What Does Mo Mowlam Mean? Labour Must Resolve Its Ambiguity on Northern Ireland

By Trimble, Arguement | New Statesman (1996), September 27, 1996 | Go to article overview

What Does Mo Mowlam Mean? Labour Must Resolve Its Ambiguity on Northern Ireland


Trimble, Arguement, New Statesman (1996)


It is not unusual for a party's policy to contain some ambiguity. Large parties encompass a range of views, and policy sometimes has to be made to cover as many of these as possible. It is unusual for policy to be so elastic as to contain a direct contradiction in terms but the Labour Party's policy of "unity by consent"for Northern Ireland has managed this feat.

The people of Northern Ireland do not want a united Ireland. The number endorsing that outcome in opinion polls is less than 20 per cent, falling on occasion to as low as 14 per cent. This will not change in the foreseeable future. So believers in consent must reconcile themselves to abandoning unity, so far as practical politics is concerned. Or if you really want unity then you must, like Sinn Fein/IRA, abandon the notion of consent and, by one means or another, "persuade" the people of Northern Ireland to cease to oppose what they do not want.

One of the attractive aspects of Tony Blair's leadership of the Labour Party is that he has shifted the emphasis clearly towards consent and has disclaimed any intention to be a "persuader". He did this in an interview on the Today programme in 1994, when, referring to the emphasis on consent in the Downing Street Declaration, he said it was now a matter of the Republic saying "Come in with us" and Britain saying "Stay with us if you want to" -- a formula much warmer than Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew's notorious "no selfish strategic or economic interest". Blair appears content to leave it to the people of Northern Ireland to decide their future. This must be right. In a dispute between two states over possession of territory, the views of the inhabitants of the disputed territory should be decisive.

But the ambiguity has not been completely dispelled. In a recent speech Mo Mowlam, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said: "The status quo is not an option." What does this mean? The constitutional status quo is that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Is Mo ruling this option out?

I suspect she was thinking of a "balanced constitutional settlement" and the Framework Document, which was supposed to address constitutional issues. Chief among these is the Irish constitution's claim that the Republic's territory is the whole island of Ireland, irrespective of the views of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland.

Before the publication of the Framework Document the Conservatives recognised what had to be done. At the EU summit in Corfu John Major said the Republic's territorial claim had to be removed and Dublin had to recognise the legitimacy of Northern Ireland. …

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What Does Mo Mowlam Mean? Labour Must Resolve Its Ambiguity on Northern Ireland
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