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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: September, 2016|
Disengagements And Engagements
|Disengagements And Engagements
Brexit is raising problems about what a British Minister in Belfast calls "our shared identity and history". That is, the shared identity and history of Britain and Ireland.
Official Ireland, under indirect British management, had come to believe in that shared identity and history. It was therefore shocked when England did its own thing with regard to Europe without any concern for its Irish identity.
Where did that leave Ireland's British identity? Or its English Home Counties identity—because the affinity of the Anglicising Irish middle class, which lacks an upper class, has never been with Scotland, still less with Wales or Northern England. To the extent that these Irish are British, it is Home Counties English that they are.
The rulers of the English body politic know what the shared identity and history with the Irish is and how it should be preserved. England is one of the ultimate constituents of the world. It is not capable of being anything but itself. And the way for the Irish to conduct themselves at moments like this is to tag along with it.
But the difficulty is that a generation of the Irish constructed a state for themselves a hundred years ago, killing the British who tried to prevent them. It was baptised in blood, which is the only way such things are done for real in this world. It was the only baptism that England would acknowledge the force of.
The governing Irish generation, that is now withering, has done its best to conjure away that rupture by means of educational brainwashing—what Pearse called The Murder Machine—but it is now having to come to terms with the fact that it has failed. And that it was England that failed it.
States are not easy things to set up. But, once they are set up and made functional by the actions of the people who inhabit hem, they are not easy things to get rid of.
Ever since Jack Lynch, in 1970, disowned his own Northern policy, the governing Establishment has been embarrassed by the independence of the state, and the means by which it was achieved, and has been trying to escape from it—except for one Taoiseach, who was disgraced for treating the British as equals.
But the state set up by that generation a century ago has objective existence in the world, and has its own distinct interests which those who govern it have had to take account of, regardless of themselves. The national state imposes national imperatives.
Before there was an Irish state, Irish society was often caught by the twists and turns of English policy and was punished for not keeping up with them. Since there was an Irish state its independence has been enhanced by changes of British policy which it could not follow
It went into the EU along with Britain. It joined the EMS, preparatory to establishing a European currency, along with Britain. When Britain suddenly left the EMS, Ireland could not see its way to following. And so it got the Euro instead of the English pound with an Irish picture on it.
And now it has to decide whether it has become sufficiently un-English to be an active participant in a Europe which does not include Britain.
The immediate problem appears to be the Common Travel Area. Ireland is part of two common travel areas—that of the EU and that of what has been increasingly referred to as the British Isles. But it does not seem that both can continue if Brexit is implemented. So where will the de facto Border lie? Along the winding edges of the Six Counties—where for many purposes it never really existed—or the ports of Belfast and Larne and Warrenpoint?
If the EU holds firm against Britain, it will depend on how independent Dublin can be in its relationship with Britain. The Dublin Establishment is in a state of shock right now. It formed an altogether false idea of England and is angry because England took no heed of it. But England will ensure that negotiations are protracted and something much colder than anger is needed on the Irish side.
William O'Brien, who brought about the major Irish social reform of the 20th century, in conflict and conciliation with the Unionist Party, has been all but removed from the Irish historical record—with Cork University being to the fore in dismissing him. He tried to explain that what was required on the Irish side in Anglo-Irish relations was a cool reasonable intransigence on essential points. The English will only deal with you as an equal if you leave them with no other choice.
The Brexit referendum has inspired the Taoiseach to call for the activation of the Partition Referendum, provided for by the 1998 Agreement, and the Fianna Fail leader, Micheál Martin is tending in the same direction. Gerry Adams says, rightly, that they are coming round to the Sinn Fein position. They have spent the last ten years trying to undermine the Sinn Fein position in the North as a way of rolling back its development in the South.
There has been a campaign to Partition Sinn Fein. It says that the development of Sinn Fein is being held back in the South by the fact that it has as its leader a Northerner closely connected with war (and peace) in the North—although it is a plain fact that the basic strength of Sinn Fein in the South is that it is the party that has fought the longest war ever fought in Ireland, and that it made a successful transition from war to peace, despite mischief-making harassment by the Dublin Establishment.
Fianna Gael has reverted to anti-Partitionism with a plop. And certainly the thing to do is oblige Britain to let the referendum process begin. It's no good waiting for the result to be determined in advance by Opinion Polls, because referendums affect opinion and do not merely reflect opinion formed beforehand.
If Fianna Gael were in earnest in the matter, they would be organised in the North, as Sinn Fein is organised in the South. The Fianna part of it has nominal organisation in the North, but Martin does not let it function.
