Queen Elizabeth II, unionism and Irish nationalist remembrance in the north of Ireland

RG Cuan has picked up in this thread on one of the interesting features of  Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the south of Ireland to date, namely, how her usage of Irish sits uncomfortably with the petulant comments and acts attributed to unionist politicians regarding the Irish language.

But in this piece carried in the Belfast Telegraph earlier in the week, I focused on how the Queen’s more substantive gesture of remembering those who fell in the cause of striving to free Ireland from Britain’s occupation challenges unionists to adopt a more reconciliatory attitude to Irish nationalist remembrance in the north of Ireland, not least in this decade of centenaries, when a Sinn Fein DCAL Minister will rightly ensure that the anniversaries important to those of a nationalist/ republican persuasion are treated equally with those cherished by unionists.

Of course, finding reasons why we should not find space within our respective political visions for the other to acknowledge and remember past sacrifices is easy, and I fully expect comments on this thread to list actions carried out during the numerous conflicts- in Ireland and abroad- which led to the deaths of innocents and combatants alike.

But recognising that such an approach to the issue cuts both ways is one reason why I believe that this viewpoint should be rejected (by republicans and unionists alike.) And, perhaps more importantly, understanding that the ultimate fulfilment of the political aspirations of both unionism and Irish nationalism/ republicanism will require that such space be provided to both communities to render occasions of rememberance to be an accepted part of the political culture should compel political leaders to guide their communities towards this shared acceptance as we bed in the post-peace process era of devolution.

  • joeCanuck

    Chris,
    I dread that this thread will descend into sheer whataboutery. I seem to remember that you once said that you didn’t do moderation, you might need change your mind.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Joe
    Hopefully maturity will win through as it’s a point worth discussing; else I’ll have to moderate when and where appropriate- we’ve come to a zero tolerance point on Slugger…..

  • Jimmy Sands

    I think you are quite right to point out that the respect she displayed towards our state stands in stark contrast to the attititude of some of our more grudging neighbours to the north, some of whom apparently still cannot even bring themselves to refer to it by its correct name.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Chris, I think this week has shown there is room for the various traditions on this island, be they Gaelic Irish, British Irish, Anglo Irish, Planter Irish, or the many forms of Modern Irish identity, in fact the reality is we are all culturally a little bit of each.
    You mention language as an example, which is a great example on both side of how not to deal with a divisive issue, personally I have would like to see Irish become/remain a vibrant living language, but I don’t want to read it on every government advert and letter I read (btw I can’t just ignore it, i’m one of these people who has to read anything that comes into view) and the “mis-retranslation” of placenames really really annoys me. However I think if sensible people on both sides get together a workable policy can come about.
    As for the anniversaries, I’m starting to think they might prove more of a challenge within the communities than a threat to each other, they are historic enough not to inflame passions to the extents people fear. Maybe the SF minister could make a real statement and use the assembly DCAL committee as a means of achieving consensus on these and many other issues!

  • ayeYerMa

    Irish symbolism and culture should be supported and respected in NI such as Irish Gaelic etc. However, what Republicans like Chris are trying to do here is not to push Irish culture/symbolism but Irish NATIONALIST/Republican culture/symbolism which, by definition, is provocative and divisive in that it has the destruction of Northern Ireland and the present UK state as it’s aim. There is NO WAY that any state in the world would or should officially support the promotion its own destruction like this, and in fact supporting such culture or symbolism would break the UK Treason Act.

    Irish Nationalist symbolism is of course acceptable in the Irish Republic, as Unionist symbols in NI because that is how the border is constitutionally defined – undermining that is an attempt to undermine either state and the principles of consent, democracy and treason.

    This difference between Irish culture and Irish Nationalist culture is HUGE and Chris is being a typically insidious Sinn Fein creature by attempting to blur the lines here.

    …which leads me to pose the question, has there ever been a Slugger post made by Chris that is not obnoxiously provocative in some way or another? Sums Sinn Fein up pretty well if you ask me.

  • changeisneeded

    “There is NO WAY that any state in the world would or should officially support the promotion its own destruction like this, and in fact supporting such culture or symbolism would break the UK Treason Act.”

    oh well, there goes that shared future idea huh?

  • qwerty12345

    ayeYerMa I hate to break it to you but there are hundreds of thousands of nationalists and republicans inside the wagon circle and we dont give a fiddlers feck about people like you who want a return to the good old days where WE knew our place.

    The genies out of the bottle mate, you better get used to a shared future that isnt defined by you 🙂

  • ayeYerMa

    Nothing I have said contradicts the concept of a “shared future”. It is wrong and completely inaccurate to divide our identities into these polarised political terms of “unionist” and “nationalist” – they are mutually unstable and incompatible extreme positions on the border in Northern Ireland, not accurate descriptions of our identities.

