As Splintered Sunrise notes, the SDLP has lost out to Sinn Féin in recent years as the leading voice of nationalists in Northern Ireland:
Even in the Republic of West Belfast, there are layers of people – often middle class, yes, but also located in the more respectable end of the working class – who would be boiled in oil before they’d vote Provo. But these layers are relatively middle-aged and elderly – those under 30, if they vote at all, only vote for one party – and are thoroughly demoralised.
Roe Valley Socialist offers a generous assessment of Durkan's leadership and looks at some of the issues that could shape the leadership election, such as the SDLP's complex relationship with southern-based parties:
some of the front-runners for the leadership have had a relationship with Fianna Fail in the past that is too comfortable for those in the party committed to membership of Socialist International and co-operation with the Irish Labour Party. Unlike our sister party, Fianna Fail have actively held meetings in SDLP-held constituencies, competed for members at university events and established tentative branch structures in areas in Derry and along the border.
The Conservatives took another step in their nascent alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party today, with a visit to Northern Ireland by David Cameron in support of UUP European election candidate Jim Nicholson.
The previous evening, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson explained the thinking behind the alliance in a talk at West London's Hammersmith Irish Centre.
This is the first time in decades there is someone representing a national party as well as a local party in an election in Northern Ireland. And we intend to go on. We intend to choose joint candidates over the next few months for the general election. The way things are going we might have to accelerate that, and we will see how we we get on.
This is a long term project. There may be bumps on the way. We've seen a few this week with Lady Sylvia's comments. It will not go smoothly, but I think it is a really worthwhile thing to try and do. If we could move Northern Ireland politics away from the age-old stale debate about the great dividing trench, just park that and concentrate on things that really matter to people on a daily basis, I think we would bring in people who've not been involved in politics before.
Tom Griffin (London, OK):Does the Irish peace process have lessons for the Middle East? Many of the key players in the Good Friday Agreement seem to think so. Tony Blair has cited the precedent as cause for optimism in his role as Quartet Envoy, while Gerry Adams called for inclusive negotiations during his visit to Gaza last week. The analogy isn't universally welcome, however.
Two recent articles reflect the parameters of the debate. In the New Statesman, Blair's former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, argues that the British government's engagement with Irish republicans provides a model for an Israeli approach to Hamas. In Standpoint, Douglas Murray reiterates a longstanding neoconservative critique of such suggestions, arguing that "the claims of the peace process in Northern Ireland itself are unproven - but they are also unhelpful to the point of uselessness."
This dispute is significant given the identity of some of the key actors now emerging on the Middle East stage. US envoy George Mitchell was a key mediator in the Good Friday Agreement, while Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is arguably more closely aligned with American and British neoconservatives than any other major figure in Israeli politics.
The killings were designed to accomplish a number of objectives – to embarrass Sinn Fein; to provoke a disproportionate response from the British; to cause division between Sinn Fein and the DUP and make it less likely that policing and justice will be devolved to northern politicians.
All of these aims add up to a larger purpose of undermining support for the peace process in the North's republican communities.
Tom Griffin (Dublin, OK): Gerry Adams called for a new alignment in Irish politics at the weekend,
in a move which underlined how the impact of the credit crisis is
changing the political landscape in the Republic.
Speaking at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (party conference), Adams urged left parties to unite, and end the dominance of Ireland's two major centre-right parties.
In my view the Labour Party has a duty not to prop up either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Instead Labour should explore with us and others the potential for co-operation in the future.
I invite all these potential allies to come together to forge a stronger, more united progressive and democratic movement for our country - one that aims to meet the needs of all citizens.
That call represents a major shift since the 2007 election, when many observers saw a coalition with Fianna Fáil as the ultimate aim of Sinn Féin's own strategy. The party's poor performance at the polls put paid to that notion, and the credit crisis looks to have undermined it further. Adams' speech came on the same day that 120,000 people took to the streets of Dublin to protest against Government austerity measures.
