Living on an island or in a state?

I met Garrett FitzGerald in Dublin airport on Thursday. Rarely short of a word or two he was unusually quiet, pre-occupied, perhaps, with a talk he was to give this weekend to the Irish Association on Northern Ireland in 2020. A tall order! Whatever he went on to say about the future, he shared his take on Irish history (subs needed) this morning with readers of the Irish Times. Here’s a few highlights:

To the citizens of the Republic, Northerners have become denizens of another state. He sketches the historical reasoning:

Conquest, in other words, was always potentially reversible. However, the post-Reformation settlement of much of the north-east of our island created an extraordinarily intractable problem. Religious differences blocked eventual assimilation of the settlers by indigenous Irish culture, as had in considerable measure taken place with pre-Reformation Norman and English rural settlements in Ireland.

And centuries of mutual hostility were guaranteed by the consequent irresolvable conflict between the new unassimilated settlers on the good land of Ulster and the former owners of that land; a conflict that industrialisation merely transferred to a new 19th-century urban setting.

The depth of that conflict was never fully grasped in the rest of the island, whose people never came to terms with its reality. Any chance there might have been of a gradual, very long-term, resolution of this conflict if the island had remained united was blocked by Partition.

It was partition, or ‘separate development’ that drove the wedge even deeper:

In developing a Roman Catholic ethos in the Constitution and laws of the Republic (as it eventually became) and in giving priority to the revival of a language that was alien to almost all the Protestant people of Northern Ireland, the division between North and South was greatly deepened – without any thought for the consequences for the dream of eventual Irish unity.

Paradoxically, he argues that Unionists were less partition minded:

…on the Protestant unionist side, their artificial electoral majority within the six-county area never translated itself into a psychological sense of being actually a majority. Because of decades of Southern hostility and of Northern nationalist resistance to their rule, the Protestant unionist community could never lose a sense of being a threatened minority on the island of Ireland. In that key respect, and at the deepest level – that of fear – unionists in Northern Ireland continued to think in all-Ireland terms.

Nation building in the south produced quite different pre-occupations:

In sharp contrast, the nationalist people of the rest of the island, while retaining at least a theoretical commitment to Irish unity, rapidly became deeply involved in the construction of their new State, with its own complex set of new institutions. Within a very short period, we in this part of Ireland, for practical purposes, ceased to think of the island as our home, but came to identify primarily – one might say almost exclusively – with our new State.

  • Traditional Unionist

    Interesting given United Irelanders recent ramblings about partition “separating Irish from Irish” – turns out it was the Irish and not the British that were the problem to Irish unity.

  • United Irelander

    I agree with much of this piece with the exception of this part:

    “Within a very short period, we in this part of Ireland, for practical purposes, ceased to think of the island as our home, but came to identify primarily – one might say almost exclusively – with our new State.

    I don’t think that’s the case at all. I recently read ‘De Valera and the Ulster Question: 1917-73’ and there was a very important point in relation to the image of the island as the country to Irish people. The idea that despite partition, the symbol of the island still impacts on the Irish psyche. I don’t think that can be disputed.

    Look at the news for example. The North always tends to feature on RTE. When it comes to the weather, it is the island as a whole which is used rather than the 26 counties. This is in contrast to BBC NI which focuses on the 6 county region only. In sport, the GAA all-Ireland champions are now from the North too.

    As a Dubliner, I feel I have much more in common with someone from the suburbs of Ireland’s north than I would a a person from the rural areas of Ireland’s west.

    I concede that there is a more predominantly selfish outlook here in Ireland nowadays which I feel is a result of the economic prosperity that has been felt since the Celtic Tiger. Prosperity which, I believe, has coincided with the decline of the community.

    I would still say however that the island of Ireland is looked on as our home.

  • United Irelander

    Traditional Unionist

    “Interesting given United Irelanders recent ramblings about partition “separating Irish from Irish” – turns out it was the Irish and not the British that were the problem to Irish unity.”

    Did you miss this piece?:

    Any chance there might have been of a gradual, very long-term, resolution of this conflict if the island had remained united was blocked by Partition”

  • Traditional Unionist

    Did you miss this?

