2016 and the decade of centenaries: What’s that all about then?

Ireland’s past is not a foreign country. For the plain people, unionist as well as nationalist, it is familiar, static and reassuring. For all the emphasis by historians on complexities and discontinuities, there is a popular sense of deep continuities, of enduring patterns which stand outside of historic time.

Liam Kennedy, Unhappy the Land (that’s in need of heroes) (2015).

I must admit that this thought has occurred to me more than once during the shrill lecturing of the new First Minister as to why she (or indeed Unionism at large) is not planning to join in the celebration (for it does seem to be that rather than remembrance) of the Easter Rising…

…isn’t there at least some sort of honesty about her position, in so far as it acknowledges the very real distinctions of political and national views at odds here rather than the touchy feely ‘we’re all in this together’ kind of stuff being put out?

On the other hand nationalists and Republicans are, of necessity now expected to participate, or at least turn up, to not dissimilar events in Northern Ireland, so as always the fundamental power relationships shape – almost demand – different responses.

A high expectation was set by the last government (then abandoned by this one) that the decade of centenaries would be a period of all island reconciliation and was heralded by a commemorative stamp for the Somme’s 90th anniversary and the Cabinet’s attendance at Islandbridge.

For the current Irish state the unambiguous focus of 2016 is to be the moment the founding idea became real. It has been accompanied by wrangling over the rightful inheritors of an act that wiped the Irish Parliamentary Party off the Irish political map everywhere, but Ulster.

Broad reconciliation has been supplanted for more domestic near term concerns: with Sinn Fein desperate to claim complicity for their own thirty year campaign of war and alienation with the short if bloody violence of the Rising; and Fine Gael asserting a reminder of its own Republican heritage.

In the Irish Times’ Rite and Reason column Seamus Murphy SJ had some blunt things to say about this state of affairs:

The Republic of Ireland is not the Rising’s ghost republic of the dead. A real republic is created by voters, is established in structures of representative democracy and the rule of law, and lives in the people’s democratic practices and culture which in Ireland’s case go back to Daniel O’Connell’s mass mobilisation of the people. A group of unrepresentative gunmen can only create a pretend republic.

In its manner of commemorating the Rising, the Government betrays the Republic in its weak, fearful desire to placate the ghosts of 1916.

He certainly doesn’t pull his punches:

…today’s Government elevates an event violently anti-British and intensely anti-unionist.

Second, praising the Rising as the defining event in Irish history implies it was justified and is a model for political action. A democratic government speaking thus undermines its own legitimacy.

Third, the excuse often made is that “we must reclaim the Rising from the men of violence”. But the Rising’s leaders were men of violence: the ring of Sauron cannot be turned against its master.

To celebrate the Rising is to celebrate anti-democratic elitism and bloodlust. One cannot have the Rising without having its meaning, and that meaning empowers Provo-land.

This of course is not where the idea of the decade of centenaries began. The original line of thinking came to a shuddering halt with Fianna Fail’s defenestration in 2011. As early as 2006 for instance Brian Cowen argued a strong pragmatic line on the nature of the rebels themselves:

They did not represent an unchanging set of policies or seek to establish a Gaelic utopia. In fact they were all about the idea that the Irish people should be allowed to evolve. To use a more modern concept, they believed in empowering the Irish people to control their own destiny. They were not Luddites seeking to stop progress and they did not reject the outside world.

There is an almost limitless number of areas where the Ireland of today has changed beyond recognition in the last eighty years. We have lost valuable things, but we are also seeing unprecedented progress in many areas. If you believe that the leaders were fighting for an ideal world, then yes they would be disappointed. But equally, if you accept that they understood that human society is not given to perfection, then you have to admit that they would see much to admire today.

It’s a take  underlined by the historian Charles Townshend in his follow up to Easter 1916, The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, 1918-1923 in which he describes the inchoate idea the volunteers had of what the liberated Republic would look like, or how it might operate.

When he became Taoiseach, Cowen employed the words of de Valera to re-emphasise the point:

“Tom Clarke is dead. He has not our responsibilities. Nobody will ever know what he would do, for this situation did not arise for him. But it arises for us and we must face it with our intelligence and conscious of our responsibility. It would be impossible to conduct a struggle if we had always to be thinking what would Clarke do, what would Pearse do in a situation they had never to meet. We know what they stood for and we should be guided by that, but each crisis has its own problems which must be decided by those living them.”

Fianna Fail intended to frame all the events from 2012 in one (all island) bracket. One bracket, one story, but with many (conflicting) chapters.

With the removal of that frame partition once again becomes the governing idea in Irish politics. That’s a frame which as Murphy notes suits Sinn Fein very well since it’s their political aim to be the sole active bridge toward the reunification of the island.

Demoting the Somme as a meaningful part of the 2016 feast is like cooking fish pie for a cousin you know is allergic to fish, and then decrying them when they inform that you they can’t eat it.

In fact there’s been very little narrative power in any of the events so far. The Ulster Covenant was a fairly private low key affair, with the current leader of the DUP known to be focusing much more on the foundation of the state in 1922.

For their part they’d been well advised to heed the advice of Carson, who on the 4th February 1921 exhorted .

From the very outset let us see that the Catholic minority have nothing to fear from the Protestant majority. Let us take care to win all that is best among those who have been opposed to us in the past. While maintaining intact our own religion let us give the same rights to the religion of our neighbours.

Warren Little’s advice in the Impartial Reporter nails it somewhat from a unionist point of view…

It is argued that as First Minister Arlene Foster has a duty to represent everyone in Northern Ireland, including those who cherish the events of Easter 1916. It is a charge that will rightly be levelled at many partisan events over the course of Foster’s term in office, on which she should properly be judged. But not this one. The role of premier of any country surely does not extend to commemorating the violent roots of a movement that later sought – and seeks – to destroy it.

Murphy concludes that what’s at play in the Irish Government’s current framing of 2016 is a negation of the actual Republic’s constitutional journey towards rapprochement with unionism over nearly 100 years:

…the Rising was a shriek of protest at the prospect of constitutional nationalists compromising with unionists. But the real Republic committed to such compromise in the 1998 Good Friday agreement. To be serious about the agreement’s project, Irish governments must treat it as providing the norm for remembering the Rising.

The Good Friday agreement, not the Rising, is the defining event of contemporary Irish identity.

The latter may well be true, but as Cowen noted back in 2006 interfering with or denying access to tradition comes at huge cost…

…one of the greatest potential drivers of extremism is the attempt to deny people the right of tradition. One of the greatest supports which you can give to those who claim legitimacy for extreme acts is to say to the public that conditions today are the same as they were eighty years ago – that if you admire the men and women of 1916-21 you must be a closet terrorist.

This sort of nonsense was built on a crass and deeply anachronistic linking of contemporary events to historical events and movements. It has never ceased to amaze me how those who argue for an ‘unbroken chain’ and those who claim to oppose them most use exactly the same interpretative framework.

Thankfully, the public has never bought into this. They have chosen to see tradition in general, and republicanism in particular, as evolving rather than static. One of the many good things to come from this has been the growing willingness to embrace and seek to understand the other 1916 – that of the Western Front. The commemoration of both the 1916 Rising and the Somme show how we are willing to broaden our definition of patriotism, bravery and indeed service.

To be meaningful, political identity must involve differences, but I believe we are growing as a people as we come more and more to understand the overlaps and inter-reliance to be found between different traditions on this island.[emphasis added]

The offer it seems has been hastily redefined, if not changed. The First Minister has said she’ll come to seminars or such like events to discuss the rising, she just won’t ‘marking’, ‘commemorating’ or ‘celebrating’ what she said last night on The View “something that I believe was a mistake”.

Murphy pushes his point to an extreme in order to illustrate a narrative weakness, particularly in the current framing of 2016 as only really being about the Easter Rising. But he’s on very solid ground when he asserts that “the Good Friday agreement, not the Rising, is the defining event of contemporary Irish identity.”

