Catalonia and Northern Ireland: Battling over tribal past in a new world

THE Catalan separatists may be too busy preparing to defend their assertion of independence in the Spanish courts — despite the absence of their leader, Carles Puigdemont — to look to Northern Ireland for lessons from that never-ending danse macabre of relentless conflict as tactic.

Yesterday, NI secretary of state James Brokenshire said that there is still time to save power-sharing in Stormont, insisting that only minor differences between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists, mainly around Irish language rights and culture, remain unresolved.

What he did not say, what he or any other politician could not say, is that the issues are utterly contrived and represent today’s expression of a deep, tribal hatred that persists despite the clearly declared wishes of the vast majority of people on this island to live in harmony. Both parties to the Stormont impasse — the latest in a litany — contribute to this near medieval stand-off.

Should the issues be resolved, and preclude direct rule, the next opportunity for mayhem is just around the corner. A power-sharing deal is conditional on an NI budget being passed by the end of this month. And Lambeg drums and/or Easter Lilies might fly.

The Catalans who wish to secede from Spain — a sizeable number do not and the vast majority of Spaniards oppose the fragmentation of their country — should try to imagine how, like Northern Ireland, an independent Catalonia might look a decade or two after a split from Spain. The cause of those who wish to remain within Spain would have lost none of its integrity and might have evolved into something less manageable than the peaceful anti-secession street protests of recent weeks. There may even be parliamentary deadlock over the Catalan language, or indeed the place of Spanish in Catalonia. Just like the minority in the North, those denied their Spanish citizenship would feel entitled, if not obliged, to agitate for their ‘rights’. It is hard to imagine that such a conflict would confine itself to a Barcelona parliament.

Ripples from the conflict have reached Dublin City Council, where the policy committee has recommended that the Catalan flag be flown over Dublin City Hall. The proposal now progresses to a vote at a full council meeting. This is a particular kind of student-bedsit, Che Guevara-inspired madness. It is certainly an affront to democratic Spain, EU solidarity, and the rule of law we all rely on. It is unimaginable that Dublin should indulge such an anti-democratic betrayal.

There is a far bigger truth in this. The conflicts in the North and in Spain are remnants of another time; they cannot exist without reference to the past. Catalan separatists, and the North’s tribalists, should look to Washington to get a glimpse of the world as it really is. There, the world’s superpower, through a Senate hearing, is trying to establish if it is still a democracy. For all of its power, America cannot be certain that its independence is not in the gift of the data tsars. And in Catalonia and in the North, they fight over the colour of the flag and lines on a map. How very convenient, how very helpful for the rapacious imperialists of Silicon Valley.


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