“Our understanding of Irishness and Britishness needs to change.”

In yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, Steven King, “a former adviser to former UUP leader David Trimble”, had an interesting perspective on the role of Bertie Ahern in the lead-up to the 1998 Agreement that the out-going Taoiseach was reminiscing about on RTÉ Radio.

It was early November and, as good young unionists, we were wearing poppies in remembrance of the dead of the world wars. Should we take them off in deference to our hosts, we wondered? We decided instead that, even if Fianna Fáilers ever achieved their dearest wish, we would not cease to recall those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

As we chatted amiably that evening to Maire Geoghegan Quinn about the upcoming divorce referendum, our poppies were snatched from our lapels by some backwoodsman: “That’s an offensive symbol.” One FF frontbencher after another came to apologise for the discourtesy, but I remember reporting Bertie’s apology back to Belfast: “Please forgive us. Our understanding of Irishness and Britishness needs to change.”

It is a testament to Bertie Ahern, 13 years later, that relations on the island and between the two islands have never been better. As Taoiseach, he did not simply seek the lowest common denominator. Yes, he has been a highly successful dealmaker but, in the Anglo-Irish arena at least, he acted out of a deep sense of principle as well.

Steven King goes on to mention a couple of the points noted in the post on the RTÉ interview with Bertie Ahern

From the Sunday Business Post

He understood that, even if unionists could not be shaken out of their convictions in the foreseeable future, that must not be allowed to stand in the way of new, better and changed relationships. It helped that he was comfortable in British company, not seeking to take offence when none was intended.

Other positive soundings led to the secret meeting between Trimble and Ahern at the protestant archbishop’s palace in Armagh, a few months before the 1997 Dáil election. A sense emerged, on both sides, of business being able to be done, even if Trimble took exception to Ray Burke, soon to be Ahern’s first short-lived foreign minister. Ahern, at least, was clear in his own mind: ‘”Irredentism is dead.”

That November, a subsequent meeting between Fianna Fáil in government and the UUP top brass at the Sheraton Belgravia hotel in London solidified the partnership. Ahern made it clear that he – not anyone in foreign affairs – was “the main man”. This time, secrecy was not an option, and some Northern nationalists grumbled about any process in parallel with the Stormont talks, particularly an “unholy” FF-UUP alliance, founded on a mutual loathing of the IRA.

That Ahern was so explicit, so far out from an agreement, about his preparedness to take any sting out of Article 2 and 3 and to support a Northern Assembly, was especially galling for deep green elements.

If Trimble and Ahern were convinced of the need for a deal, neither was certain how inclusive it would be. Back then, the DUP were still in splendid isolation mode, although they would eventually, after the referendum, adopt a half-way house position, nominating ministers in the assembly.

But what of Sinn Fein? Trimble was clear, in private, before the agreement: “I know everyone believes otherwise, and it would make things easier in some ways, but I want Sinn Fein in.” Even Ahern, who had direct lines of communications to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, was unsure in March 1998 whether they would buy into a new Stormont, but he was not prepared to give them a veto.

Having reserved their position on Good Friday, when the other parties and the governments indicated their assent to the pact, Ahern showed some steel. When Sinn Fein began toying with the idea of campaigning for a Yes vote in the North and a No vote in the Republic, Bertie laid down the law quite literally, warning the Provisionals that they would be hounded out with every ounce of might the Irish State could muster. In that knowledge and context, the DUP’s job years later was infinitely easier. Ahern had long since redefined modern democratic republicanism, away from a concept about territory to one about peoples.

Ian Paisley knew when he gave the Taoiseach the famous handshake that, whatever about Sinn Fein, this was one genuine Irish patriot with whom he would have no cause to regret being photographed. History cannot be run on the basis of ‘ifs’, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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  • willowfield

    Anne Warren is ignorant.

  • PaddyReilly

    Magna Carta in particular is no part of the UK’s constitution, or even law. Been repealed, except for 3 clauses. What about clause 11?:-

    If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it.

    http://www.bl.uk/treasures/magnacarta/translation/mc_trans.html

    Can’t imagine that holding up in court nowadays.

    The answer to Anne Warren’s question seems to be loyal to the Act of Settlement, and nothing else.

