Michael D and the Queen are just “what you need on occasions like this…”

There’s a ton of good comment on Nuzhound re Michael D’s state visit to the United Kingdom [makes a change from the single transferable column much in evidence at home this week – Ed]. It’s hard to know what to leave out of John Spain’s column for IrishCentral, so here goes:

The plain people of Ireland, however, are far less impressed by all the hype about the visit. Judged by the reaction on newspaper websites and Twitter, they regard the whole thing as slightly comical and completely irrelevant to where we are at these days.

“God save the Queen – she doesn’t deserve this,” said one message writer, no doubt thinking of the tortuous waffle Michael D. will be inflicting on his host.

“A self-serving, self-regarding exercise in hubris and pomposity,” said another.

“What a waste of taxpayers’ money – couldn’t he have gone Ryanair?” asked another.

“Will be avoiding the TV like the black death for the next 10 days – this s*** is truly nauseating in this day and age,” said another.

Avoiding the TV seemed like good advice. In case us ordinary folk might not grasp the importance of what was happening, RTE began the build-up before Higgins had even left on Monday afternoon. This included coverage of his departure from the Aras (his official residence) where he was seen off by a guard of honor and military band, followed by coverage of his departure speech at the airport, heavy with the significance and symbolism of what he was embarking on.

There was also a special interview for the six o’clock news on RTE. And all that before he had even left the country!

There’s a very human reason for this. It’s a state visit. That is, it’s par for the general course, full of pomp, ceremony and circumstance. The precise circumstance being a President who not only frequently visits family in London, but used to live there.

A far cry from the emotion of the Queens visit to the Republic three years ago which was charged with emotion of an old lady finally being warmly received – firstly by the Irish President in the former symbol of colonial power now transformed to a pinnacle of national sovereignty – and secondly by the vast majority of the Irish people.

Including, as it happens, the very first Sinn Fein Mayor to meet a British sovereign, Michael Browne. It did not endear him to his party until the day he died a few months later.

Spain continues:

The fact is that around a million Irish born people live in Britain and some of them have been there for decades. They have worked there, married there, raised children there and made lives there that were impossible “at home” in Ireland.

So they don’t need a lot of speeches and symbolic gestures to tell them about the special relationship that exists between the two islands. They’ve been living it for years.

They are also aware of the difficulties there have been. They’ve got through the uneasy times during The Troubles when the IRA was bombing British cities.

They know that even then the British kept the doors open and gave us free access when it would have been very easy for them to introduce restrictions. So in a very practical way they understand that there is a “special relationship” between us.

The same applies, of course, to the people here at home, because with a million Irish in Britain there is not a family in Ireland that does not have connections there. To repeat, some of these connections go back decades. And we really don’t need a state visit to Britain by the President to validate or give expression to these connections.

That said, a formal state visit to Britain by an Irish president is a welcome development and it’s long overdue. But it should be seen simply as a celebration of the positive ties between us rather than weighing it down with emotive blather about symbolism and great historical significance.

He also notes the only thing the northern press seemed to notice the whole way through the four days:

The most talked about aspect of the state visit was probably the decision by Martin McGuinness to accept the invitation from the Queen to Tuesday night’s state dinner at Windsor Castle. That can’t have been easy for him. But it was probably a lot harder for the Queen, since her favorite uncle Lord Mountbatten was blown up in Sligo by the IRA, which made it deeply personal.

Of course, like McGuinness, a lot of Republicans had friends and relatives shot by the British Army. So it can’t be easy for them either.

Many people here would question whether there is an equivalence of generosity involved, as Sinn Fein imply. But McGuinness has been remarkably consistent in his determination to put the past behind him and to move forward to build a new peaceful future for the North hand-in-hand with old enemies. Accepting the Queen’s invitation to dinner is part of that.

Of course the Sinn Fein position on this also reflects the fact that they badly miscalculated when they snubbed the Queen’s visit to Ireland three years ago. That visit was hugely popular here and Sinn Fein, which is trying to broaden their appeal to mainstream voters, doesn’t want to be seen to be stuck in the past and mean in their approach.

