June 22, 2016

Windsor's leadership in Northern Ireland

Steve Bell on the Queen's visit to Ireland, May 18 2011
The great cliché of this post-Saint Andrews age has been that unionism has no leadership. George Bernard Shaw once said that unionism is like a military without an officer class, there remains a degree of truth in this to this day. 

However, I reject the idea that there has been an absence of leadership within the pro-Union community. 

Look to the top, look to the Crown. Leadership through pageantry, symbol and allegory. The courageous and conciliatory actions of Queen Elizabeth II are clear and unambiguous. 

Her visit to Dublin, her hand-shake with Martin McGuinness, and more latterly her hosting of her Irish counterpart in Buckingham Palace, Michael D. Higgins.

A conspicuous policy of breaking ancient antagonisms and building of relationships between Britain and Ireland. This policy has been reiterated and reaffirmed by the Prince of Wales. Prince Charles’ handshake with Gerry Adams, his visit to the place of Mountbatten’s murder, and then his visit to Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church. 

The wish of the Crown is luminously clear: warmth, generosity, magnanimity and non-antagonism between the communities. 

Only a few weeks after the heir to the Crown visited Saint Patrick’s Church Finaghy True Blues conducted themselves in a manner directly in contravention with the model of influence set by the House of Windsor. 

At the Ardoyne interface on the Twelfth your political editor Sam McBride pointed out, “some Orangemen openly egging them on [to riot].” 

Once again, this action is incompatible with the tacit orders of the Crown. Their leadership is clear, yet some loyalists, Orangemen and unionists are choosing to disregard this, disgracing and discrediting their cause in the process.

The conduct at Ardoyne and 199 Donegall Street is traitorous, calling into question the whole idea of being called “Loyalist”. How can you be a loyalist when you reject the Crown’s example?

In light of the Scottish Referendum and an ascendent nationalism/ republicanism, unionism is facing the greatest constitutional crisis since 1918. This requires immediate and bold action, not a redeployment of old arguments and a pathetic peddling of a questionable grievance narrative. 

Unionism needs to make the unremittingly positive case for the Union, to seduce and make allegiance with their religious and community counterparts. Violence is utterly self-defeating and grievously wounding to the Union. 

Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” The Crown has shown leadership without words, those who favour the Union need to follow.

Fintan O'Toole wrote an article in the Irish Times in May 2011, ‘The week that Anglophobia died’, which followed the momentous visit of the Queen to Ireland. It was a" week of unspoken and acted out statecraft." On her tour of Croke Park, O'Toole wrote "there is something beyond this rational truth, the silent something contained in the worldless moments", and said also "it reached into places where no speech or declaration could." 

O'Toole further wrote:
"Such moments in the visit, however symbolically resonant, merely dramatised what has already happened. They were not making history so much as marking it. But there is something beyond this rational truth, the silent something contained in the worldless moments when the queen laid her wreath in the Garden of Remembrance. This was not just a literal crowning of a long-established process. It didn’t just symbolise change. It was itself a moment of change. 
That moment appealed to something far beyond the rational. It reached into places where no speech or declaration could, or should, try to go: the irrational, psychological terrain of superiority and inferiority complexes, of inherited insult and thoughtless condescension. It hit all the raw nerves that lie just beneath the surface of this knotty relationship, delivering a shock that was, paradoxically, soothing."
Read in full here. My previous post here on the leadership of the Queen and Royal Family here.

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