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Should We Worry About Northern Ireland?

9.22.2005

Browsing over to slugger I found out that the Vice-Chairman of the policing body in the North was violently attacked with a baseball bat type of weapon last night. Now i know that most in the south are regularly unpreturbed by incidents in the north, regularly ignoring or even ridiculing the ongoing difficulties across the border.
As the Sindo gloated on Sunday, 55% of us dont even desire to vote for a united ireland. So i wonder, are we wrong to gloss over Northern events, is it really a basket case or should we be getting worried about the place again.
Looking at it in a cool manner, which can be difficult to do at times, there is a seriously anaemic political process taking place at the moment. There is little cross-community governance to speak of, Stormont hasnt opened its doors in a very long time and the past few months has seen some startling pictures of Loyalist violence.
The recent attack on the Vice Chairman, finger being pointed at IRA dissidents, is inexcusable, I think all would have to agree with that. Yet how far are we willling to go in the south, how much are we willing to do, to enforce and police a settlement to violence. Rather is there anything we should or must do? Are we genuinely interested in conesting a role for cross border social intervention etc?
Things seem to look good on paper for Sinn Fein, IRA are heading off (hopefully), weapons due to go (eventually) and there is a sympathetic ear in the NIO again.
So we look over the border bewildered as another outbreak of violence sweeps the provence and sends ordinary decent people running for cover.
Yet even if SF were in power in Stormont, the South would take as little notice as ever, Sinn Fein is seen as a very different entity on both sides of the border by most here.
Perhaps this post is making little sense, i apologise profusely if that is the case. I am simply a man in confusion. Does the poll in the Sindo reflect the fact that we look at the north as an alien entity? If it does then is that a position we are soundly entitled to take? Is the lack of empathy and emotional interest in occurences a symptom of broader social disharmony in the south?
I think that we lack a deep understanding of social divsion still taking place in the North, but from any reading of it, it certainly seems to be the cases that a will to violence exists among private militias of all hues. The consistent undermining of PSNI legitimacy by a combiation of their own behaviour (and that of the old RUC) and political actors has seen this most divided of societies reach the brink of peace and devolution but recoil into violent fraternicide. The blood spilt in the loyalist fued and blood spilt over the likes of the McCartney killings. These are seen to exist in some other spatio-temporal realm.
As a friend said to me the other day, "it doesnt really feel like its up the road does it?". We have lost any affiliation in terms of identity with the North, its been lost under the more pressing issues of economic development, prosperity and jobs. No longer do many here see them as 'us'.
So I am grappling at the dark for reasons to be hopeful, reasons to believe that a united ireland poses a solution to slaughter up north but also offers the means to relieve social inequality, reasons for all of us in the south to reengage with ideas of national identity and put a national question that was never properly answered to bed.
This is not about southern navel-gazing, more about a stubborn attempt to reconnect those who feel its no longer our problem with the fact that we share the same geographical territory, same primary language and that on both sides of the border there is a desire to move toward a peaceful and inclusive society.
The idea of last nights attack is shocking to me, the message it sends out about the health of a legitimate state for Northern Ireland is distressing to democrats all over. The seeming degeneration of northern politics into factional violence again is distressing in the extreme, but for the south its distressing in the manner in which a baby who refuses to settle and sleep is distressing. I wonder have we lost our identity and human connection to the north?
Im not sure why I posted this, perhaps confusion, or else incoherence.
I have a sneaking suspicion that interventions like those of Mr. Consistent Michael McDowell to rubbish any sign of progress in the North with some piece of "i know what i know" insider knowledge, is breaking down a peoples willingness to endure a sense of affiliation with the North.
Either way i worry that in a similar fashion to the troubles, if not more worrying, we in the South are again moving away from interest in the North. The alienation makes for a more hostile political atmosphere, serves to heighten unionist suspicion and make deal making a more complex occasion than it is already.
The solutions? Well if i knew this i wouldnt be blogging would I? Perhaps i am wrong in my diagnosis, but if i am correct, a social disconnect which reintroduces itself and is allowed to fester for political purposes (stifling the rise of Sinn Fein south of the border), may do more harm in the long run than good in the short.
RR
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