Talking has slowly made us better as a people
Ruth Dudley Edwards finds that narrow-minded nationalism is being exchanged for civilised discourse and debate
Writing of the death of Jo Cox, the sixth sitting MP to be murdered during the last 100 years (and the only one not killed by the IRA), the London Times columnist Danny Finkelstein tried to be positive. He reminded us of the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812 (by, as it happens, an obsessive loner), which caused widespread rejoicing because he was a politician. "It is often said that our political culture is debased and has never been as rude or threatening," he wrote. "The truth is quite different. We have spent the past 200 years slowly evolving a more civilised discourse."
I can testify that the same is true of Ireland, not least in relation to the sensitive area of physical force nationalism. In the late 1970s, when my biography of Patrick Pearse was published, I had some testing times with public appearances.
I was okay with giving talks, for I wrote down everything I had to say from "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen" to "Thank you for listening", but I was terrified of the discussion stage lest I be asked questions I couldn't answer.