Of course, Irish identity and Irish freedom are not contiguous concepts (or realities) by any means. Therein lies a useful and potentially powerful unifying paradox if anyone cares to pick it up and run with it from where it was so recklessly abandoned in early 2011.

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  • Spike

    Perhaps we should applaud Ms Foster in being straightforward with not wanting to be associated with the 1916 rising commemorations. Lets be honest its a sham that she, as leader of the largest Unionist party, should feel pressurised to go to something which is wholly against her beliefs and politics. Sinn Fein and SDLP should also be under no pressure to attend WW1 commemorations, Knighting ceremonies and royal visits as it too is against their ideaology and looks silly that they have to be there. It all looks staged and insincere and reeks of politician’s shallowness.

  • Reader

    But Spike – at the battle of the Somme, Irish nationalists and Unionists were on the same side. In the Easter Rising, they were on opposite sides. You’re not comparing like with like.
    Instead, how about checking if Martin McGuinness turned up at the commemorations for the Ulster Covenant?

  • Spike

    You say that as if ALL irish nationalists were there fighting for Britain and the King. Most wanted nothing to do with it and of those nationalists that went the inducement was home rule. fighting side by side for very different reasons.
    For England James? No, for Ireland……and its Séamus.
    Martin turning up to shake hands with the Queen was a fairly momentous moment. Is the Ulster covenant worthy of a centenary event? There was none for the British covenant as I remember so surely we have to wait until 1922 for the Northern Ireland centenary events. Unfortunate timing indeed seeing 2016 is the big year of events.

  • Gingray

    Do nationalists really care if Foster wants no part in it?

    Ireland was hardly the first colonised part of the British Empire to violently rebel. By this stage protestant Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, Canada and South Africa all had been granted Dominion status, and while the Irish people had voted merely to support home rule, being denied by the undemocratic house of Lords and an armed minority was only ever going to result in popular rebellion.

  • Reader

    Since I used the term “Irish nationalists” myself, your first two paragraphs were unnecessary. At the Somme, the nationalists and unionists were on the same side. Commemorating it together is only a big deal for those who make it so.
    As for your other comparison – if Peter Robinson had met the Irish head of state at the same time as Martin McGuinness met the UK head of state, that would have been nicely symmetrical wouldn’t it? And that’s what happened.

  • Spike

    yes indeed, its a pity Peter didn’t get many photos that day.

  • Saint Etienne

    “This sort of nonsense was built on a crass and deeply anachronistic linking of contemporary events to historical events and movements. It has never ceased to amaze me how those who argue for an ‘unbroken chain’ and those who claim to oppose them most use exactly the same interpretative framework.”

    I had a browse through the internet’s archive of Brian Cowen’s opinions surrounding this and related responses to the ‘United Ireland by 2016’ strand of Irish republican optimism. I have to admit it looks all the more articulate now bearing in mind Heather Humphreys & co’s near constant hubris over the rebel ‘visionaries’, etc.

    Evidently there are two streams of reflection at work in 2016 too; the populist rhetoric engaged in by a government seeking re-election and against that a more academic side that demands an appreciation of nuance. Neither side wishes to entertain the other though the resources of the former largely mean there’s no competition in achieving mindshare unfortunately.

  • Roy White

    “Where was the democratic mandate for WW1?”
    The democratically elected Government of the UK decided, rightly or wrongly, to enter WW1. The leaders of the 1916 Rising were not elected representatives.

  • mickfealty

    To be fair the shoe was on the other foot before 2011. Also you have to see too that for a non Garrett led Fine Gael, Northern Ireland is of lesser importance to the national story than the treaty defined territory of what is now unambiguously defined as the Republic of Ireland, or Ireland to its close friends and family.

  • mickfealty

    I do wonder sometimes why I bother putting the work in… 😉

  • kensei

    Attacks on 1916 as an attack on democracy or democratic values are problematic for a number of reasons

    1. The UK wasn’t fully democratic. The House of Lords was recently defanged but certainly any of the women of 19916 had more than just cause.
    2. Irish voters had voted for something like 9 consecutive elections for Home Rule and were denied it. it was unclear why westminster should be sovereign since they earned their position by conquest, and the Act of Union was enacted on a limited franchise. To accept this argument is to accept the rules of a rigged game.
    3. Unionism had already threatened full scale rebellion. The threat of a gun is often as effective as an actual gun.
    4. Grossly anti democratic war powers were in operation.
    5. The subsequent results at the 1918 elections.

    Attacks on 1916 as being anti-British and anti-Unionist are problematic because

    1. Any action towards independence was inherently both, by definition.
    2. There were many justifiable reasons for the leaders to be both anti-British and anti-Unionist. Amply illustrated by the behaviour of the British Government immediately before, after and during the rebellion but you know there were a few other things in the past 300 years, like the deaths of 1.5 million due to failures of British policy.
    3. Quite a lot of the British establishment disliked the Irish and had some shall we say, unusual ideas about the “race”
    4. If anything, it’s the complete lack of Nationalism in the period to take Ulster Unionism seriously that caused so many problems.
    5. The entire Irish polity and the majority of the policy would be vehemently against the both the British and unionists if they were forced to be under the 1916 policy. Unless I have missed wide scale calls to rejoin the UK under a viceroy?

    Attacks that cite Ulster Unionist self-determination run into real problems because of

    1. Northern nationalists. If partition of Ireland was justified because of the concentration of Unionists in a small area, then this logic can be equally applied to any subarea of Northern Ireland with a Nationalist majority; and it is also not clear that is the split is close it should lead to assignment to one area or another. The 6 counties were an entirely arbitrary boundary: 4 might have been more plausible. There is this brilliant game that puts Northern nationalists with Southern nationalists when it suits, then pulls them out again when it doesn’t.

    Arguments that say the modern Republic has nothing to do with 1916 are problematic because

    1. The vast majority of the Republic’s history and political history. I mean, come on.

    The first rule anyone should apply about anything in the decade of centenaries is that it has nothing to do with anything 100 years ago, and everything to do with stuff happening today.

    Cowan has it right, for what it is worth. The leaders of 1916 weren’t a monolith and had different ideas on what the country should be. The later subsequent partially successful rebellion was strong precisely because it united all parts of nationalism, some of which were more usually opposed. What matters is the values laid down in the Proclamation and how we stack up to them in our own time. A bit like the US Declaration of Independence, the values are better than the men themselves. And that’s the greatest triumph of those men.

  • kensei

    This is too dense Mick. It needs to be 3 blogs concentrating on smaller points. Otherwise tl;dr is inevitable.

  • Saint Etienne

    “Northern Ireland is of lesser importance to the national story”

    Indeed. In which case you have to wonder why the ‘all of the people on this island’ rhetoric finds it’s way into so many of their speeches on 2016.

    As an aside, in that Observer article Humphreys states she met ‘members of the unionist community’ when planning commemoration. I know that Humphreys met members of her state’s minority community. Their opinion of various issues such as having flags in schools, etc was aired though not listened to. And it’s worth pointing out the official state events are largely decided by an all-party body.

    It would be of benefit for all concerned if the Dublin administration reached out to those within it’s borders before laying breathless claims of attachment to bemused onlookers to their north.

    It’s one thing Dublin being prepared to meet people who they are going to disagree with. For example I understand they’ve done so many times with various groupings of Orangemen. I’ve yet to hear anything productive to come of it in terms of national policy and it’s difficult not to conclude such meetings are treated as PR fodder.

    I see though John Bruton has aired a similar message regarding recent events superseding those of 100 years ago. Not knowing anything about the philosophies of FG I wouldn’t know whether to place him in this Fitzgerald camp or simply a former politician freed from the need to seek a mandate.

  • mickfealty

    It’s not dense and it really isn’t that hard to follow ken. I took the time to make sure it wasn’t, and I’ve had some solid private feedback already to that effect.

