It’s hard to know what to say about the decision of the Irish President not to attend a cross community commemoration (not celebration) of the 100th anniversary in Armagh, the ecclesiastical centre of the whole island.
The BBC reports that SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said people should take President Higgins “at his word when he says he can not be there”. The Irish government says it has played no part in his decision, because, well, it can’t.
Ironically the DUP (currently boycotting the North South Ministerial Council) has asked Mr Higgins to reconsider his decision. Incidentally, if you missed it, that boycott led to this hilarious exchange between themselves and Sinn Féin.
When Finance Minister Conor Murphy claimed that the DUP’s action was putting £1bn of Peace Plus funding in jeopardy, the DUP’s Diane Dodds retorted:
When Sinn Fein blocked North South Ministerial Council business for three years, solutions were found to ensure programmes could function.
See here about journalism and memory (or lack thereof). As Simon Kuper put it about how Trump came to dominate the output of the US’s elite media, “post live fact checking rarely has the same effect of [publishing] the original”.
Anyhoo, Mr Higgins has left us guessing. He has only said that he’s not in a position to attend, but has not outlined what that position actually is. If he can’t go, who, constitutionally speaking, can stand with the Queen in Armagh?
This President has certainly generated good will between north and south in the past. Maybe (and I’m only guessing here) that pre election controversy over the RIC last year cooled the south’s appetite for the decade of centenaries.
If that is the case, then it’s a shame. It shows how, what I suspect, may be less than a 100 accounts on Twitter, can persuade Ireland’s great and good that public acknowledgement of any part of the British in Irish history is now toxic.
The south has lost the nerve it had a decade ago (when the Queen had a rapturous reception from ordinary citizens all across the south). The UK’s unilateral departure from the EU has certainly played a key role in souring relations.
And the rise of Sinn Féin (currently enjoying an apotheosis in its favourite oppositional position in the south) with its pervasive influence in Dublin media also means that reconciliation no longer enjoys the popularity it did ten years ago.
As already noted via Gilles Deguez, we are being drawn towards a new authoritarian form of continuous control of the instant communication that dominates all available social spaces with ramming, demanding and bossy convictions.
Yet this is a moment when we need to push forward with decisions grounded in the intractable realities that both parts of the island face over the protocol. To do that we need to set aside the “bully, push and demand” reflexes of our past.
At the same time, it is only through force of will that solutions to the current impasse will be found. In the seeds of this current crisis lies a long term political economic solution that enjoys the confidence of all the people of NI.
“Two buckets are easier carried than one. I stand in between!” – Seamus Heaney
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty