Saturday 17 August 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Yes, soccer breaks down barriers but one day real division may disappear'

'Meanwhile, back in the real world - so to speak - how can we ignore the fact Wayne Rooney is returning to the charmed playing fields of England?' Stock photo
'Meanwhile, back in the real world - so to speak - how can we ignore the fact Wayne Rooney is returning to the charmed playing fields of England?' Stock photo

Gerard O'Regan

Meanwhile, back in the real world - so to speak - how can we ignore the fact Wayne Rooney is returning to the charmed playing fields of England? With wife and three kids in tow, Brexit blues of any hue won't keep this family away from their homeland.

Mrs Rooney is done with the charms of the United States. She wants their children to receive an English education.

And so husband Wayne will wave goodbye to the lucrative world of American soccer. He will soon ply his trade, as a millionaire professional footballer, with the modest ambitions of Derby County.

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It's all a reminder that a new Premier League season is upon us. Its arrival just might console some gloom-laden soothsayers who moan British-Irish relations are at an all time low. The passionate embrace of the fortunes of English football teams is an Irish phenomenon. The instinct to be emotionally embroiled with the ups and downs of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Leeds or whoever endures no matter what.

Even in more morose times, the allure of cross-channel soccer kept a bond alive, one of so many which entwine two neighbouring peoples.

There are countless other almost intangible links. The trail of Irish talent making its mark in British media and entertainment - whether it be Sharon Horgan's comedy writing or Graham Norton's talk show brio - is another constant.

But of course these are asides in the sometimes turbulent world of Anglo-Irish relations. When raw politics come into the equation there cannot but be challenges when trying to steer a steady ship.

Yet we can be consoled that backstop argy-bargy, where it really matters, has been conducted on a civilised level. For sure there are some serious aggro-heads among the Brexiteers. But we don't take umbrage like we used to. In Ireland, a mood of national self-confidence, formed and framed by all this Brexit wrangling, has been palpable.

There are repeated signs that when the dust settles - and regardless of what happens - relations between Dublin and London will have moved to a different level. Things can never be quite the same again.

In future, Ireland will have a presence that comes from continuing membership of one of the world's most powerful trading collectives. On the other hand Britain will be weakened as a result of being outside the EU fold.

A new realisation that both countries need one another for very diverse reasons should herald more respectful, and warmer relations, than at any time in the past.

Of course there have been verbal excesses on our side. For some, the old temptation to engage in what is termed "green-jersey Brit-bashing" has proved irresistible. But for the most part Irish society has remained steady and focused. We are entitled to try to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

In the event of a "crash-out", there will be a host of new Border challenges - but these could never have been avoided if the primary concern is to bolster the peace process.

However, a downside to what has generally been a sophisticated and perceptive Irish approach to the Brexit saga is the Sinn Féin demand for a Border poll.

It is redolent of an old delusion that the essential problem in Northern Ireland is simply a numbers game. Such talk, and such fixations, on Irish unity at this point in time are dangerously counter-productive.

The Sinn Féin agitation for such a poll will stir ingrained unionist insecurities and deflect from shared Brexit-related traumas which could hit the entire island.

If there ever is to be a Border poll, it should not be held for many, many years.

Northern Ireland remains a traumatised society and it will take decades for "normalisation" to flourish. The peace process needs to dig in and flower over coming generations. In the long distant future it may be possible to see a new day has dawned.

In the meantime, both communities must be guaranteed fair play and the checks and balances to maintain such an equilibrium must remain rock solid.

And hopefully no new borders will be erected dividing anybody from anybody.

Irish Independent

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