Not just any old forum – but an Irish forum

Posted By: July 09, 2016

Patrick Murphy.Irish News (Belfast). Saturday, July 9, 2016

Oh dear, in the words of the well-known musical, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

You must remember last week’s forum – the one which did not happen. It was Enda Kenny’s big idea to give Fine Gael time to work out what to do about Brexit, while making sure that Fianna Fáil did not get there first and propose doing whatever it is that should be done.

Just as Jack Lynch marched his troops up to the border in 1969, Dublin was “developing the concept” of an all-island forum to rescue us from whatever it is that we need rescuing. It would not be any old forum, but an Irish forum. (By God, doesn’t it gladden your heart to be Irish at a time like this?)

In tones of studied patriotism, the SDLP said the forum would seek to protect “the Irish national interest”. (Politics exam, Question 1: Define the term “Irish national interest”. Candidates may take as much time as they wish. Question 2: Is Stormont in  Ireland’s national interest?)

In a race for the pre-election high ground of Ireland’s economic soul, Dublin’s two main parties wrapped the green flag around them (oh, and the EU flag as well). Soon nationalist Ireland would rise again against the accursed English, their hands bloodied with democracy and march to join Angela Merkel in Berlin. (I think that is called inverted nationalism, but I am not sure.)

However, just like Jack Lynch marching his troops down again, Enda asked “What forum?” Like the French fleet which failed to arrive prior to the 1798 rebellion, the forum’s shipwreck meant that Ireland’s cause was lost. What will Angela think of us now?

Oh dear, you say, what a terribly cynical attitude. You have a point but, sadly, it is hard not to see Enda’s proposal as a Remain Forum and therefore equally cynical (well, maybe not equally).

It is fashionable (especially in Dublin) to blame the Leave vote on English nationalism and argue that such nationalism is against the EU’s principles and ethos. But the proposed forum is based on the principle of Irish nationalism, as an argument for all-Ireland membership of the EU. (Your nationalism is wrong. Ours is right.)

That is not to suggest that we do not need to address the many issues which may arise here from the Brexit vote. We do. But, in the context of the 1916 centenary, the proposed forum is an Irish nationalist argument to substitute union with the King (or in this case the Queen) for union with the Kaiser.

Apart from Sinn Féin, no nationalist party has indicated the likely adverse impact of Ireland joining a United States of Europe. Indeed, Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, remarkably suggested that Irish nationalists, from the 1916 leaders to de Valera, were advocates of a single European state. (Oddly, he did not mention the EU’s role in decimating the Irish economy and, until he became leader, in almost destroying his own party.) Cynicism, how are you?

Enda Kenny adopted more restrained language, but Martin’s speech meant Fine Gael had to run with the forum idea in Dublin’s pre-election politics.

Before speaking to Enda Kenny, northern parties might like to initially determine what sort of society they want here. Take two examples: do they want to continue subsidising agriculture, while denying similar payments to industry? Either view is valid, but whichever option our parties choose, they must explain how it fits in with their vision of society.

Secondly, should we continue basing our economy largely on foreign investment, or should we also directly fund local industry, an option currently denied to us by EU membership? Again, either option is valid. However, by arguing for a Remain Ireland, led by a Remain Forum, nationalists are pre-determining the nature of northern economy and society without debate or discussion. That answer, they say, lies in Dublin.

It was that same attitude which undermined the civil rights movement and led to our great war. Yes, we need to speak to Dublin about the post-Brexit north, but not simply as an extended Remain campaign. Martin McGuinness has rightly pointed out that Stormont’s job is to build a better society. We now have the chance to define that society (a process which the DUP cannot reject) and seek to achieve it, by advocating greater autonomy from London, without simply swopping it for union with Berlin.

Then we can meet Enda Kenny in the context of a proper forum – a Forum for a New Society. You never know, it might even reduce the level of cynicism.