THE BLOG
05/11/2013 06:55 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:52 GMT

Am I Living in Ireland or Iran?

2013-11-04-IanKnoxBrianJohnSpencer.jpg

Because I'm from Northern Ireland, support the Union with Great Britain and identify myself as a cultural Protestant, I can't be a proper Irish person. That my friend is racism, jingoism and xenophobia - defined.

Rarified celtic nationalism has made Irishness and Englishness/Britishness/Unionism incompatible and irreconcilable. Rarified celtic nationalism has created a political philosophy that can be expressed in thirteen words: "Brits Out! And on that day all will be well in the world."

Well I'm sorry, this is a nonsense, offensive and a disgrace. A spectacular historical anachronism is these days of pluralism and enlightenment. Look to any modern liberal democracy and see how citizens adopt shared, layered and overlapping identities that reflect the complexity of life and history.

What country is this I'm living in that promotes a prescriptive and exclusivist monocultural identity? Is this Northern Ireland or am I living in Iran? What with all these racist, sectarian, demagogic, unreformed political Mullahs running about spouting hate and intolerance against those of the other cultural and political faith. Little Irelanders shout down to the Queen just as the fanatical crowd in Tehran shouts down with the West.

The two main political parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP, singularly serve their own people. Sinn Fein a Catholic party for a Catholic Irish people. Racist. DUP a Protestant party for a Protestant British people. Racist.

Here's the situation. Protestants almost instinctively recoil from being called Irish. As David McCann said: "the IRA's horrors drove Protestants aways from cultural identification with Irishness." Moderate Catholics struggle with violent Irishness. As Seamus Mallon said: "I don't concede republicanism to Sinn Fein or the IRA because they have debased it."

However radical and ridiculous "republicans" have appropriated what it is to be Irish. They have done the defining. They are the extremist tail that wags the docile dog. They hold ostentatious commemorations to self-immolated terrorists and celebrate them as "soldiers of Ireland." They push and pump the prelapsarian ideal of Irishness: Catholic, celtic, gaelic, Irish-speaking, GAA-playing, motivated by past-grievances and extremely anti-Unionist, anti-English, anti-British. For the little Irelander "To be Irish was not enough. To be Irish you had to be not British."

The little Irelander's Ireland is Éamon de Valera's Ireland. An antiquated Carlylean dream. A St. Patrick's Day vision of Ireland. As de Valera said himself in a radio broadcast in 1943:

"That Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis of right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit; a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with sounds of industry, the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths, the laughter of comely maidens; whose firesides would be the forums of the wisdom of serene old age."

This whole charade reeks of racism, intolerance, anti-modernism, anti-multiculturalism and medievalism. And it's resulted in a situation captured in a sentence by Heather Crawford where "protestants cannot be quite Irish". As Fintan O'Toole said, for many in Ireland "Ireland is our dream - if it didn't have any Protestants in it."

Here's why it's wrong. For Conor Cruise O'Brien the idea of an Irish-Irelander is part of the "recklessly idiosyncratic" notions and definitions of what it is to be Irish. How right he is. Catholics do not have a monopoly on what it is to be Irish. As Douglas Cageby said, "there were no aborigines in Ireland." The celtic ideal is a most grotesque festishisation, puritanicalisation and butchery of reality and modernism. A fabrication of an artificial consciousness of a mythical Elysian, majority-white, all-Catholic, pre-17th Century past.

Here's what we need. We need to take back what it is to be Irish from the little Irelanders. We need to promote pluralism, broad-mindedness and a new inclusive Irish identity that allows people to be Protestant, British and Irish. And it's for everyone's benefit. As Fintan O'Toole said, the old anti-British definition of what it is to be British is a "prison for the Irish people which [has] crippled their true identity." Seán Ó Faoláin said that the 'Irish fixation' on Britain was bad not just for the nation's political status, but also bad for the whole definition of Irish identity. He said: "It is essential for the mental health of Ireland that we should as quickly as possible get to the stage where we do not give a damn about Britain." And, as Kelly Matthews said:

"It would only be when Ireland stopped defining its identity with reference to Britain that the nation would be free to create a new sense of political independence."

Conclusion. The concept of Irishness that defines itself by its anti-Britishness is stupid, deluded and deranged. It's dangerous, reactionary, hostile and isolated and this little Irelander ideology has to stop. Britain and Ireland are inseparably entwined. As Michael Kirke said, "The Irish constitute Britain's biggest ethnic group and vice-versa."

We're going to have to deal with the complex history and the multiplicity of peoples who live in Ireland. And it can't forever be about past grievances, resentment and recalcitrance. Ireland is better than angry, monoculture racism. The rarified, catholic, gaelic notions of Irishness are quickly becoming the greatest barrier to the progress in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the island as a whole. It is a total, wilful and cruel ignorance in the face of hard realities. As WB Yeats said, Protestants are "no petty people" and they have played a central, positive and formative role in the development of the whole island.

Yes, by all means pursue a united Ireland, but do not make it the transcendent, alienating issue and don't associate it with a courageous, valiant, heroic pre-Protestant, pre-British past. And so going forward, said Fintan O'Toole, "[A] new identity has to be positive rather than negative. But it also has to find a way to include Britishness." The bottom line is that "Being Irish involves a lot more than some uber-Gael, Provo-lite, pub-patriot wet-dream."