Jude Collins

Monday, 18 November 2013

Michael D "closes the final chapter"? Or maybe not.

So - President Michael D Higgins is to visit Britain and call in on the British head of state for a chin-wag. Well, more than that, really. This is the first time the Irish head of state has made an official visit to Britain. Aren’t you excited?

Much was being made of it this morning on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster and on RTÉ. Conor Bradford talked about the visit “closing the final chapter” in relations between the two countries, and on RTÉ Ming Campbell was talking about how the cordial coming together of Michael D and Elizabeth II would reflect the closeness that exists between the two populations.

There’s truth in that. We do share interests - sport, literature, language, media - with our nearest neighbour. But how is it that umpteen commentators at the time of QE2’s visit to the south and now commentators on Michael D’s visit to Britain will talk about the event in all sorts of ways, talk about the improvement in relations (we were reminded this morning how overjoyed the nation was when QE2 said the cupla focal and Mary McAleese mouthed ‘Wow!’) and yet no one will dare mention the one thing that has marred relations between Britain and Ireland for near a century now: the north. We were even told the civil war was fought, not over partition but over the oath to the British monarch. 

Maybe it’s like the point that was raised at that Strabane debate on Thursday last: now would be a very bad time to have a border poll because it might inflame loyalists. Is that why the core matter - Britain’s claim to jurisdiction here - is avoided: it might upset the loyalists? I get very worried when I hear people talking about closing the final chapter with a presidential visit. It’s like looking at a great six-inch stab-wound and saying “Ach here, sure I’ve a bit of sticking plaster, no problem”. 

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe it’s all about softly-softly. Maybe Basil McCrea’s urging of the right to raise taxes here is, whether he realises it or not,  another tiptoe step towards Irish people finally running Irish affairs. But Michael D’s visit still has a whiff of Basil Fawlty to it: don’t mention the border. 


  1. Dr C

    Maybe, for once, they like parents who have been through a biter divorce have seen fit to accept their baggage and concentrate on what they have in common and perhaps even how they can help each other.

    NI is a bone of unwanted contention for both of them.

    I'm not convinced that Britain really wants us (or ever did) and the older I get the less I'm convinced the south does either.
    Sure, a united Ireland sounds good in theory, but, there's an awful lot of headaches involved in managing us.

    Perhaps it is better just to ignore us for once and examine the potential for friendship and co-operation rather than getting mired in the mud that NI brings with it.

    You talk about Britain's claim to jurisdiction in NI, but really would it not be better to talk about a claim that they were lumbered with?
    An unwanted inheritance?
    A bitter fruit?
    A love (hate?) child?

    I say let them pretend that we don't exist.

    Everyone has the endgame script burned into their brains anyway (demographics and a lack of unionist vision (bar NI21) leads to inevitable albeit belated united Ireland) so why not just take it as a given and act out the charade of a 'normal' relationship in the meantime?

    BTW, do you not like El Presidente?

    1. Thanks for extended and thoughtful response, CG. I take the point about emphasising what we have in common. I'll readily do that - my life would be very much the poorer in a range of ways without an English input. I think we have to get away from 'Does the south want us' in that it gives the impression we'd be a bolt-on to the south. Forget that - not a chance. I'm vain enough to think that the south and north would create something totally different.And of course there'd be headaches - anything worth building involves headaches - witness W and E Germany. I know what you mean with the 'lumbered' thing - Britain doesn't see northerners of any stripe as like them. BUT when Britain wants to get shot of somewhere, it does it pronto - Hong Kong, for example. I believe Britain should be far more active in talking about Irish unity and less acitive in emphasising that the north is part of the UK. If they came clean and said 'OK, we're shelving the northern question for five years, OK?' that'd at least be honest. If inevitable change is on the way then we shouldn't be talking about closing the final chapter now. As for El Presidente: I've mixed feelings. I admit I'd much rather have seen M McG in there; but since that's not so, Michael D has some learning, some charm, excellent Irish - but he sometimes gets a bit overly academic and semi-mystical in his talk. And while we're all stuck with the body that God gave us, I can't help but wince when I see him do that odd little step as he inspects a guard of honour or whatever. I also have a sneaky suspicion that he's trying to throw a lifeline to Eamon Gilmore his party mate, with this trip.

  2. Jude
    'Don't mention the border'? How do you know he didn't? You could always ask him. I believe he is on twitter!
    In any case I'm not too sure what you feel he (or indeed Martin if he had been President) might have achieved regarding the border.
    The deal has been done, most of us signed up to it, and we now wait for a Secretary of State to decide there may be enough reason to call a poll.
    That is out of Michael D's hands.

  3. True, Gio. But he could talk about it, rather than talk as if it didn't exist. That's my gripe - people who pretend it doesn't exist as an issue. I'd include a fair number of SFers in that. We should be talking about it, thinking about it, wondering if our ideas on it are out-dated, wondering if they need more information...Otherwise you're one of the crowd who pretends not to see the Emperor's new clothes ain't there.

  4. Are you not getting worked up over what after all will be a ceremonial visit?Does real power not rest with the two sovereign governments?Even if Martin were President,I'd imagine he'd have to respect the constitutional niceties.I would be hard to imagine him staying in Windsor Castle with the Queen!