A proud Republican can wear the poppy…

In the first of what I hope will become a series, John McGuirk argues that there is no conflict in interest in an Irish Republican wearing a poppy in remembrance of those who died in past wars… For him it is about standing up for what you believe in, not against what you don’t believe in: specifically, the universal freedom of humanity that saw the liberation of the death camps of Bergin Belsen and other places…By John McGuirk

Over the course of a weekend filled with strange yet predictable happenings, including an alleged visit to Knock by the mother of God herself and Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat at Fulham, of all places, one incident stands out as particularly easy to foresee, but impossible to divorce from controversy. In a decision which led to a full nineteen pages of discussion inside four hours over on one internet forum, John and Edward allowed silk poppy motifs to be sown into their clothes for their appearance on the X Factor.

You can read the discussions on various fora yourself, if you want to sample the criticism the lads received for their decision (strangely their singing is largely unremarked upon in most parts), but you can probably guess the tenor of much of it without bothering.

Traitors. West Brits. Pandering to Unionism. They probably once sneakily laughed at an Ally McCoist gag on A Question of Sport. And so on. The usual insults doled out to anybody seen as too pally with the hated, and ergo intrinsically evil, British.

I’m a Republican. I believe in a 32 County Irish Sovereign Republic. I want the tricolour to fly over Stormont, one day, with broad consent. And I’m proud to wear the poppy, like John and Edward. For far too long Irish patriots have cast our patriotism in terms of what we are against – Unionists, Britain, the Loyal orders, the blue side of Glasgow and so on, instead of what we are for.

I prefer to define my republicanism in terms of what I support. I’m for liberty, for freedom from the need to fear my Government. I’m for basic, decent equality between people regardless of creed or country or colour. I’m for helping those in need of help. Those values are universal, and I’m proud that they have been adopted by a modern, outward looking Irish Republic.

But there’s an important point to me about those values. They are ideas, and rights, that have been paid for dearly with other men’s blood.

Others who defend Irish poppy wearers point out that some of the blood spilt in their defence was Irish – and it was – but that’s not the point. I’m sick of having to justify my poppy with the argument that it’s ok to wear it because “Irish men died as well”. They did, and I honour them, but I would wear it anyway even if they did not.

I wear the poppy because the battle against Nazism was a battle fought on behalf of humanity, and not just on behalf of Britain. I wear it because I’m glad men of all colours and creeds gave their lives to liberate Belsen, and because I’m happy that Europe is free and democratic for the most part. It could have been so different of those men and women had just decided to sit at home.

Some values are universal. If my poppy shows that I stand with those people, and honour their sacrifice, then I don’t care whether it supports the Royal British Legion financially or not, nor whether it is worn by the Queen, or members of the SAS. They wear it out of loyalty to country. I wear it out of respect for a generation who laid down their lives so that my life is free.

Does the poppy commemorate dead Black and Tans as well? Maybe it does. Does it commemorate soldiers lost in action in the six counties? Perhaps. If it were just about those operations, you could count me out, but it’s about much more than that.

Freedom isn’t free. Britain has made many mistakes, but on the two biggest calls of the last hundred years, she got it right. The blood she offered in defence of liberty deserves to be remembered by liberty’s advocates.

John McGuirk blogs at www.mcguirk.eu

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty