I’m not a man readily given to exclamation marks but WHAT A GUSHFEST! Not to say hushed we-are-all-Richard-Dimbleby obsequiousness. I was in Dublin yesterday and both from the sidelines and from on-air debate, I heard more fudge and near-grovel than I want to hear for the rest of my days. The commentating world seemed to go all moist and John Brutony, who, you’ll remember, grinned like a watermelon and declared the day of Prince Charles’s visit to the south the happiest day of his life.
Historic, a line beneath the past, even “the end of history” – the words came tumbling out of those assembled to pass comment. The point I tried to make on BBC Radio 5 Live and on Channel 4 was that talk like Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s about this day marking “an end to the centuries of division and divisiveness between our two countries” flew in the face of the facts.
I don’t know any historian who’d deny that the source of the ill-will and bloodshed between Ireland and England through history has been rooted in England’s claim to political jurisdiction over Ireland. Is that claim still exercised? No and Yes. No, it’s been abandoned in the south of Ireland and yesterday sort of symbolically confirmed that, although you’d think after sixty years, Britain would have noticed. But Yes, Britain still claims and in fact exercises political jurisdiction over the north of Ireland. You may see that as a jolly good thing or you may see it as a dreary bad thing, but it’s there. Pretending it isn’t and spouting dutiful and poetic tributes to the visitor from Windsor is no substitute for facing up to reality. The source of the bitterness between the neighbours still exists and it continues to distort the relationship. If those drawn to violence see a blank refusal by those in power to even acknowledge the continued existence of the problem, there’s a real danger they’ll feel confirmed in their analysis and conclude that only a terrible, transforming gesture will resolve the situation. Now there’s a thought to make us all truly weak at the knees.
Meanwhile, I wonder will Paddy Power give odds that our curtsying commentators will run out of epithets over the next twenty-four hours?
PS Here’s my Channel 4 News interview on Tuesday 17 May 2011