THE North is passing though some rare times, to judge by the comments of Fr Seán McManus of the American-based Irish National Caucus who recently drew attention to the turmoil that’s at the heart of a disunited United Kingdom and how it impacts on the Six Counties. The human rights activist argued that the upheaval over constitutional matters in Britain was contributing to the disintegration of Unionist certainties.
For instance, nothing did more to rattle DUP-UUP Unionism than last month’s vote at Westminster in favour of a government plan to exclude MPs from the Six Counties, Scotland and Wales from voting on matters that only affect England.
The legislation, known as English Votes for English Laws (EVEL), was an expression of Middle England flag-waving and a prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own electoral kind.
The Tories, however, presented it as a parliamentary correction to an anomaly whereby English MPs were not allowed to vote in the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Wales and the Six Counties, even though MPs from those areas had the right to vote at Westminster on matters that only affected England. Nevertheless, ‘English Votes for English Laws’ was the most significant British constitutional measure of the 21st century.
The implications are not too difficult to fathom. For the Scottish National Party, the law marks the beginning of the end of the union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. An apprehensive Nigel Dodds of the DUP wailed it was the wrong answer to a perceived democratic deficit in England. He too could see the writing on the wall.
Union at crossroads
Seán McManus put it more simply: supporting union with England these days, he said, is a bit like pledging loyalty to an iceberg – it will ultimately melt.
To add to the constitutional headache, Six County Unionists have yet to redefine the nature and purpose of Unionism for an era in which the legitimacy of the Union is accepted by the vast majority of nationalists, as represented by Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Which is ironic because just as that penny is dropping for unionists, the existence of the union itself is being called into question in the mother country!
McManus also makes the point that Northerners are faced with the question of what political unionism’s focus should be, ‘now that it has been rendered largely redundant by consensus-based legislation.’ Things were easier in the old days when unionism was understood by the Protestant masses on the basis of what it was against, rather than what it was for. But now it is in a bind, unable to get the message across on what it stands for – if anything.
To make matters more confusing for Unionists, the ‘self-inflicted demise’ of the Catholic Church and its withdrawal from the political arena has removed a handy enemy to get hot and bothered about. Indeed, Unionism is facing a shortage of enemies and, to crown its woes, Nationalists have accepted the legality of partition, saying they can live with it. Indeed, McManus wryly comments that Nationalism has morphed into what he terms ‘caffeine-free Unionism.’
To hammer home his point, he reminds Unionists that the British government no longer needs Unionism to govern the North. New Nationalism – in other words, caffeine-free Unionism – can now do that with far fewer conditions and with greater political ability.
Uncertainty was also observed in the wild and excessive zeal with which the Blueshirts and the Cloth Cap Brigade bickered among themselves over rent control and how to deal with the rental accommodation problem! Labour promised rent control but Inda cried from the barricades ‘there will be no interference in the market.’
The debacle provided easy pickings for Our Gerry, who opened a sore wound with his question to Kenny as to whether Fine Gael’s vehement opposition to Rent Control could be explained by the fact that 24 of the party’s Oireachtas members were landlords. A hopping mad Inda refused to answer.
Oh, and a choleric Irish Council Against Blood Sports cannot understand the confusion that reigns among Fine Gael MEPs when it comes to bull fighting. Last month during a EU Budget Amendment aimed at ending subsidies to bullfighting breeders, our own local damsel, Deirdre Clune, and Mairéad McGuinness and Sean Kelly all ‘disgracefully voted against the amendment despite being well aware of the appalling suffering inflicted on bulls in the blood soaked bullrings.’
Not an inch!
No such confusion among Impact members on Cork City Council: The trade union is against the proposal to amalgamate Cork City and County Councils on the grounds that it would create a new governance structure that would be remote and less connected to the people it is supposed to serve.
The voice of the employees who work in both local authorities must be heard in the ongoing debate, they said, warning that amalgamation could lead to privatisation and outsourcing of current local government services. ‘This will only mean a loss of public sector jobs and an impoverished service for the users of services.’
Incorporating the City Council into the County Council will weaken the city and undermine democratic structures in Cork, they said. A strong city needs to have the autonomy to determine its own affairs, set its own budget and create its own planning policies.
Whereas clearness and distinctness are a feature of Impact’s opposition to a rural take-over of City Hall, a different clarity can be found in Eamon Gilmore’s rant in a book he wrote concerning his former government pals in Fine Gael: ‘too quick to grab the limelight and grab the microphone … with a tendency to take the glory and take the praise,’ he said of them.
The former ideologue of the SFWP, Workers Party, Labour and whatever you’re having yourself, Mr Gilmore attributed his poor political image as Minister for Foreign Affairs to an insufficient number of press and public announcements. ‘I probably spent too much time doing the job and not enough time promoting it,’ he explained pompously. For the record, Gilmore’s footnote in history will be that of closing Ireland’s Embassy to the Vatican for no particular reason!
Glamour at flicks!
Congrats to the Cork Film Festival, one of the oldest European film festivals. In the 1950s, the event brought Hollywood glamour to a dowdy city when hundreds would fill Pana for a glimpse of Gregory Peck and Vittorio de Sica. But curvaceous starlets such as Dawn Addams also impressed Leesiders!
Demanding that the Metropole Hotel provide her with a milk bath every day and that the milk had to be pasteurised, a porter attending to her request and aware that a milk strike was taking place, commented: ‘Missus, whatever about milk past-your-eyes you’ll be lucky if we can get enough to reach your armpits!’