    In developing a Roman Catholic ethos in the Constitution and laws of the Republic (as it eventually became) and in giving priority to the revival of a language that was alien to almost all the Protestant people of Northern Ireland, the division between North and South was greatly deepened – without any thought for the consequences for the dream of eventual Irish unity.

  • Gonzo

    This is in contrast to BBC NI which focuses on the 6 county region only.

    The name kinda gives it away…

  • IJP

    I read the full article the other day and found it extremely interesting.

    I think FitzGerald slightly underestimates what may be seen as the ’emotional attachment’ of Irish Catholics on the island (and indeed some Irish Protestants) to the whole island.

    Yet he is also right to point out that the existence and development of the State have a very real and practical outworking. The very same day’s paper, for example, contains the line ‘there are about 1,000 Sikhs in Ireland, with a similar number in Northern Ireland’.

    In fact, I really feel that Southerners’ view of the North is similar to the English’ view of Ireland – sorta domestic, but in a sorta foreign sorta way…

    Gonzo

    Correct.

    And in fact BBC NI does carry reports of the Republic’s soccer team, for example.

  • United Irelander

    TU

    “Did you miss this?”

    No I didn’t miss the piece you quoted but I don’t see how it fits in with your first comment on this thread which was:

    Interesting given United Irelanders recent ramblings about partition “separating Irish from Irish” – turns out it was the Irish and not the British that were the problem to Irish unity

    Firstly, it’s hardly ‘ramblings’ to state that partition separated Irish from Irish. Rather, it’s a matter of fact. And secondly, if the British had not introduced partition in the first place, there wouldn’t have been any problems towards unity as the country would have remained united!

    IJP

    “And in fact BBC NI does carry reports of the Republic’s soccer team, for example.”

    True but the point I was making was in relation to the image of the state. BBC NI when focusing on the weather leaves out the counties of the Republic which is fair enough however the Irish State broadcaster, RTE, persists in using the island as a whole as the image thus strenghtening the view held by many Irish people deep down that the island as a whole is their country.

  • David

    The nationalist/unionist or Catholic/Protestant division has deep roots in history and is likely to be with us for the forseeable future.

    I do not believe that Irish nationalism as an ideology is capable of producing any self-image for the Irish nation that includes the children of the Plantation. This is because the parts of Irish history that create the nation, the Penal Laws and the struggles against England, are those parts that exclude the Ulster Protestants.

    Ulster Unionism similarly cannot produce any self-image that includes nationalists for the simple reason that nationalists by definition do not believe themselves to be British.

    There is no “political solution” to what is basically (in the broadest sense) an ethnic divide. The experience of other ethnically divided societies suggests that redistribution of political power or economic resources does not eradicate the fundamental divisions.

    Democracy needs a “demos”, a “people” who regard themselves as such, to be able function properly. This is one thing that has been sadly missing in Ireland in the last 100 years.

    I am at a loss on how to create such a “demos”. I can see lots of proposals to stifle and subjugate one section of the populace or another that masquerade as creating a demos, but I do not see any viable way in which a demos can come into being. Ramming your views down someone else’s throat doesn’t count.

  • United Irelander

    David

    “This is because the parts of Irish history that create the nation, the Penal Laws and the struggles against England, are those parts that exclude the Ulster Protestants”

    What about the United Irishmen and their role in Irish history?

    “There is no “political solution” to what is basically (in the broadest sense) an ethnic divide.”

    I disagree. I think any ethnic divide that may be felt is a direct consequence of the failure to find a political solution.

  • Brian Boru

    “I do not believe that Irish nationalism as an ideology is capable of producing any self-image for the Irish nation that includes the children of the Plantation. This is because the parts of Irish history that create the nation, the Penal Laws and the struggles against England, are those parts that exclude the Ulster Protestants.”

    I disagree because in the North the 1798 Rebellion was mostly by Presbyterians with little Catholic involvement.

  • Brian Boru

    On the more general issue of the points raised by Garrett Fitzgerald, I would say the following:

    Obviously, we are two separate states in the legal scheme of things, but that doesn’t mean I consider the island to be two different “countries”. Similarly, Koreans in North and South Korean nevertheless would feel they are part of the one nation, likewise with East and West Germany during the partition of Germany.

