A time to press for Irish unity or a time to stay cool?

In contrast with Chris Donnelly’s reasoned case and the speculation that Fianna Fail may at last organise in the North, herewith Newton Emerson’s latest in the Irish Times

The Troubles generation was marked by an almost total collapse in the unionist sense of Irishness, which is usually explained as a reaction to republican violence. However, I do not believe this alone can account for the extent to which I do not feel Irish in the slightest. I think it is because I grew up in Co Finchley…..

I went to university in Yorkshire, aged 18. When I applied, when I got on the boat and in the three years I was there, I never felt I was anywhere else but in another part of my own country. It was as cosy and familiar as a Tuesday evening BBC sitcom. I doubt many young people today could feel this so completely. Northern Ireland has become its own little country again.

How do we close the gap?

Or are we back to the same old zero sum game, with a peace process gloss added?

How strongly  “contested” is Northern Ireland really?

The two main  party leaders in the south put on the record that the ability to unite by consent would  survive  the recreation of a physical border in any form. Fair enough.  But are the first throes of Brexit – before we’ve got a clue about the outcome – the best time to raise it as an active proposition?  The positions on Brexit from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP are  unrealistic as practical politics  but are clearly designed to put pressure on the main Dublin parties  to become active persuaders for unity.It remains to be seen if they will succeed.

By the way, whatever happened to  working together better in power sharing?

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  • John Collins

    Well JR MU appears to be a qualified solicitor, who probably works in at least a comparable profession, who appears to have worked for years, possibly decades, in England. It is clear he would mix in an urbane, sophisticated, widely travelled and well educated milleau and not among hod carriers, street sweepers or other less advantaged people. Add to this the fact that due to the Troubles in NI and its widespread coverage in the GB media it is indeed amazing that even well informed people in GB seem to regard NI as ‘Irish’.

  • John Collins

    JR
    As I have said before, on at least fifty occasions, over the past ten years, I have travelled north of the Border. In all those trips I have never once been stopped or asked to confirm my identity. If inward immigration to GB is to controlled, as it must be under Bretix, it is hard to see this free and easy situation continuing

  • billypilgrim1

    The funny thing is, both these perceptions were kinda true.

  • billypilgrim1

    So you reckon people in Britain need to be informed and savvy and have a university degree in order to know that you are in the same country as them, and that doesn’t bother you? Or suggest anything?

    “Hardly surprising that even in today’s UK there is the odd person who momentarily mislabels NI.”

    Actually, I think it’s astonishing – and quite telling. How many Americans do you think there are who don’t know that Alaska is in the USA?

    “One of the many things I liked about Canada was that not only was just about everyone I met clear on the distinction between NI and Ireland…”

    That’s nice. But so, so many people in Britain aren’t – which is surely the far more salient point?

  • the moviegoer

    So essentially you are saying you ascribe to a fairly neutral “Statist” view of nationality – you are part of the British State so your identity is British. I am just curious, in the event of a United Ireland ever happening, would your identity shift from British to Irish the moment NI became part of an Irish State? And even if this is true for you, would it be true for the likes of the DUP?

  • Kevin Breslin

    As far as I am concerned no one has been more impractical or unrealistic about Brexit that the biggest party in Northern Ireland.

    They’ve lied via their members leadership of Vote Leave that

    There was no possibility of a customs border … When there was every possibility of a customs border and no practical plan to avoid one.

    There would be a return from Northern Ireland’s net contribution, when Northern Ireland’s net contribution was in fact negative (even taking account savings due to losing 3 MEPs and their expenses)

    That there would neither be a hard border nor a wet border for migration, when the minister for the Department for Leaving the EU has not ruled out either in explicit terms.

    The talk of NI farmers getting more was based on Swiss/Norwegian policies which maintain membership of the Single Market effectively. That extra money was offsetting losses due to EU tariffs.

    There is no guarantee the UK government will go down that route.

    The worst thing about this is that the DUP cannot outline realistic and practical goals for the Brexit negotiations in case it upsets their friends in the Conservative Party, even more than their own voters.

