We're Not Donetsk, We're Northern Ireland

18/02/2015 10:29 GMT | Updated 18/04/2015 10:59 BST


Northern Ireland, that benighted pene-exclave, has been barraged by depredations in recent months. We got it from Paxman, Emma Bricknell, slandered by an HBO executive, Douglas Murray and we remembered Reginald Maudling who declaimed:

"For God's sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country."

I concur on all points adumbrated by the esteemed writers. Northern Ireland is John Bull's ostentatiously backward island. I'm marked for my criticism of the UK's six Irish counties, full of lachrymose loyalists and moist republicans.

My criticism of the sectarian redoubt is large, but not unlimited. Where I draw the line is with Mary Dejevsky. She said:

"For Russia read Great Britain; for Ukraine read Ireland, and for the 'pro-Russia rebels' read the unionists of what is now Northern Ireland."

An argument she presented in 2009. The comparison is a hyperbolic, glaring non-parallel.

The first error is the one of nomenclature. We're told that Ulster unionists are an apt synonym for Russian separatists. But Irish republicans were the separatists. Irish republicans wanted the annexation and restoration of a rural, gaelic hinterland. Theirs was the world of reaction and nostalgia. They were the non-radical but inherently conservative forces.

Secondly, London has long wanted shot of Ireland. The conservatives stood with Carson and the Ulster Volunteers in the early 1900s, but mainland Britain has long dumped the protestant Paddies. London isn't and wasn't the corrupt, aggressive, capricious, expansionist centre of ethnic chauvinism. As Christopher Hitchens said of Vladimir Putin:

"A sadistic, expansionist goon who has a clerical militia as part of his campaign to intimidate Georgia, Poland, Chechnya, the Baltic States, Ukraine and beyond this many others; it's going to be in our future and theocracy is going to be one of the forms it's going to take, and it's nuclear."

Russia is redrawing the lines of Europe. A swaggering menace. Strutting round Europe like a school yard bully, shuttling faceless armed emissaries behind foreign lines. For Thomas L. Friedman the Hilter-Putin parallel even has merit. For Friedman "Czar Putin" and the Russia-Ukraine stand-off "matters more than the war in Iraq against the Islamic State."

Russia is not merely a menace to Ukraine and its own people, but to the rest of Europe and to international norms.

That is not a parallel with Ireland or Britain.

Moscow is actively importing agents and armed goons into a sovereign and neighbouring state. That is not a parallel with London or Belfast.

Thirdly, think Ireland, think of the post-colonial clash of Catholics and Calvinists. Churchill spoke of "the integrity of their quarrel". The confrontation between Irish monarchists and republicans is not like that between Russian separatists and Ukrainian nationalists. The Irish face-off is its and its alone. It is unique.

It is squalid and suppurating, but the steadfast sectarianism of Ireland has a malignancy lighter of other conflicts. You cannot make small the intractable Troubles of Ireland, but it's moving towards a settled destiny. In Russia and elsewhere we're seeing the tables and chairs of precedent overturned and the future cast into the unknown.

I admire the efforts of Mary and her attempt to draw clarity on such a salient matter as Russia, but bringing Northern Ireland into it doesn't help us or anyone.