On being British and neutral

British politicians like to be balanced in their approach to things Northern Ireland. Their argument is that for generations Northern Irish Protestants and Catholics have been fighting each other, and it’s Britain’s destiny to try to get them to work together peacefully .

Having cast themselves in that role  for decades, you’d think British politicians would have learned a thing or two. But it appears not.

Peter Hain, the one-time Labour Secretary of State here, is writing in The Irish Times this morning under the headline ‘Deal with DUP means London is no longer honest broker on North’. You might commend Hain for his awareness of the importance of a neutral chair person at the Stormont talks. But you might be tempted to shake your fist at him with that ‘no long honest broker on North’ bit.

British politicians were never ‘honest brokers’. Tony Blair was in many ways commendable in his approach to our NE Nest, but on his first visit here as prime minister, one of the first things he announced was that he was a unionist. We shouldn’t blame him for that. If Britain and British prime ministers didn’t believe in the Union, the Union would cease to exist. But why is it that even the best of them appear not to get it?

Take Hain (enough already, Victoria, enough already). Many would see him as commendably fair in his perspective on things here, but he’s not. He can’t help it – he’s British, just as Arlene and Nigel and the rest see themselves as British. Maybe it’s in an attempt to appear even-handed, despite his British leg-iron, that Hain says in the first paragraph of today’s speech that in the run-up to the GFA, he tried to bring together “old enemies, the DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, who at the time had never exchanged a word, let alone negotiated with each other.”

Every syllable of that last quotation is true. What it doesn’t add is that no word was exchanged between these two “old enemies” not, as he implies, because both parties couldn’t bear to speak to each other, but because one party (to wit, the DUP) had refused to exchange a word to Sinn Féin. In fact they had refused to so much as share a studio with them. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, was more than keen to talk to the DUP, and Martin McGuinness spent his tenure as Deputy First Leader making conciliatory gestures in the hope that the DUP would emerge from its trench and talk. The apex of this was probably his meetings with Queen Elizabeth. Did this encourage unionist politicians to congratulate him, even privately? Is there a holy water font inside the door of Portadown’s Loyal Orange Lodge?

Hain’s obvious concern for the welfare of our NE Nest and his fears about the British having forfeited their right to be regarded as neutral arbiters, is commendable. Unfortunately it shows him as blind to the fact that British politicans, by their very nature, are  unionists.

If Hain or other British politicians really believe that they were ever respected referees here, they show a level of self-delusion that’s scary.

, ,

20 Responses to On being British and neutral

  1. Eolach June 14, 2017 at 10:16 am #

    Jude , This is a topic I have been expounding for years We are all partisan , one way or another . I’m Irish , I cannot be anything else ….my thoughts and actions are Irish and being British or subscribing to their ethos doesn’t remotely interest me …everything seems to be one long , monotonous , valueless oxymoron. British justice , British impartiality , British values , British integrity etc etc. Years ago ,when I began learning my native language , I realised I was thinking differently ….Irish is a picturesque descriptive language …when a place is described in Irish you can visualize it without ever having been there and therein lies the reason that the colonists expended so much time and effort trying to eradicate it…..you cannot control them if you cannot control their thoughts ! You quickly realise that our sense of humour , our interaction ,our friendliness , our willingness to communicate are so different….yes foreign .When we speak the language we were forced to adopt , we still have a tendency to construct sentences as if in Irish…we use Irish idioms and phrases that mean nothing , rud ar bith ,to the stranger. I have digressed , but yes , no one is neutral….one might claim to be but I found it to be an impossibility….a contradiction in terminology …..The SDLP also discovered this.

    • Ernesider June 14, 2017 at 10:30 am #

      ““Out of Ireland have we come.
      Great hatred, little room,
      Maimed us at the start.
      I carry from my mother’s womb
      A fanatic heart.”

      ― W.B. Yeats, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats

  2. moser June 14, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    What’s scary is when people refer to this place as a democracy.

  3. Ernesider June 14, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    The British government allowed the evil of institutionalised sectarian hatred and division by successive Protestant Unionist generations to contaminate every facet of society in N. Ireland for 50 years.

