Children of the Ceasefire / 1

This is one of three winning articles for the Future Ireland series. The articles were submitted together – by three friends who met at college – a northern Catholic, a east Belfast Protestant, and a Dublin man. We liked the nuanced content of the pieces, the sense of identities in flux, and the fact that each tried to understand the perspectives of the others. Also how being children of the ceasefires weaves throughout their pieces.

By Matthew Redmond – hailing from Dublin, graduate of University College Dublin and the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin.

In any future Ireland, we will need imaginative approaches when it comes to celebrating traditional identities.

In the era preceding the Celtic-Tiger/Good Friday Agreement (GFA), it is possible that a renewed outlook of Irish nationalism has taken fruition. One that is optimistic for the possibility of further positive economic, demographic, and social change between North and South.

The desire to have greater ties between all peoples here on this Island and to maintain our beneficial relationship with the continent is, for a generation raised in peacetime, the way forwards in paving an all-Island consensus.

For the past twenty years the purposeful ambiguity of the GFA and co-operation between both jurisdictions has had relative success in its objective to build cohesive and co-dependent relationships across the border.

Indeed, the opportunity to move towards a new national consensus has been presented to us by Brexit.

Brexit is a political movement rooted in criticism/apprehension of “an ever closer union” with Europe. An idea that has been overhauled by the same exclusive brand of nationalism that has continually damaged relations between the historically significant communities in Ireland.

As outlined by commentators such as Fintan O’Toole, Brexit ideology is clothed in the flag of St George, rather than a Tricolour or the Orangeman’s Banner. 

Great Britain faces the same political dilemma which has become a stereotype of its former colonies. It is a nation-state whose holistic parliamentary-sovereignty is under threat of disintegration from nationalist ethnic movements. Political movements which are legitimised by unresolved grievances, rooted in historic social and economic inequities, ignited by dissatisfaction with the exercise of current politics.

These realities of Brexit have made it clear that the success of the peace process has been to interconnect this Island, primarily in economic interdependence and institutional co-operation, as made evident in Tony Connelly’s encyclopaedic book ‘Brexit and Ireland’.

The GFA and St Andrews Agreement purposefully created space for communities on this Island to move past the exclusiveness of our nationalist ideal/mythos to make economic and social issues the prerogative of the electorate, rather than the infatuation over the question of national sovereignty.

Or at least, this is what the peace process was supposed to do.

However, my experience of living in the North revealed to me the ease to which the stereotype of traditional political-cultural mythos still remains an un-tackled issue for many of those living outside there. How the complications relating to the role of competing Irish identities, in particular, makes the possibility of unification whip up such a confusing maelstrom of civic discourse.

For nine months I was a student of the Irish School of Ecumenics, TCD, in Belfast, studying Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. It was during this period that I found myself confronted with the dilemma of the Irish Question. Contemplating not only the complications of civic society in Northern Ireland, but the role that my own upbringing  as a citizen of the Republic had in moulding my attitudes and my politicised sense of identity.

The complications of how one can be made out to represent an imposter to a conflict in which my identity and sense of national community is deeply tied. This sense of being an outsider, led me to fall back on the attitudes exported by southern exclusivity.

Despite studying a subject in which I was surrounded by people and a society trying to overcome the remnants of sectarian culture, my deeply ingrained communal identity disengaged me from striving to uphold the ideals of the GFA. My southernness felt like a barrier to connecting with people in the Ulster-Scots community, as well as a deeper understanding of the steadfastness of the tradition of socialist Irish nationalism which holds sway with many in the North.

The tendency was to stand idly by as an onlooker to the fallout of a conflict in which, as a Irish citizen and as an individual living on this Island, I should be striving to overcome.

A failure of the Nationalist movement in the Republic of Ireland has been to address the exclusive tendencies of our attitudes towards those neighbours with whom we have shared this Island for centuries.

In our relation to the Ulster-Scots community, whom we seemingly cannot allow into our own sense of national identity, we remain nostalgically attached to the traditional sensibility of Irish Nationalism that “To be Irish is not to be British”.

There is also the deference to which we consider ourselves the “Southern Irish,” against those nationalists in the North who have felt a disconnection, or that they are excluded from our national discourse. Which stems from the fact they are not represented, together with the rest of the Irish people, in all-Island legislative institutions.

Our political discourse on the subject of unity has to date been undermined by the nature of our political parties. Parties who need to appeal to the exclusionary patriotic passions of identity, rooted in the dependence of comparison to Britain.

The achievement of an all-Ireland consensus will remain rooted in nationalism, for campaigning for united Ireland would ultimately lead to the creation of a new nation-state.

But it is for us, the people living on the Island of Ireland, to decide the extent to which we hold true to our national mythos. To what extent we are able to refurbish a national identity and a national discourse that is not so steeped in our disassociation from Great Britain. But instead looks towards a future in which we hope to prosper in a common understanding of what it is to be Irish.

A Future Ireland may be a one-off opportunity for a generation of Irish millennials. A generation, which whether they want to confront the possibility of unification or not, are responsible in building a renewed approach to the nationalist ambition of a united Ireland which is rooted in non-violent means.

I would argue that a Future Ireland in the context of Brexit, must be framed within this search for unity. There can be a consensus to build a nation, based not on the interests of upholding the mythos of specific ethnic groups, but on joined consensus accounting for the grievances of a segregated past. Where those who advocate for violent retribution against the consensus of the majority, based on understandable fear of exclusion or prosecution by the institutions of state, are included in peaceful discourse. How we do this, is by removing the exclusionary aspects of identity that have plagued communities in Ireland, north and south, and have led them away from embracing the best aspects of their heritage.