by learning to walk upright.

His disabled pals might not have been dumped then

As worthless sub-humans at Auschwitz.

What if some devoted teacher had,

Full of faith in Christ and the Bible,

Founded in Adolf a fervent faith

To channel his passion and searching.

His visions of heaven and threats of hell,

His ardent sermons and warnings,

Would in time have roused his fired flocks

To build themselves Kingdom Halls.

His brethren might not have witnessed then

Their Jehovah's desertion at Auschwitz.

What if a job-less young Adolf had

Been given a factory job,

Had led his colleagues in militant strikes

And been chosen to head their Union;

If he'd joined a party of the left

With red banners and communist slogans -

He'd have led a column of delegates

from Central Committees to Moscow.

His rounded up comrades might not have been mocked then

By the 'Labour Makes Free' of Auschwitz.

What if an artistic Adolf had joined

Some New Age Bohème in Vienna,

Had studied astrology, yoga, tarot,

And read Keyserling and Tagore;

Had met Carl Jung and chatted with Freud

Had been analysed and counselled

He'd have picked the best from his 'Master Race'

From the East and the 'Chosen People'.

His Jewish fellows might not have been culled then

As Holocaust cattle at Auschwitz.

What if there had been plenty of toys

And playgrounds and playmates for Hitler,

If there'd been tickles, giggles, friendship, fun

And warmth and love and cuddles;

What if we dealt with our demons in time,

If we really cared for those suffering -

We'd teach our children to help and to heal,

Not to hoard and to hurt and to hate.

Only then Hitler's fellow humans might hope
For an Earth that is safe from Auschwitz.

Copyright INNATE 2014