So they’re not making that mistake this time. No doubt that was also a factor in McGuinness’s conversion on the road to Windsor.

And as a footnote:

One final aspect of all this that is interesting is the difference it reveals between the Irish in Britain and the Irish in America.

For so many of the Irish in America, even those who went just a few decades back, they come to regard themselves as Americans relatively quickly. Irish Americans, of course, but Americans first.

The Irish in Britain never really become British, no matter how long they are there. This contrasts with Indian immigrants to the U.K., for example, who would be quite angry if anyone claimed they were not British.

But the interesting thing is that although the Irish in Britain don’t want to be British, that is completely accepted by the British.

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  • I have to say I was under-whelmed.
    The central figures were not really An tUachtaran and his hostess but rather the Joint First Minister of Norn Iron, following in the footsteps of Atchbishop Makarios, Jomo Kenyatta etc.
    Indeed he was rather better received at Windsor Castle than Robert Mugabe would have been.
    Perhaps the most interesting thing was the spectacle of Kenny, Cameron and McGuinness getting on rather well.
    And maybe a narrative around Adams and McGuinness.

    Understandably Sinn Fein is on-message with the whole “statesman” thing but it is difficult to see how SF MPs can show up at this kinda nonsense and condemn SDLP for a meaningless oath and actually taking a seat in parliament.
    I think there IS a mainstream nationalist reaction.
    Perhaps the voters who deserted SDLP after 1998 to give SF the benefit of the doubt….might want to take a closer look.
    If SF has blurred the lines between themselves and SDLP …It might all backfire.
    Indeed earlier this week a SF councillor defected to SDLP.

  • “Indeed earlier this week a SF councillor defected to SDLP.”

    If you mean Moyle’s Margaret McKillop, you’ll find that she resigned from SF last October when she didn’t make the selection team for the forthcoming elections but not from the council. She remained as an Independent and has now joined the SDLP. I suspect the percentage of Independents elected to the new councils will probably plummet.

    Cllr Cara McShane said, “Margaret Anne canvassed the people of the Glens as a Sinn Féin candidate. The people of the Glens therefore elected her as a Councillor, on the basis that she was a member of Sinn Féin.

    “Indeed prior to her election, she like all other SF candidates signed a pledge to say that if elected, ‘that should I resign as a member of Sinn Féin, or should I be expelled from the Party for any reason whatsoever, that I as an honourable person shall immediately resign my seat.’ .. source – 13 March 2014

  • Mick Fealty

    Par for the course Nevin. Defections are never great for the defector, but at the same she is the one with the mandate, not the party. Most political parties understand that that is the bargain, but that’s not a view SF shares.


    I think that’s a perceptive insight FJH. I don’t think you mean to imply that those votes will come because of this move, but rather a log barring the road back has been removed.

    I know more than one SDLPer who’ve been enjoying the fact SF is now doing what the SDLP has done as matter of course, not because they are Royalists, but because it is an obligation that springs from holding public office in what remains the United Kingdom.

    No one really believes (nor should they, because it is propagandistic nonsense) that Martin McGuinness is any less an Irish Republican for doing what he did this week on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.

    If it has cast one nasty fiction – which I’m fairly sure has inspired some pretty nasty behaviours towards otherwise sound republican or nationalist public representatives – into what Peter Robinson once called ‘a Sadducees grave’, that may help another more positively focused focused form of Irish republicanism to grow in its place?

    And yes, if it has the appetite and focus, that may well be an opportunity for the SDLP.

  • BarneyT

    The English are very accepting of the irish in England. Having been a Nipple ( northern irish professional person living in England) for over 20 years I can testify to that. Most I met ask, why don’t we pull out….or on other occasions why don’t the irish stop shooting each other.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve felt hostility on the odd occasion but this was accompanied by a theme…..soccer fans.

