3rd January 2003
Gerry Kelly writing in the Irish Mirror
One of the last and largest political stories of 2002 was the census figures. It has huge ramifications for the North of Ireland. You could be forgiven for suspecting that the leaks before the census figures became public hiking the percentage of Catholics up to 46% were deliberate so that the actual 44% would seem less threatening to unionists.
In the 1961 census Protestants outnumbered Catholics 63% to 35% so whatever way you look at it the change in percentage and demographics is massive.
2002 ended badly, politically speaking. Sinn Fein and the SDLP representing 43% of the electorate wanted to continue with the agreed political structures. The unionist parties, however, almost in their entirety plopped for direct rule. There is a deepening political crisis. High political demands, at times impossible demands are being made. 2003 will see more talks. It is good to start a new year off with refreshing hope but I have to say it is hard to find hopeful signs. I suspect that political unionism is contemplated with re-marriage to its erstwhile partner direct rule.
There is a difficulty for unionism however: - No matter what the political institutions the census figures show that things will never be the same again. There is no part of society safe from the substantial influence of the catholic part of our community. Indeed no arena will be without influence from Nationalist or Irish Republican politics. The struggle for Rights, Equality, Justice and an Independent Ireland will continue whether the institutions agreed by all the pro-agreement parties stand or fall. If they fall what will be missing is the hands on management of change available to unionist, loyalist, republican and nationalist elected representatives.
If unionism plops for direct rule from London the one thing I can guarantee is that it will not be the same direct rule system that we had for over 30 years. The British government are not good at ruling any part of Ireland. Accountability disappears, dictat increases, emergency legislation, quangos, and political favouritism. The importance of the North diminishes. It is not a pretty sight; republicans do not trust the British government. But does Unionism? I doubt it!
Even the word 'trust' has become a weapon in the anti Agreement camp. A couple of years ago two prominent Israeli and Palestinian politicians addressed an audience of all parties in Stormont. To me she put 'trust' in context. Gary McMichael a prominent loyalist asked them "How do we trust republicans?" The Israeli woman answered it. She was the deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament. She pointed out that people should not be surprised at a dirth of trust in our circumstances - as with the middle east she said that where there is little or no trust one should first seek an agreement or contact - after all if there is trust why would anyone need an agreement. Trust may come later.
We have an agreement, a contract that was a gargantuan step. Unionism may walk away from it - I hope not but let us be clear you cannot arrest history and whatever happens with the institutions the momentum evidenced in the census figures will continue through 2003 and beyond. It would be much better if it were the momentum of a consensus.
Fianna Fáil in 6 County Elections
Media reports indicated this week that Fianna Fáil is to consider organising on an all-Ireland basis. This would be a positive move. At present Sinn Fein is the only party organised on an all-Ireland basis. Some 300,000 people now vote for our party throughout the 32 Counties. We would welcome other parties, including Fianna Fáil, organising across the entire country.
As we move towards the re-unification of Ireland there will be a major re-alignment of politics on the island. We have already seen that process begin. This is a natural out working of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process and should be encouraged and expanded upon. Policing
While writing this weeks column I read Thursdays front page Daily Mirror headline concerning potential splits within republicanism over the issue of policing.
I have spoken and written many times on this subject and I will return to it again as the year progresses. But for clarity let me repeat - the gap between the current policing arrangements (including the Weston Park proposed legislation) and the Patten threshold is still substantial. It is not a matter of dates or May deadlines. This issue is about getting policing right. Thus far the British government have not moved the distance to bridge the gap between their Parliamentary Act and their Patten Recommendations.
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