  • WarrenLittle

    Thanks Mick for the attention.
    Interesting view from Cowen that stands as a preemptive rebuke to my piece. It amazes him that those who claim to oppose physical force republicans use the same ‘crass and anachronistic’ interpretative framework as physical force republicans, i.e. linking contemporary events to historical events and movements. He says the Irish public in general don’t buy into that because they appreciate that the conditions were not the same as they were in 1916 and they know that traditions evolve. I can see the attraction of that argument for an Irish politician and how it provides a neat fit for Irish people who are proud of the Easter rebels but reject republican violence of the modern era. What was right then is not right now.
    However it seems to me that his argument is built on an irrepressible instinct that the rebellion at the time was to a significant extent justified by the conditions prevailing in 1916 and the overall outcome. That has been the tenor of teaching in Irish schools and is ingrained generally in the Irish psyche. Unionists necessarily come to it from a different perspective and a different instinct. What was wrong then remains wrong now. For them the whole line of Cowen’s thinking is stillborn.

  • kensei

    Well that’s me told. My opinion is it is too long and covers too much ground for the form. In my opinion. I make no claim to special insight.

  • mickfealty


  • Zig70

    I don’t see myself as very nationalist, I wasn’t brought up with it being a very Irish thing. Certainly proud to be Irish, but as the land of Saints and Scholars. Being Irish was about language, learning, art, music, dancing, story telling and technically difficult sporting games. Nationalism was something the Germans and English were into and killed themselves en masse for, over the smallest of things. All that high falutin arty stuff is fine and dandy but it doesn’t get you to pay your taxes. The English elite tolerate the monarchy because it helps endear the tax payers to paying. For some reason the sense of tradition and nationhood helps. I don’t get it but if I was a politician I’d be trying to use it as much as possible. The irish need a bit of nationalism, for years they have been keeping their head down and trying to go un-noticed

  • Saint Etienne

    “The English elite tolerate the monarchy because it helps endear the tax payers to paying.”

    Bearing in mind who bailed out the Republic’s banks, one wonders what endears their taxpayers to keep paying? 😉

  • Nevin

    “One of the many good things to come from this has been the growing willingness to embrace and seek to understand the other 1916 – that of the Western Front. The commemoration of both the 1916 Rising and the Somme show how we are willing to broaden our definition of patriotism, bravery and indeed service.” .. Brian Cowen

    Air brushing the British/UK dimension from the Somme commemoration was hardly likely to go down well in unionist circles. Framing commemoration in a Strand 2 context is just another example of cherry-picking the 1998 Agreement. As I’ve suggested previously, these commemorations should be carried out with dignity by and for those who have an interest in them.

  • mickfealty

    You mean something like this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTduy7Qkvk8

  • Gopher

    The South has really got themselves in a pickle over this, dunno why they had a hundred years to plan it. Me, I would have the event military rather than political, like Bastille day legitimizing “the mob” and in the same instance depoliticizing it. Don’t matter who is in government or whether or not it is an election year Bastille Day remains the same. While we’re making suggestions trying not to make your state look like a low budget Leni Riefenstahl flick could I also suggest that instead of individual parties going to Bodenstown you just send the President, if infact you have to send anyone at all.

  • mickfealty

    Maybe that’s true. But I don’t think so. The fact of the Rising and its consequences cannot be unsaid, or undone any more than the Siege of Derry, the Penal Laws or the Famine. It’s an established historical act.

    In a way we don’t have to be pushed to a moral judgement on historical events if we have an agreed means of conducting and regulating our relationships now. The key is not just the GFA, but the solemn changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution binding all Republicans to a civil approach to unification.

    The Cowen/Dev material is a reminder that the effort to reinvent and re-interpret that originating and historical act – and mine it for clues and values for the future development of the country into a very different place than it was 90 some years ago – has been going on since the establishment of the state.

    The issue has been the felt need to obliterate rather than finding the means of accommodating or even assimilating ‘the other’ into proper and mannerly human relations. Or in other words looking for ways to move on from seeing identity in a “pathological political form”.

    The folly that has beleaguered post Belfast Agreement Ireland is the idea that we somehow have to agree everything. We don’t. I don’t have to share the values of the Orange Order to see it as a vital part of wider Irish culture.

    If it is part of the wider culture, instead of fighting it, then the smart Irish Republican would (like Cowen) seek to make space for it in the broader mansion rather than continuing (in war mode) to connive at its extirpation.

    In part this is because whilst belief is not exactly non negotiable (since almost all identities are social constructions) it’s part of a cultural wiring system that is integral to a sense of meaning and belonging in the public life of the citizen.

    That’s what Cowen’s referring to here…

    What has always struck me is how detached the elite discourse became from the reality of people’s beliefs and understanding of the events which led to the formation of this state. The public always rejected the idea that modernity was incompatible with a strong attachment to historic events.

    This new dispensation does not require people to abandon their identities or attachments – in fact it comes from quite the opposite approach by providing a basis to recognise the legitimacy of different traditions and the value of diversity.

    This is vital. But it is also rather well understood in unionist quarters too in Northern Ireland.

    Communities and nations cohere around stories. When those stories fall apart and atomise so can and do the communities and nations they once sustained.

    That’s why, as Bryan Delaney has argued it is important we take great care what stories we choose to tell… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yl_2R-owrVU

    The Boyne and the various Risings are part of what makes up the cultural identity of the Irish (and I mean that in the broad and literal sense of those who live on the island).

    We need to find ways of hacking new stories and anecdotes in order to help us bridge from old, obsolete narratives, reaching out to the other at the other side. Seb Pacquet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojQT6U-gRAM&feature=youtu.be&t=10s.

    Or to put it another way we, all of us, need to find ways acquire a Bowie disposition until we hack our way to a place is that is better than where we are now. [Sorry if that’s too rambling.]

  • Roger

    “with the current leader of the DUP known to be focusing much more on the foundation of the state in 1922”

    I presume that by “state” you mean Northern Ireland. That sub-national jurisdiction was founded in 1921, 3 May 1921 to be precise. Southern Ireland was founded the same day, short-lived though it was. The Irish Free State was founded on 6 December 1922. Northern Ireland ‘left’ the Irish Free State on 8 December 1922. Ireland was established on 29 December 1937. I thought I’d cover all the main dates.

  • tmitch57

    Actually Roger, you are off by about a year on the establishment of the Irish Free State. The treaty ending the Irish War of Independence was signed in December 1921 and the first Free State government took power in January 1922. The first Northern Ireland government began functioning in January 1922.

  • tmitch57

    Democratically elected governments in the UK, France, and the United States went to war as part of their mandates. In representative democracy governments are given an elected mandate to either serve for a fixed period of time (presidential systems) or for as long as they have a parliamentary majority within a fixed period of time (parliamentary systems). Belgium was invaded and fought to repel the invasion. The Dominions of the British Empire also had elected governments that voted to support Britain’s war effort.

  • tmitch57

    “Northern nationalists. If partition of Ireland was justified because of
    the concentration of Unionists in a small area, then this logic can be
    equally applied to any subarea of Northern Ireland with a Nationalist
    majority; and it is also not clear that is the split is close it should
    lead to assignment to one area or another. The 6 counties were an
    entirely arbitrary boundary: 4 might have been more plausible.”

    As I have pointed out repeatedly, by insisting on all 32 counties, the nationalists in 1916-22 made it easy for unionists to carve out six counties rather than merely four. For nationalists in Irish-majority counties of NI to have subsequently seceded to join the Free State/Republic would have put off for much longer the day when their fellow nationalists in Counties Down, Antrim, Armagh and Londonderry would be able to join the Republic. Today that date is possibly two decades away. In a four-county NI it would be much longer than that. And in 1998 the two main nationalists agreed to the principle of a majority of the electorate in a referendum determining the future status of the province.

  • mickfealty

    I’m saying it’s a false diachotomy, which belongs to this weirdly instrumental “one for us, one for youse” approach to our politics we’ve become so accustomed to in post Belfast Agreement NI.

