Was it appropriate for Adrian O’Neill the Irish ambassador to Great Britain ( sic) to complain publicly about an article in the Spectator at all, and specifically because he thought it was “anti-Irish?”
I can’t reproduce it but article complained of by Robert Hardiman, made an ironic point about the Republic’s decision to join the Francophone commonwealth at this time of shifting relationships, rather than what used to be called the British Commonwealth. ( No please don’t get diverted to that one).
It was probably the ironic subtitle that stuck in the ambassador’s craw
Only a cynic would suggest this is a calculated two fingers to Brexit Britain
Hardiman added : “Only the mean-spirited would suggest that little Leo will do anything to suck up to the top gang in the EU playground…How odd, then, to see the Irish — usually so quick to take offence at any whiff of imperialism — acting as a cheerleader for French aggrandisement.’
The full text of O’Neill’s letter was released by the Irish Embassy in London after the Spectator’s omitted the final two sentences of it from its print edition. The letter was run in full on the Spectator website.
Responding to Mr O’Neill’s complaints, the editor Fraser Nelson said:
“The Spectator loves Ireland – but critiquing the Varadkar government is hardly the same as criticism of Ireland. If the UK ambassador wrote to The Irish Times every time Fintan O’Toole went for Theresa May’s government, the postage bill would be considerable.”
The reference to Fintan O’Toole could set a new hare running which it’s fruitless to pursue very far For many people almost all of them Remainers, Fintan’s unceasing stream of articles on Brexit displays an intimate knowledge of British politics and culture than matches any British commentator’s and is bang on the money. Others, mostly Leavers and English traditionalists, are irritated by what they think of as obsessive empty rhetoric, flawed history and a new and more sophisticated form of Brit-bashing. To me Fintan is an insider because the British and Irish are one of another and are not finally defined by allegiance to either state . Neither state should presume to act as the custodian of opinion except to clarify or contest policy issues.
Fintan O’Toole not only touches nerves, he gives them a bloody good kicking. In a lesser fashion Hardiman was doing something similar. Irish commentators complain about post -imperial condescension when the English tweak them about some of the more strained Irish gestures to prove how equal, distinctive and free from colonial shackles Ireland is today.
But Fintan and the Irish Times can well look after themselves. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t enter the controversy, probably obliquely. I will be disappointed if he doesn’t.
But the ambassador? Yes, he was defending a minor Irish government initiative but went on to criticise the general tenor of the Spectator’s coverage of Ireland as “anti-Irish”. I wonder what he thinks of John Bruton’s pieces? Was he speaking for the people or the State?
Thankfully, the people have no uniform voice as we read in the Irish Times letters column every day. As for speaking for the State? Not it seems for the Taoiseach:
… On a visit to Co Cork, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “To be honest, I don’t read The Spectator. I haven’t read those articles. But I do know Adrian O’Neill and he is an extremely professional ambassador.
“Part of his job in London is to ensure that Ireland and the Irish story is being reported accurately. If he made a judgement to write to The Spectator I doubt that he did that without having carefully considered it and knowing the facts.
So Adrian O’Neill was borrowing the authority of his office to speak for himself. Whatever the merits or demerits of his case, there’s something not quite right about that.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London