  • Jollyraj

    “So you reckon people in Britain need to be informed and savvy and have a university degree in order to know that you are in the same country as them, and that doesn’t bother you? ”

    Not what I said at all. I say 18 year olds are too busy trying to figure themselves out than worrying about the constitutional arrangements of the various regions of the UK. Which doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

  • Jollyraj

    “If inward immigration to GB is to controlled, as it must be under Bretix, it is hard to see this free and easy situation continuing”

    You seem to be very much hoping there will be difficulties and tensions as a result of Brexit. Why is that?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    McGimpsey is almost of my generation, Kevin. I’m not sure but I may even have been in a class with one of them.

  • billypilgrim1

    It kinda is what you said, and now you’re shifting the goalposts.

    Of course they don’t “worry about the constitutional arrangements of the various regions of the UK.” They don’t even really know about them.

    It’s as if Northern Ireland is some sort of shameful secret, best kept out of mind…

    Either that, or they DO know about the constitutional arrangements – it just’s that in their eyes, you’re so obviously and overwhelmingly Irish that the constitutional arrangement seems a trivial matter.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Jolly, we all suffer from the English, who believe that if they act school master and put all the bad boys on one class, they can somehow control them. But while they may be corralled no learning seems to take place. I have just looked in my “History of the great Rebellion” but cannot find the quote I require, so I’ll paraphrase as best I can. Clarendon spoke of “that rotten doctrine, that our friends are our friends,, we have their love already, we must cosset our enemies and prefer them to our friends in all things to win them over.”

  • Kevin Breslin

    Christopher McGimpsey went to The University of Edinburgh. Michael went to Trinity. I wasn’t sure about Alderman Chris.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, I’m saying nationality can be that, at a minimum level – I was talking about the boundaries of the definition, the minimum requirement to ask of people, if we’re talking about shared national identity. So yes if there were a united Ireland and I chose to live there and give allegiance to the state, I would become ‘Irish’ in that limited sense. But I probably wouldn’t choose to live there and if I did, I would probably, like many northern nationalists today, choose not to give allegiance to the state. So it’s very unlikely I would ever become Irish, but if I did it would be a kind of lifestyle choice, like if I emigrated to Canada and wanted to become Canadian.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we’re fine then – being British isn’t a virtue any more than being Irish is.

    I did get your earlier statement btw, it just that (1) it came nestled amidst all sorts of other expressions of discomfort at British identity in N Ireland and (2) it contains the misconception that the power source of the Britishness in NI resides outside N Ireland (in this case, through ancestry) – that Britishness is an alien concept to Ireland, brought in from outside. Ancestry is indeed one major factor in our feelings of Britishness. But actually it’s not dependent upon that. Britishness lives in the hearts and minds of N Irish people today and actually can be felt by people with little or no connection to 17th C immigration from Scotland or England, or who simply don’t care about it. They see their Britishness as indigenous to where they are, they see their land as British land, absolutely. You need to grasp the indigenous nature of Britishness in NI today to really understand us as a people. The origins of the idea of Britishness are of course ‘imported’ in a sense; but then the idea of separatist Irish nationalism wasn’t exactly the product of Irish influences alone either.

    One factual point I’d take you to task over – you say, “In five generations time the descendents of Polish people now living in the South will still be Polish”. Really? I’m not even sure they will in 2 generations’ time. I used to know a girl whose grandparents had come over to London from Poland during the war and while she was aware of her Polish heritage, she was as British as any of us, just like other kids of immigrant parents. People integrate quicker than you think. Kids of Polish parents now growing up in the South will almost certainly feel themselves to be Irish right now, in at least some sense. Kids want to fit in. And their kids will feel almost entirely Irish.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    not really – Northern Ireland is not the centre of the universe.

  • Kevin Breslin

    In Irish/Scots Gaelic if you’d want to know England is Sasanna/Sasann … because the Gaels regarded them as more Saxon than Anglic.

