I’m fresh from a very brief input to the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster, where they were considering the question of whether the time is ripe for a visit to the south from Queen Elizabeth II (aka ‘The Queen’). Sam Smyth (late of this parish) was on from Dublin, providing the official Dublin 4 view that this would be good, the final jigsaw piece in the normalizing of relations between Ireland and Britain. Then a man called John came on and he said QE2 would be hoping to God they didn’t send her to the south because they ‘couldn’t even speak properly there’. He himself had a northern accent you could cut with a cleaver. When I pointed out that having 5,000 armed forces on the soil of a neighbouring country was hardly normal and as Commander-in-Chief of the UK armed forces, QE2 represented these ill-positioned people, John got very irate and told me to get my facts right, that QE2 was not the C-in-C and I was thinking of America. A classic case of what Freud called projection, where you get very upset and see in others the faults most central to yourself. Even an ignoramus like myself knows that as head of state, QE2 IS Commander-in-Chief. Poor John.
But there are several other good reasons why QE2 would not be welcome in Ireland on a state visit.
1. Expense. The south are on their financial knees. Why go down on their knees even further for a royal visit?
2. Unresolved murders. The Irish government is on record as saying that British security has been obstructionist in providing files to establish the truth regarding collusion in a whole string of atrocities in Ireland – the Dublin /Monaghan bombs, the Miami Showband killings, the Pat Finucane killing, Bloody Sunday – the list goes on. The royal visit as a sign that all is well would patently be an expensive lie.
3. Absurd trade-offs. President Mary McAleese has hinted that the transfer of policing and justice to the north would be followed by a royal visit. That kind of ‘one for you and one for me’ thinking is daft, especially when it suggests that we’ve reached the end of ‘normalising’ relationships between the two countries. We haven’t.
4. Inflamed animosity. If you want to sharpen anti-British sentiment in Ireland, there’s no better way than to parade a British royal. Leave aside the history of the crown in Ireland: the idea of backing out of a room because it contains an unelected head of state from a dominating neighbour sticks in the craw of even the gentlest nationalist. Prince Charles’s visit some years ago might have been the happiest day in John Bruton’s life but a visit from QE2 would leave most normal Irish people feeling a bit less euphoric.