Tuesday 21 January 2020

Here's the British election news -good and bad, North and South

Eoghan Harris June 11
Eoghan Harris June 11
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Let's savour three good bits from the British general election before spitting out the bad.

First, the sense of anxiety that has been corroding British society since Brexit has been somewhat allayed.

Second, the young vote and social media did the hard driving, recalling Yeats's lines, "This is no country for old men, the young in one another's arms".

This time the young were also up in arms. They voted Labour, not because they loved Corbyn and his leftie manifesto, but because they loathed May's hypocritically hard position on Brexit.

My authority for saying so is based on daily emails from young relatives in London who are members of the Labour Party.

Reading them, I realised Londoners are like New Yorkers, bound by the solidarity and stresses of a multicultural city.

Londoners bravely reject apocalyptic visions of a clash of civilisations, not least because urban life forces them into daily contact with many races and creeds.

Finally, the election results were not good news for nationalist parties like the SNP and UKIP.

The SNP, like Sinn Fein, tried to bully people into a premature referendum on independence. They got their answer.

There will be no more talk of Scottish independence now.

In a Europe fighting nationalist fragmentation, this is good news for the overall stability of the UK.

Let me turn with less enthusiasm to the micro situations in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein delightedly served the death warrant on the SDLP that John Hume signed a long time ago.

Not being a hypocrite, I shed no tears. My problem with the SDLP goes all the way back to the Hume-Adams talks.

In recent years, my reservations were summed up by a letter to The Irish Times last week from long-time peace activist Andy Pollak, criticising the SDLP for backing Sinn Fein's call for a border poll.

But the SDLP's failure to put oceans of blue water between itself and Sinn Fein did not blind me to the personal merits of leaders like Seamus Mallon.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell was another in that admirable mode. Last Friday night, his stoic dignity in defeat brought to mind Shakespeare's line about Brutus in Julius Caesar: "This was the noblest Roman of them all."

But Sinn Fein's triumphal dance on the SDLP's grave barely concealed its growing anxiety about the landscape left behind.

Sinn Fein set out to polarise society by pulling down the Northern Executive on spurious grounds so as to concentrate on its southern strategy.

As a bonus, it hoped to see the DUP decline in this election. But that did not happen. Sinn Fein got 27pc of the vote, but the DUP got a decisive 40pc.

Furthermore, as Micheal Martin pointed out, Sinn Fein can't come up with even one credible reason not to take its seats in the House of Commons.

Given that Sinn Fein has a perfect excuse to end abstention - to protect the Irish position on Brexit - we can only come to one sinister conclusion. Clearly, the shadowy forces who have not gone away drew a red line on abstention and Adams is afraid to step over it.

Arlene Foster, in contrast, is free to explore and expand many political options. She can squeeze Theresa May for a soft border and Sinn Fein to restore the Northern Executive.

Jeffrey Donaldson turned the DUP's political screw on Sinn Fein in a relaxed interview with RTE's Sharon Ni Bheolain, assuring us the DUP wanted a soft border and the best of relations with its neighbours in the Republic.

In sum, while the DUP is looking after Ireland's case for a soft border, Sinn Fein looks like a party which doesn't want to take part in politics at all, either in the Northern Assembly or in the House of Commons.

In the aftermath of the election, Tommie Gorman seemed anxious to assure us that this was not so, that Sinn Fein really wanted to restore the Executive.

If so, Sinn Fein must have suddenly changed its mind over the past three days, because, with respect to Tommie, many observers, including INM columnist Martina Devlin on RTE, noted Sinn Fein's previous lack of interest in restoring the Northern Executive.

Let me now turn to the implications of the UK results in the Republic. Here I have to sound a somewhat sombre note.

The American and British elections emphasised the volatility of public mood, pushed by social media.

The engagement of young people is welcome, but it might be a two-edged sword in Ireland.

That's because Sinn Fein has a huge presence on social media, and its trolls instantly mob anyone who criticises that party.

But Sinn Fein's sophisticated social media strategy would have no serious chance of success without the non-stop campaign by RTE current affairs to normalise that party. The flip side of the normalisation coin is an increasing failure to cover crucial acts of conciliation by centrist parties.

Last Wednesday, Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin had their first meeting. Fences were mended.

Both men came out from the meetings to speak to the press.

The print media reported their comments. But neither RTE's Six One nor the Nine O'Clock News showed us Varadkar's positive press briefing after he met Martin, nor Martin's equally positive press briefing after his meeting with Vardakar.

Why? Why did RTE News not cover a press briefing of some importance to current Irish politics?

Either RTE News can't recognise a news story or it was spiked by a climate in RTE that is not conducive to reporting any rapport between the centrist parties.

Politicians in both centre parties privately say a bias exists. But they are baffled by what to do about it as long as RTE can play one party off against another.

That cultural climate in RTE goes back to the savage struggle within RTE in the 1980s about Section 31 which kept IRA propagandists off the air.

Given the constant efforts of Sinn Fein trolls down the years to pretend that Section 31 did not damage the Provos, I got a grim smile from a heading on a Guardian article last Wednesday.

The tough piece, by Sudanese commentator Nesrine Malik, was titled: 'Anjem Choudary spread hate - and it was the media who let him do it.'

Section 31 is only one of a number of Irish solutions to terrorism that the UK could take up with profit.

In the past 100 years, the Irish Republic has repeatedly and successfully used selective internment, censored IRA propaganda, and used special courts to protect the public.

Sinn Fein trolls single out the failure of internment in Northern Ireland - which had no cross-community support - to hide the fact that internment in the Republic not only repressed the IRA, but gave many the chance to reflect and to change their views.

British human rights activists should face the fact that potential jihadis should be locked up, not just for the public's sake, but for their own sake and safety. Internment is just one sensible Irish solution to a British problem.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss