May 19, 2013

Seán Lemass on Unionists (1932)

Here's Seán Lemass, Taoiseach (1959 - 1966) and successor to fellow Fianna Fáil founder Éamon de Valera, on unionists in Ireland:
"Some say deporting people of Unionist belief is a form of genocide; in my opinion they have a country, that country is England and I would be most happy for them to reside there, not interfering with Irish affairs North or South of the unjust border of Ireland, we must not put up with their continuous invasion and occupation of our land. I did not fight and see my brothers die for them to soil this State. I do not advocate an armed invasion of our stolen land but unless by 2016 we have our six counties I would feel it to be a must."
Although the speech to his constituency was delivered in 1932, this does little to temper the perniciousness of such rhetoric. What it does show is extent of his contempt for Unionists living on the island of Ireland.

David Goodall, a senior British civil servant who came from a Catholic family with Irish connections, said when speaking of Ireland and Northern Ireland to Margaret Thatcher:
“I said that one of the complicating factors in the relationship was that so many British people were of Irish descent, and indeed though they don’t like to admit it a very high proportion of the population of the Republic is actually of British descent."
The point I'm trying to make is that it is simplistic, naive and reductionist to boil everything down to a "Brits-out" line. There's different shades of the 'Brits-out' school of thought, from the mild Fianna Fail kind, to the vicious New IRA kind. All are not equal in viewpoint but are equally unhelpful.

As Peter Taylor said for the BBC, such a stand point is demonstrative of 'naivity'. Exactly why people ask questions like: 'Was the IRA the most naive terror group in history?'

What we have in Northern Ireland is a very complicated social and cultural mix.

As Anne Marie Hourihane said in the Irish Times, Ireland is, albeit small, a 'tributary' of the UK.
'It is an amazing fact of Irish life, north and south of the Border, that you can be a card-carrying republican while simultaneously supporting Manchester United and dodging your tax.'
People in Northern Ireland have and enjoy shared and overlapping connections, loyalties and identities. We cannot paper over those with a reductionist 'United Ireland' solution. Such a line is bare-faced jingoism that is ignorant of the very facts that stand before them.

In the Guardian Michael White wrote a strong piece under the title, 'Alex Salmond, Gerry Adams and the romantic vision of freedom'. He said [emphases are mine]:
'I've also got sympathy for nationalist underdogs of all sorts. How many other English Fleet Street writers have reported from Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin this year? But that doesn't mean to say I think the answer lies in the chimerical attractions of sovereign independence, whatever that means nowadays. 
Salmond knows that, and so do all Scots who talk about what independence might mean precisely in practice. Would Scotland retain the Queen and sterling? Would it – could it – share its armed forces with residual Britain? Different people offer different ideas. 
But those who say national sentiments can better be accommodated within the layered, shared sovereignties of the EU have a serious point. Remote power is always more attractive, which may be why the Orkney and Shetlands voted, alone, against devolution in 1979: London better than Edinburgh. Brussels better than London. Italians feel that about Rome. 
But small state Europeans also have some hard questions to answer. It is not as if a shared supra-national currency is solving problems in 2011 – it is hurting Ireland's economy very badly, Portugal and Greece too – or that the pooling of foreign policy and military muscle over Libya is proving anything but difficult. The Americans will be very cross if they have to rescue another foreign policy failure in the feeble EU's backyard, as they did in the former Yugoslavia. 
The trouble is that big states are often drawn into the affairs of small states on their borders because the small states make a nuisance of themselves or fail to manage their own affairs properly. That is where the expression " beyond the Pale" comes from. The Pale was Dublin's immediate hinterland, and things beyond it were pretty rough. 
That is part of the story of empire everywhere. Yes, greed, ambition, and evangelical enthusiasm to spread civilisation, technologies and religion to assorted foreigners were driving forces, too. But so was the desire to stop cattle rustling, piracy, the kidnapping of women into slavery and other obstructions to peaceful co-existence. 
The Romans took us in hand and introduced plumbing, roads and other refinements. Their British network of military roads was barely improved for 1,400 years after they went home.
That's the bit of page-writing Adams hastily turns over. The Romans never seriously tried to colonise Ireland; they briefly tried in Scotland – the film The Last Legion pays tribute to their bloody failure – and were beaten back, much as they were by the German tribes along the Rhine and Danube, the ones who eventually came over assorted walls and took over the show. 
So Stone Age and Iron Age Celtic Ireland was left to its own thoroughly decentralised devices until the fearsome Norsemen from Scandinavia came up the beach after 795, much as they had been doing to terrified England. Organised resistance was pretty feeble, as it had initially been in England, and the Norsemen were absorbed. 
In 1170, it was the Normans' turn to come up the Wexford beach, much as they did a century earlier in England under the banner of the baronial Earl of Pembroke ("Strongbow") and at the invitation of Dermot Macmurrough, the Irish King of Leinster, to help fight his own battles. 
Bad move, Dermot. The old Anglo-Irish aristocrats never left. They assimilated, too – "more Irish than the Irish" was the contemporary complaint – and took as little notice of London as they could. But they never left, and were almost certainly in the banqueting hall for the Queen's visit this week. 
Henry II tried, and failed, to quell them. Only when the Tudors – centralising, modernising monarchs who knew what dangers lurked for English kings on England's frontiers (they came in via a Welsh backdoor themselves) – took power was a systematic attempt made to organise central power in Ireland. 
Alas, the fatal combination of Presbyterian colonialists being settled in Ulster – the Plantations – and Celtic Ireland's rejection of the Protestant cause guaranteed that England's enemy for the next 400 years would usually be Ireland's friend. 
He's only the latest in a long line of bearded Celtic chietftains whose tribal impulse is to resist central authority, in London or in Dublin. 
In the eternal tug between the freedom of the road and civilisation, with its hot showers and old-age pensions, it is a grand romantic vision that the legacy bombers of the Continuity IRA are still reluctant to give up. 
I'm sure the Queen, who must feel a bit constrained in her day job, will understand the tug. She is, after all, a horse woman and very fond of the Highlands.'

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