Romantic Ireland is surely dead and gone

(Patrick Murphy, Irish News)

If we do not get political agreement here will we still get the
billion pounds?

Towards the end of the old year there was speculation that the
British government would underpin a political settlement with an
additional billion pounds of public money.

Business leaders were summoned to advise on how to spend it but as
negotiations faltered the money apparently disappeared.

If our economy needs the money, why have we not received it?

If we do not need it, why were we getting it in the first place?

The sad conclusion is that this is not public investment.

It smacks of political bribery by Tony Blair or political blackmail
by local politicians – on a much grander scale than all the Dublin
tribunals combined.

At a time when education boards are subject to inquiry for
overspending, a billion pounds can come and go with a wink and a nod.

Using public finance in this way is only one element in a process of
political bartering over core components of government and society

There is little in our system that is not now negotiable for
political ends.

As Yeats said of an earlier era: "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone.
It's with O'Leary in the grave."

It is now clear, for example, that the Good Friday Agreement has been
renegotiated in a secret deal, parts of which remain hidden.

It has been altered (for good or bad, depending on your politics) so
that Northern Ireland Assembly members and their decision-making
process will be nakedly sectarian.

There are few democracies where the system of government can be
changed in secret without reference to the electorate.

But in this country – with British and US support – even democracy is
now negotiable.

So too is the law.

Those imprisoned for killing Garda McCabe in one Irish state will be
released only if the political party they support takes power in the

Thus the law is not just negotiable, it has a political hue which
cynics might compare to Colombia.

Even Christian values are on the table.

Ian Paisley will love his potential political neighbour but only if
he achieves certain conditions first.

Unconditional Christian love presumably reduces political bargaining

And then there are the police and criminality. Without changes to the
PSNI, Sinn Féin found it acceptable to meet the Chief Constable,
presumably on the grounds that they might soon assume power with the

It appears they will support the PSNI when they have political
control over it but not before then.

At the same time, the IRA is apparently agreeable to do nothing to
threaten the Good Friday Agreement.

This rules out political violence but not necessarily crime.

While Sinn Féin come close to support for the police, the IRA's
swansong is negotiation on criminality.

The defence for this bartering with civic values is that all is fair
in love, war and sectarian politics. Any injury to society is just as
inevitable, and unintended, as civilian casualties were from state
and paramilitary violence.

The prize of a permanent two-party state, the argument goes, is worth
the effort.

But it is difficult to avoid asking whether our current political
culture suggests one set of rules for politicians and another for
those who elected them.

If social, economic, legal and moral standards can be altered for
someone to become first minister, why should they be observed by the
drug dealer, the drunk or the criminal?

Answers involving reference to democracy are currently on flimsy

Our political leaders have created an a la carte society for

They pick the bits of the system they like and change the bits they

If we all followed their example, society would soon break down.

Can we be sure their actions and attitudes are not already damaging
its social and moral fabric?

This makes it somewhat difficult for parents to know whether to teach
their children to respect the law, the police, democracy, government
or Christianity.

You must respect all of these, my child, but only if you feel like

But at least children can still be taught to believe in patriotism,
George Bush's much-vaunted value... or can they?

While American patriotism promotes US interests at home and abroad,
Irish patriotism has been negotiated down to acceptance of a
partitioned Ireland, garnished with enough cross-border bodies to
guarantee its permanence.

As the peace process degenerates into a two-party power process, it
is tempting to conclude that romantic Ireland is indeed dead and

It may well be with Paisley and the Provos in the grave of our hopes
for a decent society.

January 2, 2005

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