  • Framer

    The children of the Irish in Britain become effortlessly British and English, Scottish or whatever. They rarely become Irish British.

  • Nevin
    Yes Margaret McKillop
    SF do have a fairly cavalier attitude to mandates..
    Look at all those “honourable” co-options.

    If its insightful, it is at least due in part to personal experience.
    As I have said here on more than more than occasion..I voted SF from 1993 to 2009.
    Certainly in the earlier years it was “personal”.
    Certainly in the later years based on the idea that SDLP was compromising too much.

    From 2009 or more precisely 2010, I would say that SF have been overdoing compromise and doing the kinda things that they would have criticised SDLP for doing.
    The oath of allegiance is of course meaningless nonsense which can be taken as the requirement to represent constituents.
    If Dennis Skinner can do it…so can I.
    To condemn SDLP for doing that and fawn all over tne institution of monarchy just doesnt make sense.
    The double speak that SF were honouring an tUachtaran doesnt make sense.

    mainstream nationalists who factor in the “oath” as a point to consider might well want to think about who the biggrst hypocrites are.

    I might also add the observation from a leading member of Strabane SDLP that the message SDLP got on the doorsteps when tney went our to talk to people in 2011 was “we never left the SDLP …the SDLP left us”
    (Conference 2012).

    The same nationalists might feel the same about Sinn Fein.
    They have forgotten themselves.
    The difficulty is that there are TWO SFs projected for us to see.
    The Mayor with ten chaplains who was guest of honour at the recent Tweet Up at McHughs.
    And there is tne SF featured in recent Spotlight programmes.
    Certainly theres a lot for mainstream nationalists to think about.

    I honestly dont know answers. I dont want to OVERLY propagandise here but SDLP have certainly some hope of clawing back nationalist votes.
    They have a former Green candidate standing in Lisburn.
    And the former SF person in North Antrim.
    Certainly possible.
    But I really think the biggest issue facing ALL political parties here is the quality of candidates.

  • Gopher

    There is a scene in Game of Thrones were Tywin Lannister informs King Geoffrey when he is threatening Tyrion with his regal power “Any man that must say I am the King is no true King”. You can substitute Statesman for King.

  • fjh and Mick, I was just pointing out that she didn’t defect from SF to the SDLP, as such; she was dumped by SF and subsequently joined the SDLP. This is an entirely different scenario from that of, say, Arlene Foster who defected from the UUP to the DUP.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s a different culture and different set of circumstances. There are plenty who left SF who didn’t and wouldn’t have gone to the SDLP.

    I certainly wouldn’t make too much of it, since we’ve seen a lot of cycling of unionists at council level, but it’s interesting nonetheless.


    There’s a very big difference between Scotland and England. In central Scotland people still self identify as Irish from Ayrshire to Dundee. In England there’s no real history of hyphenation as far as the Irish are concerned.

    That’s in part to do with the long low state of civil war. American citizens can self declare Irish without national conflicts getting in the way.

    Many of the British Irish institutions don’t really serve a pro national mentality any more, though in places like Merseyside I’ve met Irish Guardsmen with cousins up the Falls who self identified with that community as much as their own.

    Beyond traditional areas of settlement, there’s attachment for a generation through schools, music, sport and dance which you can find in the most spectacularly un-Irish villages in rural England.

    But the English accent does little to endear people at home to the idea of them belonging to the country of their parents or grandparents birth, whatever passport they are entitled to carry.

    I know from my own English born first cousins that other lines compete for mindspace and attention. I knew one of my uncle’s was Welsh, but I’d no idea he wasn’t a Catholic until his Welsh funeral conducted without Mass by the local Catholic Priest in the local church.

    The only English born kids I know who are relatively unconflicted about their identity are Irish Travellers, but that comes at a hell of price.

  • “It’s a different culture and different set of circumstances.”

    Moyle itself is probably a bit different, a place apart, Mick. Last time around, almost half of the republican vote went to unaligned candidates. Diktats from Connolly House or Dunloy don’t always go down too well, especially if they ditch local hard-working and popular members without so much as a thank you; blow-ins can feel the draught 🙂

  • “It’s a state visit.”

