When words don’t work
Growing up in 1970s Belfast, my colleague recalls the bleakest days of the Troubles. There had seemed a terrible inexorability in the unfolding of the history through which he lived, as if there were no possibility of anyone ever calling a halt to the violence.
Drinking tea, we recalled accounts of a moment when all that was to follow might have been averted. Bernadette Devlin, a young and fiery republican socialist, had sat and drunk tea with Ian Paisley, the rising firebrand of loyalism. The stories of tea in china cups being drunk in a front room of a Belfast house seemed a picture of amiability, an occasion which would surely be productive of a reasonable outcome.
Of course, the conversation over tea led nowhere, the violence escalated, the protagonists became entrenched, the views became polarised. It would take three thousand deaths before it was agreed that the killing should end.
Perhaps the problem lay in the English liberal assumption that people are reasonable and that reasonable people will be able to resolve their differences.
I remember the news report of Bernadette Devlin running across the floor of the House of Commons to attack Reginald Maudling, the Home Secretary. However much my parents disagreed with Maudling and the government of which he was a member, I remember them expressing opinions that this was not the way to resolve any divisions.
The failing of the assumption that people are reasonable is that it cannot cope with the situations where people are unreasonable. If the best efforts at rationality and reconciliation have been made and have been rebuffed, then what is there to be done to address problems?
It is not just a political problem, it applies as much to personal relationships.
If there have been apologies, if there have been genuine attempts at reconciliation, if there has been a spirit of sincere contrition and a wish from the heart to begin anew and every word is rejected, then where does one go?
‘It’s only words and words are all I have,’ wrote The Bee Gees in 1968. Being an English liberal, there is a feeling of being left at a loss as to what might be done. If words are all that one has, and if words are of no avail, then where does one go?
If Irish history is a lesson in personal relationships, then change can sometimes make glacier-like progress.
If I might sink a nail in the horseshoe. Yes, you might gain an agreement, but when its based on the reasonableness of a status quo anti the agreement merely resets, thence, to progress through to end up in the same place.
We, on these islands operate a legal system designed from Walpole on to create a debt slavery for the lower orders and with legal protection for those with land and liquid wealth.
So, at core, are the DUP and the Burke’s better served in GB or Ireland, since legally both are playing the same game on its face. But no, they aren’t.
In the 1940 the judiciary in Eire decided to copy and paste ALL laws and legal precedent that applied to Ireland. This included all laws enacted in Dublin pre 1801, and after. And everything enacted by the Free State. The two Islands held three distinct visions of justice, Scot, English and Irish, with the Scot seeing the Person more in prime.
True, the system of laws was better that the version of Marcher Law that existed before. And true, the odd result from the Penal Laws was a similar shift to trade since the ownership of Land wealth was blocked forcing the Catholic and Dissenter into that area.
And true, the means of congress went to the Masonic Lodges where all beneath treated, and eschewed royal justice.
But we’ve reset all the social protections won by campaigners with the exception of votes for women to something pre 1850 and calling it both progress and necessary. And this in an economic system where conceptual currency is treated like Gold.
Ireland, like GB, while the person hasn’t singular Rights in law will always default to the legal space where the term Emancipation is one in the gift of another.
I’m of the opinion that compelled speech is dangerous in a body politic where the tool available is State violence, for this is the tool of the Marcher arena, not one based in Free Speech. And given the willingness of the Irish judiciary and AG’s to reach back to Government of Ireland Acts to form legal justifications the unionists and DUP would be mad to attempt a closer relationship while this climate reigns.
English liberalism seems to have spent a long time ending up in the same place.
The assumption of reason is no guard against those who have used the system to engineer a major transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.