In a concern for peace and reconciliation, people have a habit of falling over themselves. Trevor Ringland did some falling-over this morning on BBC Radio Ulster. He was talking about the Real IRA’s statement in Derry yesterday and he turned his thoughts to the notion of British occupation of Ireland. “There is no British occupation of Ireland” he said. “There is only a British presence in Ireland and that is the unionist people here”.
Oh Trevor. Pu-lease. You’re an intelligent, educated man. Let’s take this old cliché and slam it into a million pieces, once and for all, shall we?
Yes of course, there are people here – Irish people – at last count around one million of them – who feel a sense of allegiance to Britain. No dispute there. You could indeed describe them as a ‘British presence’, in that they see themselves as British and they are indeed here present.
There is also a smaller group of people – at last count around five thousand of them. These are British troops, stationed here. Heavily armed. Training to use force to resolve political disputes in all circumstances. They are not Irish troops. They are British troops. This is what is known as occupation of one country by the armed forces of another.
There is an even smaller group of people – I don’t have numbers but their top man is Owen Paterson, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland. He represents British political power in Ireland. He makes sure that the political control of this part of Ireland in key matters such as taxation and foreign policy is maintained. This is what is known as political occupation of one country by another.
I think that’s fairly straightforward. There are Irish unionist people who live here, have done in some cases for centuries; and there are British military and political mechanisms that occupy and control this part of Ireland. It’s wrong to conflate the two or to pretend that one is the other, Trevor, and I’ve a funny feeling you know that. We’ll never solve our problems if we don’t acknowledge what they are.