The Blog

Northern Ireland Needs London and Dublin and Its Emigré

Northern Ireland needs to enter the British consciousness. We especially need the Irish diaspora, unionist and nationalist, to feed into the process. At present it's just a troublesome cousin. But we're more than that. We're not just a troublesome side issue.

The State Visit of Michael D. Higgins has shown that the British and Irish can get on very well. Mature politicians, British and Irish, working together and doing deals, conscious of their common values and shared destiny.

Contrast this with Northern Ireland. Backward, bickering, bigoted and niggardly little politicians, British and Irish, who're quite happy to oppose moderation and modernity, and sell out the sensible for the madmen. All for their god-given mission to obliterate the enemy. Not a drop of shared destiny or responsibility. Only obliteration. Only sectarianism.

Though, contrary to popular opinion, Northern Ireland isn't actually a bucket shop. Contrast the Northern Ireland political class with the Northern Ireland young person. They are a new generation that have liberated themselves from the Cold War binary of Protestant and Catholic. Like Seamus Heaney said, they have flown "out and beyond those radar system."

Yet the political deadlock and shutdown is self-perpetuating. And for this, the normalised youth are being wiped out. 7 out of 10 young people want to leave Northern Ireland. Political delinquency and pandered paramilitaries convince every educated unionist and nationalist to leave.

We need to break the deadlock. We need to stop the exodus of talent. Speaking as a liberal citizen from Northern Ireland who lives, like Heaney said, "in between", we need London and Dublin to save us, normal Northern Ireland, from mutually assured destruction.

In Northern Ireland there's a sprawling middle-ground. Of reasonable, rational, conciliatory people. People like Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Liam Neeson, Christine Bleakley and Eamonn Holmes are not aberrations. They represent of Northern Ireland's great humanity. They are are the product of Northern Ireland's civilisation and progressiveness.

The fringes, each headed by Sinn Fein and the DUP, are a like for like, equal and opposite, symmetrical extremism. Hostile to the rule of law and the legislative process. They are the enemies of compromise. Where dissident loyalists call the PSNI the PSNI-IRA, the dissident republicans call the PSNI the PSNI-RUC. Where dissident loyalists call the Queen a turn-coat, dissident republicans call McGuinness a turn-coat. They are trapped in the past and governed by theo-absolutism and the vanity of small differences.

They make a parody of Britishness and Irishness respectively.

Martin McGuinness is cutting the statesman. Peter Robinson, a limp and begrudging appendage. Irrelevant. But McGuinness's party is a sectarian one. At the local level, his party offers nothing for Protestants and unionists. His party divides the Protestant, Catholic and dissenter. Unionism scares most unionists, never mind nationalists. So I don't even need to go there.

We need a reformation and a break from the Catholic versus Protestant formula. We're on a dangerous road and it feels like things will boil over.

We need London and Dublin. Only the outside can help bring a reformation. Only they can bring perspective and the moderating influence.

Michael D Higgins said exactly this. The Irish President, poet, academic, intellect, human rights activist and football fan, said during his State Visit to London:

"There is of course still a road to be travelled - the road of a lasting and creative reconciliation -- and our two governments have a shared responsibility to encourage and support those who need to complete the journey of making peace permanent and constructive."

Northern Ireland needs to enter the British consciousness. We especially need the Irish diaspora, unionist and nationalist, to feed into the process. At present it's just a troublesome cousin. But we're more than that. We're not just a troublesome side issue. As Edward Carson said:

"It is well, however, that the ideals and ambitions of Ulster should be clearly understood across the water. In the vast British electorate there is a large percentage of young people who naturally have little or no knowledge of the difficulties and dangers that ulster men and women had to overcome ten years or more ago.

They had to fight, and fight strenuously, to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom, and they are now happy and content that their efforts are now crowned with success.

At the same time, as one who has done his best to uphold the cause of Ulster, I can assure you that these trials, risks, and sufferings are still present in the minds of ulster people. They can never be forgotten, and recent happening have only strengthened the resolve of Ulster not to surrender its heritage at any price. They regard themselves as a branch of the British oak but off that branch and not only will the branch itself wither, but the tree will be left mutilated and weakened."

But the reality is that the status quo wants nothing to do with Northern Ireland. Eoghan Harris said:

"For most of the last century, the two main British political parties could be charged with chronic indifference to the problems of the nationalists in Northern Ireland - just as the Republic could be charged with not respecting the wishes of Northern Protestants."

As Gary Mitchell, loyalist playwright, said:

"When I started writing 20 years ago, I believed there was nowhere for a Protestant voice and I think it's worse now. Nobody in London wants to take anything about the Protestant community in Northern Ireland. It doesn't matter that there were 50 sectarian attacks last month and bomb scares. As far as London theatre and television is concerned, Northern Ireland is peaceful. It isn't if you live here. Nobody is sending them back saying 'you can't write any more'. They're sending them back because of the subject matter."

This needs to change. And not just for the sake of good relations and a shared identity. The mainland ignores Northern Ireland at it's own peril. As Roy Douglas, Liam Harte and Jim O'Harasaid of 1972 and the resumption of direct rule from London:

"Having ignored the state it created for almost fifty years, an ill-prepared British government was now dragged into its affairs, with little thought being given to the long - term implications.... Wilson's government, which now had effective overall responsibility for maintaining order, continued to work through the unionist government at Stormont in the unrealistic hope of keeping the northern problem at a distance."

We need to put Northern Ireland on the map for the right reasons, not for bad news, political deadlock and rioting. We need to put Northern Ireland into the mainland and southern Ireland consciousness. We need London and Dublin to help. We need our hyper-talented diaspora and émigré population.

My previous article on Northern Ireland's internal and external émigré here.

My full analysis of the State Visit from a Northern Ireland perspective on