It has been rejected by the dominant unionist DUP; Sinn Féin are unhappy with the truth recovery proposals; one of four members of the Commission for Victims and Survivors, former newsreader Mike Nesbitt, suggested it “was likely to divide families;” the Ulster Unionist leader has called for the proposals to be withdrawn; even the cross-community Alliance party were outraged, though leader David Ford acknowledged “many positive recommendations.” Not a great reception then.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): It is perhaps a fitting coincidence that, in the week when Barack Obama invoked the republicanism of Tom Paine, Ireland observed the 90th anniversary of its own 'Yes We Can' moment.
On 21st January 1919, the majority of Irish MPs met in Dublin's Mansion House to ratify Ireland's declaration of independence. Taoiseach Brian Cowen marked the event with a speech in the same building on Tuesday:
As of 21 January 1919, foreign rule in Ireland was relieved of any claim to democratic legitimacy. The Declaration of Independence adopted by the First Dáil ordained "that the elected representatives of the Irish people alone have the power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which the Irish people will give its allegiance". From that day on, there has been an Irish parliament and Irish governments which have governed in the interests of the Irish people.
When the First Dáil met, partition was a fear rather than a reality and civil war unimaginable. Partition disfigured our island and scarred the psyche of Irish people. It has sapped the energy and resources of our island and its people over generations. Only in the recent past have political leaders on the island been able to find the will and imagination to identify a path through the barriers to reconciliation.
There was one small relic of civil war divisions in the fact that Cowen was speaking a day before the actual anniversary. The Irish Government had been unable to reach an agreement with Sinn Féin, which had a prior booking in the Mansion House on the 21st.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): A leading member of Sinn Féin dismissed the Conservative Party's latest foray into Northern Ireland politics during a visit to London at the weekend. Seanna Walsh, the head of the Sinn Féin Culture Department, said his party were not worried about the emerging alliance between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists.
"We do not believe that David Cameron is any way emotionally or realistically attached to the union between the North of Ireland and Britain," Walsh said. "The UUP vote collapsed in the last election, and they are not the entity which they once were. They used to have 10 or 12 MPs in Britain. They now have one. So it's not a concern that we would have, who David Cameron hitches his wagon to. We would see it as being totally opportunistic."
Walsh, the former leader of IRA prisoners in the H-blocks, was speaking at a special screening of Hunger, the British film which portrays the death of his predecessor Bobby Sands in the 1981 hunger strikes.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Steve McQueen's award-winning film about the 1981 hunger strike prompted mixed opinions on OurKingdom. Both Michael Calderbank and Arthur Aughey noted an absence of wider political context in the film. Calderbank nevertheless found much to be admired in Hunger, while Aughey was more critical of a lack of Protestant perspectives.
The politics of the hunger strikes will be very much up for debate on Saturday, when the Rio Cinema in Hackney hosts a special screening of the film, followed by a discussion with Seanna Walsh, who succeeded Bobby Sands as leader of the republican prisoners in the H-blocks.
The difference between the situation today in Gaza/Israel and in the 1990s in relation to the IRA should be blindingly obvious. The republican movement was looking for a way out of its self-destructive and counterproductive violence; Hamas believes it’s on a roll towards its ultimate aim of a Jew-free Palestine on the whole territory of Israel.
One of Jerusalem’s key objectives in Gaza — supported quietly by Arab governments — is to inject some realism into Hamas, just as the British and Irish security forces did to the IRA. We should recall it was not a short process: it took years, decades in fact. And even then, the IRA had to observe a unilateral ceasefire before they could join talks: the RUC, gardaí, British army and the Irish defence forces were scarcely confined to barracks.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): As a footnote to Neal Ascherson and John Horgan's excellent obituaries of Conor Cruise O'Brien, I thought I would post an extract from a document that I came across in the National Archives a while ago.
