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Bonfire of the Vanities

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 21st, 2018 at 09:25:53 PM EST

The Irish Times has been running a few opinion pieces by Northern Unionists highlighting their annoyance at recent political developments: The fall of the Northern Ireland Executive, attempts to promote the Irish language in N. Ireland, and the Irish response to Brexit. The latest is by academic John Wilson Foster who has written a book on Irish Novels, 1890-1940, and is entitiled: United Ireland campaign is based on a delusion. He begins as follows:

Open the pages of the Ulster Tatler and there they are. The Northern Irish in their glad rags, grinning for the photographer at birthday bashes, firms' dos, award ceremonies, book launches, restaurant openings.

Theirs are authentic faces of everyday unionism, a promiscuous display of high spirits by those wanting a good time, politically and religiously uncategorised by the camera. In other words, a Sinn Féin nightmare.

After all, Catholics must be constantly reminded that they are an oppressed minority who should be striving for a united Ireland. Unionists must be harried without term and reminded that Sinn Féin's day is coming.


My suspicion is that Sinn Féin cannot abide such normalisation of social relations. And since they exhaust almost all the oxygen on the matter of nationalism (the SDLP is gasping for air), those relations must not find ordinary, much less political, expression.

Notice how the Northern Irish, "religiously uncategorised by the camera" suddenly morph into the "authentic faces of everyday Unionism." the supposed focus of Sinn Fein ire. It is as if having a good time in Northern Ireland implies you must be a unionist. In those few sentences the self acclaimed authority on Irish novels not only manages to do what he claims Sinn Fein supporters do - categorise people by their religious/political identity - and project some remarkable attitudes onto Sinn Fein.

The rest of his long piece can be read as one long Unionist whinge.

Unionists are dismayed that the constitutional parties in the South seem to have fallen in behind Sinn Féin on these (with all due respect) fabricated issues and on Brexit. (Which is certainly not fabricated, but it is a practical problem to be solved, not a constitutional bandwagon to clamber aboard.)

Prophecy is magical thinking that Sinn Féin practise, the idea that a united Ireland is predestined and thus justifiably to be achieved by any means. It suffocates debate, makes every reform a staging post, and obstructs daily reality from flowing in the direction the stream of consciousness takes us, a direction that might well be towards closer unity on the island were Sinn Féin itself magically to disappear.


After all, Sinn Féin is dedicated to the failure of Northern Ireland, a dedication implicit in their refusal to speak the name of the jurisdiction or take their seats in Westminster.

How can the circle of this sleepless strategy be squared with participation in government? Surely any political party in the South that aligns itself with Sinn Féin on Northern Irish issues is complicit in the politics of sabotage?

Perhaps if John Wilson Foster actually spoke to some Sinn Fein supporters he wouldn't need to speculate quite so wildly about their intentions. I am reminded of some white South Africans in Apartheid South Africa who would ask their servants if they wanted to know what "the blacks" wanted...

I have responded to John Wilson Foster's article in the comments as follows:

What a delusional article by someone claiming to debunk nationalist delusions! Northern Ireland peace and prosperity is based on three central pillars:

  1. £10 Billion p.a. subvention by the British Exchequer
  2. The Good Friday agreement guaranteeing "parity of esteem for all traditions in N. I.
  3. Membership of the EU with its prime aim of "an over closer Union" bringing both British and Irish people and governmental systems ever closer together

Together these three pillars have managed to create the "normality" which Foster claims the Ulster Tatler depicts. It is normal for most people to want to get on with their lives provided they have jobs and can make a decent living in a peaceful society. The fact that most do so does not mean everything is OK with Unionism as Foster asserts.

Foster blithely assumes 1. above will continue indefinitely. The UK has just decided to leave the EU because of a lesser net contribution for which it got enormous benefits in return. What does England gain for the 10 Billion it gives Foster & Co.? What happens when Britain's economy crashes post Brexit and it can no longer afford the subvention?

Foster never mentions the GFA instead seeing Sinn Fein as the problem and projecting all sorts of attitudes onto it. In Foster's world the problem would be solved if Sinn Fein and all who support it simply went away. How would he feel if Nationalists said the same about the DUP and all who support it?