    The speech to Parliament reads more like an expression of nationalist (and Catholic) irredentism than an endorsement of the relationships outlined in the 1998 Agreement that were, somewhat inadequately, designed to accommodate opposing constitutional aspirations. He makes great play of the words of Tom Kettle:

    “this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain.”

    The President appears to be firmly impaled on the traditional nationalist hook and would like to portray himself, rather cheekily, as the president of the island of Ireland.

  • Greenflag

    “God save the Queen – she doesn’t deserve this,” said one message writer, no doubt thinking of the tortuous waffle Michael D. will be inflicting on his host.

    That message writer got it right on the nail . I felt for poor Queenie having to listen to that pompous whiney voice .

    I did’nt watch any of it but I commend Queenie and Cameron and McGuinness and Higgins for getting it over and done with 😉

    Higgins don’t get me wrong is a good man but it’s his voice that irritates the shit out of me

    And nobody dies twice whether they’re forgotten or not – It’s a one time event with no comebacks . Those like Prof Mary Warnock mentioned on another thread who confess to being simultaneously atheists and Anglicans are probably Pascallian wagerers


    Which is if one reads it an awful lot of ould codswallop for behind all the fancy rhetoric there is implicit in this Warnock/Pascallian mindset that somehow if there is an all knowing Creator that somehow he/she it will be dumb enough to miss out on the fence sitting double bet confusionists of Prof Warnock and the like .

    Nah -give me Richard Dawkins any day for the facts such as they have been discovered and proven to date re this turbulent universe which just happens to allow all of us to exist for a brief transient period before we rejoin the cosmos from whence we came .

    Next business

  • Zig70

    The history of the Irish in London has a sad line in folks who worked hard, in sometimes toxic environments, typically smoked and drank hard and sent a lot of earnings back home. They now pay with ill health and often poverty in retirement. A big sacrifice on their part which the Irish at home should appreciate.
    The bit I have a problem with is the don’t mention the war. The English should be reminded that they aren’t good neighbours. It’s cowardly not to. That Irish getalongerist trait, which I understand though our history is peppered with hoodwinks. If you have any sense, you wouldn’t show generosity in a fit if negotiating with the English. Some would see this as an exit strategy but it’s likely the typical exercise in containment.

  • aquifer

    Times change, recently for the better.

    Muddy bloody murder disease famine and and abuse were common in the sixteenth century, but bring any of them back onto the streets in comparatively rich modern industrial states in the 21st and people notice.

    And then there were all those religious wars.

    Has anybody any baggage to declare?

    Should England apologise for dispossessing the monasteries to pay for navies, or should the Irish apologise to the commonwealth countries for also benefitting from the global imperialism of the Brits? Should the Catholic Church repent for colluding in the mass murder of republicans and democrats in the Spanish Civil war?

    Would there have been so many Irish Americans with North America first as a Spanish or French colony?

    We have the history we have, and others have worse.

  • Kensei

    Nope, Martin McGuiness is less of a Republican. I can’t describe the full extent of my distaste for the whole concept of monarchy. I understand the reasons, but they all have the choice. They can stuck to their principles and pay the political price for it. I can see the efficiency of it, perhaps it is useful for someone to do it, but god I can’t help losing respect for anyone that does it. Bow low, Marty.

    If SF swear the oath they’ll lose my vote.

  • Kensei raises an interesting point.
    It is certainly a “purist” point of view to believe that republicans should not take part in Dail, Stormont and Westminster elections.
    hard to condemn the SDLP for oath of allegiance when a mainstream nationalist might take the Dennis Skinner option of doing the minimalist thing.
    mainstream nationalists are effectively minimalists.
    Doing the minimum necessary to live in Norn iron wthout actually supporting it.
    As a mainstream nationalist, I actually have a bigger problem with Windsor Castle than Westminster.