Who am I?Where am I?

12 March 2009

Northern Ireland...an Imperfect Compromise

While I was student at Howard, one of my best friends and I decided to host a radio show. It was called the Mick and Limey show. He is a Limey...since he has English citizenship (as well as Jamaican and Canadian.) I was the Mick since my ancestors (at least some of them) are Irish. Though few would have understood the name of our show, I have always been proud of the fact that I have roots in Ireland. Northern Ireland has always been a source of personal angst for me. As an American, with Irish ancestry, I have always felt some sort of affinity for Ireland. It is on my list of top five countries I wish to visit, and I plan to trace my ancestry to enable me to pinpoint exactly where my ancestors emigrated from. Like many Americans of Irish ancestry, I have strongly identified with the Republican cause in the past and thus found myself supporting the Irish Republican Army.

Over the past decade, the global landscape has changed markedly. September 11th drastically changed how people view independence movements. Movements, which had previously enjoyed wide spread global support, suddenly found themselves under intense criticism because of the tactics these organizations employed. The Good Friday accord was signed in 1998, well before 9/11, and had as one of its provisions the caveat that all parties would use "exclusively peaceful and democratic means" to achieve their political goals. However, the Irish Republican Army did not formally renounce violence as a legitimate means of struggle until 2005, well after the tide of global public opinion had turned against using this as a legitimate means of achieving independence.

The reason for the seemingly disparate action of signing the agreement vis-a-vis the organizational ethos of the IRA had to do with internal struggle. This internal struggle is rooted in the history of the IRA. The IRA was founded on 25 November 1913 and was essentially the military that fought the British for the independence of what is now known as the Republic of Ireland. After independence was achieved in 1921, the IRA splintered. The splintering was not only, as some have suggested, about the independence of Northern Ireland. (Both sides involved thought that Northern Ireland would be emasculated by the Irish Boundary Commission and would not be economically viable. Thus inanition would set in and Northern Ireland, empty of finances and support would come grovelling back to join the Republic. The dispute also centered on the British retention of Southern Irish ports and on whether or not Ireland would remain part of the British commonwealth.

Even though Michael Collins had led the IRA against the British and had helped negotiate the treaty ending the war, the majority of the IRA did not agree with the treaty. Thus a Civil War ensued between those loyal to the Dail, the Irish parliament, and those who believed that the Dail had sold out to the British government by signing the treaty. After it became clear that Northern Ireland would in fact remain part of the United Kingdom, the complete unity of Ireland became the issue.

The IRA lost the Civil War, but the cause to which they were devoted did not die. Violence has sporadically occurred in the intervening decades. Essentially, the IRA has morphed over the years, but as one faction has decided to share power and give peace a chance, another faction has decided that the only way for there to be peace is if Ireland is united and the entire island is under the control of Dublin. The Real IRA and the Continuity IRA have claimed responsibility for the recent murders of the soldiers and police officers in Northern Ireland. These groups have simply split off from the Gerry Adams led group which signed the Good Friday accords just over a decade ago.
Recently, the same friend who did the radio show at Howard with me posed a question on this issue: "Given that the world has changed so much and that Ireland and England are both part of the EU, does this matter?" My answer, on a practical level no it does not. Ireland probably has a stronger economy at the moment and has had one of the fastest growing economies in Europe over the past decade.

On an emotional level, however, it certainly does matter. There is still animosity towards the British for the numerous atrocities committed during the centuries they ruled Ireland. Because of this animosity, it is difficult for some Irish to accept that there would be countrymen loyal to the English crown. English cruelty during the Potato Famine of the 1840s is but one example of this heinous occupation that is cited and used ot incite this strong anti-English resentment. Therefore, it is unfathomable to ultra-Republicans that anything short of a unified Republican Ireland could even be remotely considered an acceptable solution. Sadly, the division of Ireland was an imperfect compromise that continues to inflame resentment amongst a minority of the population, but until this minority is placated, there will only be a pinchbeck peace and sporadic violence will continue as a reminder of the English occupation and less than ideal settlement that led to the creation of the Republic of Ireland.


Vera Ikeji said...

It's a shame about the killings. Heard on Skynews that a man has been arrested in connection with the killing of the 2 IRA soldiers.

Anonymous said...

Nice analysis of the situation. My first though having read the article was that I don't think we really got that old saying, "that one can forgive but never forget" right. Instead it should be read "sometimes one forgets but they will never forgive." Let the sad of story of Northern Ireland be exhibit A.

I guess when I posed the question to you I was wondering how rational, correct or justified are our views when we to let our emotional baggage divide continue to divide us if and when we as a people do become pretty much equal on a practical level. We can't turn back the hands of time and we almost never are able to make right many of history's great injustices.Thus, sadly I've come to the conclusion that maybe the only thing we can do when moving forward is to try and make us all equal on a practical level. If this does not suffice there's little hope for us as a people and this is pretty much as good as it gets.

But I have been known to be wrong so set's hope that history will prove me wrong once again. Let Obama's election be exhibit B.

My two pence.