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Irish blood, English heart make second generation Paddies a rebellious bunch

The nature of extremist politics always has a grim, carnivalesque side to it – the infighting, the splits, the oddballs – and Britain's far right is no exception.

Last week, the leader of the English Defence League (EDL), Tommy Robinson (pictured below), announced that he was leaving the faction he founded in 2009, claiming it had been infiltrated by neo-Nazis. For doing so, he was denounced a traitor by EDL members, while the more extreme British National Party condemned him as a "puppet of a deeply sinister clique from ... the US-based Jewish Supremacist movement". Back on planet Earth, mainstream activists have praised his decision, albeit cautiously.

The strange thing about the former EDL leader is that, ethnically speaking, he isn't even English. His real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, and he was born to a Dublin mother and a Scottish father in Luton, just north of London. He's not a one-off. The co-founder of the Luton-based EDL, who likewise left the group this week, is called Kevin Carroll, and both of his parents were from Dublin.

It's no surprise, really. Luton was heavily settled by Irish immigrants in the 20th Century, so by 1971, 6pc of its residents were born in Ireland. Today it is 40pc black and Asian. In a recent interview with the 'Irish Post', Mr Robinson boasted that the EDL has a large number of second-generation Irish members.

This may seem curious, historically speaking, and Mr Carroll is conscious of this. "My father had to face racism with the signs saying 'No blacks, no Irish'," he said earlier this year, "but he learned he would have to adapt to English society."

To most British people, the EDL seem a thuggish lot – less neo-nazis, more like politicised football hooligans. They made the headlines in May in the aftermath of the murder by two Islamist terrorists of the British soldier Lee Rigby in London.

Their public image has grown noticeably more extreme in recent months. Their leaders didn't mind the tattooed and frequently inebriated protesters waving the St George's Cross, but the growing rhetoric of bombing mosques was too much for Robinson and Carroll, who will work with the Quilliam Foundation, a state-funded body established to counter all forms of extremism. It's difficult to know what to make of Tommy Robinson. That he habitually speaks so warmly of his British Sikh "brothers" – last year he appeared in public in a turban – only confuses matters further. That's because he belongs to a long tradition of Hiberno-Englishmen that few can comprehend.

One of the best-known of these is Steven Patrick Morrissey. The rock star who goes by his surname alone was born in Manchester to Dublin parents, and at various times he's been described as anti-Thatcherite, anti-monarchist, an animal rights fanatic, anti-Labour, ultra-British patriot. Speculation about his sexuality and accusations of racism have also followed him. Will we ever know who Morrissey really is? I doubt it. Morrissey is too much of a free-thinker to be categorised. As he famously sung: "Irish blood, English heart, this I'm made of/ There is no one on Earth I'm afraid of/ And no regime can buy or sell me."

His fellow Mancunians, the comedian Steve Coogan and the musicians Noel and Liam Gallagher, are of a similar ilk. They're all insiders and outsiders, of the establishment and challenging it, neither English nor Irish – much like Boy George (real name, George O'Dowd, Tipperary parents), whose ambiguity rests in his sexuality. Add to this rogues' gallery snooker's Ronnie O'Sullivan and Shane McGowan.

What makes Hiberno-Englishmen so difficult to classify? Being caught between two nations certainly plays a part. You learn from an early age to question loyalties and categories and therefore the status quo. Ask John Lydon (also Irish parents), who famously sang 'God Save The Queen', that most subversively patriotic ode to England.

It helps, too, that most were raised in working-class streets, giving them a certain robustness, and often by parents with Irish republican sympathies, instilling a rebellious streak. They also had the advantage of a Catholic education, forever superior to that provided by English secular comprehensives. When it comes to Hiberno-Englanders, expect the unexpected. Of course, it's pitiful that second generation Irishmen are joining far-right groups in England.

But it's great that they're active in the debate on immigration at all. It displays how thoroughly integrated the Irish have become in English society.

Perversely, the case of Tommy Robinson is proof that anti-Irishness in England really is a thing of the past.

Irish Independent