Saturday, February 19, 2005

Ireland's smart nationalist

As our regular readers can tell, we're in the midst of an anti-Fianna Fail obsession at the moment. So it was in that mode that we deliberately sought out the irritation of reading Martin Mansergh's column in Saturday's Irish Times (subs. req'd). Sometime soon we'll devote a longer post to the truly pernicious influence that this man has had on Irish politics, but let's just note for now that he has capitalised a thousandfold on his self-styled image as a Church of Ireland nationalist who could be a bridge to both nationalists and Unionists on the island of Ireland.

This bridge-building may have included getting the IRA to stall a ceasefire declaration in 1997, but that's also material for the longer post. But anyway, beneath that polished C of I veneer lies just another Fianna Fail hack who is never quite done with pandering to his unique pantheon of Irish nationalist heroes. In the current climate, with his former negotiating partners the Shinners under pressure and the interests of the Shinners and Fianna Fail diverging, he can sound very confused.

Thus Saturday's column, which starts out as a rumination on the interesting question of why people in the Republic take such interest in the British royals and yet there is reticence at the official level for a formal visit. Mansergh tries a straddle between his nationalist and royalist sentiments, and collapses in the middle:

The murderous attack on Lord Mountbatten and his party was in breach of the laws of hospitality, not to mention ignorance of his role in presiding over British withdrawal from India.

He refers here to the devastating 1979 bomb attack on the Queen's uncle's yacht in Sligo, which we suppose was indeed a tad inhospitable. It would seem that in Mansergh's mind, the choices were to invite Lord Mountbatten in for tea or blow him up.

And there's his completely illogical final clause, that if only the IRA had looked up their history and seen that Mountbatten had been the last governor-general of India, that they would have decided not to blow him up. Of course, if they had looked up their history books, they would have read about a botched Partition that probably cost a million lives in 1947, plus another million 25 years later when the postponed unravelling of East and West Pakistan finally happened.

And what would a Mansergh column be without a Valentine to his hero, De Valera? His claim here is that Dev used the distraction of Edward and Mrs Simpson to create our glorious Republic, previously a mere Free State:

Ireland as a member of the Commonwealth and nominal dominion at that time was involved [in the abdication controversy], and de Valera used it skilfully to push through the External Relations Act, which reduced the role of the crown to a vestigial one in relation to diplomatic accreditation.

It allowed Ireland to become a Republic with a President, a Constitution that works well and reflects the ethos of our society.

Note: the country did not declare itself a Republic till 1949, when Dev was in opposition, and India's declaration of itself as a Republic the next year rendered moot Dev's thought process on how to achieve that status. And that Constitution, barely seventy years old, has been amended 23 times since Dev wrote it. It must be that in Mansergh's mind, Dev invented the referendum as well.

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