Analysis

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Blinkered opposition to royal visit flimsy at best

Queen Elizabeth's trip is a chance for us to prove that we're above bitter victimhood, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 08/05/2011 | 05:00

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Personally, I have no taste for pageantry or weddings, so Prince William's nuptials were never going to be a high point on my social calendar. But nor did it irk me in the slightest to see people, British and Irish alike, enjoying the day for what it was. Anything that contributes to the gaiety of the nation, and all that. Gaiety of two nations, even better.

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The only thing that did take me aback was the vitriolic antipathy expressed towards the royal wedding in some quarters in Ireland, which made it seem as if the whole event had been staged purely to irritate the bejaysus out of us. I even heard one commentator on television declare smugly that the difference between us was that the Irish celebrated achievement, while the British lauded mere accidents of high birth -- a crass generalisation if ever there was one.

Patriotic pride, which depends for its appeal on sneering at one's neighbours in this way, is merely a kind of misdirected insecurity. Tugging the forelock and sticking up two fingers are equally unhealthy responses.

Sadly, there was a similarly bitter taste to the discussion on Queen Elizabeth's forthcoming visit to these shores on Today With Pat Kenny in midweek, which featured the artist Robert Ballagh -- sorry, make that "Dr Robert Ballagh", as he was twice referred to on the show -- and some man representing the republican whinge academy Eirigi.

Suffice it to say that any panel discussion from which former minister for state Martin Mansergh emerged as the voice of reason had to be a very strange affair; and so it proved, as those opposed to the visit desperately dragged in everything from the recession to the presence of UK troops in Afghanistan to make their increasingly flimsy case.

Ballagh -- henceforth to be be known by the soubriquet "Doctor No", in joint honour of his title and his opposition to the royal trip -- even insisted that the fact the Queen would be arriving on the 37th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings was not only "highly insensitive", but -- get this -- a "calculated insult to the victims".

Now, the dictionary defines the word calculated to mean "carefully planned or intended". In other words, Dr No seriously expects us to believe the British and Irish governments sat down to finalise the details of Queen Elizabeth's visit and deliberately pinpointed that date to insult the Irish people. Pray tell, what's in that for us, Doc? Why would we go along with it? Or are the Paddies so stupid that we didn't notice the confluence of dates, and let the fiendish Brits pull a fast one on us again?

It's weird how little faith these self-styled republicans have in the people whose name they constantly invoke. It's always "the Irish people this" and "the Irish people that", right up until the Irish people dare to sing from a different hymn sheet, at which point the Irish people can't be trusted to think for themselves but must let their more politically educated superiors direct them back onto the path of righteousness.

As Pat Kenny pointed out repeatedly, the vast majority of people in this country have no quarrel, none at all, with the idea of the Queen popping in for tea; but when he put this inconvenient truth to the chairman of Eirigi, all he got in response was some waffle about the Irish media being biased and not putting out the anti-case. Once again, apparently, the Irish people are sheep, slavishly falling into line behind the cunning traitorous shepherd who is leading them astray. So this is what republicans mean when they say they have faith in the Irish people, huh?

Most people in this country are supportive of the royal visit because they believe in embracing normality, not because they're West Brits secretly hankering for a return of empire -- a fact borne out by the results of our latest poll, which finds that two-thirds of us would describe ourselves as republicans. And it would have been higher if, as some of those who shrank from the term were keen to clarify, the word hadn't acquired negative connotations after being hijacked by Sinn Fein/IRA and their nasty little dissident offspring.

"I'm fiercely proud to be Irish, but the term republican implies pressures that I don't want," one man said.

Even those who did describe themselves as republican admitted to unease with the uses to which the term had been put by violent separatists and their sneaking regarders. The only achievement of Sinn Fein/IRA, one woman noted, was to make the world think of Ireland as a land of "narrow-minded extremists". It's a strange sort of republicanism that so thoroughly stains the name of the country it claims to cherish.

Time and again in this poll, respondents shot down any suggestion that they shared the warped mindset of those who claim to have their bloody fingers on the pulse of Irish identity.

More than nine out of 10 agree that the deaths inflicted by Sinn Fein/IRA were not worth it. More than nine out of 10 believe the term republican has been misappropriated by those who espouse violence. Only eight in 100 have sympathy "in any way" with the dissident republicans trying to kickstart a new generation of terror.

What's tragic is that it won't make any difference. As one male respondent rightly said, dissidents don't care what the Irish people think of them: "They're like al-Qaeda, total fanatics." But it's still important that the true feelings of the Irish people on these issues be made as loudly known as possible, if only to stop history being used as a baseball bat to beat their enemies by people who don't want a normal relationship of equals between Ireland and Britain, but instead desire only to perpetuate victimhood and resentment.

Most of us have moved way beyond that. Three-quarters of those polled agree that modern republicanism should be about creating a free and equal democracy, rather than some fetishistic obsession with uniting a particular clump of earth. Even those who did think Irish unity was still the central duty of republicanism stressed they didn't want it pursued in the manner of the dissidents.

While those who yell the term republican have stayed trapped in the past, picking at their sores to keep them freshly seeping, most Irish people have clearly forged a new understanding of what it means to be a republican, which repudiates the atrocities committed in their name and allows them to move ahead in confidence. The kind of confidence, in fact, which means they can look forward to hosting a royal visit without undergoing some kind of tedious psycho-tribal trauma of the sort that Eirgi et al are trying to whip in advance of the arrival of the Queen -- or that "boring, tasteless, middle-aged older woman", as Robert Ballagh, 68, so ungraciously called her. Thankfully, most Irish people wouldn't have truck with that kind of boorish incivility either.

Sunday Independent

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