Ireland: what it means to be sovereign

A sign hangs on the railings of the Bank Of Ireland, in central Dublin November 15, 2010. It is difficult to believe that financial turmoil in a country as small as Ireland, whose economic output roughly matches the state of Maryland's, could have worldwide repercussions. Yet in an interconnected global banking system, the island nation's troubles have captured the attention of investors, who are now looking for signals that some sort of bailout package  is imminent.  REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (IRELAND - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)
I’m not sure why  it is – maybe a Presbyterian reluctance to mix darkness and light –  but most unionist politicians are poor actors. It showed up again yesterday, when the DUP’s Jonathan Bell was on radio discussing the financial crisis in the twenty-six counties. It was all Jonathan could do to stop himself letting little whoops of delight before and after each statement. It’s been hard for people like Jonathan this past ten years or so –  the south’s poverty-stricken, ghastly roads, its pious superstition, was suddenly gone. In its place was this terrifying Celtic Tiger,  purring as its road network left the north’s looking decidedly developing world,  twitching its whiskers as fortunes were made and foreign workers had to be imported, yawning as Dublin was hailed as the place to go if you wanted a really good time.  But now, thanks be to the Protestant God, all that is over and the incompetent bog-hoppers south of the border have made a proper horlicks of everything and are having to be bailed out by Europe. Unionist superiority complex can be resumed.

Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Féin was on the same programme as Bell and he tried to point out that the six counties has been a basket case since its inception, surviving only on massive hand-outs year after year from Britain. Jonathan stopped chuckling long enough to tell Mitchel and us that that was because the six counties was a part of the UK and so, naturally, shared in the national wealth.

The truth is, we’re all dependent, north and south. Mitchel is right – the north couldn’t possibly survive if Britain didn’t produce around £6 billion a year to keep the life-support system in place; the south owes its prosperity in part to being a member of the EU, and it’ll owe its survival to being a member.  The difference between the two is, of course, that the twenty-six counties are in the EU voluntarily; the north is in the UK at the point of a British soldier’s gun. If you disagree, have you figured out what 5,000 British troops are doing stationed here?

But I don’t really blame Jonathan. I’m sure I’d be tempted to snigger too if I were a unionist politician. What’s more unforgiveable are the pronouncements of southern politicians in recent days. They burble on about ‘Ireland’ and ‘the country’ and ‘the nation’ when they mean the twenty-six counties; and the south’s pundits express their horror at Ireland’s ‘loss of sovereignty’, were the EU/IMF to come in and take charge of the books. 

One of two things: either they’ve forgotten that Ireland, the country, the nation has thirty-two counties, not twenty-six, and that British military control and British political control of that part of the country makes any potential intervention in the south by the EU look like gentlest, briefest  toe-tread  compared to the permanent boot firmly planted on the chest of the north.  The political establishment in the south has either forgotten those uncomfortable facts, or they’ve remembered and don’t give a damn about those noisy, forever -complaining nordies. 

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