Ahern: time for an international debate…

Jon Myles in the Irish Post reports Bertie: “We need a great national conversation on what it means to be Irish, on the values that we hold and on the hopes that we cherish.” But does it, or given that it’s framed in terms of 1916 can it, include Ulster Protestants?

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  • Brian Boru

    Well the 1916 Proclamation spoke of “cherishing all the children of the nation equally oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by a foreign government that divided a minority from a majority in the past”. Contrary to the stereotype, there was also Protestant involvement in the Rising, including Kathleen Lynn (daughter of an Anglican rector), Constance Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz), Ernest Blythe, and Roger Casement. So I think an identity based partly on 1916 need not be seen as an anti-Protestant one.

  • Oilibhéar Chromaill

    Why do we have to apologise to Ulster Protestants for standing up for ourselves and respecting those who in our history struck a blow which brought us to where we are today, a free state, relatively prosperous if not entirely equal (and I’m talking about the equal distribution of wealth between all classes and not between Catholic and Protestant)?

    Think about it. Given that in 1912 the Ulster Protestants in their hundreds of thousands pledged to take any necessary action to avoid Home Rule whch,if they were democrats, they would have accepted given that the House of Commons voted for it in 1911. The ensuing constittutional crisis caused by the Lords’ rejection led to a general election which returned Lloyd George with a mandate to end the Lords’ veto and, thus, paved the way for the eventual introduction of Home Rule.

    After the Solemn League and Covenant the loyal men of Ulster formed the UVF and in 1914 took delivery of a large consignment of weapons from….Germany.

    Who knows? If the Archduke Ferdinand had paid an uneventful visit to Sarajevo, then it might have been the Ulster Protestants who rose up in 1916 and Edward Carson who was hung for treason and not Roger Casement (who got the guns from Germany?)

    Ever since then the loyal men of Ulster have trusted violence – or the threat of violence – to get them out a stick spot, by which I mean a situation in which they would be expected to treat their nationalist neighbours on an equal basis. This was made plain in the self serving UVF interview the other day. The closeness between these insurrectionists with criminal tendency and the unionist leadership is something no nationalist will miss.

  • Mick Fealty

    That is a fascinating reply. I didn’t mention the word ‘apology’ anywhere in the Guardian post. All I suggested was that it would be interesting to see if the Republic could broaden its appeal enough to attract Ulster Protestants. Why do you pre-suppose that requires an apology?

  • declan

    the republic cannot broaden its appeal to attract Ulster Protestants because the vast majority would simply not be interested in joining under any circumstances whatsoever. The constitutional claim was removed but this did not provoke any wider acceptance or toleration of the republic Even though the catholic Church no longer has power and it is a wealthy country we still hear regular abuse such as Trimble’s speech calling it a pathetic sectarian state.

  • Rubicon

    I’m all in favour of Ahern’s debate – but doubt the navel gazing will initiate the self-criticism that challenges the Celtic mythologies set around historic occasions that build the monolithic “Irish” identity; e.g., by 1916 I presume Jon Myles is referring to the Easter Rising and not the far greater Irish losses in that same year at the Somme.

    Certainly, debate and challenge the monolith and perhaps Ulster Protestants may feel a lesser degree of identity denial – but not only them. Ireland is growing in diversity and this is not something that we’ve handled well in the past.

    As a son of an Irish emigrant from DeValera’s Ireland of the 50’s, born in England and part of the returning Diaspora of the 70’s I’ve been called a “Brit” for more than 30 years – not because of what I say but how I say it. A family history of over 700 years is denied in the single incident of the accident of place of birth.

    Ireland (north & south) has a long way to go before it truly embraces diversity. “Catholic Ireland” will need to before Ulster’s Protestants are likely to feel a sense of belonging – but where too can you find a valuing of diversity in “Ulster Protestant” expression? I need to point no further than the, “Bad day for ecumenism as Moderator says no” thread above.

    The whole issue of what it is to be “Irish” being initiated by Ahern suggests a debate for only one form of Irish identity. Perhaps the debate would be better served by inviting people in all traditions in Ireland to gaze at their own navels?

  • Brian Boru

    McAleese has said in the last few days that Irishmen fought for freedom in 1916 whether it was at the Somme or Dublin. This indicates a willingness to accept a definition of Irish person beyond Catholicism. While I would be prepared to make some concessions to Northern Unionism to make a UI a less bitter pill, I still believe that our history of rebellions against Britain should continue to be a centerpiece of Irish identity. There were Protestant rebels in 1798 after all, and a smaller number in 1848, 1916 and the War of Independence. Republicanism has never been an exclusively Catholic enterprise.

