March 10, 2014

An epistolary response to David McCann (@dmcbfs) and Barton Creeth (@bartoncreeth)

On Saturday March 1 2014 David McCann (@dmcbfs), Barton Creeth (@bartoncreeth) and I had a few drinks in a well known Belfast pub. The evening began with David and Barton discussing American politics and when I arrived later, we turned to Irish politics.

It was firey but good-mannered. I said I would respond in full. I'm not sure if this was heeded. But here it is. I've looked at a few things:
- Irish identity and being Irish.
- The sense of community.
- Pearse and how religion can no more be separated from Pearse than Pearse the person could be separated from religion.
- Catholic State for a Catholic people.
- Deport protestant unionists.


There is no single definition or model of what it is to be Irish. As I have tried to show in my blog series on Irish and British identity - 'Being Irish is not about being not British' - and - 'Being British is not about being not Irish' - too many people hold and push recklessly idiosyncratic, exclusivist, racist (my blog series on 'Irish racism' here) and ethnicist notions of what it is to be Irish. No man has a monopoly on what it is to be Irish. Being Irish is what you want it to be and make it to be. As George Bernard Shaw said:
"The heart of an Irishman is nothing but his imagination."
I was asked to say what it was to be Irish. I can't put it in a sentence. It's not something I think about. It's just something I am. In any case, as Gore Vidal said:
"Anyone who loves their country is in such trouble. That is nonsense. Out of that has come every war, every famine and everything that is wrong in the western world."
For me it is best summed up by the words of John Hewitt who said:
'This is my country, my grandfather came here/and raised his walls and fenced the tangled waste/and gave his years and strength into the earth/my father also...ebb and flow have made us one with [Ireland].'
As Brian O'Connor said
"Being Irish involves a lot more than some uber-Gael, Provo-lite, pub-patriot wet-dream. It always has."
It just is. "I am no settler, no colonist." I can be Irish as much as I can be British, and vice-versa. I have as much claim to being Irish as the man playing GAA, going to mass and saying he feels it in his heart in a way that I don't. As Alex Massie said:
"You can be a Highlander, Scottish and British — just as you can be Cornish, English and British."

David put it that Ireland and Irishness can be defined by its greater sense of "community". This is strange on a few levels. One that it infers that, because I "don't feel Irishness the way [David does]", I have a more atomised, disconnected community culture. Two, facts refute the suggestion that Ireland has a greater sense of community than the Brits. Here's some facts:
  • Poverty
Let's begin by looking at The Growing Up in Ireland study which began in 2008, the same year Fianna Fáil implemented their ruinous and catastrophic policy of No Bondholders Left Behind. That report found that, in 2008 44% of children were in families who were having difficulty making ends meet; and by 2011, when the 61% were in such families."

Where is the sense of local community and central government community that is guarding our youngest and most vulnerable from the deleterious effects of poverty? Poverty, what Fintan O'Toole rightly called "the ultimate form of child abuse."
  • Child abuse - 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse
Without going down the usual channels of looking at the various child abuse tribunals we can look at the 2002 Savi Report (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland). It found the following:
- One in five women (20.4%) reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood.
- One in 10 reported non-contact sexual abuse.

- More than one in 20 women (5.6%) – over 110,000 – were raped as children.

- One in six men (16.2%) reported experiencing sexual abuse in childhood.
- One in 14 reporting non-contact abuse.

- 2.7% of all men were subjected to penetrative sex (anal or oral sex) in childhood. That is more than 50,000 men raped as children.
Vincent Browne said: "The [Irish] State had direct knowledge of widespread sexual abuse of children from at least the 1930s and had failed to provide the appropriate protections for children."

Now when 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men experience sexual abuse, there is most evidently a striking absence of "morality" within a huge chunk of the island, never mind a sense of "community".
  • Privatised healthcare
The fact that this isn't raised and debated more is astounding. The Republic of Ireland has privatised health care, which discriminates on ability to pay. Northern Ireland has socialized health care, free at the point of use and blind on ability to pay. The Irish Government recently proposed a new law that would ensure provision of free GP care for under-6s. We recently learnt that this measure simply won't be deliverable.
 I put it that a country that has healthcare free at the point of use has a greater sense of community than does one that discriminates on ability to pay.
  • Localist, crony and clientelist politics
Fintan O'Toole put it best: 
"For all the emotional pull of of patriotism and nationalism, actual attachment to the state is weak. Just look at the wild irresponsibility of the Irish ruling class, the broad contempt for public rules, the power of localist and clientelist politics, the willingness to elect crooks so log as they're our crooks."
I submit that a country and lead political party Fianna Fáil that have a reputation for endemic corruption, is not a country with a great sense of stewardship, solidarity or community.
  • The Irish State incarcerated more people than the soviet union 
The Irish state incarcerating without trial a higher proportion of its citizens than the Soviet Union did. That does not suggest an abiding sense of community, but an abiding sense of overwhelming and oppressive moralising from robed clerics; something I will look at later./

Pearse's religion has everything to do with it

Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote of the, "mythical, messianic catholic nationalism of Patrick Pearse, identifying the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ with the crucifixion and resurrection of a personified Ireland."
[p.26, Memoirs, my life and themes]. 

