Andrew Rawnsley, writing in today’s Observer, argues that there might be some up-sides to Irisgate:
One of them would be to reduce the role of God in the politics of Northern Ireland…Northern Ireland is the last place in western Europe in which party allegiances are still largely determined by identity-based politics founded in rival interpretations of the Bible. The most ostentatiously and aggressively religiose of the parties is the DUP, in many ways the political wing of the Free Presbyterian church of Ulster. Mrs Robinson was infamous for tirades against the “abomination” of gay sex, posturing which is now shown to be not only bigoted but also richly hypocritical. Verily, God is not mocked. He reserves an especially potent lightning bolt for the bullies of the pulpit who most self-righteously claim to be the Almighty’s representative on Earth. That is a useful lesson from the parable of the first minister’s wife. It is one that may help to nudge the politics of Northern Ireland in a more secular direction.
Needless to say, I’d agree that a secular dividend would be a good one. However, I’m not sure who (apart from myself, of course – and I’m largely ignored) is doing the nudging.
The UUP, nor the SDLP for that matter, is hardly the new secular alternative. The UUP is making the right noises about participation in UK government – but unless it starts putting major blue water between itself and the rest of our parochial parties, it has little chance of defining change. Nor does there seem much resolve in the party to redefine itself as mainstream and Conservative. It there were such resolve, the UUP would start the process towards full integration with the Conservative Party.
Similarly, the SDLP is becoming a mini-me version of Sinn Fein. There appears to be no resolve to define itself as a Northern Irish political party. Its core values are all over the place. It has no real idea what it stands for in an Irish or British context. But whatever it is, it’s not about defining a new breed of secular politics for Northern Ireland.
The Alliance Party is simply a basket case.
My hope, of course, is that the Conservative candidates, when the UCUNF joint committee can get round to announcing who they are, will be refeshingly different. I live in hope that they will refuse to use the standard phraseology of Northern Ireland politics wrapped around religious community definitions.
I also hope, of course, that some of them will be elected. And then we might, genuinely, be nudging Northern Ireland politics in a secular direction.