Queen’s visit: The beginning of the end of purist politics?

Diarmuid Ferriter has some interesting questions arising from Sinn Fein’s awkward positioning on the Queens Visit to the Republic:

…while Sinn Fein was opposed to this visit, it was a muted opposition. Anything louder would have involved Sinn Fein placing itself in the company of those opposed to the peace process, and given the move of Sinn Fein into the constitutional mainstream, north and south, this was not going to happen.

But the visit will worry them on some levels. Did it mark the acceptance of the permanence of partition? Is the consensus in the politics of the republic on this issue now such that a united Ireland is further away than ever? Was it the correct decision for Sinn Fein to stay away from the war memorial at Islandbridge?

Will the visit add momentum to a sense that remembrance of key events in Irish history, as we head towards a decade of commemoration, need to be pluralist and inclusive to an extent that will undermine the purist republican narrative Sinn Fein has traditionally favoured?

This is a question I want to come back to in greater detail. But listening to a lot of Northern Irish commentary over the last week, I suspect this is not merely a problem for Sinn Fein alone. It appears to spring from much more deeply embedded (and more widely held) tribal emotions in Northern nationalism than that of its southern cousins.

Of which, more anon…

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    ”Did it mark the acceptance of the permanence of partition? Is the consensus in the politics of the republic on this issue now such that a united Ireland is further away than ever?”

    SF are still struggling with the fact that they’ve signed up to partition for the long term, making something of a mockery of the ‘make partition history’ stance which they’ve pursued ever since.

    It put them in something of a dilemma over the Queen’s visit, finally deciding to sit rather uncomfortably and conspicuously on the fence (unless you happened to be the mayor of Cashel).

    The party seem to have misjudged the mood in the Republic on this issue. One of my own relatives there asked quite legitimately why SF appear to have such a problem with this visit while ignoring the dozens of Royal visits to NI.

    Fact is that a border poll any time soon would be a heavy defeat for Republicanism and they know it. The constant UI mantra is just plain dull, particularly when Stormont actually has real work to do. But instead of focusing on the bread and butter issues, SF have opted for the tokenism ministries. As if somehow the southern electorate are going to be impressed with more agriculture, more Irish language and a shrine or two when actual real world issues like finance, health and regional development are being handed to Unionism.

    There are many narratives on this island and many aspects of culture — no one party has or ever will have a monopoly on this. The Royal visit has merely painted SF as one issue curmudgeons trapped in a cul-de-sac.

  • Pete Baker

    “SF are still struggling with the fact that they’ve signed up to partition for the long term, making something of a mockery of the ‘make partition history’ stance which they’ve pursued ever since.”

    Not to mention their laughable World Tour for Irish Unity…

    And that it was an issue ignored in the last Irish general election.

    But when their own councillors ignore the democratic Leninist centralism line…

  • GavBelfast

    They don’t like awkward questions which point-out the confused stance, either.

    Witness Martin McGuinness’s interview on Good Morning Ulster today (about 8.10am).

    Though, admittedly, Mark Carruthers should get with the programme: the ‘new dispensation’ doesn’t do scrutiny by others.

  • Sinn Fein missed an opportunity and have looked slightly ridiculous throughout. This is the rod they have made for their own backs The ‘republicans’ have come so far, they recognise the Dail, have TDs there with prospects of increasing their numbers, they are joint first minister in government in the north with again every prospect of improving their position there.

    Its sad and silly that among the very serious problems SF face is this one, which whilst it is another of their own creations is relatively trivial and should be the easiest to overcome. Democracy takes time, less time than terrorism, but still time and SF cannot afford to keep missing chances, they have got to send their best debaters to Wesminster and get involved in the ‘fight’ and they have got to be big enough to meet all and sundry if it benefits Ireland, there is no halfway house anymore. Black Balloons….

  • It must be confusing to be a Sinn Féin supporter these days – on the one hand, they’re jumping up and down about the visit of the English Monarch and crying crocodile tears about the ‘Occupied North’ and ‘The Dublin Monaghan Bombing’ – and on the other hand, SF leaders are describing the visit as ‘good’ and, at the same time, ‘ill advised’ and ‘premature’. SF ground troops have been ranting about the Queen’s visit on Facebook etc, giving out yards etc. But then a Sinn Féin mayor, in Cashel, shakes her hand – does anyone believe that he did that entirely off his own bat? Or did he misread the smoke signals?

    Sinn Féin, through its official stance, has made itself appear partitionist and, conversely, the DUP have appeared the more All Ireland party, attending the State Dinner on Wednesday, when the Queen spoke Irish with as good a blas as that of Gerry Adams any day of the week. It’s ‘Make Partition History’ slogan is just that, a slogan, empty of real meaning as SF, more than any other group. party or movement, copperfastens ‘partition’ with its ‘ourselves alone’ two faced stance.

