For years, Northern Irish people have watched some in Britain fret and slur over Brexit “causing a return to violence”.
The comments continue to this day as if, unconsciously disappointed by the war’s continued failure to reappear, saying it more often might make it more true.
Here are two local NI tips for those with concerns:
1, this maritime border
“Sea Border” is the kind of token scramble match we’re used to having all the time in NI.
In fact, politics here is such a mess that a portable desk in Larne examining cheese or anything else is the kind of problem we’d dream of calling a crisis. Keep in mind that we have a political scandal most Mondays with our morning coffee.
However, there are major and pressing issues in NI that we rarely hear mentioned in the UK.
If you really want to help NI, read on to find out about the elephants in the room we’ve lived with, with relatively little outside interest or help, for years.
2, bigger issues than protocol
• Political collapse as a tactic: Politics at NI is like a child learning to ride a bike. Except that the child does not want to learn at all. And the bike is made of rolled up flags. Institutional collapse and anger are often default settings in NI. The kicker? Each time, institutions are allowed to resume as if one more try, without major changes, would make the slightest difference.
• Covid restriction deniers in NI: You know those people who convinced themselves Covid was some kind of 5G conspiracy and embraced YouTube epidemiology to avoid wearing a face mask to buy a loaf? They have influence, and significant influence, at many levels of NI policy. And that means far-right thinking and far-right identity politics have found a vicarious route through the layers of government. Sound terrifying? You should try to live here.
• The Belfast wrecking ball: We love Belfast but it’s frankly an absolute state. A combination of bad planning, cunning developers, and bad decisions have their place in a mess. It’s heartbreaking to see. Yes, cruise ships and conferences are coming, but it’s like having an open house before you’ve done the dishes.
• A mixed bag in terms of media: We will simply say that NI’s national broadcaster is (in my view, YMWV) allowed to inject socially damaging tabloid hot air into this fragile environment in a way that no other region would condone. For an added touch, no one can study or quantify this properly because customer and complaint data is not reliable. Oh, and at least one of our papers is infected with that far-right, Trumpian, Covid-restriction resistant influence mentioned above.
• Lack of political leadership: Because short-termism and pantomime politics have been allowed to dominate life here, something like a border poll is going to leave entire communities without capable representation. It will be what we would call absolute manipulation, and we are sleepwalking into it.
• Two-box social and political systems: It is a quirk of life in NI, and a hangover from a well-meaning aspect of the peace process, that government, employment, and politics itself are often measured using the “background” of someone, i.e. childhood, religion.
Problems with this include its rejection of societal change (e.g. NI’s fastest growing political parties are generally not based on a constitutional vision) and there are so many occasions where this has no meaning in practice. These include mislabeled atheists, people who have changed their religion, people whose religion doesn’t match their politics and more. Essentially, it creates a division just so it can measure the division. Help us with this one. Please.
• Public services: Like GB, our public services are close to collapse. Yes, it could be a sign of the times elsewhere too, but in a place with the highest rate of mental health issues in the UK, it’s a situation that is undoubtedly costing lives.
• Abortion: A new framework for legal abortion services went into effect on March 31, 2020, but NI services still have not changed to provide this legally dedicated health care for women here at NI. Does that sound democratic to you?
• Low wages as the norm: Tourism money hasn’t reached many pockets in NI and probably never will. And we really, really need good compensation. In 2019 a (very) large local hotel company advertised for a qualified and experienced marketing professional at around £16,000 a year. This shameful conduct and in particular the shameless defrauding of graduates was, and is, often accepted as the norm.
• Disproportionate social conservatism: NI folks are, for the most part, liberal-minded, but years of elections turning into polls at the factor borders (a trend that is beginning to fade, thankfully) have offered other agendas a free ticket for the government. For example, it took until January 2020 for equal marriage to be legal. If you’re worried about a politically convenient “return to violence” but haven’t talked about it, we might wonder what has held you back for so long. Oh, and a number of our local councils, some as affected by scandal as the rest of our politics, are sometimes a forum for opinions that would have been embarrassing in a 1950s gentlemen’s club.
This is just one example, there are many more examples.
So, you can understand why some additional forms needed to send items to NI don’t keep as many people awake as it might seem at first glance. Yes, the protocol has its problems and it is politically difficult for some, but a general failure to bring humility into the debate from those who supported Brexit as well as a failure to separate from those who would the border with their neighbors rather means the campaign is responsible for its own failures.
But is this a real “crisis”, or even a “return to violence”? No. We have had, and will have, worse and more tangible political problems on the right day.
Still want to help?
There are many other issues like the above and they are all frustrating and acceptable experiences that people at NI are meant to live with as a fact of life.
Plus, they all have one thing in common: they’re not the nice easy-going NI identity debates often allowed to shout the loudest in the news.
If you really want to lend a hand and improve the real lives of people here, we would like more awareness of these everyday issues and many more along the same lines.
To hear them, just listen.
Conor Johnston – @CJohnstonNI – writes on topics such as culture, identity and media.
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