If you write a letter to the editor of the Irish Times, or any other newspaper, I expect, you’ll have seen suggestions by the paper that you keep what you have to say brief. That hasn’t hindered Martin Mansergh. He’s got a letter in the IT this morning and it ploughs on for several paragraphs. What’s the topic? Ah, therein lies the answer to the space which Martin gets. It’s called ‘Marking centenary of Northern Ireland’.
In it Martin calls for all nationalists and republicans to abstain from celebrating a territory that was forced on the Irish people at gunpoint and has been a source of literal and metaphorical division for the past hundred years….Nah, only kidding. The letter says nothing of the sort. We’re talking Martin Mansergh here, not Bobby Sands.
What Martin does say is that the centenary of this Tormented Green Corner (TGC) will require “careful discussion and reflection.” Martin figures that nationalists and republicans need to not simply talk about respect for unionists, but show it, and the fact that “many still refuse 20 years on from the Agreement even to refer to it by name” is not showing respect.
Martin figures it’ll be difficult to reunite the people of Ireland if nationalists and republicans “persist in wanting to write Northern Ireland out of history…when it is still there now by agreement, and may be there for a long time in the future”.
He goes on to list the good things our TGC has produced, including secondary education, the NHS and “major cultural contribution transcending boundaries to art, music, literature and sport”.
Martin ends by urging us to “abandon the old and futile habit of beating the drum for a united Ireland in search of votes.”
Whew. That’s telling us. Let’s see if we can look at some of these in more detail.
We should stop being disrespectful and call our TGC by its proper name – Northern Ireland. So this NE region is produced at the point of a gun, is ruled in full throttle bigotry and discrimination for 50 years, followed by 30 years of violence, followed by grudging power-sharing which degenerates into contempt for things Irish – and nationalist and republicans are not doing the right thing by not calling the place by the name Britain gave it? It’s OK for unionism to talk about ‘The Province’ (geographically inaccurate) but not OK for nationalists/republicans to talk about the Six Counties (geographically accurate)? Get outa here, Martin.
Writing the NE corner out of history? It’d be interesting to hear one person who’d say our TGC hasn’t existed. If you had a boil on your bum, you’d be unlikely to deny its existence. It sort of demands attention. Which is what the south of Ireland has traditionally not given our TGC.
As for the achievements in sport, art and music: I’m trying to think of a sportsman or woman (with the obvious exception of Dame Mary Peters) who was inspired to perform by pride in our TGC. In fact, many poets and playwrights have been inspired to write because of their distaste for the place rather than any rejoicing in its existence. Although I’ll grant Martin Hurricane Higgins and maybe Van Morrison. But certainly not George Best.
Finally, Martin, it’ll come as a shock, but many people are emphatic in their longing for a reunited Ireland, and they don’t beat drums and don’t seek votes. I know it’s in the DNA of a lot of southern politicians to focus on the needs of our unionist fellow-countrymen. But please don’t deny the right many others have to be concerned with the contempt of unionist fellow-countrymen.
Mind you, drumming up votes would make sense, if it resulted in a border poll which finally solved the Irish Question and Brexit in one sweet transcendent stroke of the pen.