The Twelfth of July should be a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland. The overthrow of Arlene Foster by DUP “hardliners” is a good time to make it so.
Too seldom have people in the Republic registered the fact that “bitter” Arlene was at home as a child when her father was shot in the head there by IRA terrorists.
She was also on a school bus that was bombed, with her friend’s sister badly injured. Reaching out is hard on both sides.
This is not one of those articles dumping on the DUP. That’s like shooting fish in a barrel. We can thrill at how awful they are. Backward, bigoted, betrayed by Boris. Serves them right.
They are not like us. And that’s the problem. Making the Twelfth of July a public holiday would be a hard way to give respect, or show forgiveness. It would mean nationalists having to make an effort to understand unionist fears of a united Ireland, and to honour Orange pride in Protestantism and British civil liberties.
There is a visceral contempt that bubbles up in nationalists at the sight of an Orangeman. It is reciprocated on the loyalist streets of Northern Ireland. There is a parity of contempt.
But waiting to “outbreed the bastards” is no way to achieve a really united Ireland. Weaponising fecundity may be a Sinn Féin strategy, but it is no solution.
The possible future consent of a bare majority of voters in Northern Ireland to some kind of unity makes a united Ireland no less traumatic for most unionists, who believe that they are culturally British. Making the Twelfth of July a public holiday would be a heartfelt promise. It would not mean forgetting the horrors of Irish history, penal laws, the confiscation of land, the sneering of the ascendancy or jeering Orangemen on the walls of Derry.
Making the Twelfth of July a public holiday would be saying that the Republic of Ireland is big enough for those who treasure the best of British. Many will still not want to unite, because it’s ultimately a matter of heritage, not economics. But we can at least make the prospect less threatening.
To do so, we need to know what is the culture of unionism. And making the Twelfth of July a public holiday alone would not do it. That would also take an information campaign across society.
Critics complain about the sometimes narrow range of British schooling, when it ignores colonial oppression or injustice in Ireland for example. But the ignorance of Protestantism and of British history in Ireland reflects poorly on years of much Irish education.
Did Catholic schools in Ireland ever really want children to understand Protestantism? It would have been like teaching heresy, with concepts such as freedom of thought, limited hierarchy and a direct relationship with the Bible being subversive of the authoritarian model of Irish Catholicism.
Unionists long feared that their personal and religious freedoms would be swamped in a united Ireland. Were they wrong? Irish Catholics have lately had their own kind of Protestant reformation, shrugging off the demands of bishops as we walked a path of family planning, divorce law, abortion rights and marriage equality.
In most schools in the Republic, religion was long discussed but little debated — and when Protestantism came up it was often to tell children of its errors and to disdain Martin Luther or Henry VIII.
Maybe some brave history teacher gave King Billy a look in. William of Orange was the pantomime bad guy who hated Catholics and beat the Irish in 1690. That he was to another tradition on this island a freedom fighter, a defender of faith and liberty, a man whose ascent was part of a glorious revolution that enhanced the power of parliament over the divine right of kings to rule absolutely, seemed wrong.
It’s always easier to spot the delusions and myths on the other side. One may with historical justification be sceptical of a version of British history that makes heroes of men such as William of Orange or even Cromwell (who intrigued Arthur Griffith). Protestantism, like any ‘ism’, has not lacked its own delusions and bigotry.
But making the Twelfth of July a national holiday would be a political statement, a hand of friendship. It would not be easy. When an Orange band marched in Dublin a few years ago it was set upon — and many seemed to think rightly so, regardless of civil liberties. To call marching a provocation, if it is polite and peaceful, is not far off saying that a girl in a short dress is asking for it.
So, instead of refighting the Battle of the Boyne, let’s make of the anniversary of King Billy’s victory a daring bridge to reconciliation.
Dr Colum Kenny is Professor Emeritus at Dublin City University. He is the author of The Enigma of Arthur Griffith: Father of Us All (Merrion Press)