    French have a Grande-Bretagne and a Royaume-Uni, a l’Angleterre, a le pays de Galles and a l’Écosse, as well as a l’Irlande du Nord.

  • Barneyt

    I have to agree with your last point, not that I disagree with the other points you have made either. As a county Armagh man, I made the journey to England to further my studies. I remained there are over 20 years. I felt a great deal of hostility in the north, partcularly Barnsley, Leeds, WiganSt Helens. The north easterners were great and an exception in the north.

    Its a curious thing being a nordie in England. In my experience, a person with a northern irish accent claiming not to be Irish would appear to be a very odd thing indeed to and Englander. They would refer to it as “very Irish” (stupid). What would you claim to be in its place? Northern Irish? Again this to an English person sounds Irish 🙂 Would you say, “I am not Irish, I am British?” Once more they would argue that they were British too but also English…with the implication being yes you ARE British, but you are also Irish. Refreshingly it does not compute to most over there.

    I am not forcing Irishness upon anyone here. I am commenting on how I believe Englanders regard the Irish, be they northern Irish or from the republic, protestant, catholic or otherwise. They have one bucket for us all. We could learn from that 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, “it’s about allegiance to shared institutions”, but surely those institutions reflect shared values, rather than some individualist free for all.

    Thank you for a finely constricted answer, which unpacked puts us on quite close footing to my mind, regarding values. Perhaps its a matter of being divided by language. For me, “allegiance to shared institutions” is hardly minimalist in any meaningful sense, as it is a pretty big signing up deal. I have little problem with “They had a kind of skeleton Britishness, which they valued highly, but which was relatively technical in nature. What they built on top of that in terms of identity was seen as entirely up to them.” but have found over my own lifelong engagement with NI as a polity that many British institutions which ensured safeguards for the weak were absent in NI and that even a “skeleton Britishness” in this context is highly questionable. I’ve lived in Britain myself too, during my career, and was very aware of serious differences between the operation our own little “Home Rule” parliament and the one I experienced over the water. Perhaps I was simply more of an “insider” on this through family, which would explain why you seem able to see manageable differences where I see a blatant contradiction of anything that could ever be considered as “shared” in Stormont’s interpretation of Britishness . If the political values of the old Stormont had shadowed Westminster at all closely, then NICRA would never have been required. Even our vaunted “liberals” such as Captain O’Neill “more aLondoner than an Antrim man” could advertise for “Protestant Girl required for housework” and claim “if you treat Roman Catholics with due consideration and kindness , they will live like protestants…..”

    Much has changed, but it is those encoded instances such as O’Neill’s comments which show just how far from current “Britishness” many of our people will always appear to those living over the water who would never begin to think such things themselves.

  • john millar

    Britisd = Not Irish

  • the moviegoer

    “Kids of Polish parents now growing up in the South will almost certainly feel themselves to be Irish right now, in at least some sense.”

    That’s true, but by the same count grandchildren of die-hard loyal British subjects pre-1922 now see themselves as Irish too.

    “Britishness lives in the hearts and minds of N Irish people today and actually can be felt by people with little or no connection to 17th C immigration from Scotland or England, or who simply don’t care about it.”

    I honestly think people who feel British without any ancestral connections to Britain are in a tiny minority. You are basically describing Britishness as an idea or a lifestyle choice – like being an “environmentalist” or a “communist”. Name me a place where the people have no ancestral connection to Britain who describe themselves as British.

    Even the direct descendants of the 17th century Scots and English don’t always call themselves British – e.g. Americans, the Scots-Irish in the American South.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Name me a place where the people have no ancestral connection to Britain who describe themselves as British.”
    Most of the UK has many people who fit that description.

  • the moviegoer

    “I would probably, like many northern nationalists today, choose not to give allegiance to the state”

    What does this mean exactly? Civil disobedience? Actively campaigning to secede and rejoin the UK? Supporting paramilitary action to this extent? Shouting for Scotland in Ireland v Scotland football matches?