    What I’m saying is that the current framing is materially different to the one proposed eleven years ago (as densely outlined above) which took 2016 rather than *just* the Rising as the key frame and sought to make room for both strands of Irish identity in its calendar.

    It was an attempt to nudge the national story into the 21 by making room in the state’s traditions for the other. No doubt there will be more stuff emerging in June – depending on who comes out on top in Feb/March) but these things needs long slow iteration rather than one hard transformative hit.

  • Spike

    It’s very difficult to separate the main states from the commemorations. British died in the uprising at the hands of the Irish. Nationalist Irish men died at the somme fighting for the most brutal empire in the world against an empire that most probably would have became the most brutal empire in the world…..and were duped into doing it for home rule that never came. If the labels of Irish and British are removed it becomes more palatable for both sides but loses the wider context. An impossible task therefore better for both sides to commemorate their own interests in their own way without the faux show of respect.

  • Nevin

    Mick, I was half-expecting to see this Seamus Heaney quote:

    “So hope for a great sea-change

    On the far side of revenge.

    Believe that further shore

    Is reachable from here.

    Believe in miracle

    And cures and healing wells.”

    Unsurprisingly, your ‘post Belfast Agreement Ireland’ caught my eye. I continue to subscribe to ‘the totality of relationships across these islands’ agreement whereas Cowen, like de Valera before him, is still stuck down the irredentist well.

    de Valera 28.06.1921: “We most earnestly desire to help in bringing about a lasting peace between the peoples of these two islands, but see no avenue by which it can be reached if you deny Ireland’s essential unity and set aside the principle of national self-determination.

    Before replying more fully to your letter, I am seeking a conference with certain representatives of the political minority in this country.”

    This little piece of condescension got short-shrift from Craig:

    “Impossible for me to arrange any meeting. I have already accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to London Conference, and, in order to obviate misunderstanding in Press between my namesake* in the Southern Parliament and myself, I am publishing these telegrams.

    JAMES CRAIG, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. (June 29th).”

    * Sir James Craig TD was born at Castlecat, near Bushmills.

  • John Collins

    Maybe it was justified for the following Reasons
    (1) At the time of the Act of Union the population of The island of Ireland was five million and the population of the larger island was fifteen million, yet Ireland only 104 MPs in Westminster out of a total of 680. This injustice was exacerbated by the fact that the means of transport of the day was totally inadequate. In 1800 there were no railways only horse drawn mail coaches. How were members representing constituencies on the West coast of Ireland to regularly make their way to the HOC to represent the people that elected the? We should also recall that members were not remunerated until 1911 and travelling expenses were light years away. If anything Irealnd should have a stronger per capits representation and not less that half of what it should have had.
    (2) As part of the proposed Home Rule agreement the number of Irish MPs in Westminster would have been reduced to less than 40- NI was represented by a paltry 12 members at Westminster from 1922 to 1970. From a Nationalist and Catholic point this would have been about as useful as a lighthouse in a bog
    (3) In 1801 the respective populations was as stated above. However by 1911 the population of the island of Britain had increased by 180% to 41 million people. Yet the population of the island of Ireland, now allegedly an integral part of GB, had decreased by 15 % to 4.3 million. In the previous 70 years the RC population of what what is now ROI may have decreased by by as much 4 million or over 60%. As Disraeli once said ‘nothing could fix poor Ireland but a revolution’. I think we should also note the population of ROI has grown by about 60% since 1911, which is about the same increase as that of GB.
    (4) those who go and on about the mandate for the men of 16s action should remember that at the last election in 1910 only men over 35 had a vote and women had no vote. The only time we get a clear view of the feelings of all the electorates feelings is at the 1918 election and especially as the in the case of the now ROI, the result was clear cut.
    (5) We must take historical events in context. As late as 24 January 1902 Dr Robert Ambrose, Nationalist MP for West Mayo, speaking in the HOC, quoted several prominent Nineteenth Century British Politicians, as stating that any improvements in Ireland wrung from the HOC were achieved by violence or the threat of it. By contrast O’Connell’s perfectly democratic Repeal Movement was ruthlessly put down by the threat of violence. So much for Westminsters’ respect for democracy.

  • mickfealty

    Yes, to most of that. But, and this is vital, Cowen is not speaking in 1921. Nor indeed was Dev at Liam Lynch’s funeral.

    If you negate what follows, you are actively discounting both the political significance and ongoing effect of the Belfast Agreement, which I’m sure is not your intention.

    The Rising is changed by these subsequent committments and events in ways that transform rather than negate the traditions that gave rise to both.

  • John Collins

    Well put and actually very convincing. BTW I like your use the Lamb Dearg symbol, which pre dates the appearance the arrival of St Patrick or the more historically based Palladius. I have seen it written that Ireland was ‘like a land of milk and honey before the arrival of Christianity’ and maybe it was.

  • Nevin

    Mick, I don’t take the view that our politicians in any way feel bound by commitments entered into; cherry-picking rules OK.

    Here are two quotes, then and now; they have a remarkable resemblence:

    “The reply which I, as spokesman for the Irish Nation, shall make to Mr. Lloyd George will affect the lives and fortunes of the political minority in this island, no less than those of the majority.” .. de Valera 28.06.1921

    “On behalf of the Irish people, may I, once again, thank you very sincerely for your dedication to the cause of Peace on this island.” .. President Higgins 10.01.2016

    The most recent bout of the Troubles impacted on the citizens of these islands but most particularly Northern Ireland. I’d be surprised if Arlene Foster would be any less blunt than Sir James Craig.

  • Roger

    I’m not wrong on the dates. You are.

    The Irish Free State did not exist until 6 December 1922 when the King issued a Proclamation bringing it into being. That was the 1 year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty. I have a copy of the Proclamation. It appears to me that you are confusing the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland, to use the terminology of the Treaty itself, with an IFS Government.

    Northern Ireland existed from the 3 May 1921. Southern Ireland existed from the same date, and the former Ireland ceased to exist from that date. Only a few weeks later, the King even went to Belfast to open its Houses of Parliament. There isn’t any doubt around any of these dates or room for opinions. It’s all boringly black and white in the law.

  • eamoncorbett

    Arlene Foster constantly refers to Northern Ireland in almost every sentence sometimes on four or five different occasions, the idea being to rub it in to Martin McGuinness , to let Martin know the true name given to the fledgling state in the early twenties . With the hundredth anniversary coming up she will no doubt seek to reinforce the official title given to the newly partitioned region of Ireland . This can only have the effect of retaliatory action on behalf of SF and the further undermining of trust in the Assembly .
    A poor start by Foster , seeking to provoke a response which will no doubt be forthcoming in the future . Arlene has already shunned 1916 , thus alienating a sizeable sectio of the community . If her first week on the job is anything to go by , she has a lot to do to gain the confidence of Nationalists

  • Nevin
  • 1) The battle of the Somme lasted around five months. The 1st July was a 36th Ulster day. There is no doubt about the importance of that date within the Ulster collective memory. It encapsulates such a great sense of loss and community. There is no doubt about Republican understanding of the importance. Drumcree was selected, deliberately, an affront to the deep association with the Somme Commemoration (it was a Somme parade that was targeted) lead by someone who was associated with bombing a local British Legion hall. Double insult. 2) Republicans can commemorate/celebrate the Rising all they like. Who’s stopping them?

    It seems odd that on one hand the Irish State ‘celebrates’ physical force Republicanism (capital R), of which 1916 is central, and in whose name the bombing of a British Legion Hall is wholly justified, while seeking at the same part to create an ownership or affinity with all Irish who fought for freedom and Empire.

  • Roger

    I don’t know how those links relate to the topic or what you are suggesting, if you’re suggesting or saying something.

