Queen’s University recently hosted the launch of a new book edited by Dr Katy Hayward (Queen’s) and Dr Mary Murphy (University College Cork), The Europeanization of Party Politics in Ireland: North and South (Routledge, 2010). At the launch, some of the academics who contributed to the volume presented their perspectives on the impact that the EU has had on political parties within Northern Ireland.
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson was on hand to offer his thoughts on the proceedings. I was the author of the chapter on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and along with the others who had written on Northern parties, we were asked to address the question:
Does Europeanization reinforce or problematize the ‘dual ethnic’ party system in Northern Ireland?
Although all the authors identified some evidence of Europeanization within local political parties, all of us noted that Europeanization has done little to change patterns of ethnic party competition.
For example, in the last election for the European parliament, the DUP’s Diane Dodds’ main campaigning point was that a vote for her would ‘stop Sinn Fein’ from gaining the top seat – not necessarily that she had the best policies on Europe.
That said, Hayward and Murphy’s volume demonstrates that this trend is not exclusive to Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. Campaigning on local, non-European issues happens in European parliament elections all over the continent.
P.J. McLoughlin, who wrote the chapter on the SDLP. So he had perhaps the best evidence when it came to making the argument that Europeanization had or could problematize Northern Ireland’s dual ethnic party system. John Hume, after all, was known to be enthusiastic about Europe.
Hume’s ideas on Europe can be seen as providing some wriggle room for holding national and European identities simultaneously in a way that just might transcend rigid the rigid ethno-nationalism that has characterised Northern Ireland. That, of course, has not really happened.
But Nicholson spoke passionately about his own experience as an MEP and how that had personally helped him to develop a more consensual political style.
Nicholson good-humouredly chided McLoughlin for emphasizing Hume’s role in Europe, particularly in securing peace funding for Northern Ireland. Rather, he said that Northern Ireland’s MEPs had worked effectively together as a team throughout the Troubles, something he said consistently surprised MEPs from other nations.
Nicholson described a personal journey in which he claimed to have moved from a narrow perspective on Northern Ireland politics to a more expansive one that was, indeed, quite reconciliatory. He reiterated the often made point that the EU is in itself a model of effective conflict resolution in the aftermath of centuries of devastating war, and could be an inspiration for Northern Ireland.
It could be easy to be cynical about Nicholson’s glowing testimony about the benefits of Europe. In some ways his comments side-stepped the more difficult question about whether Europeanization has problematized Northern Ireland’s ethnic party system.
But even if Europeanization hasn’t changed the system, Nicholson made a strong case when he chose to focus on the more tangible benefits of Northern Ireland’s involvement in the EU.
The book itself, of course, is about much more than this singular question, and encompasses party politics in the Republic of Ireland as well. See below for a list of chapters and contributors.
1. Introduction: Party Politics and the EU in Ireland, North and South Mary C. Murphy (University College Cork) and Katy Hayward (Queen’s University Belfast)
2. Ireland’s EU referendum experience Jane O’Mahony (University of Kent at Canterbury)
3. Irish Political Parties and Policy Stances on European Integration Kenneth Benoit (Trinity College Dublin)
4. Irish Political Parties’ Attitudes towards Neutrality and the Evolution of the EU’s Foreign, Security and Defence Policies Karen Devine (Dublin City University)
5. Fianna Fáil: Tenacious Localism, Tenuous Europeanism Katy Hayward (Queen’s University Belfast) and Jonathan Fallon (EPS Consulting)
6. Blissful Union? Fine Gael and the European Union Theresa Reidy (University College Cork)
7. The Irish Labour Party: The Advantages, Disadvantages and Irrelevance of Europeanization? Michael Holmes (Liverpool Hope University)
8. The Irish Green Party and Europe: An Unhappy Marriage? Nicole Bolleyer (University of Exeter) and Diana Panke (University College Dublin)
9. Sinn Féin’s Approach to the EU: Still more ‘Critical’ than ‘Engaged’? Agnès Maillot (Dublin City University)
10. ‘Battling in Brussels’: The DUP and the European Union Gladys Ganiel (Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin)
11. Pragmatic Politics: The Ulster Unionist Party and the European Union Mary C. Murphy (University College Cork)
12. The SDLP and the Europeanization of the Northern Ireland Problem P. J. McLoughlin (Queen’s University Belfast)
(Photo: Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson with participants at the book launch)