    Instead of shit-stirring and concentrating on what divides us, as Chris and his fellow Sinn Fein pals wish to do, we should be concentrating on what we have in common (which is quite a lot, if not 90+% of our culture). We should be highlighting various aspects of British, Irish and Ulster culture and treating all 3 equally.

    Indeed we can have a official collective remembrance for ALL who suffered here in NI, but no doubt SF will be pushing some sort of separate glorification of Republican terrorism. Attempts by Republicans to pass off and give official consent to acts of radical and violent Irish Republican terrorism by passing them off as somehow being the same as mainstream Irish culture in Northern Ireland shall instantly and rightly be blocked by Unionists. A “shared future” will not be built on glorifying or legitimising terrorism.

    I think Chris is also misinterpreting the Queen in his other article – she merely is showing respect for all loss of life and showing humanity in feeling any empathy for suffering of any kind for all. This was about showing respect for that, drawing a line behind the past and moving on – it isn’t like wanting to regurgitate and glorify violent Republican terrorism as SF want to do again and again and again and again and again – never “moving on” at all, but often lecturing at others to do so.

  • Chris Donnelly

    It’s very interesting that ‘Ayeyerma’ believes there to be no contradiction between endoring a shared future and seeking to deny the legitimacy of expressions of Irish nationalist/ republican culture in the north of Ireland.

    The attempt to denigrate myself-and indeed Sinn Fein members- on the grounds that I highlight the issue is, unfortunately, a typical response of someone who hasn’t thought through what the consequences of endorsing a political agreement with equality at its core.

    Drumlin
    I can sense you’ve shifted some ground, which is good, but the comments regarding Irish should cause you to stop and think.

    You don’t need to read anything in Irish if you don’t want to, and why many unionists feel the need to denigrade those Irish people seeking to speak and communicate partially through the language giving name to most things around you and I is not only ridiculous but a significant obstacle to unionism as it strives to become more attractive to those outside of the protestant/unionist/ loyalist community.

  • And, perhaps more importantly, understanding that the ultimate fulfilment of the political aspirations of both unionism and Irish nationalism/ republicanism will require that such space be provided to both communities to render occasions of rememberance to be an accepted part of the political culture should compel political leaders to guide their communities towards this shared acceptance as we bed in the post-peace process era of devolution.

    How on earth do you propose that we ultimately fulfill the political aspirations of *both* unionism and Irish nationalism? Only one is possible surely?

    On the substance of the post, when you can bear to write the correct name of the state that you live in and your party helps to operate (or when the likes of McElduff *remembers* that Queen Elizabeth is not only the Queen of “England” but also many of your fellow Irishmen) then I’ll start to take posts like this from you seriously.

  • Opposition to the Irish Language is, to be frank, rather un -British, unless you happen to be a unionist in Northern Ireland. I have tried, many times, to help unionists to understand and appreciate that the Irish Language is and should be respected as part of Northern Ireland’s heritage.

    And when they here my points, they will try to disguise their bigotry. “I have no objection to them speaking it but why should taxpayer’s money be spent on it?” they will often say.

    The Irish Language should be promoted. That is in the Belfast agreement. Unionists should respect that. If they dont, they will not be able to engage in any debate about where the Irish Language should go.

    Commemorations, for me, are much more difficult. I suspect that is true for most unionists. The starting point is tolerance. Do we tolerate them taking place?
    Well, I dont have time for Orange parades but I tolerated them. This is a free country, so the answer must be “yes” but dont ever ask me ever to honour the dead provisional IRA.

    I would also add that if Republicans want a commemoration to go ahead, they should ask for permission from the Parades commission. Hitherto, they have been ignoring the law and it is time they respected it.

  • Chris Donnelly

    How on earth do you propose that we ultimately fulfill the political aspirations of *both* unionism and Irish nationalism? Only one is possible surely?

    O’Neill
    That is the point. Recognising that only one can ‘ultimately’ be realised should be the incentive for those espousing either cause to make their vision more attractive.

    Your comments regarding the name of the northern state are indicative of more partial sightedness on behalf of unionists.

    If it really troubles you to listen to nationalists refer to the state by terms not agreeable to yourself, then you should stop for a moment and consider how nationalists could claim to be equally disturbed by unionism misappropriating the terms ‘Ulster’ and ‘province’ to refer to 2/3 of an Irish province.

    It’s very easy to claim to be offended. What you expect to gain from such an approach I don’t really know, and that should make you stop and think.

  • Dec

    Chris

    You beat me to it but I always have a chuckle when supporters of the Ulster Unionist Party lectures others about the correct nomenclature of the North.

  • It looks as though some are trying to have their cake and eat it, again.

    The queen came here and surprise, surprise SF refuse to do anything constructive, like engage in the visit or the ‘conversation’, but they did release black balloons and complain to anyone who would listen.

