Reading this newspaper on Monday July 22, the day after Shane Lowry’s victory at the Open, I was struck by a comment in Morning View.
It said that — after the failure of any of the “great Ulstermen golfers” to clinch the title — “huge congratulations” were in order for “Shane Lowry, the Irish golfer” after a “magnificent display of skill” from him (see link below).
This comment was particularly striking as the Chairman of the Open Championship committee at Royal Portrush, John Banber, was quoted in this same newspaper on that Monday as saying: “Overall I think it was one of Ireland’s greatest ever sporting events, and one that brought people from both North and South of the border together ... it became a 32 County support for Shane by Sunday.”
By way of contrast, the piece in Morning View read exactly as though a Frenchman or Dutchman had borne the Claret Jug aloft.
The brittleness of any sense of over-arching Irishness in sporting matters is not however restricted to sections of unionism in Northern Ireland.
It could be seen in the southern reaction to Rory McIlroy’s claim a couple of years back that he felt more British than Irish.
Cue bewilderment and revulsion south of the border.
Not much of an organic over-arching Irishness if it is something that is to be commanded rather than given freely.
As that great Ulster Protestant Roger Casement said in his speech from the dock: “Loyalty is a sentiment, not a law; it rests on love, not on restraint.”
So I do not come here to scold what I read in Morning View that Monday morning. I believe you should listen to those you claim as your own.
Listening here surely indicates that there is a significant section of unionism which is moving away from any attachment to Irishness, not just the sporting variety.
Owen Polley spelt it out in the pages of this paper only a few months ago (‘I always supported Ireland in rugby but less so now due to the anti-British mood over Brexit,’ February 1, see link below).
He said: “Unlike some unionists, I’ve always felt a sense of Irishness, and a sense of attachment to some of the all-Ireland sports teams, but that sentiment is currently at an all time low.”
Whilst other issues have doubtless brought about this alienation between what David Trimble once referred to as “the two Irelands”, it is clear that Brexit — or, more specifically, Dublin’s reaction to it — has acted as a catalyst to the significant toxification of a relationship which looked very different when, say, Paisley and Ahern were at the helm of the two jurisdictions on this island.
I think that the most straightforward explanation of Dublin’s stance since the result of the 2016 Brexit vote is that they have sought at all costs the retention of the status quo ante, i.e. both parts of Ireland happily coexisting in the same supranational economic ecosphere, buttressed by an exceptionally close relationship between London and Dublin.
That status quo ante was a veritable Shangri-La compared to where we are now. What Dublin’s policy means however is ignoring the result of the 2016 referendum held in the UK and acting as if it had never happened.
It is therefore a policy based upon a gigantic exercise in gaslighting.
The Irish government could say the following:
• We recognise the result of the referendum.
• We accept that this means that Northern Ireland will no longer be part of the European Union.
• We wish to explore, in light of these new facts on the ground, the most fruitful ways we can maintain and re-imagine the existing strong economic and cultural links between North and South which have flowed from the Belfast Agreement and heretofore from common EU membership.
• We are confident of complete support from both the British government and the EU in the efforts that we will make with our colleagues in Northern Ireland to make the most of the exciting synergies that will arise on this island as a result of its two jurisdictions having unique bonds on the one part to the British Union and on the other part to the European Union.
• We believe that our common island home can thus flourish anew.
Jeffrey Donaldson recently spoke of the necessity for the Irish government to compromise “in a way that protects all our interests, protects the Good Friday Agreement, protects the institutions of that agreement and avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and does not create a new border in the Irish Sea”.
It could not therefore be any clearer that such an approach by the Irish government to unionism as I have outlined would fall on the absolute opposite of deaf ears.
Moreover, the EU is on record as saying it is “Dublin’s call” as to whether there should be any compromises on the backstop and that they would support such compromises only if Dublin approved them.
I happen to share Owen Polley’s view that the IRFU made a serious mistake in making the only appearance of Ireland at an official rugby international in Belfast in the last 40 years an “away game”, thereby getting around their own rules which would have dictated that the team should have stood attention to ‘God Save the Queen’ in recognition of the legal status of Northern Ireland, just as they stand to attention to ‘Amhrán na bFiann’ in Dublin for home games.
A failure on Dublin’s part to open a dialogue with unionism at this late but critical stage in the Brexit process would be an even greater error of judgement in my view.
For the recognition of actually existing sovereignty and the recognition of the results of referenda surely cut both ways?
• Neil McCarthy is a teacher and writer based in Dublin and London
• Owen Polley: I alawys supported Ireland in rugby but less so now