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'Blame everybody but yourself' is our mantra

(Denis Bradley, Irish News)

What would we do if we didn't have someone else to blame? It is one of the great comforts of life to be able to lay responsibility at someone else's feet.

It allows us to offload some of the burden of taking on to ourselves the responsibility of our own failures. Blame only really works, of course, when there is enough truth in the assertion that someone or something else had a role to play in the failure.

That smattering of truth allows the deception to implant itself in our imagination.

Blame will be the central tenet of the upcoming elections. There is nothing unusual in that in the cut and thrust of politics. But we do it here to an inordinate and unhealthy degree.

We do it to the point where there is little or no room for reflection or critique. We do it to where there is little possibility of self-criticism leading to renewal.

But among the morass of confusion, anger and depression, there are shoots of new growth.

By far the best of the Easter addresses by Sinn Féin was the one given by Gerry Kelly. It contained the familiar tune of blaming both governments and the unionists for the failure of last December.

But it also challenged the Sinn Féin constituency to begin to think and strategise. He called for grassroots debate about the future direction that republicanism would take.

"Talk to friends and comrades.

Give serious thought to where Irish republicanism is today, how we got here and where we now need to go," he said.

It was not mind blasting in its oratory but, at least, it placed the issue in the parameters of self-reflection and critique.

In that reflection, republicans should examine the damage that has been done during the last few months.

They need to assess the damage that has been done to their own organisations but also to the organisations and the liaisons that have helped republicans "get to where they have got".

The truthful starting point is that republicans have had to face hard realities and make bold decisions but they have always done so with the help, encouragement and foresight of their friends.

Those friends have ranged from priests to presidents, from coalmen to consuls, from businessmen to bureaucrats, from messengers to ministers.

Among this eclectic group is a deep sense of betrayal.

This group has not gone away but it has become much more cautious. When the negotiations begin after the election these people will still be there but they will engage and respond in a different way.

They will demand more honesty and straightness. They will probe and test in a way they have not done before.

They will be less generous and giving unless they are convinced that the honesty and the giving is a two way process.

Unionists are in equal need of self-reflection. The truism that you make peace with your enemy is as true now as it was at any time during the Troubles.

Peter Robinson's assertion that there will be no liaison with republicans for at least another generation only boosted Sinn Féin's election results by a few per cent.

They, the unionists, have stood aside, on the whole, from the raging debate within nationalism.

Their main contribution has been to praise the doggedness and the thoroughness of the debate. Fair enough.

They appear, however, to have failed in identifying the complexity of the debate. They may have assumed that the anger at Sinn Féin and the IRA among the broad constituency of nationalism will result in a large decrease in the Sinn Féin vote.

Not true, or perhaps more accurately, it is not true yet. That constituency certainly is angry .

It wants greater honesty and decency. It wants the IRA to stand down and it wants republicans to distance themselves from any trace of involvement with organised crime and community control.

But that constituency is steeped in Irish history and in the contorted layers of that history and it has not yet given up in its ability to cajole and even drive republicans into a democratic mode.

It is reinforced and confirmed in its position as it recognises that the British government holds to that same position.

Unionism, or rather the DUP, is currently in a reasonably strong position.

Time and indolence will weaken, not strengthen, that position.

Any two-bit politician knows that deals are better made from positions of strength.

Blame is no substitute for political reality.

April 2, 2005

This article appeared first in the April 1, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News