  • mickfealty

    It you think the Belfast Agreement has had zero effect on shaping our politics then you are making a fundamental mistake. You may not like the political outlook of some parties (who knows, maybe all of them). But every one of them is shaped (and constrained) by the contours of the Belfast Agreement.

    It is also an ahistorical mistake to suggest that any commemoration of the Rising in 2016 is unaffected/uncontaminated by that freshly mandated Agreement, whether there is a conscious attempt to integrate lessons from subsequent experience on the part of any given actor/s or not.

    In another context (http://goo.gl/M2Te2X), Lou Cannelli makes a related point:

    …willingness to revise, in everything that we do, is paramount. That is, a willingness to abide by our current understanding of nature and evolution, a willingness to allow ourselves to adapt and change. Even if we’re not willing, we don’t really have a choice; the world keeps moving forward even as, or perhaps especially when, we try to freeze it.

    Despite the apprehension of some in advance of this year, this issue of context matters deeply. The Ireland of 2016 is vastly transformed from that which pertained 1966 (and not just in terms of colour TVs, personal computers and unleaded petrol).

    The latent danger (and the unnecessary fear and pain), in my view, lies in failing to recognise the profound nature of that change and a consequent refusal to build upon it.

  • Roger

    Eamon – Northern Ireland isn’t a name that Unionists really liked. I generalise here but they would very much have preferred ‘Ulster’. A draft Bill to rename the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ as the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ulster’ was brought to P.M. Atlee’s Cabinet in 1949. The P.M.’s Working Committee recommended the change saying the new title was “a rounder and more resounding title”. In summary, it was the anticipated angry response from the Irish (worldwide) that ultimately made Atlee decide against the change.

    So really, the SFers need to get over it. Northern Ireland is the jurisdiction’s name. It could have been ‘Ulster’ and SF would find that even more objectionable.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    What’s that all about then?

    It seems to be mostly for our backward southern friends, to celebrate 100 years of having a ridiculous chip on their shoulder.

  • Kev Hughes

    ‘There is no doubt about the importance of that date within the Ulster collective memory’

    Only part of it D, the unionist side only.

    You’re right about Drumcree being deliberately selected, though wrong as to the ‘why’. People being locked up as a large number of people who treat them like crap on the bottom of their shoe being able to walk through their area by an organisation that, in that particular area at least, was vehement anti-Catholic was probably it. Their spokesman being a former bomber is neither here nor there, he had the support of his community and unfortunately, unionism doesn’t get to pick its opponents but seems to make a great job of creating ones you’d never have expected.

    ‘Double insult’

    You’ve the right to be insulted, suck it up and be smarter with your opponents or you get Drumcrees every time.

    I have to agree with you on the southern Irish government and WW1, personally I think it’s merely to find favour with unionism which, as a northern nationalist, I know is a losing game. Best to let you guys wallow in your own uncompromising juices and worst instincts.

  • mickfealty

    If you don’t mind my saying so, you’re putting false prescriptions in my mouth gendjinn. These scenarios arise from the idea that we are all separate and will remain so until the end of time, or the island is politically unified. It’s integral to Martin’s proffered “leaders of the Planters and the Gaels” paradigm.

    This is where I think Warren has a very senior point. Goading people into making empty gestures (‘polite meaningless words’ as Yeats put it) is not equivalent to political progress.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “You’ve the right to be insulted, suck it up and be smarter with your opponents or you get Drumcrees every time.”


  • Am Ghobsmacht

    ” If partition of Ireland was justified because of the concentration of Unionists in a small area, then this logic can be equally applied to any subarea of Northern Ireland with a Nationalist majority; ”

    Interesting point.

    IF the nationalist-majority counties had the chance to break away next year do you think they’d take it?

    I wonder which side SF would come down on? e.g. bit-by-bit reunification whilst booting total re-unification further down the road or and ‘all or nothing’ approach.

  • kensei

    In 1916? Sure. Not at the moment though. The Republic’s economy is still too buggered and that would weigh heavily in votes for any form if unity.

    I think there is probably a set of circumstances where they would, though. If the Republics economy was roaring and we were in the doldrums or if the UK splits from Europe. I don’t think it’d be county based though, constituencies are probably closer.

    I don’t think SF would back it; it basically ends the prospects for a full UI. I have often thought it’d be a useful threat though, if it could be credibly welded. We are at a point where if there was sustained effort of civil disobedience in majority Nationalist areas it’d be more or less impossible to deny. And it’d be a useful reminder to unionism that NI as us not simply secured bybtheir majority but by the acquiescence and aspirations of Nationalism.

  • Greenflag 2

    Well said Mick -in particular the last three paragraphs . Many unionists and I don’t just mean the flag wavers and effigy burners haven’t grasped that the Ireland of 2016 is a very different political animal from that of 1916 or even that of 1969.
    Conversely ‘Unionism and Loyalism ‘ seem stuck in a past from which there is no escape .

    The GFA is a game changer . People may not like the change or they may object to parts of it but its not going away any time soon . Somehow Nationalist and Republican Ireland seem more at ease with that change than Unionism or Loyalism – despite the central tenet of the Agreement being that the status of NI in the UK can only be changed by a local majority of the people of Northern Ireland .

  • Greenflag 2

    In 1949 SF did’nt exist politically in Northern Ireland or in the Republic . Thanks to the Herculean efforts of various Unionist Governments in Northern Ireland from the 1950’s to the 1980 ‘s SF not only exist but are poised to become the largest political party in Northern Ireland and the traditional Province of Ulster (9 counties ) has a considerable majority of Irish nationalists /republicans .

  • Roger

    Ireland and the United Kingdom are each members of the UN and say they are committed to tackling climate change.

  • Nevin

    Roger, the first link affirms your dating and the second is a bonus. Mick quoted Carson in advance of the formation of the Northern Ireland state; Craig’s statement deals with the intermediate aftermath. This statement reflects concerns about the willingness of London to do side-deals with Sinn Féin, concerns that today’s unionist parties as well as the SDLP might well echo:

    On the whole we thought it much better that if there was to be a conference, and the conference was called without our knowledge or without our having been in any way consulted, we thought we could best look after the interests of our people by being present at that conference to see that nothing was given away behind our backs.

  • Nevin

    Mick, the unionist and nationalist fundamentals remain unchanged – as a perusal of the [unconstrained] exchanges in our super-councils would confirm.

    “With eyes always open and ever alert to new information, we find our greatest strength – our antifragility.” .. Lou

    Quite – a sentiment that I can readily identify with!

    As far as the north coast is concerned the Athboy conspiracy debacle had a far greater impact on community relations than the 1998 Agreement.

    Ahern and Blair certainly showed little restraint when they showed contempt for the victims by their headlong release of paramilitary prisoners without a quid pro quo on weapons.

  • mickfealty

    Lou’s point is that you have to recognise change and seek to build and rebuild on it. Not that you keep presuming things haven’t and will never change.

  • mickfealty

    Thanks. But you always make the mistake of thinking that it’s unionism rather than nationalism that isn’t changing.

    Unionism has a dynamic – if not always forward looking – contest going on, whilst nationalist drifts in the consequence free zone of Northern Irish politics.

    I recommend you look again at the speeches by Robbo and McGuinness back in 2008: http://goo.gl/VtFba7

  • Greenflag 2

    In this case I’d say you have a point re some elements of nationalism and republicanism in NI but there is a different dynamic in ROI brought about by what you term the open loop . Unionism if it has a dynamic it appears to me to be purely the survival of the Union . For nationalists an republicans north of the border their ‘drift ‘ is neither here nor there in the short term .

  • Greenflag 2

    If NI elects an SF FM there’ll be climate change .Things could get warmer . Might even delay the next ice age !

  • Nevin

    Well, my eyes will remain open to continuity and change. To quote Taleb: “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” The shocks haven’t gone away you know!

