There are those – you’ve probably heard or read them – who have seized on the situation in Catalonia and declared that there’s a contradiction between Irish republican support for the Catalonian independence movement and Irish republican support for a united Ireland. They say republican support for the removal of Catalonia from Spanish unity is lauded but the removal of the north of Ireland from Irish unity is denounced.
It’s a credible argument, certainly at first consideration. If Catalonia can reject Spanish unity on the grounds that its history and culture and even language is different from that of Spain, couldn’t the north-eastern state in Ireland argue the same thing – a different history, culture and even language from that of the rest of Ireland?
It is true that the history of Ulster has for centuries been quite different from, say, the province of Leinster. And the Orange culture is not one that has a place of much significance in other provinces of Ireland.
But the parallels with Catalonia soon begin to break down. Catalonia doesn’t have half its population identifying with the rest of Spain: from early reports, the vote for Catalonian independence was somewhere around 90%. The better parallel would be between Catalonia’s relationship with Spain and Ireland’s relationship with Britain. As far back as the eighteenth century, Philip V issued decrees banning all the political institutions and rights of Catalonia and forcibly made Catalonia a province of Spain. Then and now the Catalans spoke a language which has clear differences from Spanish-speaking people.
There are similarities, just as there are similarities between us and English people. And as there are between Scottish and English people and Welsh and English people.
The Irish people for several centuries have struggled to establish their independence from Britain. So likewise the Catalans from Spain. If Britain could accept a peaceful referendum on Scottish independence, why can’t Spain do likewise with Catalonia. Come to that, why can’t Britain accept a peaceful (border) referendum here?
Meanwhile, was there ever a more ironic complaint than that by Derry DUP councillor David Ramsey, that the lighting of Derry’s walls in Catalan colours? “It’s a very dangerous thing to be doing because it doesn’t represent this city. It is a disgrace.” David, David. Was your granda an Apprentice Boy?