President Michael D Higgins has written eloquently on atrocities of the British Empire and has called on Britain to “face up” to its history. He has done so as we remember the sacking of Balbriggan one hundred years ago this weekend. In Kenya, in Cyprus, brutal suppression was the order of the day – as it was, Michael D points out, in the US with the Vietnam war. “Ideological assumptions, of superiority and inferiority in terms of race, culture or capacity, in the notion of the collective as a disloyal, hopeless or threatening version of the ‘other’.”
It’s hard to quarrel with any of that, and few of us would want to. But I’m afraid the word ‘shameless’ springs to mind as I read Michael D’s words. Do Irish presidents watch telly at all? Did he see ‘Unquiet Graves’ on RTÉ this week, detailing just some of the brutal killings perpetrated by British forces and loyalist paramilitaries? In all, Anne Cadwallader’s book and the film lists over 120 such killings.
How can an intelligent man, the head of the Irish state, calmly gaze past these killings from the 1970s when he’s lamenting British imperialism 100 years ago? It seems to me inconceivable that he would not know of it, and see the parallels with British brutality in Ireland during the 1920s.
Michael D may be a charming man, he may speak beautiful Irish, he may be well-read and intelligent, but in his attitude to the north he is hopeless. And that’s a polite word for it.