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The National Question

3.22.2006

As you can see from below, the interview which Frank Neary has started with Killian Forde

(SF Councillor) and which will continue through the week, focussed on issues of globalisation and the new economy that has taken shape in the preceding 20 years or so. And there are a vast number of people out there in the community who would say that this is correct and proper. Its time that Sinn Fein moved on from myopic nationalist rhetoric in favour of entering the broader political discourse and talking economy, health, welfare, society etc.

I must say I would be one of those people. However, one cant help but notice the emerging noise from Peter Hain's office, and matching noises from Bertie, that the Northern Assembly must be gotten back together again. Like the king's horses and the king's men they work their hardest to put humpty dumpty back together.

The dilemma over the Northern Assembly is probably only taxing a rather small number, at most a sizeable minority, or Irish citizens. Yet perhaps it ought interest a larger number. Consider what I feel are two of the crux examples over the recent past;

1. The Love Ulster march which led to the Dublin Riots. A group of, admittedly unsavoury, loyalist marchers came to Dublin to march in protest and rememberance at loyalist victims of the troubles. The move to come to Dublin had major potential for furthering peace. We had a loyalist group recognising the centrality of Dublin in the issues which affect Northern Ireland, if it came off the Irish negotiating teams would have a huge plank to add to their arguments in favour of continued devolution.

As we all know such positive potential never got actualised. The march itself was ransacked and turned into a day of mayhem. It was done, we are to believe, to keep the loyalists out of Ireland. Yet from the same corners comes talk of a united ireland and being a nation once again. I doubt Im the only one to see the dissonance taking place between words and actions.

2. The attempts to get the DUP and Sinn Fein to sit down together. While this seems more tangentially related, it is key. Sinn Fein's best hope of being in power in the next two years lies in Stormont. They know it and want it. The north offers a chance for them to prove their capacity for delivery on the bread and butter of government. Right now its an opportunity being denied by Ian Paisley and the DUP. So in the face of DUP intransigience comes the alternatives.

Peter Hain talks of a shadow assembly, bereft of executive powers and little more than a talking shop. Dont get me wrong in a talking shop Paisley is better off, all talk and no delivery. Bertie too. Sinn Fein talk only of full powers in accord with the Good Friday Agreement and no one really looks like they are goign to come to an agreement.

So what am I bloody posting on, simply this: Ought the national question be at the center of the next election?

It has been a long time since talk of the north dominated (to the exclusion of all else) the election discourse. It has been mooted that from that formative period, where parties divided on the issue of the North, we have moved closer to a more open model of politics, embracing left-right divisions and so forth. Yet the demons of the Dublin Riots live on, there is little evidence to suggest that we as a body politics have put the issues stemming from partition behind us.

Is there a case for a once and for all discussion on a final resolution of the Northern Question at the next election. We have all of the major players involved, the major attitudes represented and the space for an open engagement with the electorate. An electorate who are far more nuanced in their approach to the northern issue that comes with time and history.

I suspect that whether the politicians or the electorate like it or not, the North will be a major issue, the question is will it be positively brought up, considered and engaged or passively foisted on the election from outside. There are still demons in the closet and perhaps its time to get rid of them.



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