Friday, 28 November 2008

'To suggest unionists are anything other than Irish ....', RSF's prescriptions echo Adams.

The Republic’s President, Mary McAleese, visited an Orange hall in Cavan yesterday and in the course of her engagement made the following remark,

“It is possible to be both Irish and British, possible to be both Orange and Irish. We face into a landscape of new possibilities and understandings.”


It did not take long for a Republican Sinn Féin spokesman to reject her contention,

“It is not possible for someone to give their allegiance both to Ireland and to Britain. Britain represents the denial of Ireland’s rights. Orangemen should instead be encouraged to recognise that they are exclusively Irish, and to work for the benefit of the Irish Nation rather than adhering to narrow sectarian Orange ideology. To suggest that Unionists are anything other than Irish amounts to a tacit acceptance of Thatcherite claims that the Six Occupied Counties are ‘as British as Finchley’.”


The statement represents a classic slice of immoderate nationalism, issuing from a dissident fringe of republicanism. It is hardly surprising to find repellent ideology espoused by such a group.

Of course RSF’s reading of Irish identity is shared by many within mainstream republicanism. Provisional Sinn Féin’s President, Gerry Adams, made comments on the Belfast military homecoming parade which were in absolute concordance with the view propounded by his former colleagues’ organisation. Adams’ argument against an Irish regiment of the British army walking the streets of Belfast, which in the heat of the moment he stripped of rhetorical niceties, was ‘this is Ireland’s second city’. Self-evidently trappings of British identity are invalid on the island of Ireland, by Adams’ prescription.

Even within constitutional nationalism, which has at least notionally accepted the possibility that multiple identities can exist, there is often reluctance to acknowledge that Irishness and Britishness are compatible. There is a residual notion that unionists are mistaken about their British identity, that they are possessed of ‘false consciousness’. There are unionists too, who take a reductionist view of identity, identifying Irishness only with the Irish Republic and maintaining, without undue irony, that Northern Ireland is not Irish.

Rejecting any mixture of the two identities within oneself is different from rejecting the possibility of such a mixture within other people. To hear the type of prescription made by RSF so unashamedly expounded is thankfully becoming a rarer occurrence.

It offers a timely reminder that one of the merits of Britishness is that by its very essence it happily subsists alongside other identities. The fact is that Mary McAleese is right, it is possible to be British and Irish, but it is more than that, it is a distinction and strength to be both British and Irish.

7 comments:

Kloot said...

I thought Mary Macs speech was pretty good. Strange that she is the first president to visit an Orange hall. Long overdue I would have thought.

Regarding your British and Irish identity. Do you mind me asking, (out of interest), what aspects of your Irish identity you value or appreciate most.

Aidan said...

"it is a distinction and strength to be both British and Irish"
As many in my family live in Britain and are of Irish origin I think that I can heartily concur that it is possible to be British and Irish. However, I don't think that there is any synergy at work. Irish people do not necessarily need Britishness just as British people do not need Irishness although many of both nationalities have something of the other.
At the end of the day we are all Irish and European. You value the British nationality and that is your right but I don't think that you have something extra over the guy living a mile away who holds an Irish passport and might prefer for Ireland to be one country again within the European Union.

nick said...

Presumably if you can't be both Irish and British then neither can you be both Irish and European, or for that matter Welsh and British, French and Canadian or African and American. What a very eccentric point of view. Personally, having lived in England for most of my life, and in Belfast for the last eight years, I certainly see myself as simultaneously British, Irish and European.

Chekov said...

“Regarding your British and Irish identity. Do you mind me asking, (out of interest), what aspects of your Irish identity you value or appreciate most.”

Kloot. First of all I don’t like taking the approach to identity whereby various cultural traits and symbols are divided into two piles of separate components. I see identity as a mixed up heterogeneous concept. I feel, to some extent, a degree of ownership of Britishness and Irishness in their entirety. So I find it problematic to say, here are the aspects of me which I consider Irish and here are the aspects which are British. It’s much more mixed up and complicated than that. Of course there are culture and traditions which are unique to this island and which form part of my identity and which I also value. The gamut of Irish literature in English is something which I consider part of my heritage for example (although it is interrelated with English literature in general and more widely European and world literature of course). I feel more at home in Dublin or Galway than I do in certain areas of Belfast. I follow the Irish rugby team. The history of Ireland is a common factor, although it is a disputed one. I suppose there is a certain idiom, whether you call it Hiberno-English or whatever which is unique to this island. I value that. I don’t want to sound any different than I do. That is linked into certain oral traditions which are also valuable. I feel a degree of ownership for a whole range of things which are unique to this island.

“you value the British nationality and that is your right but I don't think that you have something extra over the guy living a mile away who holds an Irish passport and might prefer for Ireland to be one country again within the European Union.”

I don’t have anything extra i.e. some sort of intrinsic superiority which my nationality confers upon me. I do have a certain elasticity in terms of identity which I value. And I have argued that there are merits to the British identity which I value as well. I suppose it depends whether the guy down the road has a fairly tolerant attitude toward identity and an appreciation of the ‘throughotherness’ of identity and culture. If he’s trying to tell me I’m solely Irish, solely British or is propounding a view like RSF, then I’ve got something over him alright.

Aidan said...

" If he’s trying to tell me I’m solely Irish, solely British or is propounding a view like RSF, then I’ve got something over him alright."
Nicely put ;-)

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