  • Roger

    Thanks Nevin though to be honest the first link doesn’t mention the 3 May 1921 date that I did. The 3 May 1921 date is the date that an obscure Order in Council under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 was signed. I say obscure only because I can’t find it anywhere online, though there are many references to it. For such a significant piece of law, it surprises me that someone hasn’t uploaded it somewhere. Regrettably, I don’t have access to a major law library or the like to find it.

  • Roger

    Better still, SF might storm the elections with a joint party platform with ZANU-PF.

  • mickfealty

    Fair point at the end there. If keeping NI in the union is the only point then Unionism risk failure in the longer run. But from my contact with Unionists of the political and small u type, I really don’t see that being the case.

    Arlene would be well advised to be generous in setting out the parameters for a shared agenda, putting them out in ways that challenge nationalism rather that provide another excuse for things going into the ground.

  • WarrenLittle

    A lot in that John, yet still a gaping chasm between it and shooting an unarmed Irish bobby in the head.

  • Nevin

    I was using a little bit of licence, Roger! The May 3 date was announced in the Commons on April 5:

    Mr. HENRY

    His Majesty’s Government have fixed the 3rd May next for bringing into operation the provisions of the Government of Ireland Act generally; but certain matters of a nature requiring consultation with the new Governments when established are excluded and will remain as at present until subsequent appointed days are fixed. On or about the 3rd of May the Lord Lieutenant will issue Proclamations summoning the Parliaments of Southern and Northern Ireland; the elections will be held, as stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in May, and the establishment of the two Governments will follow in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

    The elections were held on May 24 and the first session of the Northern Ireland parliament was held on June 7.

  • Greenflag 2

    If you don’t know where you are it might be time to move somewhere else . Northern Ireland is not Finchley nor is it Zimbabwe .

  • Greenflag 2

    Your contacts with respect Mick may be with the more politically astute elements within unionism . . If I’m not mistaken this is the element within unionism who have been long sidelined in the DUP push for dominance of the unionist vote . Arlene would appear at this stage to be ‘hostage ‘ to the less politically astute . Based on the record to date I just can’t see ‘unionism ‘ challenging ‘nationalism ‘ in any way that could make a real difference to the constitutional political stalemate .

    We will see I guess as elections approach.

  • John Collins

    I suppose there are innocent victims in every war. Just look at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I agree it is regrettable but I think that we would be in all probability still just a remote neglected part of the UK, if these men had not acted. There was never a revolution in which innocent people did not suffer and even die.

  • John Collins

    William Hague explained, at the time of the Royal visit, why GB gave money towards the Irish bail out. He said that as the ROI was the fourth largest purchaser of English products and the fifth highest supplier of goods in to the GB market it was in GBs own interest to bail out the Irish banks. It should be also noted that since English banks had loaned considerable amounts of money to Irish banks, prior to the crash, they would also have crashed if the Irish banks went under. Anyway the loan will be paid back and our debt will not be written off unlike that of Germany in the 1950s.

  • Gopher

    Interesting you quote Taleb, I was thinking just the other day is it possible the Easter Rising and subsequent chain of events a bit of an outlier? I think all hues of Republicans feel “fragility”. hence the inward looking “celebrations” of Easter 16. There is no great popular tide to end partition its almost if the pressure is coming the other way, especially with the UK EU vote.
    As I see it the Republic has spent the last hundred years never passing puberty with its imaginary friend “Republicanism” a bit like Linus and his blanket or Calvin and his pet tiger Hobbes.
    Now just when all the drags on progress like the church and old warhorses have left the scene along comes an irrendist party to queer their pitch. Not only that, they have animated that imaginery friend “Republicanism” through action and deed. “Who killed that Policeman?” “It was the Border, Mummy that killed the Policeman”
    Instead of pointing out the absurdity the established Parties have ran back to their imaginary friend and no good will come of it.. 1916 et al should have been depoliticized a long time ago but The South wanted to be prepubescent all their life.

  • Roger

    You don’t see much opportunity in an alliance of these revolutionary forces then?

  • Roger

    Thanks for that Nevin; nice to read.

    One of these days, though maybe not very soon, I will try to get into a library to find the Order in Council that was issued before the Proclamations mentioned could have been issued. The reference is “S.R. & O. 1921, No. 533 (Rev. vol. XVI. p. 933)” in case you should get there before me. I suppose that in 5 years and 4 months time, there will be a lot of focus on that little Order in Council. One would think 3 May 2021 will be the Big Day. NI@100. It probably won’t suit the event organisers so well that it wasn’t a very interesting start…a dull Order in Council. No big smoke. Unlike the whole 2016 thing, though that’s political rather than legal.

  • Roger

    “The Republic’s [presumably Ireland is meant here] economy is still too buggered and that would weigh heavily in votes for any form if unity.”

    Does any one have any stats on relative prosperity between persons in NI and persons in IRL?

    The small digging I did suggested people in IRL were way, way wealthier…But numbers are funny things and I’d be interested if others have looked into it. It’s always hard to compare given, for example, healthcare is free in NI whereas many would have to pay in IRL etc.

  • mickfealty

    Simple. There’s a difference between open and closed questions: http://goo.gl/JZrOiw. I suppose I should have just said ‘no’ in both cases, and we’d be quits by now! 😉

    I prefer meaningful engagement over courtly obligation. “If I do this you must do that” is insufficient. It smacks of Gradgrind-type (an-apple-for-teacher) behaviourism.

    As John Kellden puts it (https://goo.gl/64u1Ak): “Cognition without action is useless. Action without cognition is meaningless.” It’s ‘tally stick’ politics.

    Real politics must betoken something beyond itself that is capable of proving its value over time, by making itself accountable and impeachable by the public.

    Anything else is hollow.

  • Roger

    “The Good Friday agreement, not the Rising, is the defining event of contemporary Irish identity.”

    I couldn’t agree with this. It distorts greatly how comparatively insignificant the 1998 Agreement was for Irish people in Ireland proper. For so many there, Northern Ireland is well outside the pale. I’m not at all convinced that an agreement about Northern Ireland was a more defining milestone than Ireland’s accession to the EU or its adoption of the Euro or perhaps even its same-sex marriage vote.

  • Jack Stone

    You are wrong about Sinn Fein in 1949. There was a rump of IRA veterans and political activists which remained active throughout the post civil war period. Men like Easter Rising leader George Plunkett and Paddy McLogan continued to support Sinn Fein after the creation of Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein was active but was prevented from fielding candidates due to a lack of financial assets. The fledgling Irish state denied Sinn Fein funds. Sinn Fein fielded candidates in the United Kingdom’s 1950 general election and Sinn Fein won 2 parliamentary seats and got 152,000 votes in the 1955 election.

  • tmitch57

    I’ll defer to your greater command of the facts. But if the Irish Free State didn’t come into existence until Dec 1922, what was the status of the government that took power in Dublin in Jan 1922 with Collins and Griffith as its leaders?

  • mickfealty

    I’d make space for such a blog, but I’m not sure I’d be the right one to write it. This is one example of a reaching out in which no particular response from the ‘party of the second part’ was expected to behave in a pre prescribed way in order for it to work. Change the things you can, then make you allow the incentive and the space for the other to move too.

    Otherwise not only do you (in the figurative sense) end up sounding like an hysterical fishwife, worse your initiative fails leaving you no where to go with it next, and growing the general cynicism around the whole project even further.

  • Nevin

    “a negation of the actual Republic’s constitutional journey towards rapprochement with unionism over nearly 100 years”

    Rapprochement conveys a sense of the establishment or re-establishment of cordial relations. I’ve read Brian Cowen’s speech to the Byrne-Perry Summer School. He is on solid ground when he speaks of Ireland the state but then slides into traditional nationalist irredentist mode as another spokesman for the island nation:

    The drive, determination, self-respect and self-belief instilled in the nation by the independence movement has determined and defined our national character today. The raison d’etre for establishing an independent Ireland has been to assert the right of the Irish nation to determine our own future freely.

