Monday 17 December 2018

Why I'm hoping for a second term for President Michael D Higgins

Jim Cogan's illustration
Jim Cogan's illustration
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Let's hope President Higgins decides to seek a second term - and that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have the sense to stand clear.

Like Patsy McGarry of The Irish Times, I believe he will bring historical balance to the divisive years of commemorations.

Just as important, in my view, he could be a crucial voice for pluralism as the tweeting Pied Piper of Sinn Fein drowns out decent voices in the Republic.

Because in nearly 50 years of watching the Provos trying to raise the tribal temperature in the South to match the North, this is one of the worst periods I can remember.

Social media sites now carry non-stop nationalist hate messages aimed at Northern Protestants.

Far from our politicians trying to lower the tribal temperature, they bang on about Brexit in a loose way that allows tribal anger to spill over against the DUP.

This creates a climate in which The Irish Times could publish a piece last Monday by Denis Bradley, a former priest and vice-chair of the NI Police Board, titled 'How do you solve a problem like unionism?'.

You can imagine the loud nationalist indignation and charges of racism if a former Protestant minister wrote an article called "how do you solve a problem like Northern nationalism?".

Actually that article would make a lot more sense. Because northern nationalism has one big nasty side that Northern unionism has lacked so far.

Northern nationalists mostly vote for Sinn Fein, a party they know is linked to the IRA - which butchered their Protestant neighbours for nearly 25 years.

In contrast, Northern Protestants have refused to vote for mass loyalist parties linked to sectarian murders.

Alas the Bradley article traverses well-worn paths in nationalist mythology. One is the myth that nationalists are what Prof Liam Kennedy calls MOPE, the most oppressed people ever, living an enduring nightmare which can only be solved by Irish unity.

Another myth is that unionists are collectively a suitable case for treatment simply because they won't do a deal with Sinn Fein - that is with a party linked to the IRA that targeted Northern Protestants.

The third Bradley theme recycles an old nationalist delusion - the notion of unionist "false consciousness", the belief that deep down they really want a united Ireland.

Bradley's star witness is the familiar figure, a pro- unity unionist businessman. In short, a unionist who is really a nationalist.

This is reminiscent of Enda Kenny's anecdotes about his encounters with people who are eager to ask him things that he agrees with them about.

Unlike me, nationalist pundits seem to meet an amazing number of unionists suffering from false consciousness who are really nationalists.

Garret FitzGerald must have met them, too. In his Towards A New Ireland (1973), he latched on to some of Paisley's wackier speeches to come to this conclusion:

"Even today, the deep- rooted but rarely admitted belief that ultimately Irish unity must prevail, lies at the heart of many Northern Protestant attitudes."

The fact that a 25-year IRA campaign failed to shock Northern Protestants into recognising they were really nationalists seems to be of no account.

What incredible method actors these unionists are. Imagine staying in character as unionists for well over 100 years. How Daniel Day-Lewis must envy them.

But although the false consciousness theory claims Northern Protestants are future nationalists, Sinn Fein denounces them as pathologically hostile to the Irish language.

That charge is simply not true. Historically, many Northern Presbyterians spoke, studied and loved the Irish language.

Northern Protestants are not pathologically hostile to the Irish language. They are just rationally hostile to Sinn Fein, and to its bloody IRA hinterland, and with good reason.

It's not the what, it's the who. It's not the song they dislike, it's the singer.

So when Northern Protestants see a smiling Sinn Fein face prating about respect for Irish they do not take them at face value as far too many RTE presenters do.

Because what Northern Protestants see is the political wing of the IRA murder gang.

They rightly believe that Sinn Fein is now using the Irish language as the latest instrument of tribal torture as part of a long war to force Irish unity on unionism.

The late Maurice Hayes, an Irish-speaking democrat, believed Sinn Fein had weaponised Irish. Noel Whelan in a recent well-argued piece in The Irish Times supported that view.

As an Irish speaker myself, I have followed the fortunes of the Irish language North and South and can refute the wilder claims of Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein claims Irish language rights were part of the civil rights campaign. I know that's not true because I am one of the few surviving members of the Wolfe Tone Societies who met at Maghera in 1966 to help launch the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).

The Irish language was not on the agenda. But keeping armed sectarians away from NICRA was. The Provisional IRA destroyed that real republican hope.

Sinn Fein is also full of it when it claims the language is not respected in Northern Ireland. Let's look at what has happened since the Good Friday Agreement.

First, the GFA imposed a statutory obligation on the NI Department of Education to 'encourage and facilitate' Irish language teaching. Several gaelscoileanna successfully used this to beat the department in the NI High Court on things like permission to relocate schools and the provision of buses.

Second, the North recognised that children are the future. In 2014, the Helen O Murchu Advisory Group report showed Irish-speaking students comprised only 0.15pc of the NI school population.

O Murchu identified the big problem - there is only one proper Irish-speaking secondary school and it can't absorb the 3,000 primary school kids.

If Sinn Fein was serious about Irish it would focus on expanding that tiny 0.15pc group of children. These children must be catered for. But they should not be used as cannon fodder.

But of course Sinn Fein cares nothing for the Irish language. Neither its northern or southern leader can speak it even passably.

The Irish language is just the latest in a list of tribal provocations by the Pied Piper of Sinn Fein that will take our children to the dark place called Tiocfaidh Ar La.

Accordingly it's time RTE presenters called out the lie that the Irish Language Act was the reason Sinn Fein brought down the Northern Ireland Executive.

Most observers accept the Northern Executive was brought down following a meeting of shadowy figures in the Felons Club, Belfast. Clearly, Martin McGuinness was not happy, but he obeyed orders.

Aine Lawlor showed no awareness of that contested background during her soft interview with Eoin O Broin on the Week in Politics last Sunday, reserving her hard interruptions for Stephen Donnelly of Fianna Fail.

Sarah McInerney was more clued in over on TV3's Sunday Show as Tom McGurk tried to go back to the Plantation of Ulster.

Let's hope that she keeps her TV3 sense of balance as she moves deeper into the green groves of Montrose.

Sunday Independent

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