    Obviously, we in the South had to devote our main energies to building our State after independence, because just because we didn’t like partition, did not mean we would have been wise to just ignore our economic and social wellbeing in the name of some nihilistic idea that until there is a UI (if it happens) that we should just ignore these concerns until there is a UI. That doesn’t mean we don’t want a UI though.

  • David

    “What about the United Irishmen and their role in Irish history?”

    One rebellion does not make a nation.

    The Pope blessed King Billy after the Battle of the Boyne, it doesn’t make the Orange Order’s celebrations of the event any less unwelcome to nationalists/Catholics so far as I see.

    The nationalist account of a small nation struggling for independence from its larger neighbour is only coherent if it translates the Catholics of the past into the true Irish and the Protestants of the past into either British or the traitors. The Penal Laws, for example, cannot be just a persecution of the Catholic religion, they have to be interpreted as another chapter in the suppression of the Irish nation.

    Ethnic divisions are very difficult to overcome. Some societies accommodate their ethnic divisions better through politics, but I am not aware of any ethnically divided society transforming itself into an ethnically undivided society by political means.

    Complaining of a “lack of a political solution” is merely another way of trying to push your own ethnic agenda to the top of the political agenda.

  • Jim

    fekk ya yer full of shite

  • United Irelander

    David

    “One rebellion does not make a nation.”

    I never said it did. You said and I quote:

    I do not believe that Irish nationalism as an ideology is capable of producing any self-image for the Irish nation that includes the children of the Plantation. This is because the parts of Irish history that create the nation, the Penal Laws and the struggles against England, are those parts that exclude the Ulster Protestants.

    As has been pointed out, the United Irish Rebellion was mostly by Presbyterians. Irish nationalism was greatly influenced by the events of 1798. The Young Irelanders did alot to ensure that the ideals of Tone and the other United Irishmen were remembered. You claimed that ‘the parts of Irish history that create the nation…are those that exclude the Ulster protestants’ but this is not true.

    “The nationalist account of a small nation struggling for independence from its larger neighbour is only coherent if it translates the Catholics of the past into the true Irish and the Protestants of the past into either British or the traitors”

    That is not true either. Most of the major figures who were influential to Irish nationalism were Protestants. Wolfe Tone, Thomas Davis, Isaac Butt, Charles Stewart Parnell etc.

    “Complaining of a “lack of a political solution” is merely another way of trying to push your own ethnic agenda to the top of the political agenda.”

    No it is not.

  • uptheshankill

    “One rebellion does not make a nation.”

    Actually, of course, Northern Prods were deeply involved in the attempt to build 2 nations, the first of them being the USA.

    My point is that the children of the Plantation had a long and consistent history of resisting the British establishment, as did the southern Protestant gentry represented by Grattan and Flood.

    How about we try to build a new narrative for ourselves along the lines of:

    – the Prods made a huge contribution to Irish nationalism
    – 1916 and what followed were essentially a Catholic “thing” which took the Irish state off into a kind of Catholic “detour”, which
    – by an equal and opposite reaction, shunted Northern Prods off into their own cul-de-sac in history; but,
    – the RoI is now well on its way back from its false turning; and
    – the Northern Prods now need to rejoin their fellows on an equal footing.

    Anyone?

  • aquifer

    Within history there are various threads which may thicken or peter out. By now, the image of ireland as a roman catholic monastery state has faded into the background, religious functionaries discredited as moral guardians and civic leaders. Industrial capitalism could be considered to have protestant origins, yet this is the vehicle that has quickly taken the republic to being one of the richest countries in the world. In the 1960’s both states in Ireland tried to step aboard, and set out to co-operate in doing so, but were interrupted by sectarianism and an insurrection with avowed nationalist and socialist intent.

    Violence has reinforced the sense of cultural difference in ireland, prevented the assimilation of catholics into a separate and stable northern state, and deepened sectarianism and the image of protestants as ‘settlers’. As the Atlantic tiger chews old catholic communitarian ireland, this might be considered successful cultural conservation, but not revolution.

  • David

    All nationalisms need a historical narrative, a tale of the nation stretching back into history either to the foundation of the nation or back into the mists of time.

    Irish nationalism has chosen for itself a narrative that connects the modern Irish nation to the Gaels living in Ireland prior to Strongbow’s invasion in the 12th century.