In April 1975, M. F. Daly of the British Embassy in Dublin wrote a letter to the Foreign Office entitled Conor Cruise O'Brien and Republicanism. It concerned an Irish Times article in which O'Brien argued that the attitudes of Ireland's Fianna Fail government at the outset of the Troubles in 1969 had paved the way for the emergence of the IRA:
Perhaps the most sensible comment of Dr O'Brien's article was made in a letter to the paper on 1 April which, while agreeing that Dr O'Brien had "brilliantly" analysed the way in which Fianna Fail had virtually cornered the Irish market in nationalism and used it to gain and maintain power, said that the tradition of a violent undemocratic republic had existed in Ireland long before Fianna Fail. The latter had embraced it, but at the same time had defused it, and that far from being responsible for the revival of such a tradition, Fianna Fail, had done much to tame the beast.However, like all tamers of wild animals the party was constantly in danger of being devoured by its charge.
Arthur Aughey (University of Ulster) reviews Irish Protestant Identities Edited by Mervyn Busteed, Frank Neal and Jonathan Tonge, Manchester University Press 2008 pp389 + xvii. In his careful response to the scholarly papers he concludes with a lesson for Gordon Brown that devolution, especially to Northern Ireland as it is now, has proundly altered what it means to be British - and that this can no longer be defined by the 'centre'.
This book of twenty-five chapters is a selection of papers presented at a conference organised by the British Association for Irish Studies held at the University of Salford in September 2005. An additional commissioned chapter deals with the fortunes of the two major Unionist parties since the Belfast Agreement of 1998, in particular tracking the transition of the Democratic Unionists from opposition to the ‘Trimble-Adams Pact’ to miraculous support for a Robinson-McGuinness Executive. Appropriately, the book retains the diversity of the papers’ subject matter and, in keeping with recent academic convention, there is no attempt to identify either the ‘mind’ of Protestant Ireland or its ‘character’. It is not the singularity of tradition but the plurality of experience which the editors try to convey and they do so successfully. One of the merits of the book is that it deals with Protestantism in southern as well as Northern Ireland and also considers the impact of Protestant migration to North America and Great Britain, along with the influence of the Orange Order in Scotland and England. It cannot provide a complete picture, of course, but it does provide a more subtle and honest one. This is to be welcomed since Protestantism in Ireland and specifically in Northern Ireland has often been the subject of crude stereotyping. Irish Protestant Identities, along with John Bew’s new study, The Glory of Being Britons (Irish Academic Press 2008), will be an indispensable source of reference for anyone interested in the history, politics and cultures of Irish Protestantism.
Catherine Reilly (Dublin, Metro Eireann): So the Lisbon Treaty will be put to the Irish public again, but are our faces bovvered?
In an everyday context, news that Ireland must vote again on a sweetened-up treaty would be a major talking point, with aggressively-contested radio phone-ins and copious media coverage, as we again prepared to bask in Europe’s spotlight.
But everyday contexts have been made redundant. The economic situation is rapidly deteriorating and the Government is spooked. Lisbon talk is limp, and even the release of precise information on the potential detail of Lisbon Two may not enliven debates to expected levels.
Tom Griffin (London, OK):Over at the main openDemocracy site, John Palmer looks at the stakes as Ireland contemplates a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
With ratification now virtually complete in the rest of the EU (the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany apart), the Irish veto has put the whole process of reforming the way the union functions into cold storage.
Meanwhile, a number of large-scale issues and events have emerged or become more acute since discussions about a new constitutional treaty for Europe began - global economic crisis, severe threats of climate change, dangerous regional conflicts, challenging geopolitical shifts, prospects for significant change in United States policy under a new president. All are stretching or will stretch to the limit the capacity of the union to react.
Chekov (Three Thousand Versts): Lord Smith makes a handful of curious points pertaining to realignment of the Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties, currently being effected by David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey. The Liberal Democrat peer appears confused as to the nature of the Conservative and Unionist force which the two parties intend to create and inconsistent in his criticisms of Cameron’s unionism.
Reconstituting links between Conservatives and Ulster Unionists will not, as Lord Smith contends, further polarise politics in Northern Ireland, still less aggravate increased dissident paramilitarism. If anything the alliance will exercise a moderating influence on unionist politics, shaping a secular, inclusive movement, propounding the values of the Union. The new force will not be about exclusion, or representing one community, it will be about making a case for Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom which appeals to everyone in the province.