Thursday, 26 February 2009

Irishness on a sliding scale.

‘Ulster’s Doomed’ is a nasty little weblog devoted to collating evidence which it purports proves that one tribe in Northern Ireland is out-breeding the other. Actually all it really demonstrates is the incorrigibility of a certain type of nationalist mindset. The ‘echo chamber effect’ which Sunny Hundal highlights in the Today programme article dictates that the comments zone houses still more unpleasantness.

Take this anonymous offering, posted below a piece which states (on the basis of newspaper sales) that Northern Ireland contains more nationalists and fewer unionists today than it did one year ago.

“Part of the problem for the Protestant community is that they have been told endlessly that they are British - and that in a way that excludes any element of Irishness. I think that this leads to a disengagement from life here in Ireland. No wonder that so many go to University in Britain and stay there. No wonder that so many buy 'national' British newspapers instead of provincial ones. If one is going to be British one might as well go straight to the source.”


What a dispiriting attitude to identity, and yet one that is clearly informed by an identifiably nationalist understanding of the concept. Whilst cleverer nationalists might be more adept at obfuscating this constricting element of their view of identity, which the commenter asserts so baldly, frequently the sentiment is, at its core, the same.

The comment above takes umbrage at ‘the Protestant community’ (by which it presumably means unionists, if unionism is even deemed to exist beyond defining an ethno religious group) describing themselves as British, identifying with British culture and institutions and therefore (as the author proposes) disengaging ‘from life here in Ireland’. Ironically it determines that the source of this ‘false consciousness’ is that unionists have ‘been told endlessly that they are British’ (presumably erroneously in the commenter’s view) and it alleges that it is a particular brand of Britishness which excludes Irishness! So the comment’s author is decrying the exclusive nature (as he sees it) of British identity whilst he simultaneously seeks to deprive Irish people of their right to consider themselves British!

The core accusation that unionists ‘disengage’ from life in Ireland is reflected in the Slugger piece. Given that Northern Ireland remains within the United Kingdom and given that unionists are involved in the government, businesses; indeed all aspects of every day life in Northern Ireland, we can dispense swiftly with that hypothesis. It is refined somewhat on Slugger, framed as disengagement from ‘the state to the south’ and from nationalists. The sentiment is the same.

Although the commenter on ‘Ulster’s Doomed’ rails against unionists who disown their Irishness and the Republican blogger on Slugger is resentful of unionists who claim the term, the implication from both is that engagement with nationalism increases one’s authentic Irishness, whilst engagement with the United Kingdom decreases it. If the Irish identity is seen as being capable of accommodating unionism and the British identity at all, it is something of a sliding scale, whereby nationalism represents the epitome of Irishness and unionism is its antithesis. How Irish you are depends on how much Irish nationalist culture and how many Irish nationalist assumptions you assimilate, rather than how Irish you feel.

The point, of course, is that an inclusive view of identity does not set out to cast doubt on the authenticity of someone’s felt identity, nor does it attempt to interrogate aggressively the reasons which might motivate someone to identify themselves in a particular way. Whether a nationalist is telling me that I am not British, or whether he is implying that I am not Irish, he is, in both cases, attempting to prescribe my identity to fit his own limited conception of what an identity should entail.

Unionism, at its best, is better equipped to accommodate a broader, more generous understanding of identity. That isn't a weapon. It's an inherent strength of the philosophy.

7 comments:

Kloot said...

Unionism, at its best, is better equipped to accommodate a broader, more generous understanding of identity. That isn't a weapon. It's an inherent strength of the philosophy.

What identity are we talking about. Cultural, political, religious, tribal, national ?

Irish people, as with other peoples across the world, share many identities. Local, regional, and international.

I come from a small town in a county, which is part of a province in country of Ireland on the island of Ireland, part of the European union. Ive lived in Dublin for about 10 years now.

My identity (political, cultural, religious) is formed as a result of a fusion of all of those individual identities.

My Irishness, is unique to me, as much as anyone else's identity is unique to them. There is no one thing that defines my Irishness. It is a fusion of any number of things.

I'm not a fan off Traditional Irish music nor dance. I'm not an avid GAA fan. I'm not a great speaker of Irish, far from it. I detest the way Irish is thought, and I am against a lot of the politics associated with it.

Do any of these points make me any less and Irishman. I dont believe so.

I, like the majority of Irish people, agree fully with the ROIs participation in the European and in the UN. Do I have a strong European identity?. Id be lying if I said I did. I do have an European identity, but it is very different one to my other identities. It is never going to be a strong one for many reasons.

