Reading the memoirs of Ken Bloomfield and Tony Blair for me give two very telling insights into the politics of Irish America and their priorities in viewing the homeland. I begin with Tony Blair who noted the contradiction of certain American politicians idolising Margaret Thatcher while having an ambivalent attitude towards groups like the IRA who made it their business to kill her. This contradictory attitude is in my experience typical of some Irish Americans who while in the states typically have centre-right economic interests but the moment they touch back in the motherland become latter day lefties supporting the cause of their brothers fighting the good fight back home.
Then, we have the other problem and that is a near obsession with partition which seems to relegate any other issues to the distant background as former civil servant Ken Bloomfeld recalled in his memoirs the despair of friends he had within the Irish government of the attitude of Irish American’s;
When I myself served in New York from 1960 to 1963 I had made some good friends amongst the Irish governments representatives there. They would sometimes speak with near despair of efforts to inform and interest Irish-Americans in the problems of modern Ireland on the social and economic fronts. But no, this product was not saleable to that particular market.
So, why is any of this relevant? I have close relatives that live in the United States, mingling with their friends who are like them from Ireland and debating the issues of the day with them when I visit one thing that strikes me is that their political views literally stopped evolving the minute they left Ireland’s shores. On my last trip, I debated issues such as policing that had been resolved 7 years ago. Moreover, when I put the case that for many Catholics Irish unity had become an unfashionable idea, I was looked at with dis belief. There was literally no comprehension that anything had changed politically from the moment they had left.
Now, I don’t wish to generalise and say that this is the way all Irish Americans think but actually mixing with and having relatives that live there gives you some insight into how sections of this diaspora think about issues.
This year, the St Patricks Day parade in New York City hit the headlines for all of the wrong reasons with rumours of rescinding invites for the PSNI and the exclusion of LGBT groups from the parade. The exodus of sponsors like Guinness and pressure from politicians in Ireland simply illustrates how out of touch sections of this community are from modern Ireland.
I have always thought that the diaspora is real strength for this island and am a supporter of giving them some form of representation in the Seanad in future elections. But, I am also of the view that there needs to be much more of a concerted effort of those who are leaders within this community to educate themselves and properly challenge old attitudes. The simple fact is that most people living here do not concern themselves with partition on a daily basis, and that gay pride is one of the biggest parades in our yearly calendar. We also have overwhelmingly rejected dissident groups who have no role in any official parades that represent this country.
Anybody who resists this view of Ireland, needs to accept that modern Ireland has moved on and if you cannot accept this, then please get on board or get out of the way.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs