Friday 19 January 2018

Nation must grow out of its green security blanket

We face a stark choice between wallowing in self-pity or facing up to our responsibilities, writes Ronan Fanning

MORE than 20 years ago, in a 1988 UCD symposium on nationalist perspectives on the past, I spoke about how the examination of the national conscience triggered by the crisis in Northern Ireland had disturbed hard-held republican myths. I argued that although the Irish nation-state had long since come of age since its establishment as a sovereign, independent republic 40 years before, many of the self-appointed guardians of what they perceived as its integrity were still wrestling with the insecurities of adolescence. I compared them to Linus, the character in the Peanuts cartoon strip, who is invariably depicted clutching his blanket. The Irish political and intellectual landscape, it then seemed to me, was littered with Linus look-alikes sucking their green blankets.

The resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict and the national self-confidence generated by the Celtic Tiger brought an end to the phenomenon. Or so I had fondly imagined. Now I am less sure. The upsurge in Sinn Fein's brand of Europhobic xenophobia, alleged affronts to Irish sovereignty being thrown around in a febrile pre-election atmosphere like snuff at a wake, and the consequent finding in the recent Irish Times/MRBI poll that 56 per cent of respondents agreed that Ireland had surrendered its sovereignty are but some of the factors that suggest that sucking the green blanket may be back in fashion.

The question posed in that poll ("Do you believe that Ireland has surrendered its sovereignty by accepting financial support from the EU and the IMF, or not?") is, of course, a loaded question. However, that 43 per cent of respondents refused to assent to what Latin grammarians describe as a question expecting the answer "yes" (33 per cent of whom actually insisted that "Ireland has not surrendered its sovereignty") is a reassuring tribute to the innate good sense of the Irish people. It is also a tribute to their historical understanding because Ireland's struggle for independence was always a quest for political sovereignty, never a quest for fiscal independence and the establishment of an independent currency.

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