Constitutional Collapse and Institutionalised Sectarianism
The question of the legitimacy of the political institutions in the north have been challenged from their creation by those that still retain the traditional republican position, of partition being an infringement on Ireland’s sovereignty. For Republican Network for Unity this remains the case, as well as recognising that the economic system in existence across the island being one which benefits solely the wealthy and rewards only those born into privilege or willing to be predatory and exploitive in their efforts to gain vast sums of profit on the back of the labour of others.
While the constitutional critique and economic arguments still hold true and are as needed now as they were over the past several decades, if not more so in certain areas, the actual functioning of the partitioned assembly should too be questioned. The mandatory coalition of competing constitutionalist parties , the executive and devolved powers of the assembly as well as Britain’s governmental powers; these are what form governance in the North.
Despite the relative youth of these institutions, the Stormont assembly has in its short life collapsed on numerous occasions, the longest period reaching almost half a decade. In the close to twenty years of legislating for the people of the six counties it has become apparent that the instability of Stormont was not simply a result of it’s infancy but is a trait which will continue to exist despite various changes in party votes or institutional reform. Less than a year from the last election it appears that we will have another in the north. Sinn Fein will refuse to nominate another deputy first minister resulting in the collapse of Stormont.
The recent crisis can be interpreted in numerous ways; a genuine inability for the main parties to operate following the RHI scandal, an attempt to punish the DUP at election, a distraction from the massive failures in terms of social and public services. Whatever the reason may be, the inefficiency is a result of the failing institutions. The British Army marched the streets of the North due to the premise that they were the neutral arbiters between two competing communities. This falsity also gave birth to the institutions that govern the north and is the reason for such inefficient governance. The parties operate on sectarian lines, far removed from the anti-sectarian ideology of Irish republicanism, we have nationalists and unionists pouring fuel on the proverbial tribal fire through their words and policy making .The result of the petty grandstanding, political squabbles and repeated stalemates and deadlocks is the guarantee that partition will go unchallenged, that welfare will continue to be systematically destroyed along with the growing failures in healthcare and education.
The Stormont project was poorly conceived and led a heavily politicised, revolutionary people into a political straight jacket, constitutionalism has again proved to be utterly separate from republican ambitions and objectives. Stormont has reaffirmed this through its failures, if the choice is between identifying with the reformist or the revolutionary, the Irish republican must consider themselves the latter. The common argument directed at anti Good Friday Agreement Irish republicans is “what is your alternative?”. Unfortunately, as much as a political messiah does not exist in Stormont, Leinster House or Westminster, the same is true for an easy alternative to an established political and economic system. The truth is that the challenge ahead of us who wish radical and permanent change is immense, but the challenge is not for a few of us to take ownership of, it is owned by entire working class. It is community mobilisation, a mobilisation of those that recognise that change is needed, change in the name of the common interest of all, regardless of age, gender, sexuality or religion. Only through recognising the need for this change and acting around it will we be progressing to the type of society we wish to live in rather than enduring a society that we don’t think we can change.