    Most nationalists give allegiance to the institutions of NI, even if grudgingly. The only ones who don’t are dissidents. In the event of a UI, would the contribution of Northern Protestants who opted to stay here amount to a big sulk? Would you consider children born in a UI to Northern Protestants would be Irish?

  • the moviegoer

    Most of the UK does have people like this but none who are exclusively British. They have dual identities.

    Without the plantations and the ancestral connection there would be no British identity in Ireland north or south. That is the only reason it exists here. We would certainly as a small neighbouring island have been influenced heavily by British culture but that’s another thing entirely.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s very hypothetical but I’d mirror the more constructive people within the SDLP’s line rather than some truculent SF position in that situation. Look at what you think is reasonable there and it would be something like that. The same issues they have with UK rule in their case would obviously apply to Irish rule in my case. Same problems of giving allegiance etc and same discomfort. And obviously I’d be seeking a future vote for NI to return to the UK.

  • the moviegoer

    That’s why the second a United Ireland is achieved the NI state will be dismantled. That’s just the realpoltik I’m afraid!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    We have a dual, indeed multi-layered identity too.

    There is no shortage of cultural connections within the British Isles. How that is expressed politically is a matter for politics. Forms of identity that make links across the Irish Sea are certainly not alien to Ireland. The “ourselves alone” idea is just one chapter in the history of the island. Not a great one in my view – better together and all that.

  • John Collins

    No I am ‘not very much hoping for trouble’ or I am sure very few, if anyone else, are ‘very much hoping for trouble’ either. Not after what went in on the 70s, 80s and 90s anyway.
    I am however merely worried that it will be more difficult for people to conduct cross border business, post Brexit and nobody knows as yet how this will work in practise.

  • billypilgrim1

    Except for the fact that you were born and raised in Ireland, and have held Irish citizenship from birth. (I’m assuming.)

    In these circumstances, the decision to assert that you are NOT Irish would be the lifestyle choice – and rather an eccentric one at that.

  • billypilgrim1

    “The same issues (nationalists) have with UK rule in their case would obviously apply to Irish rule in my case.”

    Actually, the most defining issue of all would not apply in your case.

    Nationalists are Irish people, living in Ireland, under non-Irish sovereignty. No patriotic Irish person can be okay with this.

    You would be an Irish (and British) person living in Ireland under Irish sovereignty. Neither British nor Irish patriotism would be outraged by this situation.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Are you quite sure you’re seeing this through others’ perspectives Billy?! If you think about it, I would be a British born and bred person, living in what had been the UK for over 200 years but finding myself under Irish rule against my wishes. Being declared ‘Irish’ by you or any other Irish nationalist is not much of a sweetener. If anything it would be worse for us than than the current situation of Irish nationalists in NI – we’d be left outside the country we were born in and with little prospect of getting it back. Nationalists have never had to deal with that. And believe it or not – you may have noticed – we love our country just as much as Irish nationalists love theirs.

  • billypilgrim1

    MU

    I’m not declaring you anything. I’m simply stating an objective fact.

    You’re right that a UI will bring closure for unionists in a way that the status quo doesn’t for nationalists. This will be a good thing. A united Ireland is exactly what the beleaguered Protestants of Ulster need, after a century of decline.

    “…we love our country just as much as Irish nationalists love theirs.”

    No you do not. You do not love Carrickmore as I love Carrickfergus. You do not love south Armagh as I love south Antrim. You do not love west Belfast as I love east Belfast.

    You would willingly cede whole chunks of your “country” in order to entrench the bits of it you DO care about. Maybe that’s strategically smart, but it ain’t patriotic.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Further evidence that some within nationalism are in dire need of a crash course in seeing things from other people’s perspectives. Sorry, the lack of self-awareness in that post is breath-taking.

  • billypilgrim1

    How far does the north have to fall behind the south (after having had a massive head-start); how often do unionists have to find themselves as the subject of international opprobrium; what depths of sheer unhappiness do you have to descend to, before you break out of prickly self-justification and admit that you may have taken a wrong turn?

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