Typical of most Unionists, Foster never realised how central the EU was to the acceptance of the status quo in the North by nationalists of all hues. The DUP has just casually kicked that pillar from underneath the stability of N. Ireland society and now thinks the resulting mess is just a practical problem to be solved? Delusional indeed.

The interesting thing about this article is that it is written by a self-styled moderate Unionist, decrying the collapse of "moderate" Unionism and nationalism in N. Ireland, not by some fire-breathing fundamentalist protestant DUP supporter: The type who regard support for the status quo as not being political at all - but as is often the case with such "non-political" types - utterly clueless as to what has made the "normality" of the status quo possible. In a subsequent response to another poster, I wrote:

I think this article reveals a much deeper problem - how incredibly tone deaf even well educated moderate Unionists are to the range of feelings amongst nationalists in their midst. What I have detected amongst Nationalists in more recent times is that they have more or less given up on even talking to Unionists about a United Ireland or what safeguards could be built in to assuage Unionist concerns. They now regard Unionists as a lost cause and are content to wait until demographics solves the problem for them.

Then their attitude will be to treat Unionists with about as much respect as they feel Unionists afforded them. Unionists will be welcome to stay in the North and participate at all levels of society and economy as they want, without discrimination, and if they don't want to they will be welcome to leave. But there will be no compromises to assuage hurt Unionists feelings. If some Unionists turn to violence they will be dealt with ruthlessly.

I put this change of attitude down to Brexit, where the DUP ran roughshod over the expressed will of the majority in N. Ireland - and remember, N. Ireland is the only place the DUP has a mandate to represent - and to the absolutely bone headed stupidity of Arlene Foster and the DUP leadership. Feeding crocodiles, indeed.

Unionism had a glorious opportunity to take on the leadership of all the people of Northern Ireland by accepting and fighting for their rejection of Brexit. A compromise could have been worked out - under Unionist leadership - for N. Ireland to remain within the UK but also within the EU (representing all strands of society) - Just as Greenland is simultaneously part of the Kingdom of Denmark and outside the EU.

But the DUP flunked that test - and Unionism's last chance was lost.

Arlene Foster, DUP leader, has said that making concessions to Sinn Fein would be like feeding crocodiles: They would just come back for more. Perhaps my last comment involves a little projection of my own. I don't really know for sure how Northern Ireland politics will evolve if and when a Nationalist majority emerges. But I have more or less lost patience with those who fail to mention the contribution of the Good Friday Agreement in the achievement of normality in N. Ireland, and who regard Brexit as a "practical problem to be solved" - perhaps by some technological wizardry at the border.

No one begrudges the people of Northern Ireland, whether Unionist or not, having a good time "in their glad rags, grinning for the photographer at birthday bashes, firms' dos, award ceremonies, book launches, restaurant openings" and it is insulting to imply otherwise. It is also insulting to regard the efforts of those who achieved the Good Friday agreement as having made no contribution to the normalcy that Foster cherishes. Most insulting of all is the imposition of Brexit on a people who voted against it, by parties feigning to be democratic, and who then claim it is but a minor technical matter to which the people of Ireland should just submit.

Sorry. No can do. It is time for a bonfire of the vanities, and the first of these to go must be the vanity that you can systematically undermine two pillars of what made normalcy possible in Northern Ireland and not have to live with the consequences. I have never been a Sinn Fein supporter, but reading this drivel almost drives me in that direction, and I can understand why many nationalists in the North, even the most moderate, are gradually being forced to move in that direction. John Wilson Foster isn't half as apolitical or moderate as he claims to be. For Unionism to survive, it is essential that the nationalist community be divided.

Northern Ireland peace and prosperity is based on three central pillars:
£10 Billion p.a. subvention by the British Exchequer
The Good Friday agreement guaranteeing "parity of esteem for all traditions in N. I.
Membership of the EU with its prime aim of "an over closer Union" bringing both British and Irish people and governmental systems ever closer together

As I've said before, I would go further and say that the logic of the peace settlement is that devolution, European integration and cross-border institutions together create constructive ambiguity over Northern Ireland's sovereignty and national identity. Once everything was decided in Stormont or Brussels, whether sovereignty lay in Westminster or Dublin would no longer matter. For Unionists, Northern Ireland would stil be British. For Nationalists, it would equally truthfully be Irish.

