Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

29 October 1998 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Partition Once Again?


She hasn't gone away you know! Like a recurring nightmare Margeret Thatcher comes back to embarrass the British Tories and spew her venom. Free the mass-murderer Pinochet! Lock up single mothers! But it was the revelation by Douglas Hurd that she wanted to repartition Ireland that intrigued me.

As admitted by anti-republican Sunday Tribune commentator Stephen Collins, ``it implicitly accepted the IRA analysis that partition is the root cause of all the problems on the island'' and debunked Collins's own view that partition is a symptom rather than the cause of the problems.

Another relic of the past who once promoted re-partition is Conor Cruise O'Brien. At least he has moved on, via a rather circuitous route, to argue that a united Ireland may give (ex) unionists more say in their destiny than they would have under a reluctant British Government. He seems to think that republicans could never accept this because of their ``hatred of Protestants''!

The bould Conor could not be more wrong. Sinn Fein has always argued that a united Ireland with maximum power decentralised to local communities would give ex-unionists and everyone else in Ireland far more control over their lives than they have under the two highly centralised states on this small island.

The problems caused by this over-centralisation are becoming more apparent every day. The traffic chaos, accelerating house prices and environmental destruction in the east of the island is mirrored by depopulation and rundown in the west.

It is for this reason that I support the call by Sinn Féin Councillor Sean McManus and Caoimghin O Caolain TD for the regionalisation of the 26 Cos to maintain Objective 1 Status for the poorer regions. It is a sad fact that 13 counties in the west, midlands and border areas still have a level of only 67% GDP of the EU average compared to 121% in the greater Dublin region (This is much higher in well-off districts as Dublin includes many areas of intense poverty).

The big danger is that the Dublin government will engage in a cosmetic ``decentralization'' solely to wrangle the maximum funding from the EU while retaining all real decision-making at the centre, as it did by moving a few government offices down the country.

It is no accident that the most deprived regions lie primarily in the west and around the border. The border counties suffer because of the artificial division imposed by the border which has separated these

counties from their neighbouring counties (which are also the poorest in the Six Counties) and prevented normal trade and economic interaction. Paradoxically, the relative economic decline of the west and midlands (and, indeed, areas like Ballymun in Dublin, Ballyphehane in Cork and Ballymurphy in Belfast) is at least partly because the people of these areas have no real control over their own affairs.

What is needed, then, is to give ALL the Irish people a real say in the political and economic decisions that affect their lives. This can be done by first breaking the unequal link with Britain which takes power further away from the people and removing the artificial border which fosters head-counting sectarianism. In the new Ireland we need a radical system of local and regional government based on the principle of decentralising maximum power to the lowest possible level. Thus, for example, primary and secondary education, community policing, housing and all local services could be under the control of local councils while regional government might look after third level education, industrial development, large hospitals and major roads. The main central authority then, would be a written constitution (which citizens could change), based on the UN Declaration of Human Rights to protect the rights of women, Travellers, immigrants, gay people and anyone else who might be discriminated against.

Given the alienation felt, not only, by people in the west and border counties (of both the Six and 26 Counties), but also by many communities in our cities and towns, Sinn Fein can set itself clearly apart from the establishment parties if it vigorously promotes its unique decentralisation principles and says openly how wealth can be transferred from the very well-off to implement them.

Not only would this Power To The People policy be a vote-winner for Sinn Fein, but it would help tackle many of our country's problems- traffic congestion, housing shortages and environmental damage around Dublin and Belfast; economic decline in the west; poverty and drug abuse in working class areas of our cities and, as Conor Cruise O Brien says, the fear and alienation of many working class unionists in the North.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1