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Looking the other way: Britain and Ireland… November 25, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Don’t often say this, but Finn McRedmond had a pretty good piece on the aversion within Britain to considering political developments in Ireland. She noted that there are exceptions to this rule – John Major and Tony Blair, for all their faults have not been shy to point to the dangers of Brexit in relation to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

And she notes:

The wilful ignorance of Northern Ireland reflected a deeper dismissal of Ireland and its politics – a dismissal that finds its provenance not just in an ignorance of Anglo-Irish history but a failure to recognise the reverberations that domestic Irish politics can wreak on the machinery of Westminster.

None of the above is a particularly new or subtle observation. Northern Ireland was an afterthought and never a deciding issue for the English electorate. That is in many ways understandable – the depth of knowledge or interest required to understand the North’s unique political make-up was simply not there. The designation of the Border question to a second- or even third-tier issue by campaigners and politicians is less forgivable.

It is strange. Consider the very public agonising about Scotland and its place in the Union. I think sometimes of the letters signed by English authors and artists imploring a No vote in the last referendum there, and yet where was the similar phenomenon in evidence with respect to Northern Ireland? One has to wonder is it simple proximity. Northern Ireland is on a different island and somewhat further removed by being due west of Scotland rather than England. It’d be an interesting exercise to see how many people from England have been to Belfast as against Dublin. Yet a weekend in Dublin is itself no passport to understanding the political and other dynamics that impinge on Britain as a whole.

And McRedmond also noted that both the Protocol and one other matter have evinced much less reaction than they should have:

The protocol now (and the backstop shortly prior) has received protracted prominence in the press since it forced itself into the political topography of the UK. But “forced” is the operative word. It seems this is a parliament, media landscape, and Number 10 chronically indisposed to paying attention to what happens just a stone’s throw over the Irish Sea. Rather it creeps up slowly and then asserts itself as a major and often intractable problem once it’s too late.

And Sinn Féin’s non-frivolous growth in popularity (not just a recent phenomenon, of course) is just the latest reincarnation of this foolish Westminster sensibility. Projected to be the largest party in Stormont, the UK might see its first Sinn Féin First Minister. The party could potentially be in power on both sides of the Border within a couple of years. Not much of a whimper of interest has been expressed.

These are enormous issues, and yet the degree of attention paid to them is remarkably limited. One doesn’t have to see Sinn Féin as red revolutionaries to think that their assuming a degree of state power in the Republic will have profound ramifications. It truly is reactionary – in one sense of the word, the sheer indifference to all this. And it speaks of both ignorance and complacence in London at how the world is changing. Perhaps this is due to the current crop of Tories being second and third raters, perhaps – and not unlinked to that, the sheer stresses of pandemic and Brexit and how they have eaten up political bandwidth.

But it’s difficult to not also think that part of this is due to a sense there that fundamentally what happens on this island is not of any great seriousness. Given how the politics of Ireland has shaped the UK itself across so many centuries that seems an egregious error of judgement on the part of those who would hold such views.

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1. terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

Once upon a time a colossus bestrode the world, with its cotton mills & naval frigates, the nation-state as it exists today was an attempt to catch-up with, keep-up with, withstand or escape from said colossus – the colossus itself hardly needed one – hence it still has the form of an early-modern composite monarchy – where you have a jumble together of disparate territories united by virtue of being different realms of the one ruler – and not necessarily having a shared common identity.

In the specific case of Ireland – separation, Home Rule (for a truncated Ulster) & bipartisanship kept Ireland away from British politics (which is at odds with the way it was before 1922). In the case of Scotland actually I don’t think there is a massive concern either way in England (compare with opposition to separatism in Spain for instance).

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WorldbyStorm - November 25, 2021

Very true re Spain. I think there’s a low level sentiment about Scotland but as you say it’s not a massive concern. I’d love to know the shape of these islands politically in a hundred years.

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

Well the shape of the islands will be different anyways thanks to rising sea levels. Will there be a Belfast to fight over?

If there was more of a British nation-state – and hence more interest in, or identification with, Ireland, on the adjacent island there either wouldn’t be much Irish nationalism because the islands would have been more thoroughly integrated or there would have been carnage in the 1920s (or whenever) as people rallied to the cause against separatists trying to divide our indivisible nation. Probably the former.

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2. Wes Ferry - November 25, 2021

Isn’t the failure of political figures and celebrities to publicly petition to keep NI in the UK in the same way as they did for Scotland is due partly to proximity (having a land border without a convenient sea border to put it at arm’s length) but also because of:-

(a) A concealed shame or embarrassment of the gerrymandered, sectarian/apartheid state the British Government and British public actively endorsed or gave a pass to just for ‘being British’, an uncomfortable reminder reflected today by the neanderthals of the DUP who are ‘not our sort of British’;

(b) A tacit recognition that *all of Ireland* is indeed a different country.

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WorldbyStorm - November 25, 2021

Yeah, that’s true. That sense of differentiation certainly functions very strongly. It’s been written about quite a bit, hasn’t it? People from a PUL background who go to England and are shocked by the way in which they all become ‘Irish’ to the English. It must be unbelievably frustrating, and the thought arises, I’m presuming in Scotland it’s a little different in terms of the reception because some of the same dynamics albeit mcuh weaker are in play there? Or am I over thinking it.

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benmadigan - November 25, 2021

I don’t think you are over-thinking.

Within the UK “Englishness” is the standard all should aspire to
because “Britishness” is nothing but the imposition of “Englishness” on the parts of the UK that are not England

Yet the English themselves waste no time in calling out the imitation model, whether from NI or Scotland

Despite this rejection, Unionists in NI and Scotland have deeply internalized a sense of belonging in U.K. society, assuming this makes them better than, and superior to, non-Unionists

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

I have never came across much evidence of (Ulster) Unionist identification with England, or imitation of England. I am reminded of a great piece of footage of Ian Paisley, upset at the actions of the British Army, telling Peter Taylor, with withering contempt, to get back to England.

