Real politics should co-evolve with experience, not just chase after a bunch of groundless abstractions

Every model of abstraction you make, your models get prettier and prettier but the world you’re describing gets farther and farther away…

-Katherine Collins

One downside to institutional unsteadiness in Northern Ireland is that we end up talking about what might eventually replace them, rather than how to fix the obvious flaw of how easy it is for one party to lift the ball, walk off the pitch and end the game.

Oran Doyle in the Irish Times observes:

Northern Ireland is again governed by its civil servants. No Executive has been formed since last May’s elections. Since its establishment in 1998, the Northern Assembly has been suspended — whether formally or informally — for more than 40 per cent of the time.

This is all true. What’s odd is that no one seems to think this is the problem. Doyle doesn’t believe devolution is viable in a long term all island state, but rather as some kind of deliberative assembly to decide what might be. An all island Dáíl perhaps?

However the poll that inspired the professor of law at TCD suggests this is not an outcome likely to arise any time soon. Indeed, if that poll is to be believed even huge demographic change in religion over thirty years hasn’t shifted the UI numbers much.

Our discourse has drifted into weaker versions of the same abstractions that drove a bloody and (regarding outcomes at least) wholly unnecessary civil war for a whole generation. It may not dent the economy, but nor has it built on its successes.

Incessant speculation about a united Ireland is the only “big” political idea being discussed at the moment (something of an indictment of the DUP it has to be said, who have always struggled to find ideas with which to grow secular support for the UK).

Writing last week Stephen Collins described it as “a dangerous cul de sac that is provoking an escalation of tension in the North, hampering efforts to find a solution to the protocol impasse and undermining the chances of powersharing being restored.”

He goes on:

The only conclusion from the recent polling on both sides of the Border for The Irish Times and ARINS is that a united Ireland is as much of a mirage today as it was when the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed 100 years ago.

The two outstanding features of the poll are that a clear majority of people in the North do not want a united Ireland, while a substantial majority south of the Border have a frivolous and unrealistic aspiration for something to which they have given no serious thought. [Emphasis added]

About the same time, this is exactly what Gerry Adams was pushing for with the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in Dublin, calling for the Irish government to…

…establish a Citizen’s Assembly or series of such Assemblies to discuss the process of constitutional change and the measures needed to build an all-Ireland economy, a truly national health service and education system and much more.

The thing to remember about Mr Adams is that ‘looking forward with confidence’ is something he has been doing for a very long time, but that his aspirations usually involve someone else doing the heavy lifting for him.

Fifteen years after Sinn Féin’s campaign for a united Ireland went global, it’s remarkable how few ideas the party has of its own on how to get the numbers to shift in favour of a UI. Even Brexit (a DUP idea) seems blown as a motivator for change.

At that launch Mr Adams’ promises lay 40 years ahead, when there would be a clear outcome. But as Pete noted back then, “it’s all very well imposing a retrospective, and self-serving, narrative onto events but ‘history has no premeditated design‘”.

Indeed. The uncertainty of every moment tends to get written out of the history books as stories are codified to fit succeeding outcomes and settlements. But in each moment uncertainty and intention are the twin drivers of unexpected change.

This is the core theme of the Christmas message from the new Chair of the Glencree Centre for Peace Reconciliation, Ciarán Ó Cuinn. He writes:

It is clear that today, we need broader societal reconciliation that, more than ever, includes the Glencree Centre. So much has changed and that change will continue. That should not surprise us, but it will.

Our uncertain future will bring further protocols, polls and paramilitary threats. It will bring opportunists who reach for the tribal binary that feeds off alienation, hate and inequality.

If we are strangers they may win. If we are neighbours, friends and partners they never can.

Humanising contact is the simple foundation of all peace-building. It builds a place where our fights and disagreements are kept ‘between the ditches’ of non-violence and democracy.

It’s no surprise to those of us paying attention that the DUP leader last weekend chose to praise the efforts made by the outgoing Taoiseach Micheál Martin to the incoming one Leo Varadkar…

During his tenure as Taoiseach Micheál Martin sought to understand why unionism was wholly opposed to the NI Protocol. I encourage Leo Varadkar to follow Micheál Martin’s example in managing North-South relationships.

You don’t have to agree with others in order to keep them close. In the anti democratic world, such cross society relationships don’t matter so much, but in a democracy, they do. To stay real, democratic politics must co-evolve with lived experience.

Not just rushing things ahead in hope that they will eventually work out..

“The fact that all of this was happening in virtual space made no difference.”
Douglas Adams

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