So when you say "Unionism, at its best, is better equipped to accommodate a broader, more generous understanding of identity. That isn't a weapon. It's an inherent strength of the philosophy. ", it makes me wonder, what kind of identity are you referring to ? Is it the political identity ?, cultural ?, national ?

Is it the Civic unionist that you believe holds this trait or Unionism in general ?

You dont believe that the British identity is used as a weapon ?

Do you believe this "inherent strength of the philosophy" to be a by product of political union in the British isles, or a driving force?

Is this inclusiveness something recent, or, again, do you believe it to be a founding principal behind political unity on these islands ?

Is this inclusiveness one that does recognise all those included as equals ? Has it always done so ? Was the political union project on these islands driven by a policy of equality amongst all.

Does this inclusiveness extend to respecting and incorporating cultural differences ? Did the political union project on these islands incorporate a policy of incorporation of cultural differences or assimilation ?

Just a few wandering questions.. :)

Kloot said...

By the way, its not for me to tell any other person how they are or are not Irish, British, Jamaican, Catalan or what ever.

I dont believe that trying to force an identity on anyone will ever lead to success.

Chekov said...

Kloot,

“What identity are we talking about. Cultural, political, religious, tribal, national?”

Either or Kloot. As long as there isn’t an insistence that one should be necessarily tethered to the other.

“My Irishness, is unique to me, as much as anyone else's identity is unique to them. There is no one thing that defines my Irishness. It is a fusion of any number of things.”

Mine too. You’re very enlightened. ;-)

“So when you say "Unionism, at its best, is better equipped to accommodate a broader, more generous understanding of identity. That isn't a weapon. It's an inherent strength of the philosophy. ", it makes me wonder, what kind of identity are you referring to ? Is it the political identity ?, cultural ?, national ?”

I’m referring to all of those types of identity. I believe unionism (at its best) can help reflect the messy conjunction of all those strands of identity, simply because it doesn’t insist they be bundled together.

“Is it the Civic unionist that you believe holds this trait or Unionism in general?”

I believe the Union is more a civic than a classic nationalist structure.

“Do you believe this "inherent strength of the philosophy" to be a by product of political union in the British isles, or a driving force?”

A little from column a, a little from column b.

“Is this inclusiveness something recent, or, again, do you believe it to be a founding principal behind political unity on these islands?”

I don’t make any wild claims. I simply say that it is a philosophy which animates the best unionism and which characterises the UK at its best also. .

“Is this inclusiveness one that does recognise all those included as equals ? Has it always done so? Was the political union project on these islands driven by a policy of equality amongst all.”

Again I make no wild claims. But British citizenship affords a range of rights and entitlements which are standard. I don’t claim that to be unique or even unusual. The idea that people can enjoy a series of nesting identities, or a political identity which is independent of one’s national self-identity is a not a widespread notion.

“Does this inclusiveness extend to respecting and incorporating cultural differences? Did the political union project on these islands incorporate a policy of incorporation of cultural differences or assimilation ?”

It’s a mixed picture obviously. There has been a fair bit of both. But Britain is a very diverse and multi-cultural place, so you can draw whatever conclusions you like from that.

Chekov said...

"By the way, its not for me to tell any other person how they are or are not Irish, British, Jamaican, Catalan or what ever.

I dont believe that trying to force an identity on anyone will ever lead to success."

I agree wholeheartedly Kloot. By no means would I suggest that every nationalist attempts to prescribe individual identities. Just that nationalism is a mode of thought which often leads to such conclusions.

Horseman said...

Hi Chekov,

Thanks for those words of encouragement. I think it is only fair, however, to point out that the quote you included in your piece is taken from an unmoderated comment, and not from my blog piece. It does not represent my thinking at all, but then again I do not agree with censorship either, so I left the comment.

You may be right about the ‘echo chamber effect’, but of course you read the blog too, don't you?

You're entirely correct in your analysis - Ulster's Doomed is there to show that the basis for the existence of Northern Ireland is slowly disappearing. I make no secret of that. That you don't like that, I an certainly understand. But a state that was founded entirely on the basis of a local sectarian headcount cannot, surely, expect to survive when the headount goes the other way.

Anonymous said...

"But a state that was founded entirely on the basis of a local sectarian headcount cannot, surely, expect to survive when the headount goes the other way."

Local sectarian headcount or democracy as it is known in the world outside rabid republican pseudo-politics.

Anonymous said...

Indeed Horseman, carry on being a person harking back to the past not willing to move on and the rest of us will move forward in a copper fastened United Kingdom, cheers easy.