  • BonarLaw

    PaddyReilly

    “The answer to Anne Warren’s question seems to be loyal to the Act of Settlement, and nothing else.”

    On what basis do you come to that trite conclusion?

  • PaddyReilly

    On what basis do you come to that trite conclusion?

    Your failure to supply other verifiable objects of loyalty?

  • Anne Warren

    Talking about the Act of Settlement:
    Daily Telegraph. Wednesday April 9th 2008 Gordon Brown is considering repealing the 1701 Act of Settlement as a way of healing a historic injustice by ending the prohibition against Catholics taking the throne. The Act was introduced as part of the power struggle between Parliament, the Christian churches and the monarchy, then dominated by the House of Stuart.
    It prohibits any Roman Catholic from having access to the throne, even through marriage. Once a person marries a “Papist” they shall be “for ever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the Crown”, it asserts.
    The Act of Settlement’s reach continues today. Prince Michael of Kent renounced his claim to the throne when he married Marie-Christine von Reibnitz, a Catholic divorcee, in 1978.
    Next month Peter Phillips, 30, the eldest grandson of the Queen and 11th in line to the throne, will automatically lose his birthright by marrying Autumn Kelly, a Canadian Catholic

    The Act has recently come under attack from Church leaders and MPs, in particular Scottish MPs, as an unjustifiable discrimination.
    In the face of this new pressure, the Prime Minister indicated he would consider abolishing the legislation as it was “antiquated” and discriminatory.
    Dr Eveline Cruikshanks, the author of The Glorious Revolution and a former president of the Royal Stuart Society, said: “They ought to repeal the Act. The language is particularly offensive to Catholics and should go.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/04/07/nking107.xml

  • BonarLaw

    Anne Warren

    If you now accept that the UK has a constitution you can see the benefit of it not being codified- the Act of Settlement can be repealed in the normal way and the world keeps on turning.

    PaddyReilly

    my Britishness is not about loyalty to any thing, place or institution. It is my identity and nationality not conditional on the approval or understanding of others. I suspect if you ask anyone else from anyother country you will get the same answer.

  • “if these things have substantial meaning for people”

    Oilifear, ‘Britishness’ and ‘Irishness’ are terms that I’ve got little or no use for. These pigeons should be allowed to fly the hole 😉

  • PaddyReilly

    BonarLaw

    Anne Warren’s question was not about your Britishness so much as what Loyalists are loyal to. If you are a Loyalist I can only presume you are only loyal to yourself.

  • BonarLaw

    PaddyReilly

    in simple terms I suspect Loyalists are loyal to the Union and the United Kingdom it creates.

  • anne warren

    Mr Bonar Law. I am pleased you can agree to “suspect” loyalists are loyal to the Union and the UK it creates.
    This is my point. It is suspect. May I remind you of the Ulster Worker Council strike, a movement called Ulster Resistance and a BBC panorama programme in December 1989 which exposed a conspiracy with South Africa to exchange classified technology and blueprints stolen from the Belfast aircraft factory for South African guns. On all the evidence, Loyalists do not appear to have the right to describe themselves as “loyal” to British values and ideas. Perhaps they should start using a different adjective that better reflects their views, whatever they may be.

  • Oilifear

    BonarLaw,

    “It is my identity and nationality not conditional on the approval or understanding of others.”

    Except for your fellow Britons, surely?

    “I suspect if you ask anyone else from anyother country you will get the same answer.”

    I suppose the most important countries to ask in your case would be England, Scotland and Wales. (Not meaning to presume what their answer would be, just pointing out that how a person imagines an identity they share with millions of others cannot be imagined to be entirely “not conditional on the approval or understanding of others.”)

    “… you can see the benefit of it not being codified- the Act of Settlement can be repealed in the normal way and the world keeps on turning.”

    If the UK constitution was codified, more than likely that particular article would have been pulled long ago. As it stands, being uncodified, there’s likely to be no change to the Act of Settlement any time into the distant future. It can simply be let gather dust.

    Nevin,

    “… ‘Britishness’ and ‘Irishness’ are terms that I’ve got little or no use for. These pigeons should be allowed to fly the hole ;)”

    “Our understanding of Irishness and Britishness needs to change.”? But I know what you mean.