Open Letter

Paddy McEvoy, Author and Teacher

Open letter to the leaders of the Northern Irish political parties, September, 2013 (page 1)

Dear Leaders,

The governance of Northern Ireland is getting further and further into a rut. The two parties of government, Sinn Fein and the DUP, are parties which have been strongly anti-pathetic to each other throughout the long dreary years of the so-called ‘Troubles’. Sinn Fein/IRA, through its activities, provided lines on a daily/nightly basis for Mr Paisley et al, who responded predictably, never failing to rub salt into already smarting wounds, and, to keep the temperature up, acting-out set-piece posturings which have been the genesis of the sterile limbo which now obtains.

How long will the present political arrangements go on? 10-20 years? Longer? Sinn Fein is clearly ambitious to be in power in Ireland, North and South, and eventually to achieve its long-term historic goal of uniting both of those, in its view, invalid legislatures and polities.

But how committed are the various majorities on the whole island of Ireland to the Sinn Fein unification agenda? Even if we were not in such parlous economic times, there is scant evidence that the people on this island are impatient for re-unification, if vox pops are anything to go by. What couldn't be achieved by armed struggle, is still high on Sinn Fein's agenda, to be now brought-about by drip-feed persuasion.

If Ireland is ever to be unified, it had better be unified by a deeply-based peaceful consensus. It is my opinion that the campaign of violence, on all sides, but particularly that of PIRA, was ill-conceived, based as it was on a flawed analysis of what was in the overall best interests of Ireland and Britain, not to mention a conveniently one-sided interpretation of Irish/British history.

The purpose of this letter is to appeal to the forces of moderation in Northern Ireland, (and in the Republic), to stand together in opposition to the head-of-steam which Sinn Fein, alone of all parties on the island of Ireland, is generating to ratchet-up the case for the summary unification of the island of Ireland. They constantly put pressure on the SDLP to perfunctorily reaffirm their bona fides as a United Ireland party. This propaganda-machine will continue to attempt to erode the SDLP power-base by forcing a process which nobody but Sinn Fein seems to want, certainly not to the same doctrinaire extent. They are beginning to claim that their improvement in the polls, due to their stance as a party of protest and 'activism' can be interpreted as a surge in popularity for the idea of a united Ireland. Not necessarily so. Sinn Fein has found itself in the strong position it is in, primarily as a result of a campaign of violence which should never have happened, a support base which puzzles many Unionists. If the Irish people stop reminding themselves of how this pre-eminence was attained, they will have utterly lost their moral compass. But as Sinn Fein points out, and will continue-to, the nation, such as it is, was born out of violence...................

Sinn Fein, having failed to drive out the Brits by violence is now adopting a different tactic. To do so, it must continually up-the-ante to convince its supporters, and the dissident elements whom we were led to believe were ‘on board’ the Peace Train, that it is not going soft on something that very, very few seem to immediately want, but many daren't admit, for fear of appearing to be (going) soft on the 'National Question', as if nothing had changed for a century.

I am, in this paper, asking the SDLP to stand back from the unification brain-teaser – to have the vision and courage to declare, that unification, while it might be a noble aspiration for the distant future, is not for now, and is being placed firmly, by this party, on the back burner. Would this re-prioritising make the SDLP any the less Irish, less Gaelic, less authentic, less ardent? No, it would merely prove that they are less craven, and not prepared, either to dance to Sinn Fein's unification-tune, nor to increase the discomfiture of moderate Protestant opinion, banging-on about something which they know to be merely exacerbating divisions in a game of mischievous one-upmanship. Particularly at this time in Northern Ireland, when population trends are pointing to equalisation, it is time to make the point, and make it maturely, that this debate is emphatically not about numbers. It never should have been about numbers. The fate and fortunes of Ireland are matters too weighty to be determined by tribal head-counts. The same goes for the main political parties in the South. It's time they came out and turned the tables on all forms of nationalist zealotry, determined as their proponents are to push the unification agenda, come what may. Sinn Fein, if truth be told, is primarily a one-issue party. Uniting Ireland is so far up that party's agenda that it deserves an agenda of its own – that, and the impassioned promoting of Gaelic culture and the Irish language at every opportunity, projects which the mass of the Irish people are not too exercised about, if we are honest. (Which merely makes them, the ordinary people, in the eyes of the fior-Gaels, not as Irish as they should be.) To make admissions such as these openly, to mount a serious intellectual case for slowing-down the unification-express to a crawl, would require a degree of political maturity that is at present in short supply – far easier to pay lip-service to hollow shibboleths.