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|From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Editorials|
|Date: June, 2017|
Europe And Ireland
|Ireland, for fear of being thought Anglophobic, has for most of the past forty years been adapting itself to an England that did not exist. It is therefore shocked because the real England has asserted itself against Europe with little consideration for the material and spiritual difficulties this poses for the island that had been integrating itself with Britain as a short-cut to becoming European.
England lives in its own history. It maintains a vast history industry for this purpose. It is not only always working on its own history, consolidating it, but it helpfully produces the histories of other states and peoples for them so that they will have an idea of themselves that does not conflict with British concerns.
The Irish middle class, unable to cope with what was happening in the British part of the island, placed itself under Oxbridge tutelage in the early 1970s. A confession of national mental bankruptcy was made on behalf of the Irish Universities by Professor Raymond Crotty in an article in the London Times (3.7.72: Eire: A Land Where Emigrants Are Born, see Irish Political Review, February 2012). England had abandoned the Irish, leaving them to flounder in their own national incompetence. It should now have mercy on them and do their thinking for them again. Oxbridge responded willingly to Crotty’s cry for help. What sense of Irish history can now remain in the middle-class after two generations of English tutelage?
When Britain leaves the EU it will be standing there as a physical obstacle blocking Irish communication with Europe. Won’t it? Yet there was a time when England did not stand between Ireland and Europe, and ships left the Irish coast for their next port of call, which was in France. And that was in a time when travel by sea was very much more difficult and costly than it is now. But it now seems unimaginable to the Anglophile middle-class that direct communication between Ireland and Europe should be restored, and that the Irish should once again become European by their own efforts, without England as an intermediary, as it was doing during the century of the Penal Laws.
Under Oxbridge tutelage any realistic view of how England conducts its affairs in the world is described as Anglophobia. And the view of England which is developed in order to escape the charge of Anglophobia can only be an Anglophilia which is pure fantasy. The outstanding case in point is former Taoiseach John Bruton. His idyllic view of England was so entrenched that he could, as a Chairman of the Convention on the EU Constitution, see Britain eroding EU development from within, and could describe it in detail, but could not believe in the reality of what he was seeing and describing. And, when England decided that it had done enough damage to Europe’s development from within and might withdraw and set itself against the EU from outside, he still could not believe what he was seeing.
The term Anglophobia was put into general circulation by Oxford Professor Roy Foster when he was chosen to write the new, Oxbridge, history of Ireland for mass circulation in Ireland and for use in Irish schools. Foster was recently hailed by Taoiseach Kenny as Ireland’s master historian at a ceremony in Galway.
The term should be struck out of use. It is a propagandist term designed to stifle thought. There is in the nature of things antagonism between states, and particularly between nation-states. Their interests cannot be identical.
The EU depends on France and Germany. It could not continue without their cooperation, but nevertheless they have distinct national interests. They are nationally foreign to each other. Their foreignness is obvious. It is sacred—is something that must not be encroached upon by either side even in imagination.
In the administrative heart of Europe, in Belgium, antagonisms far more intense than the kind of thing called Anglophobia in Ireland with relation to England, is freely expressed—and is respected.
But it has been said by figures in Irish public life that the idea that England is foreign to Ireland expresses a degree of extreme nationalism verging on fascism, and that it cannot be tolerated. And in fact Dr. Mansergh, when he was advisor to Taoiseachs, said in effect that British is the default position of Irish—that Irish is a regional variant of British.
Well, Brexit is the moment of truth for that view. If Mansergh was right then Ireland will follow Britain out of the EU, as it followed it into it. And, if it doesn’t, it will establish a relationship with Britain as a foreign state in the course of remaining European.
Brexit has made the Border a serious issue in mainstream politics for the first time since the formation of the Free State. When the undemocratic system of British Government in the Six Counties led to war in 1970, all Dublin politicians wanted to do was distance themselves from it. They now complain that Britain gave no consideration to its Northern Ireland region when plunging into Brexit. But Dublin itself gave no serious consideration to Northern Ireland during the sixty years when it claimed constitutional sovereignty over it.
Life has been made tolerable to the nationalist community in the North as a consequence of the activity of the IRA—activity which was condemned in Leinster House throughout the period of the War. Brexit, by endangering the rapprochement of the Republic with Britain, has ended the carping by giving the Free State parties all-Ireland concerns, and thus enhancing the importance of Sinn Fein as the only actual expression of all-Ireland politics.
It is a strange turn of events, brought about by the expression—entirely unexpected to the Europhile fantasy of Britain—of the fact that England retains the sense of absolute national destiny that it conceived for itself half-a-millennium ago.
England built up a world Empire around itself, but kept itself apart from its Empire while making use of it. It did not lose itself in its Empire as the Romans did. It seemed to over-reach itself many times in the course of its world adventures but it always recovered. It was a country surrounded by a world-dominating Navy—an island according to Gogarty’s definition—and it was repeatedly willing to risk everything in the confidence that it would always come through. It imagined itself to be the force of Providence in the world and acted accordingly. It has been something quite extraordinary in the world for five centuries. But that is not what the Irish Europhiles admire it for. They admire it for what it has never been, and never seriously pretended to be. And now it has shattered their groundless dreams about it.
They profess to be concerned about the damage Britain will do to itself by Brexit. They cannot understand its basic concern is to be itself, living in a way which, like Seadhna’s stool, it made by itself for itself. And the concern which they express for it is really a concern about their own predicament of having to live in disillusioned loneliness in a world made alien for them by Britain’s withdrawal from it.
Tony Blair gives them hope that the EU will accord Britain a right of return if it finds Brexit tougher going than expected. If the EU does that, instead of consolidating itself as the British drag on its development is removed, its disintegration will be on the cards.
Blair did contradictory things in Europe. He continued Margaret Thatcher’s work of erosion by intensifying competitiveness and random expansion, but it seems he also wanted to join the Euro and was prevented by rearguard action by his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.
He also had a project of replacing the awkward English working class, that was set in its ways, by a mass influx of malleable workers from the newly-open East European states. And, associated with this, was his declared object to destroy the party which he led by re-integrating with the Liberal Party from which it had hived itself off around 1900. It is possible that the Labour Party will be destroyed by the Parliamentary Party that Blair left in place, but it is improbable that he will ever again be a political force in Britain or Europe. The Anglophiles who are influenced by him are clutching at straws.
England has recently been imagining itself as a nation that thrived in a relationship of free-trade with the world, and has been relishing the prospect of a return to that status. In reality it never did live as a trading nation.
The prophet of its greatness was Algernon Sydney—the martyr of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Sydney, who was a strong influence in the 18th century and into the 19th, told it that it would become great by means of a combination of war and trade, and that is what it did. He also advised that offensive was better than defensive war, and it heeded the advice. It was almost always at war with somebody and its trade was conducted in conjunction with war in the framework of Empire. If, after Brexit it is reduced to the status of trading nation, that will be an entirely novel position for it. It could be that things will go badly wrong for it. But it has committed itself to a course of comprehensive independence. If Ireland does not follow in its wake, it must resign itself to becoming independent too.