I was pointed at this article, in the Guardian, by Ireland’s President, Michael Higgins, foreshadowing the 100th Anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that established Eire as an independent state. Given the lethal violence that has occurred ever since those that came to be called British arrived in Ireland, this is a remarkable piece of writing, arguing that,

Injustices perpetrated in the name of imperialism, and in resistance to it, often had a brutalising effect, leaving a bitter residue of pain and resentment, sometimes passed down through generations and left available to those willing to reignite inherited grievances.

What our current reflection consists of, I suggest, is not the offering of a set of competing rationalisations for different kinds of violence. Instead it is about understanding the contexts in which they occurred.

The rewards for this will come in the form in restoring the connection between moral instinct and public policy. That is an authenticity for which so many of our citizens, on this shared, vulnerable planet, yearn.

Michael Higgins, President of Ireland, The Guardian

This is a remarkably gentle offering recognising that both the British & Irish peoples are victims trapped by their own history, a history rarely studied in the Great Britain, at least not by me. It is more urgent than at any time since 1997 due to the growing inter-state animosity between the UK and the EU over the issues of the Irish Border resurrected from its resting, and it was only resting, place by Brexit.

from the Guardian, their featured image

Higgins words, for those that want them to, remind those of us in the UK of the massive impact the empire still has here, and not just through the lunatic nostalgia peddled by the Brexit campaigners, but also through the expectations of those who still look to their cultural locus as somewhere that’s not Britain, i.e. people who fail the Tebbit cricket test and also, those whose claims of equal citizenship the State rejects, from the Windrush generation to the abandoned 3 million.

I have from time to time sought to understand Ireland’s history particularly why Northern Ireland’s politics descended into violence; I was 12 when the civil rights association was formed, and 14 when Bernadette Devlin entered Parliament and British Soldiers were sent to Northern Ireland. I can see clearly now that despite studying Modern History at “A” Level, I learned little about Ireland’s struggle for independence, nor about the conflicting nationalisms that led it its partition. It’s obvious the contempt some Brexiters have for Eire and this is built on a deep well of, for me, hard to see racism. I now understand those Irish people or people of Irish descent who seek to keep it visible in order to combat it.

This speech is another wake-up call for us all, to consider the issues of not only peace in Northern Ireland, which many, particularly in the Brexit wing of the Tory Party seem to have forgotten, but also colonialism, continued decolonisation, history, the teaching of history, Anglo-Irish international relations and anti-racism aimed in solidarity with both the Irish and others resident in the UK oppressed due to our imperial past and/or a nostalgia for it.

Eire is an independent country!
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One thought on “Eire is an independent country!

  • 23rd February 2021 at 1:15 am

    I may be a bit contrary here but I found the article rankled me a little. In some ways his entreaty to move beyond a past of conflict and to learn to see that multiple perceptions of events can exist was interesting. My difficulty comes in the simplistic matter of fact way the history of England/GB and Ireland is categorised as another colonial conflict.

    I do not view Irish history in that context because it is more complex and the proximity of the Islands created an intertwined Anglo-Irish history. England had played a role in Ireland since 1169 when Anglo-Norman mercenaries landed in Ireland at the request of Diarmait mac Murchada the deposed King of Leinster. It just is not the case that the history of Ireland is the same as the colonial conquests of India, Africa, Asia or South America. Ireland was not simply a colonial outpost of the UK. It was far more politically and economically integrated.

    Once we get to the Act of Union in 1800 Ireland becomes a fully fledged component part of the UK. It was not a colony. I would challenge anyone to name any UK colony anywhere in the World that had directly elected representatives in the House of Commons in the same proportion as England, Wales, and Scotland. Ireland had them. Exactly what kicked off the Revolutionary war in the America’s? No representation. This was never the case with Ireland because it was not simply a colonial possession. Its relationship was more integrated and mutual than a simple colony.

    The problem with the narrative of colonial occupation and oppression is the constant need to create a mythologised oppressive occupation. The actions of the UK Govt in Ireland were allegedly part of colonial oppression and the Irish nationalist narrative always has to reinforce that. So as an example the Irish famine becomes not a sequence of disasters and poor management but is suggested to be a deliberate policy act by the UK as an act of genocide. The real facts of the famine are pushed aside and the myth rules because it fits with the preferred overall colonial narrative.

    Is the colonial narrative the same if it is considered that in 1846 PM Peel spent 25% of the entire UK Govt budget on famine relief. 50% was assigned to the military across the Empire. The UK did not export grain from Ireland during the famine it imported in increasing quantities from 1846-1849. When the Whigs won power in 1847 Lord Russell did change policy on direct relief believing the laissez faire approach of letting merchants import grain would work if the Govt supported demand through aid. He also tried to increase spending by borrowing but the Irish MP’s (closely aligned to the landowners) refused to allow increased taxes on Irish land (they had a lower rate than England at the time) so this borrowing attempt failed. Eventually Russell moved back to direct assistance in 1847-8 because the laissez faire approach had not worked.

    There are legitimate criticisms to be made. The absentee landowning class in Ireland had divided up the land into small parcels to maximise rent income. This left farmers dependent on limited crops. The potato was introduced as a crop from France but only one type (the Irish lumper). When the blight struck the whole crop failed. French farmers usually planted multiple species of potato so if disease struck only a portion of the crop was lost. Irish farmers were unaware of this when the potato was introduced as a crop.

    It is far more a story of sequential accidental disasters that cascade into a major human tragedy. It was tragic, millions died and many emigrated. The population of Ireland has only just returned to the pre famine level. Disease actually killed more than famine. The migration from the countryside to relief stations in cities created hotbeds of infection and diseases spread. Again though put this in the context of 1846-9 when the mechanisms of viruses and infections were unknown to medical science.

    A bit of a diversion through Irish history but I want to try to explain that the history and treatment of Ireland is really not a straightforward story of applying a colonial template. Within Labour and the wider left this tendency is very prevalent. The attitude and lack of understanding, concern or respect for the Irish unionist tradition and its people is particularly galling. Mostly I find rank ignorance or downright racism displayed towards the unionist people of Northern Ireland. There is little to no understanding of their history or culture or respect for it.

    I will end there because that is a bit of a ramble. Suffice it to say an interesting piece by President Higgins but it like so much else from Irish nationalists it falls victim to an over simplification and artificial colonial pigeon holing of UK and Irish History.

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