I don’t always agree with Alex Kane, the unionist commentator, especially when he’s displaying his tendency to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. But credit where credit is due: in today’s Irish Times he makes a highly valuable point about Brexit.
“The softest of soft Brexits – in the next few weeks or months” – would do nothing to silence or ‘buy off’ Scottish or Irish nationalism. The events of the last three years have highlighted the mutual contempt in which ‘Celtic fringe’ nationalism and English nationalism hold each other. I don’t see how that damage can be repaired; especially since polls suggest a huge majority of English nationalists would be happy enough to wave bye-bye to Edinburgh and Belfast. Happier still to be rid of the whole ‘Irish problem’.”
In his concern to make the core point, he repeats himself in the last two sentences. Were Westminster to “wave bye-bye” to Belfast, it would be rid of the whole ‘Irish problem’. Deep down I suspect that we all know that and know of its importance. There was a time when to say that Britain should stop interfering in Irish affairs was the equivalent of saying “Have you seen my new AK-47 with the tricolour motif?” To suggest that the friction between Ireland and England (or some in Ireland – there were always those who were happy to sit at Britain’s feet and nod in agreement) was due to the claim of Britain to jurisdiction over a part of Ireland – such a suggestion was dismissed as simplistic and totally out of touch with modern thinking.
Believe me, I know. When Queen Elizabeth visited Dublin in 2011 and Irish politicians and personalities were swooning over this moment that changed everything, I was given a share in the last five minutes of Channel 4 News. The writer Sebastian Barry was beside me and he was asked for his take on the queen’s visit. He hailed it in poetic terms as of enormous significance, bringing to an end centuries of division and hostility. I begged to differ, suggesting that we should ask ourselves what was at the heart of this division and hostility – British claim to rule in Ireland – and then find ways of resolving it. If you can’t acknowledge the disease you’re suffering from, you’re unlikely to cure it.
Brexit has forced us all- including Alex Kane – to realize that the desire to control one’s own affairs, whether you’re Scottish, English or Irish, runs deep. At last at least one unionist commentator appears to be accepting that fundamental fact.