    There are quite a few aspects of Irish history that do not fit easily into this narrative, especially the Plantation and the following religious wars of the 17th century and the Penal Laws of the 18th century.

    The way of assimilating these episodes to the national struggle has been to superimpose the later “Irish” national identification onto the Catholic side in each of those struggles.

    This would not have much significance if the divisions involved had somehow ended before the rise of Irish nationalism into a mass movement in the 19th century.

    Unfortunately the divisions had not come to an end when Irish nationalism began to look into its history to create its national myths. The “bad guys” of the nationalist historical discourse were still there and were not unsurprisingly largely opposed to the political movement founded on this discourse.

    Creating an Irish nation embracing the children of the Plantation based on the “Irish nation struggling for its freedom” is a non-starter. It is pretty much the same type of historical exercise as creating an inclusive unionism based on the Battle of the Boyne.

    This nationalist narrative is now fairly well established as the story of the nation. I do not see a lot of potential for there to be any major change in this. Nationalism in general does not really understand why unionists do not support it and tend to look at this opposition in conspiratorial terms.

    I do not believe that it is possible to change nationalism so that it embraces unionists. Attempting such change may be counter productive. In a divided society, such as ours, changes within one of the communities that are both drastic and painful from the inside often seem shallow and cosmetic from the outside. Such changes rarely receive a large positive response and often the efforts to change end up leading to more bitterness.

  • Medja

    United Irelander,

    “As a Dubliner, I feel I have much more in common with someone from the suburbs of Ireland’s north than I would a a person from the rural areas of Ireland’s west.”

    Some would say that people living in Dublin have more in common with someone from the suburbs of England than a person from the north or the west of Ireland!

  • IJP

    David

    What a staggeringly accurate and well-written post.

    Slugger is returning to form!

    See my posts elsewhere on my present theory that a combination of Irish Republicanism (in its non-ethnic form) and British Liberalism is the only way around the problem you so eloquently explain.

  • Harris

    b Dave

    Nice post above.

    “I do not believe that it is possible to change nationalism so that it embraces unionists.”

    Well, some would say that nationalist strategies (constitutional changes, amongst others) and republican strategies (TUAS, amongst others) are legitimate attempts at changing and embracing their unionist counterparts. Though there is still a distance to go, I belive the most important change will be getting nationalists and republicans to convince unionists that they will not be absorbed into a Catholic state (real or percieved).

    After everything is said and done, it will be the religous aspect that will need changing.

  • George

    David,
    interesting post.

    I have been wondering in recent times with all that has been going on whether southern nationalism wants to or will change drastically to accommodate an unchanged British minority.

    Would southerners really give up their current cosy world, their state, flag, anthem etc. without any feelings of bitterness?

    Part of me doubts it and fears a movement against such measures would spring up, leading to greater insecurity, resentment and instability on this island.

    The same feelings would probably manifest themselves on the unionist side.

    Medja,
    I would say most Dubliners have more in common with the English than with northern unionists. Maybe things were different before partition but dare I say it, in 2005, most would also prefer an Englishman/woman’s company.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    ‘Would southerners really give up their current cosy world, their state, flag, anthem etc. without any feelings of bitterness?’

    Spot on, George. If are to move to a UI scenario, then realistically that cosy world would have to make serious compromises and it would be very difficult for many who would simply say we’re OK as we are, thanks very much e.g you only have to listen to all the moaners who are always giving out about the anthem compromises the IRFU make.

  • smcgiff

    ‘Would southerners really give up their current cosy world, their state, flag, anthem etc. without any feelings of bitterness?’

    Specifically to the emblems etc that have been raised, the Anthem would not be a problem. Quite a number of us (I’d say a majority) of us in the ROI don’t even know the words, and those that do, many have rote learnt them with little understanding as to its actual meaning. Not that there’d be any likelihood of a call for GSTQ! 🙂

    If by giving up their state it’s meant the compromises entailed to join up with the citizens of NI then I think quite considerable change would be proposed and accepted.

    As for the flag – if we are to ask the citizens of the ROI to be mature about the transition then it would be equally right to expect the former unionists to accept a flag that was green white and orange. Maybe the format would need to be changed to, say, a horizontal design, with the orange on top to signify their geographic position in the country. My preference would be a diamond shape (as in a deck of cards) rather than rectangle, but I digress.