    The visit is a success, the queen visits the Garden and speaks in Irish. To absolutely no ones amazement the usual suspects then claim it validates the murder of thousands and their own appalling politicisation of an entire language.

    So having been useless throughout SF and others now insist they were right all along and everyone should do it their way.

  • “just how little thought has been given to date by many unionists of the significance of that famous rebellion to nationalists”

    Chris, the many shades of nationalism appear to have a problem sharing their commemorations. Instead of preaching to others perhaps they could lead by example.

    “I fully expect comments on this thread”

    Ah, the art of subtle trolling 😉

  • “how nationalists could claim to be equally disturbed by unionism misappropriating the terms ‘Ulster’ and ‘province’ to refer to 2/3 of an Irish province.”

    … and other nationalists misappropriating ‘Ireland’ for part of the island? It was quare crack trying to figure out which one Bertie Ahern meant – the 26 or the 32 – during the course of a speech as he hopped from one to t’other. Northern nationalists seem to be more agitated by the unionist ‘slight’ than the southern nationalist one.

  • “So having been useless throughout SF and others”

    Don’t knock it, pippakin. You could argue that the Provisional Republican Movement being ‘useless’ is an advance on some of its nefarious activities. It would be nice to think that all of its bad habits have been left behind but in some places it appears the local tail is wagging the HQ dog.

    compel political leaders to guide their communities towards this shared acceptance”

    ‘Encourage’ would be a more apt word to use, Chris, sharing and compulsion jar.

  • Henry94

    I won’t relax fully until she is back in London. The visit has been a disaster for skanger republicanism so far and I wish the Gardai well in keeping up their great work today.

    The dissidents are no so out of touch with the people of Ireland that they should have a serious think about themselves. They are dragging our shared republican tradition through the gutter.

    A bad week for republicanism but a good week for nationalism in the south. People were delighted with the Queen because she recognised our state as an equal and we were delighted with ourselves for how well everything went.

    Both sides in the north might feel a bit uncomfortable as the two states have a love in.

  • Henry94, let’s hope the visit also has positive knock-on effects for Ireland’s tourism industry as well as for the economy as whole. It may just have been the tonic that was needed.

  • Chris. In three days, the Queen has posed serious questions for both sides up here. I don’t think there any doubt she would be given a respectful reception in the Republic. It’s up here that there’ll be a problem with some in coming off the comfort blanket. The northern GAA [except Down] have already failed the test as have the shinners.

  • andnowwhat

    I’ve a real issue with the term “nationalist culture”. Does such a thing exist or is it a term loaded on to what is in fact, Irish culture?

    I don’t know what people like AyeYrma thinks we are doing when we’re listening to traditional music in Kelly’s Cellars, Maddens, The Duke of York or wherever but I can assure him, it is totally apolitical. We’re NOT break dancing to Boys of the Old Brigade I can assure them.

    The enjoyment of Irish culture is not necessarily anti British (yes, there are muppets who would disagree but they are a dwindling number thank goodness) and there are many nationalists who cannot stand traditional music just as there are quite a few (I’m speaking from experience here and I’m confident that I’m not unique in this) people from a unionist background who really enjoy Irish culture.

  • Turgon

    oneill is of course entirely correct. In terms of the ultimate fulfilment of the political aspirations of unionism and nationalism they are mutually exclusive.

    His point regarding Donnelly’s use of the name of the state is also entirely valid. Republicans demand respect for their issues on their own terms and also demand plaudits for any pretended respect that they deign to show to unionists no matter how inappropriate that so called respect is.

    If republicans were truly interested in relating to unionists they would attempt to learn what unionists want in terms of republicans showing them respect. Republicans cannot decide how to respect unionists’ position and then expect those unionists to accept and thank them for it. The farce which was Martina Anderson as unionist outreach officer demonstrates the folly of this strategy.

    However, in reality despite the honeyed words and pseudo reasonablness the reality is that republicans seem to have no real interest in truly showing respect. Republicanism is very good at demanding respect for its issues and at times has significant validity in those demands – their support of the Bloody Sunday families is a case in point and to be fair unionists did not always respond appropriately to that.

    Republicans, however, need to understand that the murders of the recent past are not whataboutery: they are the murders of people who are remembered and loved. Now Catholics clearly were murdered as well but there are very few unionists let alone unionit politicians who go around celebrating the murders of Catholics or the murderers. On the other hand there is still celebration by republicans including mainstream ones of the likes of Jim Lynagh.

    Republicans call it whataboutery but when a supposed liberal republican like Chris Donnelly cannot condemn the likes of the Enniskillen bombing it demonstrates that the respect they pretend to show unionists is a sham.

    Instead of real respect Donnelly throws coments like whataboutery around as a sort of prophylactic to being asked about the murders of the past.