    Staking a claim on the unionist dead in WWI, as he does, goes well beyond the notion of cordial relations. Ulster and Irish Volunteers may at times have shared trenches but they had opposing motivations.

    It’s also very much a breach of the spirit of the 1998 Agreement where we expect a measure of respect for the opposing constitutional aspirations, not a hoisting of flags amongst headstones.

  • mickfealty


  • mickfealty


    As I’ve argued elsewhere on this thread, the identity thing is important. The definition of the Republic (as we once knew it) as “Ireland (without NI)” is the most profound change in nomenclature.

    Even if people don’t think about it much (and you are right, they really don’t), it’s a biggie. It’s having a whole host of contrary effects, not least the growing political insensibility of the south to the north.

    It is one reason why SF have prioritised growth in the south over any serious political development in the north. They know that the two parts will only hold together if there is a political effort to do so.

    I might criticise their general approach to the matter but in that regard they are acting in accord with their deeply felt Republican values.

    So too have FF, particularly in their time in government in the south. I sense the experience of brokering the Belfast Agreement and their engagement with all parties in doing so affected their main players at the time deeply.

    In short, Article 2 and 3 as they stand now remove any burden from the state to pursue a united Ireland and leave it firmly in the province of politicians and civil society to independently pursue that goal.

    People consider it less than Ireland’s relations with Europe, because the EU engages the state institutionally in a way that NI doesn’t. But in answering the question “what is it to be Irish” the Belfast Agreement is seminal.

  • Nevin

    “The definition of the Republic (as we once knew it) as “Ireland (without NI)” is the most profound change in nomenclature.”

    The 1998 Agreement saw the merger of the differing cover labels for the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. London dropped the ‘Republic of Ireland’ branding and Dublin permitted the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ one. As London and Dublin have come closer together unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland have drifted further apart.

  • mickfealty

    I’m sure there’s stuff in the archives. I did something on a Management Today piece back the day that should come up in the search though figures I’ve seen are crude for what you’re looking for

  • Greenflag 2

    They’re not a rump now .

  • Greenflag 2

    If you do then your imaginative talents outweigh your common sense .

  • kensei

    The Republic has a higher GNP per capita but it isn’t that straightforward. The prosperity is not evenly shared. The starkest example of this is the unemployment rate – still 9.7%! – and in particular the youth unemployment rate. That has also translated into another round of the traditional safety valve of emigration, or the ultimate failure of Irish policy. It hit about 50,000 in 2013, I’d guess the state probably lost 150-200,000 people at least since the crisis hit. Secondly it is not geographically well spread. Donegal is a lot poorer than Dublin.

    Then you have the relative impact of taxes, benefits, PPP and things like education and health. In the early part of the century the Republic’s economy was unquestionably better than NIs and pulling away though you’d still questions over things like health. But the economic performance was still widely admired and you’d here the odd impressed comment from unusual quarters on Talkback. That’s the sort of differential you need to move opinion because people assign more importance to small losses than big gains.

    It’s hard to establish the sort of dominance needed, since if the Republic becomes expensive we become a more attractive option for investment. But on a long enough timescales it is posisble.

  • kensei

    The folly that has beleaguered post Belfast Agreement Ireland is the idea that we somehow have to agree everything. We don’t. I don’t have to share the values of the Orange Order to see it as a vital part of wider Irish culture.

    If it is part of the wider culture, instead of fighting it, then the smart Irish Republican would (like Cowen) seek to make space for it in the broader mansion rather than continuing (in war mode) to connive at its extirpation.

    It is clear that the OO is a vital part of the wider Irish culture but it is not clear to me that the OO as it exists now is a vital. There are a number of problematic elements, regardless whether or not you agree to an absolute right of Assembly. It is a very conservative organisation and acts as a barrier for a lot of initiatives that left leaning conservatives care about.

    That makes a tricky challenge for “the smart Irish Republican”, since you have to look for a way to make space for it, while simultaneously closing off portions of that space. It doesn’t matter whether that is to do with marches down places residents would rather they wouldn’t or gay marriage. It’s not an easy strategic move. It’s trickier still if, unlike Cowan, you don’t have constituents to answer to.

    At least I finally understand the root of what you keep missing here.

  • mickfealty

    It is tricky of course. But nor is it rocket science. Here’s Cowen again (that speech is pretty rich and worth raiding over and over again), note particularly the bit about breaking down walls…

    the key to their republican tradition for me is not an abstract idealism, but a practical commitment to working in the interests of the public. We must avoid complacency and strive for improvement – understanding that true republicanism is about shaping the future. The role of the past is not to provide walls to keep us prisoner, but a foundation upon which to build.

  • kensei

    Drumcree certainly shaped the future. And Unionism lost the argument because it was fundamentally on the wrong side of it.

    Sometimes confrontation is a necessary part of the shaping process. It’s hard to walk away from 1916 without taking *that* lesson.

  • mickfealty

    If it was the very last thing that happened of significance, I’d agree with you. But 1998 = 1916 + 80.

  • kensei

    The smart move would have been insisting on 9 and no partition of Ulster. That would have established an area much more favourable to unity in the medium term as the unit.

    But there was a border commission, widely expected, in the South at least to move swathes of the North into the South. The remainder would be unviable in the long run. It wasn’t completely out there as a notion, and the Governments still won’t release the report AFAIK.

  • kensei

    We are establishing general priciples and I’m not sure of the relevance of 1998. Sometimes compromise is also necessary but I suspect a lot of nationalists would think the OO (note: not unionism) is a few confrontations away from compromise.

    You can run both at the same time, granted. The OO does seem to prefer confrontation though.

  • Reader

    kensei: It is clear that the OO is a vital part of the wider Irish culture but it is not clear to me that the OO as it exists now is a vital.
    It is clear that republicanism is a vital part of the wider Irish culture but it is not clear to me that republicanism as it exists now is vital.

  • kensei


    Tedious. What is “republicanism” in Ireland? Sinn Fein? Dissidents? FF? FG? The SDLP? Fintan O’Toole? All of whom indeed have problems and will have conflict among themselves never mind outside the republican tent. In the widest sense of “Irish culture”, it’s about three quarters of tent.

    In any case, anyone trying to open a space for their enemies whike simultaneously opposing large parts of other things theu do will have a hard time. So there is no contradiction here, and reinforces my point.

    Which goes to show that just quoting me but swapping out the Unionist structures I reference for vague nationalist ones doesn’t actually work other than to waste everyone’s time.

  • mickfealty

    Perversely, that provocative statement implies exactly the question I’ve been trying to ask and the one that Kensei keen on avoiding. Is Republicanism vital, and if so why? And further in what practical way can it demonstrate that to the wider Irish polis…

  • mickfealty

    Are you not sure of the relevance because you just generally aren’t sure, or because you’ve read the arguments I’ve been making here and you’re not sure about them?

    What “a lot of nationalists would think” is fine. That’s good old fashioned populism, and up to a point it certain brings in the Catholic votes.

    But relies on these painful bleed to death tactics that put other voters off. We even saw it tested to destruction with GK’s crass appeal to Catholics against themuns in North Belfast.

  • kensei

    Your contention is that “smart nationalism” needs to avoid attacking the OO (and potentially all of Unionism itself, or at least the culture) and find a space for it. And we are talking 1916 here so the reference is that the leaders of it were pragmatic men and that’s the lesson we should draw.

    My contention is simply that “smart nationalism” will also need to use conflict. And that conflict is sometimes, sometimes often, necessary to achieve your goals. Particularly if you are dealing with groups that are diametrically opposed to you even on indirect policy measures. It is unavoidable.

    Furthermore, I’d say you have a tendency to denigrate ANY use of conflict as counterproductive for Nationalism. And that’s a real strategic box in nationalism needs to avoid.

    And while we talking 1916, its almost impossible to draw a lesson of pragmatism from it. It was the complete opposite. There was plenty of debate but the idealists and those counselling action won. As it happened, it worked after a fashion but nearly didn’t. Now there is a justified point about the Proclamation being a set if principles you have to apply rather than a dead hand that must be followed, but 1916 is not a good example of the benefits of pragmatism over idealism.