Patrick Pearse also brought and spoke Irish identity in fanatically religious terms. After receiving his 14 year sentence for possession of fire-arms with intent to danger life, he wrote:
"The beady eyes they peered at me
The time had come to be,
To walk the lonely road
Like that of Calvary.
And take up the cross of Irishmen
Who've carried liberty."
John Feehan wrote in heightened religious terms in 'Bobby Sands and the Trajedy of Northern Ireland' (1986). 
"In the quiet evening silence of Milltown graveyard it seemed as if the Republican Movement had reached its Calvary with no Resurrection in sight, that bobby Sands had lost and the overwhelming power of the British empire had won yet another victory."
It is incredibly dangerous to put identity in strictly religious terms. There is a absolution to it. In a review of the book above, Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote:
"The effect of elevating anyone prepared to kill and die for the Republic to the status of Jesus Christ, is to annihilate, morally and spiritually, the adversaries of the [Pearsean] Republic, whom the Republican Christ feels impelled to bump off. Those adversaries of Christ are necessarily cast in the role, if not of Antichrist himself, then of the agents, or at best the dupes, of Antichrist. They deserve no mercy, and that is exactly what they got. This is the very essence of a Holy War. And Mr. Feehan shows his hero, on his last birthday, receiving with joy and ikon of Catholic holy War: 
'He was thrilled to get a picture of Our Lady from a priest in Kerry who had encouraged him to take arms for his opporessed people.' To wit , the Catholics of Northern Ireland." 
As Rod Liddle addressed the concept of mutual loathing based on ill-conceived religious and political certitudes, and said ironically:
"There is nothing so life-affirming as knowing you are utterly right and those people over there are utterly wrong." 
And I know that David has no time for Conor Cruise O'Brien, so here's the BBC on Pearse:
"He... fused together his nationalism and his Catholic faith. His Christian devotion had always centred on Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion, and he gradually developed a consuming yearning for martyrdom, in conscious emulation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He wrote: ‘One man can free a people, as one man redeemed the world’."
So I ask? Religion has nothing to do with Pearse?  

Catholic state for a catholic people

Why this came up and what relevance it was to the debate, I can't remember; but it did come up.

Few would be able to deny the pervasive and ostentatious clericalism that existed in Ireland post-partition. We ever hear of the cold and callous Protestant Prime Minister of Northern Ireland who said Northern Ireland was a Protestant State for a Protestant people. But we must read the quote in full:
"The Hon. Member must remember that in the South they boasted of a Catholic State. They still boast of Southern Ireland being a Catholic State. All I boast is that we are a Protestant Parliament and Protestant State."
And it was exactly that. Betraying the principles of republicanism by meshing church and state. Look at the oppressive marriage, contraception, abortion and adoption law and the tyrannical moralising and interference of the Catholic church into the "cozy homesteads" of families across the country.

Think Eamon de Valera and you also automatically think of Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. This is the underplayed reality. That the Ireland post-partition was a mono-religious, mono-cultural, mono-ethnic country; and that while not outwardly hostile to protestant unionists, it was no place for a protestant unionist to celebrate their culture and attachment to Great Britain in any material or meaningful manner.

David repeatedly said that protestants were involved in the rising and enjoyed place and stature after 1921. However these weren't protestant unionists, they were protestant nationalists. Further, it is well documented that protestants weren't welcomed. Notably by the marriage policy which meant a protestant had to forego their faith when marrying a catholic. Catholics were barred from attending Trinity College Dublin. Young catholic boys and girls were pushed out of protestant schools by fellow catholics who said that their going to a protestant school would mean their dead relatives were in purgatory. Now, if that is what is said to and of fellow Catholics, what was said of their protestant countrymen?

I submit that a Taliban-like moral climate existed on both sides of the border and while it differed on degrees of severity, we cannot underplay the unwelcome that protestant unionists experienced post-partition. As Thomas Jefferson said in 1813:
"History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. "   

Deport protestant unionists

As I suggested earlier, protestants simply had no choice but to, as de Valera said, "assimilate" and put themselves to the "must accept subjugation" to the rule of catholic nationalists. Otherwise they should be deported.

I looked at de Valera who supported deporting unionist here. Sean Lemass on deporting unionists here.

Ironically de Valera rejected Winston Churchill's offer of Northern Ireland in return for joining the Allies in WWII, in large part because he feared what a million or so protestant unionist would do to his electoral politics.

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