July 18, 2015

Fintan O'Toole on "culture" and "tradition" in Northern Ireland

Chatting with Fintan O'Toole
Writing in 2000 Fintan O'Toole made three powerful points (herehere and here) about Northern Ireland and the issue of "culture" and "tradition". This can be read as a broadly framed analysis of parading and Twelfth July culture.

One, there is more to Northern Ireland that monolithic Protestant-Unionist and monolithic Catholic-Nationalist:
"For the peace process to work it was necessary to sustain certain myths about Northern Ireland. The most potent, and potentially the most dangerous, was the idea that NI was divided between two "cultures” or “traditions”, one catholic, the other Protestant. This notion was useful and perhaps indispensable, for how can you show “parity of esteem” to two different cultures if you don’t recognise their clear existence? Yet it is also a lie. For one thing, it ignores the fact that surveys of attitudes in NI have consistently shown that something like 40% of the population does not identify with either the unionist or the nationalist (i.e. politically Protestant and politically Catholic) “traditions”."
Two, the loudest, shrillest voices don't practice the culture they avow to unyieldingly defend:
"The most dangerous mindsets in NI don’t belong in any real sense to a "culture” or “tradition”. A culture is a more or less coherent set of values and assumptions. A tradition is an array of skills, images, or beliefs handed down more or less intact from history. In the kind of analysis that tends to be applied to the NI conflict, people like Johnny Adair are regarded as stuck within a particular Protestant culture and their the tendency to violence is seen as an expression of their need to defend that culture. Yet what is most obvious to anyone looking at the symbols in which Adair has wrapped himself in is that culture and tradition are somewhat beside the point. What you see in Johnny Adair is an extraordinary mush mash of confusion and amnesia."
Three, if the non-extreme and moderate factions don't fight back, the cause of peace and a new settlement will be lost:
"The respect for different traditions enshrined in the Belfast Agreement will only mean something when those who profess to belong to those traditions are willing to defend them, not just against external enemies, but against those within their own ranks who parade a grotesque parody of culture and call it a culture festival. If they don’t they’ll be left amid the ruins and the blood not with the pure remnants of an old tradition but with a jumble of commercial cliches and meaningless slogans."
My letter to the News Letter (July 18 2015) here, distils an re-presents there points. Read my previous post here on 'The Inglorious Twelfth'. Also here with a note on Philip Larkin and his affection for parading.
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