  • perseus

    you have to wonder if the dissidents set SF’s agenda this time

  • Mick Fealty

    I think you do SF a disservice there Percy…

    There’s just no intellectual blood within the Nationalist discourse beyond the “aren’t unionists strange?” them we see taken out and burnished, not only here on Slugger but in the mainstream press over and over again…

  • perseus

    I don’t know that converation very well Mick,
    but am inclined to take your word on it.
    I’m sure I speak for most of the diaspora when I quote
    Yeats: “He wished for the cloths of heaven”

    “But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

    others may wish to mock this and do all the time on slugger
    and elsewhere: with barbed snipes at unity tours and so on.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Mick

    “There’s just no intellectual blood within the Nationalist discourse beyond the “aren’t unionists strange?” them we see taken out and burnished, not only here on Slugger but in the mainstream press over and over again…”

    ?

    This sentence doesn’t make sense. You couldn’t ever help me out and run that by me again?

  • “This was about diplomatic equality; that the queen was received in the historical centre of British rule in Ireland by the President of the Irish Republic underlined that emphatically.”

    I’m a little surprised that this history professor failed to note President McAleese’s attempt to present herself as the president of the island of Ireland and her efforts to airbrush out the UK dimension of the commemorations of those who perished in the 1914-18 war. The Irish and Ulster Volunteers who died, sometimes side-by-side, and those who survived most certainly did not share the same constitutional aspirations. It’s very sad that those who’ve sought to tell their stories have since been exploited by some in Ireland’s political establishment.

    Ferritor quotes Mary Robinson in his massive tome, The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 with regard to her view of the New Ireland Forum, ‘the skilful manipulation of public opinion by the use of a conciliatory language which masks traditional demands’.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Ferriter asks:

    Did (the visit) mark the acceptance of the permanence of partition?

    Why would it?

    “Is the consensus in the politics of the republic on this issue now such that a united Ireland is further away than ever?”

    Again, why would it be?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    “Was it the correct decision for Sinn Fein to stay away from the war memorial at Islandbridge?”

    Interesting question. By SF’s own lights, yes. It would have been easier just to attend, but from a southern perspective, it’s significant that they took a principled stand.

    For decades, southern elites have fetishized pragmatism: as a corollary, even mention “principle” to someone from FF, FG or Labour and they’ll think it the acme of fanaticism. (Not a particular principle, natch, but the very principle of principle, if you will.) You’ll hear otherwise smart people make monumentally stupid remarks such as that pragmatism itself is a principle.

    There’s always a negotiation to be had in politics between pragmatism and principle, but the imbalance towards pragmatism has contributed hugely to the ruination of the state, in its great confusion as to its present woes and its bewilderment as to what to do now.

    SF have taken flak for their principled stand, but they were right not to take the path of least resistance, as any other southern party would. In Dublin’s political culture, integrity is far more hated than is corruption, so SF were wise to insist on its integrity, though at some short-term cost.

    Of course southern political, academic and media elites hate them all the more for this, and anyway, these days SF gets fair play from northern unionists more easily than from Dublin’s ivory tower-dwellers. You simply don’t get to become somebody in the Dublin media, universities, political institutions etc, without being programmatically hostile to nationalism and republicanism generally, and northern nationalists particularly.

    But it’s important to remember that the intellectual elites of the Republic are very far removed from the general population. Indeed there can be few countries, aside from dictatorships, in which the intellectual class is so generally despised by the population. Mary McAleese, for example, was hunted out of both Trinity and RTE for the crime of being not only a northern nationalist, but a working class one to boot. She is still loathed by many in both institutions for her audacity in coming back to Dublin as president. That position was given to her by the population, to whom being a northern nationalist is not an unforgivable crime. The professors of TCD and the Stalinists at RTE wouldn’t have her about the place, but the population wanted her as Uactaráin na hÉireann.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    “Will the visit add momentum to a sense that remembrance of key events in Irish history, as we head towards a decade of commemoration, need to be pluralist and inclusive to an extent that will undermine the purist republican narrative Sinn Fein has traditionally favoured?”

    I think here, Ferriter is describing SF not as they exist in the real world but in the hostile caricature presented by its critics. If, say, come Easter 2016, in the spirit of “inclusivity and pluralism”, the leadership of unionism in invited to the GPO to take part in commemorations, would anyone expect SF to complain? Does anyone doubt that SF will be first to insist that political unionism be invited to play the fullest possible role? Does anyone doubt that SF will participate in the Somme commemorations of 2016, since they have already been laying wreaths to the dead of the World Wars for years? For all this nonsense about SF’s supposed “purity,” their actual record is much more inclusive and pluralist than Ferriter admits. What confuses many people, though, is that they insist on the integrity of their own position, no matter how extreme the intolerance they face. Apparently this proves that they are not “inclusive” or “pluralist”.

    “But listening to a lot of Northern Irish commentary over the last week, I suspect this is not merely a problem for Sinn Fein alone. It appears to spring from much more deeply embedded (and more widely held) tribal emotions in Northern nationalism than that of its southern cousins.”

    If the “tribal emotions,” as you so nastily refer to the patriotism of northern nationalists, is more “deeply embedded,” than in the south, mightn’t this be the forehead-slappingly obvious result of northerners still living under a sovereignty other than their own? Isn’t it perfectly obvious that while one can “move on” (the phrase de jour) from the circumstances of the PAST, one cannot “move on” from the circumstances of the PRESENT. That’s not “moving on” – that’s “giving up”. And northern nationalists are in no mood to give up.

    Furthermore, you’re making the mistake of assuming that the leader-writers of the Irish Times, or the professors of Trinity, speak for Ireland. These sections of society have always been:

    – Strongly pro-British, (a more political strain of the cultural Anglophilia which has always been general across Ireland, north and south);
    – Strongly sympathetic to northern unionists (and their cause, whereas the rest of us just rather like Ulster Protestants as people, though this human reality has often been lost amid very real political disagreements and grievances); and
    – Viscerally hostile to northern nationalists (which is totally at odds with most of the southern population).

    Nothing much has actually changed in the south as a result of the royal visit. I don’t know a single nationalist, north or south, who is remotely surprised that the visit went so well, and I’ve met precious few who aren’t happy that it was such a success. Personally, I’m pleased that she seemed to so genuinely enjoy herself, and I hope she comes again, maybe for a more relaxed stay next time. What has changed, however, is that many people in Britain and some people in the northern unionist community have been disabused of some of their more lurid notions about the Republic of Ireland – notions that were always fantastical and wrong-headed, as southerners and northern nationalists have been trying to point out for decades.

    But it’s kinda funny to read various unionist commentators on here who, after a four-day royal visit, feel they can now tell northern nationalists what’s what re. the Republic. Having discovered that the place is not the priest-ridden, semtex-toting, genocidally Anglophobic slum of their imaginations, they assume it must mean people there don’t want reunification at all. It never occurs that one need not be any of those things in order to want unity.

  • antamadan

    I ‘kinda’ agree with Billly Pilgrim. The southern(positive) reaction to the Royal visit was linked with the newfound British respect for Gaelic culture/Irish nationalism; something that is all-Ireland rather than 26c co. republic.

    It’s fantastic that mutual respect Irish nationalism-Britishness will now be the norm. But the visit clearly showed the divisions in Ireland weren’t marked by the border, but Nationalist, Unionist. Loads of talk about our two peoples, respect for old IRA and earlier independence fighters 1798 etc, all all-Ireland organisations, aswell as Islandbridge.

    Unionists won the Union in the BA/GFA until a majority vote otherwise -and I think that could be 50 years’ away or more. But the visit clearly spoke to our two peoples Irish nationalists and British rather than the united kindom this and the republic that. I think GB and RoI are reconciled and both appreciate that NI is different with British subjects and Irish citizens.

    I think the Irish citizenship of so many in NI will now be more clearly recognised by the UK state, in place of exclusive Britishness This should be done anyway in my view, but I would hope it would help to diminish the sense of injustice amongst those that might be otherwise persuaded by the moron dissidents.

    It just means a fair vote on NI’s future, but that’s a long-way off. What reasonable pro-union person could complain?

  • Dixie Elliott

    Ex-IRA prisoner Danny Morrison in U-turn on Queen’s trip

    Monday, 23 May 2011

    Former Sinn Fein publicity director Danny Morrison has performed an about-turn and admitted the Queen’s trip to Ireland was “a good visit”.

    The ex-IRA prisoner, who referred to the monarch just before her arrival in Ireland as “the Queen of sheep”, said the visit had forced him to revise his opinion.

    Morrison — who organised a protest march in Belfast in 1977 against a visit to Northern Ireland by the Queen — said her latest trip as “one of the high points of her reign”.

    But the veteran republican, who shook the hand of Princes Charles during a chance meeting at the Glastonbury music festival in England, said: “I have had to change my opinion.

    “I think that my judgment now has to be that it was a good visit.”

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/exira-prisoner-danny-morrison-in-uturn-on-queenrsquos-trip-16003067.html#ixzz1N8LfEkMV

    Ah sure it’ll not be long till they’re all at it; historically of course, curtsying and learning to say ma’m as in ham.

    I expect Gerry will use the excuse that Roger Casement was a ‘Sir’ when the time comes…