    The trick is being able to do both simultaneously. Smart movements manage it, and put opponents atba strategic disadvantage by bothering conciliation on some measures and conflict on others. But it needs some deft footwork. Which is a lot harder too when you don’t have to deal with the electorate. Which is why Southern council needs to be treated with a little caution. They don’t have to apply it.

  • kensei

    I’m not avoiding anything. In an All Ireland context, asking is republicanism vital is like asking if democracy vital. The vast majority of us are Republicans of one stripe or another.

    As it happens, I think republicanism is more vital than ever, given the direction the EU seems to be traveling, the increased monitoring governments have been doing and the various inequitable economic policies we suffer under.

    But I suspect you mean Republicanism in the sense of in favour of unity. I think there is still value there too, and we’d be better off in the long run together. You’d have no argument from me that it needs to evolve its offer, or even that it needs to adopt a more open stance.

    I just do t agree with a prescription that says, you can’t get into confrontation with various groups in case you alienate them. Its hopelessly simplistic.

  • mickfealty

    I once fleetingly saw a quote from “someone on the internet” which suggested that footwork without a strategy is just “jiggling about a bit”. I’ve never been able to track it down since, but I thought at the time it was a marvellous illustration of where all this tactical aggression is taking northern nationalism.

    The aggression itself is not the problem, and it’s certainly not why I’m critical of the approach heretofore. Defensiveness is far too predictable. A genuinely disruptive politics should shape the terrain on which future contests will be fought, by opening up alternatives, rather than constantly shutting them down. Reconciliation is important in Northern Ireland, but so is a proper return to full-blooded politics.

    What I see in Northern Ireland however is a series of sham fights and a lot of dancing round handbags Sunday night disco style. Whatever that is it’s not strategic and certainly not full blooded. Nor indeed is it a display of what even vaguely passes for Republican politics in the south. In that respect “northern counsel” needs to be treated with its own high degree (if not a greater) caution too.

    Of course the terms are used interchangeably, but I think it’s useful to distinguish between nationalism and republicanism. Cowen’s terms are translatable to the original ‘res publica’ (“a practical commitment to working in the interests of the public”), the northern model (with its Orange outgroups) is not. This is why I specified ‘smart Republicans’ rather than as you’ve put it ‘smart nationalists: one of those weasley, cover-all terms that mean anything you want it to.

    There is of course some sense in your caution on southerners prescribing for northern ills. Our deeply ingrained identity driven politics needs initiatives which are based on slightly more than zero-sum thinking. Full on positive sum thinking may have won us the Belfast Agreement, but it also creates huge resistance among those who find deep solace in said identities. But then that’s pretty much what Cowen means when talking about access to tradition.

    In NI there’s very little strategy in evidence, other than waiting for the right opportunity to strike (for demographic supremacy, or the falling apart of the United Kingdom). Both have something in common. They rely on opponents losing or screwing up rather than positively winning something. That may be a lot of things, but strategy isn’t one of them.

    The paradigm of the long war has come to an end as, will soon enough, the paradigm of negotiated concessions under the peace process. What comes next is really about which ideas for the nature and trajectory for new Ireland win out. But as Thomas Kuhn says, there’s no real qualitative comparison between them since “…the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds.”

  • kensei

    I think you are vastly over estimating the aggression of Northern Nationalism. If Northern Nationalism was itching for a fight with the OO or Orange culture in general, it could have a serious and sustained go at the funding of it. Even the non contentious parts require a fair bit of resources and the contentious bits are essentially untenable at a pure ROI level. That’s why many places in Scotland are much less accommodating.

    They haven’t though, and I’d say Unionism has had the better of the rather tetchy and small minded moves that have went on. In truth, both sides are basically just reflecting their electorates. You can question the need to lead but it imposes apaimful cost for precious little gain.

    SF are playing a different game. The North has been put on ice to the project of cementing position in the South. Money, talent, attention and even policy has been subsumed in the service of it. That is going toto extract a cost from SF and Northern nationalism in general. All the same I’m not sure I can say it is the wrong strategic move. Northern Nationalism _cannot_ win disconnected from the South. This isn’t Scotland where a rosy future hacienda can be sold. There is an actual existing Republic to be part of which is a fundentally different game. Only a party with an eye and a stake on both sides of the game can make a winning hand. One party probably isn’t enough either, but its a start.

    In the meantime MMG has been making various conciliatory moves which have been banked without much reciprocating. Yes, there has also been the moronic North Belfast campaign but you aren’t going to get a uniform response when the talent is sucked out.

    The SDLP are strategically dead. They have two choices: become a Catholic Alliance, or join with a Southern party. There is no other option in the long term. Either way requires courage and necessitates some sort of split, so they chose to die slowly or if they are lucky stagnate.

    Both parties look tired from the North, and I don’t doubt the need for change. But the solutions you put are only part of the story. Terrains and battlefields are shaped and disrupted by negative actions as much as positive actions you love. Every successful Irish political movement has been ruthless and dismissive of its enemies. If you look at the US, the Republicans gained a lot of traction by continually violating norms.

    There has to be a balance. Good strategy will both open your options and close your opponents. It is both zero and positive sum as needed.

    I disagree, by the way, the Belfast Agreement was the product of a positive sum game. It was the product of a lot of different groups thinking they’d won zero sum game, or at least the better of it. Fudge and vagueness allowed this to play. The more concrete the reality has become, the more the fault lines have opened.

  • Greenflag 2

    Unionism in Ireland – Non cogito ergo sum. simples

    Skinner and his ratomorphism is still alive 🙁

  • kensei

    And while I’m here, let me pick up on another of your favorites; the comparison of MMG “Planter and Gael” vs PR “People of Northern Ireland” which has been done add tedium.

    The use of inclusive terms does not necessarily mean inclusion. Every time the DUP talks about “the people of Northern Ireland” or the history of “Northern Ireland”, I am intensely aware they are not talking about me.

    Foster’s speech is a perfect case in point. She can use inclusive language, she can say she wants to represent everyone, but she’s invokes Carson and the security forces and Northern Irish people being special and the rest and its a thousand unionist speeches before, ignoring the reality of a community that feels different, identifies differently and has different feelings on history.

    She’s talking past me. Maybe its the election, maybe it’s an innate lack of understanding. But the division is clear without any use of Planter and Gael in there.

  • Roger

    I find your reasoning very persuasive Mick. My post missed the point that it’s not so important what people perceive as seminal in shaping identity. Rather, what’s important is what actually shapes it.

    For most people in Ireland, the GFA resolved the National Question, as it used to be called. For most people in Northern Ireland, it didn’t. That creates a real divergence and certainly fosters insensibility in Ireland towards Northern Ireland.

    It may be a silly example, but when I checked into it a few months ago, I found Renua’s entire strategy on NI was a pithy paragraph that it supported implementation of the GFA. I think that’s what you might call ‘status neutral’. I don’t think FG’s website says much more either.

    You mention nomenclature. Well, Ireland’s is the 16th oldest written constitution in the World. So, if there’s been a profound change in nomenclature, it’s not a recent one. However, the meaning of the nomenclature is indeed profoundly different because of the GFA. I recall as a young man seeing those posters of Bertie signing the GFA that were plastered around Ireland. The act of signing suggested to my mind a conveyance of sorts: the signing away of one sixth of the national territory. It wasn’t an element of the GFA that appealed to me so I thought the posters were not so good.

    I don’t use the word ‘hate’ lightly but I do hate SF. Theirs is a party built on murder. But I like that they are all-Ireland. Yes I like to use ‘all-Ireland’, naughty though that may be. Post-GFA it’s now ‘all-island’, whichever island that is.

    I don’t see your point re FF. They never organised in NI so it seems they never went beyond lip-service. They were always good at that.