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Synthesis/Regeneration 14   (Fall 1997)

The Irish Green Party

by Eugene O`Shea, Green Party of Ireland

The Green Party in Ireland was formed in 1981. The task of transforming ecologically aware philosophy into the language of street level politics is difficult everywhere. In 1981, the year of the Hunger Strikes in Northern Ireland, it was clear to us that central to our project was the task of making political ecology relevant to the tragic and highly complex circumstances.

Politics in Ireland, North and South, is defined by the conflict whose cockpit for the current generation is Northern Ireland. The roots of the conflict reach down into a history far behind us. In Northern Ireland (where my party is not organized but maintains very close links with the Northern Ireland Green Party) it pushes all other political issues off the stage almost entirely. If the Green Party in Ireland was to be relevant it had to take a position on this conflict. Turning to our own philosophy, it was obvious that of the four great threats to the bio-sphere which Greens identify, Population, Pollution, Catastrophe, and War, the last of these had most relevance to the conflict in the North. Green adherence to the principle of Non-Violence was thus our guiding principle in mapping out a policy initiative on Northern Ireland.

At the heart of the Northern Ireland conflict is the question of self-determination. Self-determina-tion is given pride of place in the UN Charter of Human Rights, building upon the work of Roosevelt. It connects directly to the 19th Century ideology of nationalism and to-day defines the modus of global political organization. If we were to address the conflict in the North it was these concepts that we had to deal with and critically assess from an ecological perspective.

In Northern Ireland the failure of majoritarianism, the modus operandi of "democratic" nation-states globally, was obvious. The task was to construct a theory critical of nationalist majoritarianism, consistent with ecology, whilst remaining coherent to the street level politics of our time.

Nationalism has enslaved more "nations" than it has liberated.

The task was made easier by the work of the pioneering, Belfast-based ecologist, P. J. Emerson, a founding member of the Green Party in Ireland. His work on consensus-based political decision making provided a frame for us to work into. The argument essentially is both anti-imperialist and post-nationalist. The Irish Republican argument against imperialism is irrefutable to ecologists. However the Irish Nationalist position, that a simple majority on the island as a whole ought to dictate the form of political organization within the island and its external relations, falls well short of the ecological position.

Ecology and imperialism are antipathetic. But ecology and nationalism are also antipathetic, and this needs some explanation. Globally, Nationalist theory argues that the peoples of the world are divided into separate nations and that each of these has the right to self-determination. Self-determination in practice is given effect by way of the system of nation-states wherein majorities define the identity and character of the Nation. Ecologists must see this as flawed. There are no straight lines in nature, and this is as true for the divisions between peoples as it is for the divisions between species. Whose "territory" is the shared ocean? Does it belong to the sea anemone or the whale? So it is with the shared earth.

Nationalism has enslaved more "nations" than it has liberated. Native Americans, Tibetans, Kurds, Basques, Bretons, Scots-the list goes on and on. Our ecological analysis of the conflict in Northern Ireland has led us to a total critique of the current anti-ecological form of global political organization. If self-determination is a noble aspiration-and we believe it is-it must get out from under the burdensome and anti-ecological weight of majoritarian nationalism.

So where does all of this leave us with Northern Ireland? Northern Ireland is clearly a mini British Nationalist majoritarian statelet within the majoritarian State of the United Kingdom. In its present form it is clearly unacceptable to ecologists. By the same token an all-Ireland majoritarian State would be equally unacceptable. The denial of national identity rights to 40% of the Northern Ireland population ought not to be put to rights by a similar denial of the national identity rights of 20% of the population of Ireland.

P. J. Emerson's work argues that consensus not majoritarianism ought to determine the identity of States. The Green Party in Ireland has enthusiastically embraced this argument, seeing reflected in it the principles of both inter-dependence and the celebration of diversity. The task-and it is an extremely difficult one-is how to construct such a consensus within societies as divided as Northern Ireland.

Emerson has provided a mechanism to deliver his theory, and the Green Party in Ireland , not without reservations, has endorsed it. This mechanism is known as the Preferendum. Majoritarianism reduces complex issues to simple binary alternatives. Issues as complex as the resolution of deep cultural differences and antagonisms are reduced to simple "yes" or "no" alternatives. United Ireland or United Kingdom - "X" marks the spot. The Green Party in Ireland totally rejects such primitive approaches.

The reality is that a range of options offer themselves to Northern Ireland. All sorts of federal, confederal, and independent alternatives are possible. Great Britain is about to undergo fundamental constitutional change in order to accommodate Welsh and Scottish national feeling. This has implications for Northern Ireland. The current peace process, such as it is, relies upon the political parties, who have been constructed out of the polarized binary majoritarian system, reaching an agreement which the people then are asked to endorse in a simple "yes or no" referendum. We believe that this approach is almost certainly doomed to fail. The people, not an abstract of them (the political parties), ought to be directing the progress of the peace process. One of the ways in which this can be done is by allowing them to express their preferences across a range of alternatives through a preferendum, offering up to a dozen constitutional alternatives to not only choose between but to list in order of preference.

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