The Spectator on Ireland: style over substance

Are you familiar with The Spectator? It’s a British political magazine which provides room for some of Britain’s right-leaning-flat-on-the-floor commentators to air their thinking. These days, naturally, it’s all about Brexit. Here’s a clip from one of its recent articles:

“Today’s vestigial Republican militants comprise drug dealers, petty criminals, Provisional lifers miffed that a career in terrorism doesn’t pay a pension, and wannabe hikikomori holed up in bedrooms over spittle-flecked computers. The folks for whom the jeer ‘Get a Life!’ might have been specifically coined, members of the New IRA — aka the Real IRA, the Not Those Guys, the Other Guys IRA or the Truly, No Foolin’, This Time We Mean It IRA — persist in sufficiently low numbers as to be downgraded to a mental health problem. The holdouts might best be exiled to some Butlins-style holiday camp on an island where long-lived Samurais are still fighting the second world war. For the fifth-largest economy in the world to design its whole trade policy around the appeasement of this delusional riffraff beggars belief.”

Just in case you don’t know what the writer is talking about, the article is pooh-poohing the idea that a hard border might attract violent attacks  This paragraph catches my mixed feelings on the magazine.

On the one hand, there is no denying that this is pretty lively writing. There are no ifs and buts – the boots are strapped on and they kick their victim hard and accurately. I don’t think I’ve read a more comprehensive denunciation of violent dissident republicans.

But that wham-bam-take-that style is dangerous, at least for me, because it sucks me into admiration of the way something’s being said, to the point where I forget if what’s being said makes sense. Much of the quotation mocks the rag-tag-bobtail nature of violent dissident republicans – certainly when compared to the infinitely more powerful IRA of the 1970s and 1980s.  But what the writer forgets or chooses to forget is that, given a firm focus like a hard border, events tend to snowball and often end up in a totally different place.

When the first civil rights marches took place, who could have foreseen the response of the RUC and unionism? And the slide from peaceful demonstration to war on the streets? Or the transformation of the IRA into the largest political party in Ireland?

That’s what The Spectator article neatly omits: how a half-assed attack on a border post could lead to an over-reaction, which could lead to the further radicalizing of people who are by nature middle-of-the-road. In fact, there are some who think that’s happened already. That the rising Catholic middle classes have given up on the entity called Northern Ireland and are now pitching their support for a movement to by-pass Stormont and power-sharing, and go for a border poll and a reunited Ireland.

If you doubt me, read the recent opinion polls: Brexit appears to have carried us past the point of no return and it hasn’t even happened yet. But don’t expect to see a Spectatorarticle on that. 

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