One of the great myths of the Peace Process, the Good Friday Agreement and the Conflict Resolutionists for fifteen years has been that there is something called CIVIC SOCIETY.
As Politicians dont really like the notion…as it tends to undermine rather than “enhance” the political process, any concept of a Civic Forum has been quietly shelved.
Of course that is par for the course. Dealing with the Past,Victims, Bill of Rights, Irish Language Act…all foreseen in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and all very obviously shelved.
The only people who believe in Civic Society are the people who think they are part of it. Sadly they are helped in the delusion by people who really should know better. Civic Society is politics outside the “conventional frame” …people in Trade Unions, local and national groups that could not get elected but feel a kind of entitlement to be in “power”.
As a Democrat…I oppose them.
There are two groups of people who have detached themselves from the political process. One is a recognisable UNDERCLASS living almost in a feral fashion,drinking Buckfast, sniffing glue and involved in petty crime in socially deprived areas.
The second group is the OVERCLASS….middle class people, too posh to vote in the squalid sectarian cess pit of Norn Iron but holding a bizarre belief in their intelligence and/or wealth entitles them to privelege.
They have modelled themselves as CIVIC SOCIETY. Of course the Good Friday Agreement stated that there would be a CIVIC FORUM where people outside “normal” politics would meet and advise our political leaders.
Thankfully the Intelligensia were not smart enough to realise that this was just a part of the Creative Ambiguity that is the central plank in the Peace Process. No politician was ever likely to agree to it.
Of course, I am no great lover of the DUP-Sinn Fein dominated Executive which has over-indulged the Alliance Party and sought to marginalise UUP and SDLP. DUP and Sinn Fein intend to help each other stay in power.
We live as Mark Durkan (the former SDLP Leader put it) in a one party state with an Orange and Green wing.
But whether we like it or not, politicians are actually elected.
What exactly would the Civic Forum be …other than an unelected second chamber filled with the usual suspects from the Golden Halo of Do-Goodery. Far too many of them in Norn Iron already, whinging about how there is no “proper” politics in Norn Iron….while tucking into the vol-au-vents at any event hosted by a DUP or Sinn Fein Minister in the Long Gallery at Stormont.
Who would the Civic Forum actually be other than people drawn from the “voluntary” sector?…a bloated sector in Norn Iron.
Well ALL of the Churches enjoy the separation of Church and State. GOD and Mammon and all that. No institutional Church…while committed to the right “faith” values…will betray the views of the people in the pews.
While it is fashionable for Conflict Resolutionists to denounce apparent inaction of institutional churches and praise individual maverick churchmen…the simple fact is that church-goers are drawn from communities, inner city and suburban Belfast, small towns and villages across Norn Iron.
I know a lot of Catholic churchmen. Some are apolitical. The vast majority are SDLP and Sinn Fein voters. None that I know vote Alliance.
The Church of Ireland, reflecting their English cousins tends to be UUP or broadly unionist.
Presbyterians view DUP with suspicion but the balance of probability is that they vote across the unionist spectrum.
Trade Unions…the most cowardly of all organisations in Norn Iron.They shamelessly protected the interests of their (Protestant) members in Belfast industry over the interests of civil rights such as fair employment. Of course the same thing happened in car factories in the English West Midlands where shop stewards operated colour bars to placate their racist members. Not exactly the International Brotherhood of Man.
Because of Norn Irons reality that socialist parties (SDLP and Sinn Fein) are “nationalist” and the capitalist parties (DUP and UUP) are “unionist”, trade union leaders dare not be seen to support nationalism….so they join Labour (NI) or the Workers Party….essentially non-parties without any hope of election….but it makes them look good.
A “socialist” party which cannot get elected is a luxury that working class people cannot afford. Of course SDLP…sister party to both Irish Labour Party and British Labour Party is the “natural” Labour Party in Norn Iron but the trade unions here will do absolutely nothing to help their fellow socialists…but of course they will shamelessly lobby the SDLP. In a word….HYPOCRITES.
Ah Women…they are another group that Conflict Resolutionists want to promote. But 52% of Norn Iron are female. For the most part …they vote. And they vote DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP, Alliance, TUV and Green. Is there something unique that a Womans Group be given a place in the Forum.
Are they more representative than….
Ruth Patterson DUP, Arlene Foster DUP, Michelle O’Neill SF, Sue Ramsey SF, Margaret Ritchie SDLP, Dolores Kelly SDLP, Joanne Dobson UUP etc.
Is Pro Equal Marriage, Alliance MLA, Anna Lo, more or less representative than her anti Equal Marriage colleague Judith Cochrane?
Are the Pro-Life women praying outside the Marie Stopes Clinic more or less representative of ” women” than the Pro-Choice women inside it?
Do universities have a part to play in the Forum?
NO …ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Until 1969… Queens University Belfast graduates elected FOUR members to the Stormont Parliament. It was rightly considered a democratic advance when these seats were abolished. Can people really consider it a good thing that representatives from QUB and Univ of Ulster sit in a second chamber (of sorts)?
But how would Universities decide who represents them?
When was the last time a QUB academic did anything radical?
Certainly in 2008 to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Civil Rights movement at Queens University…QUB, with absolutely no sense of shame or irony congratulated itself on its achievements.
Unless my recollection is faulty, I dont recall that QUB was at the forefront of Civil Rights.
We do of course have the positive example of Tyrone Guthrie, Anglo-Irish Man of Letters, theatre director who became Chancellor of QUB in or around 1960. Unionists love one of our own as Guthrie was thought to be..who makes an impact on the world stage… Guthrie was an academic Rory McIlroy and actually defeated the “Duke of Abercorn to become Chancellor.
Unfortunately it turned out that Guthrie was actually a nationalist and publicly called for the border to be abolished. That didnt go down well…but in July 1969, he was wheeled out on BBC Norn Iron to lecture the people of Norn Iron…a very bizarre moment when the Chancellor of the (then) only university REPRIMANDED people …to catch themselves on before it was too late.
Just a month later…the Troubles began.
Guthrie could not bring himself to do “something” for Norn Irons Fiftieth Anniversary (1971) but basically he told Stormont “over my dead body”….which was prophetic….he did actually die in 1971.
But what exactly has any Queens University and other University figures done since then.
They have avoided Politics but not avoided the vol au vents.
Rick, Deirdre, Pete and Dom …more likely to be on youtube or TV or at any university in the world talking about Conflict Resolution…exchanging papers, writing the books. But is it a serious contribution deserving of a place in a Civic Forum? No.
Civic Forum…daft idea.