In any case, the Good Friday Agreement obliges the UK to regard a united Ireland within the foreseeable future as a serious possibility. A normal border, treated as if it were absolute and permanent, is contrary to the spirit of the GFA if not the letter. The problem is not what happens at the border. The border is the problem.

by Gag Halfrunt on Thu Mar 22nd, 2018 at 11:35:07 AM EST
Just to be clear, Brexit itself is contrary to the spirit of the GFA if not the letter. EU membership is fundamental to the peace settlement.
by Gag Halfrunt on Thu Mar 22nd, 2018 at 11:38:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The GFA was concluded after both the UK and Ireland had been in the EU for 25 years and considerable progress had been made on integration and "an ever closer Union." It was also long before article 50 even existed and where there was therefore no likelihood, and no mechanism for EU exit by either sovereign party. The GFA simply took EU membership by both states for granted which is why it probably needs to be radically renegotiated now to take into account the (alleged) wish of both parties to avoid a customs border within Ireland.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 22nd, 2018 at 05:34:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The DUP's Cambridge Analytica link
To understand this we have to begin with a sum of money: £32,750, or about €37,500. This is what the DUP paid in the run-up to the Brexit referendum of June 2016 to a previously obscure Canadian company called AggregateIQ.

Carole Cadwalladr, whose relentless investigative work for The Observer has finally broken through as an international political story, describes AggregateIQ as a "web analytics company based in an office above a shop in Victoria, British Columbia".

It is, however, inextricably linked to Cambridge Analytica, the UK-based company that, as Cadwalladr revealed, managed to access 50 million Facebook profiles and use them to target micromessages on behalf of political clients, most notably Donald Trump.

Two aspects of the DUP's hiring of AggregateIQ are especially striking. One is that it does not seem accidental. It is improbable that the DUP found that little Canadian company all on its own. AggregateIQ was also hired by other organisations that, like the DUP, were campaigning in favour of a leave vote in the referendum.

The official leave campaign spent (remarkably) more than half of its £7 million, or €8 million, budget on AggregateIQ. Other groups that sprang up in the course of the campaign, BeLeave and Veterans for Britain, also hired the Canadian data analysts.

This cannot have been the result of deliberate co-ordination, which would have been unlawful, but it was hardly pure coincidence either. On some informal basis that we do not yet understand, the DUP was part of a wider pro-Brexit campaigning strategy based around the use of vast data sets.

The other striking thing is precisely that AggregateIQ is Canadian - and therefore outside the jurisdiction of UK electoral laws. A subsequent London School of Economics report found those laws to be "weak and helpless" in the Brexit campaign because they could not control third-party donations to campaigns or the operations of offshore digital-targeting specialists.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Mar 24th, 2018 at 10:45:53 AM EST
sound application

"Now, note how jurisdictional arbitrage arises because corporate officers (i) hide or diversify assets (including but not limited to the individual officers responsible for an offense) among subsidiaries and (ii) dispute governing authority where the offense actually occurred."

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Sat Mar 24th, 2018 at 01:05:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Brexit: A managed surrender - Politico
Forget red lines, bellicose declarations and rhetoric about the United Kingdom taking back control -- Brexit so far has been a process of managed surrender.

British officials acknowledge that Prime Minister Theresa May has mostly had to accept the European Union's terms for the divorce and a transition period to avoid a cliff-edge rupture in economic ties that could have crippled business.

However, the Brits insist, the real negotiation starts now and much is still to play for: deep access to the single market, a special customs arrangement for frictionless trade, assured access for British financial services, a security treaty, a privileged partnership in foreign policy and defense.

All this is within reach, the government says, even if the U.K. insists on diverging selectively from EU rules and shrugging off the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Dream on! The withdrawal talks are likely to become even more lopsided as an unofficial October deadline for agreement on the framework of the future U.K.-EU relationship draws near. Any resemblance with a negotiation among equals is purely cosmetic.

by Bernard on Tue Mar 27th, 2018 at 08:02:58 PM EST
Punch offers this solution from 1913.
by rifek on Thu Mar 29th, 2018 at 10:54:45 PM EST
Only problem is that Scotland shows little sign of wanting to annex Unionists either. And soon northern Unionists will only have a clear majority in County Antrim, so the part to be carved off is getting smaller and smaller.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 30th, 2018 at 12:17:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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