De Valera would not extend Fianna Fail to the North because he had the task of establishing the substantial independence of the 26 Co. state to attend to and pursuing the chimera of unity would get in the way of it.
Unity was a chimera in those days. It had been set up deliberately by Britain when it was setting up the Treaty Free State, and Collins had bought into it. De Valera concentrated on what was achievable, which was the freeing of the Free State from the Treaty. He let the North be. It was run by the Protestant community organised as a flimsy pretence of a political party, financed by Westminster and run in great part by Whitehall, completely detached from the political life of the British state and without a political life of its own.
It is not conceivable that De Valera—who learned the art of politics through use of a robust commonsense instructed by Machiavelli, who wrote a lot more than the notorious Prince—did not see that that Northern Ireland was set up as a March Hare for Southern politicians to chase instead of tending to their own proper business.
But that is not how things are now. The nationalist community in the North, abandoned by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour in 1970, fought a war against the British State which Britain could only end by negotiation. The Protestant community has been broken up into something resembling political parties. And the character of the Nationalist community has been changed greatly by the war that it fought—a war which Micheál Martin and others have been treating as a mere outbreak of criminality.
And, under the new dispensation post the GFA, there has been a lot of private financial investment in the North.
The Dublin Establishment has been shocked by Brexit into seeing that Britain is not what they thought it was—or what they pretended to think it was, because they never dared to take a sober, fearless look at it with a view of understanding it in a cool, deliberate state of mind.
They are now disillusioned, but disillusionment is a long way from practical political understanding. And in their state of shock they have become anti-Partitionist again. But they are no nearer to seeing the Northern Ireland structure and its internal social components for what they are than they were forty years ago. They are as disengaged mentally from Northern realities as they were forty years ago. They refused to engage with the Northern War as their War—and they do not yet even acknowledge that what it was was a War—and so they are equally disengaged from the reality of the peace settlement made in 1998.
Micheál Martin dissents from the Taoiseach's call for an immediate Border referendum. He wants an All-Ireland Forum as a preliminary to a referendum, to be held in the context of the Brexit complication, with both Northern communities having voted Remain. It's a variant of the 1914 scenario which saw Irish unity as being implicit in the Redmond Volunteers joining the British Army alongside their deadly enemies, the Ulster Volunteers, for the purpose of killing Germans.
Philip Orr explained on Radio Eireann twenty years ago, when the neo-Redmondites were beginning to celebrate the Somme and their minds were overwhelmed by the scale of it, that from the Ulster Unionist viewpoint the whole First World War was only an incident in the Home Rule conflict. Radio Eireann could not take in the meaning of that remark. The Southern Establishment has never shown any interest in the inner development of Protestant Ulster over close on four centuries. And no more has Southern anti-Revisionism. Their only interest is in finding debating points. And debating points do not reconcile: they just irritate.
Martin wants an All-Ireland Forum which "should include employers, trade unions, farming organisations and other sections of civil society". And, in that Forum: "We must all put the national interest first and foremost" (Eve. Echo, 16.8.16).
The old saying will finally prove true! the Ulster Unionists are attached to the half-crown rather than the Crown. They will follow their economic noses into a United Ireland in order to remain in the EU.
A North Antrim Protestant, apparently living in the South and married to a native, has an interesting article in the Irish Daily Mail (23.7.16) about driving North in a Southern car and stopping at Bushmills where her husband was recognised as being a Fenian—and where things remain as they were forty years ago:
"The thing about Northern Ireland is that, in many regards, it is a self-centered and inward looking society.
"The whole notion of a 'Northern Irish' identity has become a topic for debate in recent times… peddled by the likes of Rory McIlroy, but in reality many, many people in the North, particularly those raised in the so-called Protestant tradition, as I was, have always thought like that.
"Especially those who have lived all their lives in the North—be that in a working-class loyalist estate in Ballymena or amid the well-heeled middle-class leafy suburbs of south Belfast.
"There is little or no will among those sections of the population to understand or embrace the Irish tradition. Why should there be?" (Article b Roslyn Dee.)
That is a fact which this journal has been trying to communicate to Southern politicians since 1969. It is a fact which the South does not want to hear.
The Southern Establishment goes through cycles of reviling the North and wanting nothing to do with it, and then suddenly seeing a mirage of unity on the horizon.
The Six Counties were driven in on themselves by the British State in 1921, placed in a position of being in it but not of it. Then in 1970 the South broke off relations with the Northern minority in the most provocative way, driving it to fight a war on its own behalf.
The great change brought about in the life of the Northern Nationalist community by the War is something which the disengaged South could not experience. And, insofar as it is acknowledged that there has been considerable change of some kind, the Dublin Establishment feels obliged to attribute it to something other than the War—even to themselves!
