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Behind the doors at Cardiff: Unravelling the doublespeak of conflict resolution 

John McAnulty

2 June 2013

In the novel "1984" the writer George Orwell painted a picture of a dystopian future where a totalitarian society, led by "Big Brother" controlled the very thoughts of an enslaved population through processes of doublespeak and doublethink.

Through the use of doublespeak, the nature of reality could be stood on its head and people could be persuaded that war was peace and slavery was freedom. Doublethink allowed those who brainwashed the workers to also brainwash themselves and wipe out any memory of a better life or of an alternative society.

1984 is a classic of English literature in part because of the brilliance of the writing and in part because it was realised that doublespeak and doublethink were routine elements of repression in the everyday world.

In the dysfunctional peace process in the North of Ireland and the society it produced these mechanisms have produced an official narrative that entirely overturns reality.

No-where is this more explicit than in the recent meeting in Cardiff, organised by the police in the aftermath of loyalist flag protests and in the run-up to this year’s marching season.  

On the level of official statements of doublespeak nothing very much happened. The meeting was not about parades or flags but it gave everyone the chance to commit to non-violence and dialogue and to agree to keep up discussions in advance of the marching season.

In reality a whole series of silent statements were made. 

The first, and most important, was that decisions concerning all of society would be made in secret, with a central role given to loyalist paramilitaries, in some cases the same people who had organized major riots in the recent past. 

The second was a statement of support for the police. The fact that they allowed a small and disorganised mob to storm Belfast City Hall, brought large areas to a standstill by sealing off major roads in the face of a handful of protestors, washed their hands of responsibility for endless illegal marches and the display of loyalist symbols - all this is now as if it had never happened. The parades commission was not even mentioned, although it has announced that it has no real authority over loyalist marches if the loyalists ignore them and now spends much of its time slapping restrictions on those who protest the sectarian demonstrations

The de facto role of the state is now to become official policy. Sectarian intimidation and hatred are now rebadged as cultural difference. In the coming season of sectarian thuggery the state forces are to stand back and appeal for "dialogue" between bully and victim.

Finally that dialogue will be largely successful. For years now Sinn Fein have been policing the Orange demonstrations, ensuing that the nationalist reaction is suppressed. 

Dialogue doublespeak will allow them to continue that role, even though the goalposts have been moved and the state has largely abandoned any attempt to restrain the Orange mob. 

So the future stability of the statelet depends upon a specific form of doublethink. The public narrative is of dialogue and cultural convergence, the private reality is of unrelenting demands for a recognition of loyalist supremacy and nationalist capitulation, liberally lubricated with bribes and backhanders. The nationalists console themselves with the belief that loyalist dominion of the streets is countered by the power of the Catholic middle class in the state committees and in public sector employment. 

This is not so different from the old Stormont regime. The Catholic Church and Catholic bourgeois were excluded from political power, but otherwise their areas of influence were recognized and many reacted with hostility to the emerging Civil Rights movement. Their policy was summed up by the then leader of the Nationalist party, Eddie McAteer, with the remark that "half a loaf is better than no bread."

In the novel 1984 there was no hope of change because society is fixed in stasis. In the North of Ireland today society is in rapid movement to the right. Sinn Fein hope to keep half a loaf, but their partners in government are anxious to have the lot.

The press presented the Cardiff meeting as consensus, but in fact there was one dissonant voice. That was the voice of the major government party, the party that provoked the Flag riots, the Democratic Unionist Party. Its spokesman, arch bigot Nelson McCausland, who said;

 "There are always people who will not listen to anyone, who are intent on disruption, who have no positive contribution to make to society. That's a fact of life, not only in Northern Ireland, but around the world. We should do what we can do and that's what we are determined to do”. –

 In the context,where McCausland has been at the forefront of confrontations with the state, that means that talks must result in victory for the Orange.

A similar Press ballyhoo surrounded the announcement a week later by the First and deputy first minister that a special committee had been set up to solve the parades and flags issue. Again they ignored the dissonance. Martin McGuinness announced that the committee must report by Xmas and that everyone must make concessions. He was immediately contradicted by Peter Robinson, who said that there was no time limit and the key to a solution was people (Sinn Fein) not insisting on getting their own way.

The first victim of the Civil Rights Movement was the Nationalist Party.  As unionism, sponsored by the British, pushes further and further to the right the result can only be an increasingly weakened Sinn Fein.


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