    Bitterness would only come from non-understanding, and to think that exists would be to underestimate the citizens of the ROI.

    There would be some that would raise their hackles at the prospect, but there will always be these people, and unionists should be able to recognise them as well as anybody.

  • Mark

    “True but the point I was making was in relation to the image of the state. BBC NI when focusing on the weather leaves out the counties of the Republic which is fair enough however the Irish State broadcaster, RTE, persists in using the island as a whole as the image thus strenghtening the view held by many Irish people deep down that the island as a whole is their country.”

    OR

    BBC is funded completely by the licence fee, which is not paid by people in the South, so it has no obligation to cater for them and cannot get any more money if they do watch. RTE is part-funded by advertising and therefore has more of an incentive to appeal to viewers in the North –> more viewers –> more money.

  • baldrick

    David

    Excellent post – And perhaps more amazingly – focused and well argued responses – whatever next – rational thought on “loveulster.com”?.

    I think everyone reading this would actually have to give some thought to their own position which is surely what Slugger is supposed to achieve.

    Thanks to all posters so far for a good debate.

    UPTHESHANKILL

    I’m with you mate. That sort of national identity is one I could buy into for the future. altho’ you do start to struggle then to put that into succinct labels. Am I Irish- Irish, Nationalist-Irish, British – Irish, british-Irish, Unionist-Irish etc… Best to avoid labels altogether?

  • smcgiff

    More importantly… How come no one has pulled Mick up for his blatant name dropping! ;->

  • Mick

    David,

    Someone just pulled me up on this part of your excellent post when I bounced it on to them:

    “…the parts of Irish history that create the nation, the Penal Laws and the struggles against England, are those parts that exclude the Ulster Protestants”.

    This may be true for the former, but not necessarily for the latter. The penal laws only previleged Anglicans. Presbyterians were also persecuted under them.

  • David

    “The penal laws only previleged Anglicans. Presbyterians were also persecuted under them.”

    This is of course true, but it misses the fundamental point. To have a common sense of nationhood a group of people need to be able to look back on a shared sense of their own history.

    The parts of Irish history that nationalists look to in forming their sense of nationhood are largely those parts of history that are the most divisive for Protestants. Some parts are divisive because they exclude Protestants entirely, others because a large section of the Protestant community is excluded.

    The nationalist account of history cannot be the basis of a form of Irish nationhood which embraces the children of the Plantation.

    One possible conclusion from this is that Irish nationalism needs a wholescale revision of its historical basis. I do not believe that this is either desirable or possible. National consciousness cannot just be created and recast out of thin air.

    It is my belief that the existing form of nationalism does work for the nationalist community in Ireland. It is only when it comes to trying to assimilate Ulster Protestants that it falls down.

    This is why the second and more preferable conclusion is that it is time to recognise that there are two nations in Ireland, not one.

    The idea of two nations does not preclude a united Ireland, after all Great Britain includes the Scottish and English nations. It seems, to me, to offer a larger range of possibilities in resolving our problems to recognise that the existing Northern Ireland has to be a bi-national state, as would any united Ireland which may arise in future.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ll blog Martin Mansergh’s article from Saturday’s Irish Times first thing tomorrow. It has important substance to add to this.

  • Brian Boru

    It should also be pointed at that the Home Ruler Party leader in the 19th century was a Protestant and that would also seem to disprove the contention that there is something “un-Protestant” about Irish nationalism. Parnell forced Gladstone to bring in the Land Acts which allowed tenants all over Ireland – including Protestants – to go to a Land Court to have a fair rent set, as well as protecting tenants from eviction if they paid their rent, and later on loans were provided to Irish farmers to buy out their landlords. Here was an example of an Irish Nationalist leader – and a Protestant at that – achieving something that benefited Protestants and not just Catholics.

  • Brian Boru

    And the wider lesson is that the people living in Ireland know best what is good for them and certainly a lot better than English politicians who control the House of Commons and care little for Six County issues – especially when NI MPs are only 2% needles in haystacks there – unlike 21% as it would be in a UI in the Dail.