  • dodrade

    “I still believe that our history of rebellions against Britain should continue to be a centerpiece of Irish identity.”

    If being Irish means being anti British then Unionists will never be perusaded into a United Ireland.

    Here is where Unionism is missing a trick. Unionists should emphasise that having a British identity does not mean you cant have an Irish identity also, unlike Nationalism/Republicanism, which says you can only be Irish.

  • Henry94


    Being Irish does not mean being anti-British any more than it means being anti-American.

    Of course some Irish people are either or both. As some are pro-British and pro-American.

    I think the real question you are asking is does being Irish mean subscribing to an independent Irish state considting of the whole island.

    I would say no but it does mean accepting that it is a decision the Irish people are entitled to make. By opposing Irish democracy unionists repudiate their Irishness in my view. That creates an identity crisis for them which can only be resolved by the removal of the British political presence. Then in accepting Irish democracy I believe their British identity will actually be enhanced. Irish people in England remain Irish in identity but do not seek Irish interference in British political affairs.

    In fact as many as 25% of the English in one survey claimed an Irish identity


    but they live peacefully with the British majority and accept British democracy.

  • dodrade

    “I think the real question you are asking is does being Irish mean subscribing to an independent Irish state considting of the whole island.

    I would say no but it does mean accepting that it is a decision the Irish people are entitled to make.”

    I disagree. Accepting an Irish identity does not mean rejecting Northern Ireland’s right to self determination.

  • Henry94


    That would imply an Northern Irish identity which clearly does not exist despite attempts to create one. There is no actual self-determination or the north. It can’t for example opt for independence.

    I don’t see any basis for an Irish identity that denies the collective political expression of that identity. The minimum requirement for an Irish (or any) identity is that it identifies with the whole a right. Your version is an anti-identity. It makes no sense.

  • dodrade

    “There is no actual self-determination or the north. It can’t for example opt for independence.”

    You must have a different version of the Good Friday Agreement to the rest of us. As for the question of independence it is not considered in the Agreement as there is virtually no support for it, except as a loyalist doomsday option.

  • blandy


    I think that is the point that Nationalists seem to miss. Unionists do, to varying degrees view themselves as Irish. (2 ex-irish rugby internationals prominent in the UUP for example). We just also strongly identify ourselves as Britisn, as belonging to the UK.

    The calls for Unionists to recognise and respect the Easter rising will fall on deaf ears until they are no longer accompanied by subtley worded phrases and invites to come over to the ‘dark side’. When the Southern establishment finally & publicly respects & recognises Northern Ireland on a parity with, say, Scotland; and stops trying to patronise us into a united ireland then a new maturity in North-South relations will have been reached. Roll on the day when the flag of NI flies beside the Tricolour at rugby matches in landsdowne & Bertie come North as a guest of the OO at the Twelth, then he will be practising what he preaches.

  • Henry94


    Bertie can’t attend as a guest of the OO unless they invite him. If invited he would go so why not suggest it to the Orange and see how you get on.

  • harpo

    ‘can it, include Ulster Protestants?’


    By ‘Ulster Protestants’ do you mean Northern Ireland Unionists?

    I’d have thought it is clear by now that being a Protestant from Ulster does not stop one for being an Irish nationalist.

    If unionists are being referred to, then that’s a different thing altogether.

    I think that rugby guy got it right – many NI unionists see themselves as being island-Irish, but not constitutional-Irish.

    They were born on the island of Ireland, but not in any Irish state (the IFS or ROI), and don’t wish to be in any Irish state.

    If Bertie is looking for one definition of Irish that includes everything, then he’s never going to find it. People like me are island-Irish, but constitutional-British. Nationalists are island-Irish and constitutional-Irish. In fact many nationalists work under the assumption that the 2 are the same. They aren’t.

  • harpo

    ‘I still believe that our history of rebellions against Britain should continue to be a centerpiece of Irish identity.’


    Will the threatened rebellion in the 1912-1914 period by the UUC and original UVF be recognized as part of this?

    Ulster people were prepared to rebel against their own government at that time to see that their rights were respected.

    Or do you mean only the single-island model (nationalism) rebellions will be this centre piece of this identity.

    I have to say its a sad identity if its slogan is basically is ‘we’re not Britain’.