Vincent Browne is a man I like. I remember him at UCD where he was an active Fine Gaeler, but he was free from a certain condescending swank that infused others such as Henry Kelly and Sinead Cusack. But like the rest of us, Vincent gets carried away occasionally and he does so today in the Irish Times.
He reports on Michael D Higgins’s last speech to the Dail under the heading ‘Vision of inclusive republic was Higgins’s parting shot’ and he concludes that we now have an Irish president who’s better than we deserve. In support of this, he points to Higgins’s insistence that there’s a helluva lot more to democracy than voting once every four or five years, and if you want to effect radical change, you have redistribute power at every level of life: “A highly participative, inclusive republic was the one in the vision of those who made the case for Irish independence at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It was this which was stolen from the people after the foundation of the State”. Browne cites two TDs who were in the chamber and who said it was the best speech Higgins had ever delivered and that it was a privilege to be there to hear it.
Sometimes what you don’t say is even more important than what you do say. The most important word in the Higgins quotation above is the sixth-last word, and to save you the bother of counting back, it’s “after”. In other words, the problems arose after the partition of the country. So Higgins makes the speech of his life about an ‘”inclusive republic” and doesn’t mention that one and a half million Irish people on this island are excluded from it. Browne hails the speech and Higgins, and doesn’t even mention the word ‘partition’.
Are these people for real? Do they not know the boiling resentment a lot of northern nationalists and republicans feel about being air-brushed out of history and out of contemporary consideration? Compared to us, the Irish who fought with the British Army in the two World Wars received massive recognition by the south.
Successive governments in the south spent fifty years giving lip-service to national reunification, culminating in Jack Lynch’s pathetic ‘We will not stand idly by’ speech in 1969. If we’re to judge by Browne or Higgins, they’ve now dropped even the lip-service. As Fr Jack might have pithily put it: “Inclusive republic my arse”.