The Ulster Unionists remain in substance what they were were made in 1921—a semi-detached region of the British state—and they have become attached with feeling to this very odd condition. They are not likely to follow their economic noses into a united Ireland—as they might do if they had lived for the past 90 years within the political normality of the British state whose official ideology is close to being economic determinism.
The Nationalist community has established itself as an active component of this peculiar political structure called Northern Ireland. Through the long war against the British State, it has achieved "parity of esteem" in earnest with the local majority within the 6 Co. variant of the state. It refused—despite encouragement by the State Government—to fight a 'civil war' with the local majority.
When the Government of the state failed to crush it, the local majority was then obliged by the State to make terms with it in drastic alteration of the 6 Co. mode of sub-government.
Ulster Unionism never got the chance to fight its war. In July 1914 it announced the formation of its Provisional Government and was armed and ready to fight in defence of it against all comers with German weapons, but in August it was whisked off to fight the Germans instead. Then in 1918 it agreed to Six Co. Partition on the condition that it would be governed as an integral part of the British state within British politics—but allowed itself to be persuaded by Whitehall to operate a Home rule system, outside British politics, to help in the war against Sinn Fein, with the threat that, if it did not do so, it might well come under Dublin rule.
It made what it called "the supreme sacrifice" of operating 6 Co. Home Rule in semi-detachment from the state, without anything that could reasonably be called politics. Fifty years later it had another chance to fight its war. Around 1974-5 it was encouraged to do so by Secretary of State Merlyn Rees. But the Provisionals refused to fight it and insisted on fighting the Government of the state.
When the Government made a settlement on terms with the IRA in 1998 the Unionist leader, David Trimble, was made to go along with it by personal intimidation by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Advised by the Official IRA—Eoghan Harris and Lord Bew—Trimble tried to subvert the 1998 Agreement from within. He refused to accept the outcome of the War. Paisley accepted it and made the deal which enabled the Agreement t function.
The present relationship between the communities is the outcome of a War. It could not have come about without war. Under British rule war has always been the ultimate determinant of things in Ireland.
"Constitutional nationalism" could never bring about the relationship with Ulster Unionism that Sinn Fein/IRA has done. Ulster Unionism appealed to force in 1914 and almost a century later made a deal with force. Constitutional nationalist blather always left it cold and contemptuous.
The Constitutional nationalists, left out in the cold, are now doing their bit to derail the Republican/DUP deal, urged on by what used to be called "Official Unionism". And the current scandal is about advice which was given to a Unionist dissident, Jamie Bryson, about how to present his case about Peter Robinson's involvement with NAMA sales to the Stormont Finance Committee. The Finance Committee was chaired by Sinn Fein. The Irish News declares that Sinn Fein "coached" Bryson. From what has come to light, we cannot see that Sinn Fein did anything that would not be done by the Chair of an impartial Parliamentary Committee at Westminster, who wanted to ensure that all relevant matters were brought to the attention of the Committee.
There is a degree of normality in the North in the Sinn Fein/DUP era that never existed in the days of the UUP and the SDLP.
The antagonism of the communities continues. We said in 1998 that we did not see how the Agreement could do anything but alter the way it expresses itself. And its expression has altered in interesting ways. In particular we are thinking of the engagement of the Unionist ultras with the then SF Chair of the Stormont PAC, and an under the radar pre-arranged fight in Dublin between Northern unionist youth and their nationalist counterparts. That strange event raises all sorts of interesting questions, not least of which being the willingness of Protestant youth to travel South!
Disengagements And Engagements. Editorial
Michael D. at Béal na Bláth. Jack Lane
False History. Philip O'Connor on the Irish Independence movement and Zionism analogies
Readers' Letters: Casement And The Law. Jeffrey Dudgeon
Obituary for Patrick O’Beirne. By O'Beirne Family
Shorts fromi The Last Gaullist!; Socialisation of Production; Pensions; Irish Water; International Capital)
Moore Street Update. Dave Alvey
When The Irish Times Predicted Darwinian 'Evolution' For A New Gaeltacht. Manus O'Riordan
Reflections on a Belfast Meeting. Dave Alvey
Northern Ireland: Britain And The Conflict. Wilson John Haire
A Sniper from an Ivory Tower. Pat Walsh on Dr. Robert McNamara
Hubert Butler: The DVD. Julianne Herlihy
Why Constance Markievicz Stood By The Republic. Manus O'Riordan
Biteback: Russia Today! Donal Kennedy
Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (Auditors and Accountants; Kilkenny)
Labour Comment: The "National" Press and 1916
Jack O'Connor: A Trade Union Strategyto Win for Working People