The Problem With Being as Much British as Irish

For any Northern Ireland protestant feeling out of place in Ireland you should read the words of Belfast's famous poet John Hewitt. He made it clear that any Northern Ireland Protestant or hardworking immigrant has as much right to call themselves Irish.

As weekends go the weekend past was a strange one for me. On the Saturday I was filled with an immense pride as I wore my Ireland rugby jersey and cheered for the men in green. Then on the Sunday I was filled with a profound sense of duty as I paid remembrance to all the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight against tyranny.

That's rather self-contradictory though isn't it? Cheering on the Irish one day, and then the British the next. Certainly it would seem a strange proposition to many people. Britain and Ireland are dichotomous, mutually exclusive, polar opposites after all, aren't they? Well, to some people they are, but not to me.

I was born in Northern Ireland and raised as a protestant who cherishes both his Irishness and Britishness. I have an Irish passport and a British one and to me the duality of my identity is perfectly normal, rational and one that sets me and others apart. I love the pluralism of it. Any time I go abroad I'm happy to tell my hosts that I'm as much British as Irish and to explain the politics of it all.

Growing up in a middle class family in Northern I embraced the Northern Ireland way of life: one that is shaped by British and Irish culture in equal measure. At school we learnt about our unique constitutional status and the unique events which shaped our local history. Then at weekends I immersed myself in the Irish rugby scene and supported the men in green with a great enthusiasm.

However in the context of the events of the weekend past there was one thing that made me feel uncomfortable with the duality of my loyalties. There is a problem with being as much British as Irish: for some people the proposal is utter nonsense. There are many people in Northern Ireland and Ireland who detest a proposal that one can be as much British as Irish.

These are people who detest and fight against the very idea. These are people who reject with every ounce of their person hood that any part of Ireland could be part of the United Kingdom. This is in spite of the popular will of the people. Many of these people have a deep-rooted insatiable hatred and unnatural revulsion for everything related to Britain. Poppies included.

The extent of the anti-Britain sentiment borders on hard-line militancy. Not an armed militancy but a rampant intellectual militancy - an intellectual militancy that is driven by the sole goal of ridding Ireland from every last trace of Britain. Even though there is no popular will for Northern Ireland to leave Britain, Sinn Fein is dedicated to just such a goal.

Sinn Fein is motivated by a diluted form of Marxism and the socialist and collectivist policies that brought misery to millions under Soviet Rule. They reject free-trade and the capitalist system. This is a party that is motivated and mobilised by past grievances. A reactionary party that harps back to an Ireland that never truly existed - a nostalgic view shaped by the rose-tinted, romanticism of Irish poets.

Sinn Fein are not an inclusive forward thinking party that wishes to unite people together in harmony. For a party that once murdered and now serves left-wing socialist Irish Republicans, how could people like me ever be made to feel comfortable in a country with Sinn Fein in the ascendency? This isn't a party that wants to build a dynamic open economy or encourage the ideas of the individual. It's a party that opposes much that the West cherishes.

The Sinn Fein historical narrative is a dangerous and selective one. It is one that preaches that Ireland is an island, entire of itself. An island that should be untouched by time, man, evolution or change. An island that should have remained detached from the rest of history's events - including Britain's role in shaping the modern Western world. The party's isolationist mentality is rather fittingly reflected in the Irish translation of Sinn Fein: "We Alone."

But history tells a different story: the island of Ireland has been shaped by centuries of in and out-migration. Ireland has been shaped by the inflow of people from all over Europe: French Normans, Spanish, East Europeans, Scandinavians, Scottish, Cambro-Normans, Anglo-Saxons, Jutes, Celts, Danes, English and many more.

It is these people, their practices and customs that have made Ireland what it is today. And so equally, we are as much heirs to these people and their loyalties as an ambiguous concept of "true Irishness". There is no such thing as "true Irishness". Irish are a melting pot of religions, tastes, colours and outlooks.

Irish cultural lineage does not emanate from one strand; Irish heritage is not homogenous, nor is its modern day culture. But Sinn Fein says it is and that it should be. But ultimately the future of Ireland needs to reflect its pluralist past and make up. It needs to be tolerant, inclusive, ambitious and outward looking. However these ideals are opposite to Sinn Fein.

I'm a proud Brit, proud of my British heritage. But I'm also a proud Irishman, proud of my Irish heritage that goes back a great many years. But I cannot align myself in any way to a people, a politics, a government or a country that casts Britain as a perverse imperialist. I cannot for a moment understand the unyielding hostility to Britain, a country that brought liberty and democracy to much of the world.

At the end of the day I don't know what sort of Ireland Sinn Fein remember or want to bring back because before British rule Ireland wasn't even a country - it was a clan-based, war torn island. It was Britain that first united Ireland and brought it into the modern world as a structured and functioning society.

And don't get me started on how Ireland has been run since it gained independence in 1922. The Mahon Tribunal, the AIB-debacle and the fact that Ireland is the most indebted developed country in the world is only but a sample of Irish folly in governance. Can we not embrace our multi-cultural Ireland?

A country cannot be led or influenced by an isolationist, reactionary protest party who will not cease until Ireland is alone.

Sinn Fein is guided by reactionary ideology; it is a protest party, not a party that can deliver a functioning and all-inclusive government. As the Irish Left Review said here, "A United Ireland remains the objective (of Sinn Fein), everything else is a tactic." It's a bit like the UKIP situation; what would happen if the UK left Europe?

I'm no foreigner in the land I was born, Ireland, no matter how much Sinn Fein wants to make me feel that I am. My beliefs, principles and ideals are not alien to being Irish. Ambition, tolerance, looking to the future and open mindedness are the true ideals of any Western democracy. And so long as so many Irish people follow Sinn Fein Ireland is going down a dangerous unfriendly, closed, poisonous and hostile path.

For any Northern Ireland protestant feeling out of place in Ireland you should read the words of Belfast's famous poet John Hewitt. He made it clear that any Northern Ireland Protestant or hardworking immigrant has as much right to call themselves Irish:

This is my country; my grandfather came here

and raised his walls, and fenced the tangled waste,

And gave his years and strength into the earth

My father also, now their white bones lime,

the ebb and flow have made us one with this.


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