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benmadigan - November 25, 2021

“I have never came across much evidence of (Ulster) Unionist identification with England, or imitation of England”
So you have come across some.
Like others you will have noticed the faux accents, belief in selective English myths (stood alone in WWII) , exceptionalism and belief that Englishness is the reference point for everybody in NI etc etc

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

Faux accents? They speak in faux English accents in Ulster? I genuinely have never came across that. Do you mean RP? I don’t think they speak like that in Ballymena, Portadown or Sandy Row. Terence O’Neill or James Chichester-Clark may have spoken like that, but the only people I have ever encountered speaking it were from places like Dublin,Tipperary, Kildare or Cork – it means they received a private education in particular schools. It is not even exclusively Protestant – Irish Catholics, at least historically, were educated in English boarding schools e.g. Joseph Plunkett. It is certainly not the way English is spoken in London today.

How is there a belief in Englishness as the reference point for everybody in the Six Counties – the largest Protestant denomination in the north is Presbyterianism – does that exist in England to any great extent? (and what does exist in that way in England is ecumenical).

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3. roddy - November 25, 2021

Ex crown forces UUP politicians Beattie and Aiken certainly put on faux accents which arent entirely English but are certainly not the accents they were brought up with. Similarly Dodds of the DUP and increasingly Donaldson spout their nonsense in makey up accents.When Dodds and fellow legal figure John Finucane went head to toe at the last election,the contrast in their accents was palpable.

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

Aye Roddy and the average Unionist farmer in Tyrone speaks how exactly?

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4. benmadigan - November 25, 2021

@ Terrymdunne who asked”How is there a belief in Englishness as the reference point for everybody in the Six Counties”

Within the UK “Englishness” is the standard all should aspire to
because “Britishness” is nothing but the imposition of “Englishness” on the parts of the UK that are not England

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EWI - November 25, 2021

Within the UK “Englishness” is the standard all should aspire to
because “Britishness” is nothing but the imposition of “Englishness” on the parts of the UK that are not England

Not only within the UK. The modern-day staffing of RTÉ by ex-BBC types and its fetish for English commentators speaks volumes about the cap-doffing attitude endemic to Sth Co. Dublin.

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WorldbyStorm - November 25, 2021

Yeah, but a lot of this is class as much as anything else – I hear what people are saying about faux accents, but they strike me as ‘middle class’ accents rather than English per se. The identification is with a certain sort of enunciation not unknown south of the Border htat has class more than nationalist connotations (in the sense of British nationalism). Certainly Beattie and Aiken or even Dodds aren’t speaking in anything truly recognisable as an English accent, but they are speaking in ways that are more clearly tilting towards middle class.

BTW while too many ex BBC or English commentators might indeed be a problem I do like to hear Scottish, Welsh, English and indeed other accents on RTÉ. Take Tony Connolly with a clear Northern accent. It’s refreshing.

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benmadigan - November 25, 2021

Whether or not it’s a middle class or educational-level issue, nobody in NI/ROI aspires to acquire a Scottish or Welsh accent.
They aim at English,
Why?
Because Englishness is the reference standard of “British” values and virtues, not Scottishness, Welshness or Irishness.
Then they fall short and acquire these faux English accents we are all aware of .

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

A reply which doesn’t address the presence, alternatively comparative absence, in England, of the Orange Order, Presbyterianism or Evangelicalism.

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benmadigan - November 25, 2021

The presence/absence of these bodies has nothing much to do with British i.e. English values etc that people in the UK are expected to accept, aspire and conform to

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

Except they don’t. Most people in Ulster speak with some variant of Ulster accent. They don’t speak with anything which could be described as an English accent. I referenced some politicians who spoke RP, Roddy came out with a few more (and of them I just listened to Beattie who fluctuates between a couple of registers, one of which is certainly Ulster – and neither really RP). If you go to London you do not hear people speaking RP (I understand it has historic links to a south-eastern dialect, but it is not English as spoken there now). If you get a bus up to Belfast you hear people speaking in Belfast accents.

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

O.K. what “British i.e. English values”? – because I have listed the several institutions which are important to Ulster Unionism but simply do not exist in England (or do so to a very limited extent) – kindly list what it is people in Ulster’s six counties in the U.K. are accepting of, aspiring to and conforming to, which is particularly English?

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2021

Ben you are just repeating your assertion there without bringing out any evidence.
Is Presbyterianism Englishness?
Is the Orange Order Englishness?
Is Evangelicalism Englishness?
None of these things exist as a major part of mainstream life in England in the way they do within the majority community in the Six Counties.

I don’t see what “Englishness” they have up there, that we don’t have down here, we might even have more of it down here – soap operas, soccer etc..

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benmadigan - November 25, 2021

see reply to WBS above

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5. Wes Ferry - November 25, 2021

I’d say the overwhelming majority of English people are delighted that Brexit has delivered at least one tangible benefit with the Irish Sea border putting even more ideological distance between ‘the mainland’ and DUPland.

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benmadigan - November 25, 2021

Unionists in Scotland and NI trying to “pass” as British i.e. conforming to the English world view, reminds me of light-skinned Blacks in the US who used to try and “pass” as white!

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6. sonofstan - November 26, 2021

“It’d be an interesting exercise to see how many people from England have been to Belfast as against Dublin”

Equally interesting to see how many people from Dublin have been to London as opposed to Belfast. Was re-reading the Lost Revolution during the week and there’s a bit where someone from the RCWP comments that of a group of 90 WP members they addressed at a meeting in Dublin, only 16 had ever been north of the border.

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