    Clearly there are issues regarding unionists showing respect for republicans and nationalists but republicans need to learn that showing true respect requires asking unionists how tehy want to be respected and then acting on that. In reality of course very few unionists have any belief in the bona fides of republicans respecting unionists.

  • Henry94

    Turgon

    If republicans were truly interested in relating to unionists they would attempt to learn what unionists want in terms of republicans showing them respect. Republicans cannot decide how to respect unionists’ position and then expect those unionists to accept and thank them for it.

    That’s absolutely fair. But then when we do hear what unionists want it often involves nationalists giving up nationalism and becoming “Northern Irish”

    We don’t have a United Ireland but we don’t have a united Northern Ireland either. Both sides are fairly useless at the whole reaching out business which probably goes back to the incompatibility of the political objectives.

    Now Catholics clearly were murdered as well but there are very few unionists let alone unionit politicians who go around celebrating the murders of Catholics or the murderers.

    Here is the stock answer to that one.

    “You celebrate the British state forces who were responsible for many murders and who are widely believed to have been responsible for running the loyalist killers directly. Politicians on the unionist side stir up hatred and then refuse to take responsibility for the fools that follow them.”

    We all have answers to every point the other side makes and within each community those answers are considered valid even if the other side rejects them.

    We have pulled of a great trick in being able to half agree a future while not agreeing the past. But how we progress to real engagement I don’t know. Maybe we will all get as bored of our own stock answers as we already are of the other sides.

  • Turgon

    Henry,
    You perfectly illustrate the republican position. In answer to the point that republicans celebrate murderers like Lynagh you come out with what you yourself call the stock answer.

    Republicans seem happy to continue with their stock answers. However, each time they do that they further illustrate their lack of respect for unionists. I suppose it is almost to be welcomed. For the meantime mainstream republicans seem to have given up on murdering their way to a united Ireland (though some of their senior political representatives have said that they may have to go back to it). Now their failure to even attempt any serious outreach shows that they have effectively conceeded that they are not going to be able to persuade unionists into a united Ireland.

    Hence, the situation is pretty stable. As such please continue worshiping Lynagh, Sands and the assorted others: irritating as it may well to unionists, it is tacit acceptance that they all died in vain.

  • How on earth do you propose that we ultimately fulfill the political aspirations of *both* unionism and Irish nationalism? Only one is possible surely?

    O’Neill
    That is the point.

    Then, the word is “either” and not “both”- if either aspiration is ultimately fulfilled, then the task of “accomodation” of the “other” remains.

    How far that “accomodation” takes place is (obviously) dependent of the level of trust that you have in the “other”‘s true intentions. I do trust individual republicans that I know personally and Irish nationalism, as practised by the SDLP and the ROI’s mainstream is, a bit like socialism, a political philosophy that I don’t agree with but is one which doesn’t threaten my either Britishness or my sense of belonging to the island of Ireland. With regards that latter point, I have next to zero trust in the intentions of Sinn Fein as a political movement.

    How do we reach “accomodation” in that case… or get round to “sharing” those spaces? Whose court is the ball in? Solely mine?

    And as a matter of (peripheral) interest I left the UUP quite a while ago, although not solely because of nomenclature. I’m first and foremost an Irish Unionist, not an Ulster one.

  • Henry94

    Turgon

    Both sides have stock answers. They don’t convince the other side but they make movement harder because each side is happy with their own.

    Hence, the situation is pretty stable.

    Maybe. This could be as good as it gets and it would be better that both versions of what went before. But I wouldn’t count on it. The border is now more than ever a line through the north rather than a line around it. The question for Unionists is does the NI state have any real meaning for them as a shared state. I’m not sure it does. But I’m not sure that what now exists is going to be an attractive place to live.

  • As far as the two governments are concerned, as this visit has demonstrated is that ‘the elephant in the room’ of the six northern counties being offside for now, is just a technicality and they will eventually come into the fold with the other two. They are taking it as read the the long conflict between them is at last over.

  • Chris Donnelly

    If republicans were truly interested in relating to unionists they would attempt to learn what unionists want in terms of republicans showing them respect.

    Turgon

    Surely that cuts both ways, and to answer your final point, most nationalists and republicans have little faith in the bona fides of unionist politicians to respect their tradition.

    As Henry points out, wanting respect by seeking to change the ‘other’ to make them more palatable to you is, to my mind, not a promising road to travel.

    Your point regarding condemnation is rather interesting in the context of what occured in Dublin earlier this week. Queen Elizabeth II might have made some positive soundings regarding remembrance of the past, but she most assuredly did not ‘condemn’ the actions of British governments and their armed forces in this country over many centuries.

    Does that then mean, as you imply, that Irish people should not have any respect for her, or her government?