    • paul June 14, 2017 at 11:10 am #

      Yes Ernesider dead on. From the current incarceration of Tony Taylor and the Craigavon Two, to Orange marches being forced down the Garvaghy Road, the history of the 6 counties is littered with(and continues to be) examples of one sided repression and oppression. I can not find a single instance where the British government has been neutral . Has the UDA disbanded or disarmed yet? Didn’t thin k so

  4. billy June 14, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    seen a good balanced approach last night.cut off the m2 to get a big mac meal in glengormley.but had to go hungry,a gang had blocked the road to erect an orange arch while the local militia stood around chatting and joking with people breaking the law.trafic tailed back everywhere.so still no neutrality here.

    • moser June 14, 2017 at 10:42 am #

      What’s a big Mac meal ?

      • billy June 14, 2017 at 11:30 am #

        lol..are you from buckna.

  5. moser June 14, 2017 at 11:43 am #

    Ha ha Billy, your making me laugh into my coconut milk and oatbix.

  6. moser June 14, 2017 at 11:43 am #

    Ha ha Billy, your making me laugh into my coconut milk and oatbix.

  7. moser June 14, 2017 at 11:45 am #

    Now best be serious, otherwise you’ll be sent to the back of the class.

  8. Cal June 14, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    Tory negotiations with DUP now look to be put on hold until next week amid reports that Ruth Davidson is demanding Scotland get the same package as the north. This will delay the start of brexit negotiations and looks more and more like an existential crisis for May’s government.

  9. Eolach June 14, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    Don’t you just love the intrigues of corrupt politics. It’t rumoured that Foster wants £1 billion to offset RHI and the looming disaster called Brexit. Scotland wants the same sort of loot because May needs Scottish tories as much as the DUP…….the OO’s wish list is further down the line but don’t forget Scotland has these bigots also…..where will they want to march….Celtic Park?

  10. Pointis June 14, 2017 at 2:36 pm #

    I would suggest that it is impossible for an British National to be neutral in a negotiation between a pro-Irish and pro-British factions in Ireland. There is too much inherent bias already pervading to make it feasible.

    A British national would be tricky enough, a member of the Conservative party, a minister of government, a Secretary of State for NI who’se party has a contract of understanding to keep that government functioning? Who is he trying to kid?

  11. Ryan June 14, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

    This has more to do with the British Government trying to portray the conflict here as two warring tribes that cant help but take lumps out of each other whilst the poor and civilised Brits were trying to keep the two savages apart. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what most people in Britain think the Troubles was all about. Catholic vs Protestant. Green vs Orange. Irish vs British. It was never that simple but boy does the British Government want it to be that simple.

    • Cal June 14, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

      Agree 100%, Ryan.

  12. RJC June 14, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    Worth a read for anyone still labouring under any delusions as to just who the Tories are getting into bed with –


  13. gendjinn June 14, 2017 at 4:35 pm #

    Found it interesting that John Major was warning Theresa May about the perils of coalition with the DUP.

    Was waiting for him to say “Look! I wrecked one IRA ceasefire kowtowing to UUP demands, don’t make the same mistake I do by kowtowing to DUP demands for crhissakes!” But alas.

    Thinking of John Major now, as I never do, it occurs to me that all those years Spitting Image was mocking him as the gray man, boring, uninteresting, banal beyond description he was shagging Edwina Curry on the cabinet table.

    It goes to show, you just never know and it’s always the quiet ones.

  14. Martin Bradley June 14, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

    Being British and neutral is a contradiction in terms.
    Don’t kid yourself, British govt will always have their own agenda and it will not have the best interest of any irish person included.

    • giordanobruno June 15, 2017 at 8:06 am #

      And yet they brokered the GFA and before that the Anglo Irish agreement, both of which acceped the will of the majority in the North to determine their own future.
      Even Thatcher and Churchill both in their time expressed openness to the idea of a united Ireland.
      But it doesn’t do to miss an opportunity for a bit of a mope about the past.
      All governments act first and foremost from self interest. The Irish government do so, the Germans do the Russians do, and the British are not somehow uniquely selfish.
      Of course they were never really neutral and never wanted to see the union broken up although it sometimes seemed as if they would not be too concerned to lose one particular bit.
      Still, this latest move is a worrying change in the balance of their relationship with the two sides here.