Wednesday 19 December 2018

An honours system? Yes, let's have one

Jim Duffy

IMAGINE if everyone praised France's presidency of the European Union as the "the best ever experienced". You could bet that those responsible for the achievement would be summoned to the Elysee Palace and awarded the Legion of Honour or other topic French state awards.

Or if Italy's European presidency, instead of being an international laughing stock had been an outstanding success, you'd find the people behind it quickly summoned to the Quirinal Palace so that the Italian President could honour them with Italian state awards. Ditto in Germany, Portugal, Poland, the Czech Republic and every other country in Europe.

Except Ireland. For Ireland, almost alone on the planet, doesn't have a State honours system to publicly thank people like those behind Ireland's EU presidency that was praised by President Chirac as the "best European presidency" he had ever experienced. All we can do is offer then a pint in Bertie's local, or twist the arm of some universities and get them to issue a couple of dozen honorarydegrees.

So instead, those who earned Ireland such international praise must join the queue of Irish people honoured the world over who can never be honoured in their own country.

People like Bob Geldof, Bono, John Hume, Mary Robinson, the organisers of the Special Olympics, Seamus Heaney, U2, the Chieftains, Neil Jordan, Peter O'Toole, John O'Shea of Goal. Or native sports heroes like Roy Keane, Sean Boylan, Sonia O'Sullivan, DJ Carey, and international friends of Ireland like Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, George Mitchell, etc etc etc.

So why is Ireland alone in deciding that it won't honour great Irish people? You could call it perverted republicanism. In a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face, we decided that to be truly independent we had to be totally different to the Brits. Britain gives out honours, so to be truly republican we shouldn't, right? D'uh!

Tell that to the Americans, the Indians, the South Africans, the old Soviets, all 100 per cent republicans who had no problem creating their own honour system to celebrate their own heroes.

Instead of doing the real republican thing and not giving a damn about Britain and celebrating our own heroes, we ducked the issue. Or, with true republican irony, passed the buck to the British Queen and waited for her to do our honouring for us by honouring Bob Geldof for Live Aid, AJF O'Reilly for the Ireland Fund, and Bill Clinton for his work on peace in Ireland.

Our republican constitution rightly bans creating noble titles. But there is no legal, logical or moral justification for not creating republican honours. De Valera and Lemass, true republicans, even toyed with the idea of resurrecting the Order of St Patrick, Ireland's now dormant chivalric order, whose last member, the Duke of Gloucester, died in 1974. Lemass even had that perpetual flier of Lemass ideas, Brian Lenihan, raise the idea publicly in 1960. But the Troubles started and the idea was quietly dropped lest it annoy tribal, Neanderthalrepublicans.

But, as Sinn Fein never stops reminding us, the Good Friday Agreement is all about moving from past bigotries and embracing an open future. So here's an idea: resurrect the Order of St Patrick - it never was abolished - as a joint Anglo-Irish Order, where the Irish President and British Queen can jointly honour those who work for reconciliation between the two communities. And, like the rest of the planet, establish an Order of Merit - or whatever you want to call it - to allow the Irish State to honour those who bring honour to Ireland.

Those behind Ireland's spectacularly successful EU presidency can expect to be honoured in the rest of the world. Isn't it time Ireland was able to honour them too?

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