Good neighbours

Yesterday two very different heads of state met at Windsor Castle in England.

Uachtarán na hÉireann Mícheál D. Ó hUiginn was received by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

He is my head of state and recently he was snapped queuing for the ATM.

I voted for him in the Presidential election and he is First Citizen because he has a mandate from the citizenry.

The circumstance of his childhood saw him have direct experience of living in material poverty.

He has had a successful career as a writer and a broadcaster and was a member of the National Union of Journalists.

Here he gives a speech to the World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) last summer in Dublin.

Of course the British head of state occupies that position in her country because of an accident of birth.

That isn’t her fault and the arrangement seems to work for the British people and that’s good enough for me.

In these conjoined islands there are two very different states, one a monarchy, the other a republic.

We have a shared and, it must be said, an unhappy history.

The President’s father was a War of Independence veteran who fought the British.

We know in Ireland that we won’t have to fight the British again and we should both be glad of that fact.

Once imperialism was off the table then we could be good neighbours.

The folk memory of an atrocity is about 90 years, that’s about the length of three generations.

There is no one alive who can remember British soldiers murdering people on the streets of Dublin.

This July is the centenary of the Bachelor’s Walk massacre when Scottish soldiers gunned down unarmed people who were taunting them.

In 1914 Britain was the centre of a massive empire, but now that imperium is a matter for the history books, it is gone.

However, people are still alive that were there that day in January 1972 when British soldiers murdered unarmed people in Derry.

On the 90 year rule that means the healing of atrocities like Bloody Sunday still has a long way to go.

As the State visit re-affirms the new relationship between Britain and Ireland then the London polity may well be about to lose another part of its territory.

The Scots are blessed by history in that they only need to vote to be free of Westminster’s rule.

When the 26 counties of Ireland left the United Kingdom in 1922 it did so under the most adverse conditions.

A brutal guerrilla war was waged in the streets of Dublin and the boreens of the West.

That conflict saw Crown Forces behave appallingly.

I doubt would not have to argue that point with anyone in Aden, Cyprus, Kenya…well it is a long list dear reader.

Now the only British invasions we have to cope with now are noisy Stag and Hen parties in Temple Bar in Dublin and they’re very welcome.

Well, kind of…

Even when the Irish are lumped in with the British by an outsider it produces more mirth than anything else here these days.

This growing relationship between Britain and Ireland will not suit the Fleg folk in the North, but new dispensations always leave some people behind.

Dissident Republicans ditto.

I hope that the UK state is now on a historical journey from major power to decent neighbour.

What can now emerge in this archipelago is, I hope, something more Nordic, based on equality and respect.

It is not for me or any other Irish citizen to tell the British people how to order their political affairs, but there is a corollary to that.

If that had been understood a century ago then my grandparents would not have had to bear arms and suffer the consequences to taking on an empire.

I think history now judges them to have been on the side of human progress.

In 2011 Queen honoured Joe and Julia and generations of Irish separatists who had opposed her state in arms.

Empires are built on slaughter and theft.

Moreover they’re maintained through fear, division and terror.

The British Empire was no different or no better than anything that was spread by the Roman Legions or the Mongol Hordes as ultimately it had the same objective as anything devised by the Caesars or Genghis Khan.

Sometimes the grip of an imperial power can only be broken by force of arms.

However if there is another way then war must always be the last option considered.

As Britain declines as a power on the global state it can actually become a better country to live in and, importantly for us here in Ireland, be a better neighbour.

This state visit is especially important for the Irish in Britain and I hope that it marks a watershed moment where the contribution of Britain’s biggest ethnic minority can be officially recognised and celebrated.

In Scotland there remain some issues apropos celebrating Irishness.

The xenophobic impulse that created the Famine Song is utterly alien to the vast majority of English people just as it is repugnant to many Scots.

In Scotland Anti-Irish racism has yet to escape from the Sectarian framework in public policy and that conversation is still to be had.

With the London state declining as a major power a re-imagined archipelago is possible.

In this new zeitgeist there is no place for the hatreds of the Fleg folk or the racism of the Famine Song from the klan in Scotland.

The long historical moment within these islands when Irishness was attacked, despised and prohibited is over gone.

Scotland has abnormalised itself apropos public expressions Irishness and that is something that is yet to be fixed.

The President’s address to both houses of parliament captured the zeitgeist perfectly.

Channel 4 caught the significance of this state visit and put it into context.

Dear reader this is not what the Fleg folk want to hear.

Their Herrenvolk hubris is from another age and in Northern Ireland they must now increasingly accommodate and respect Irishness in the public space.

That master race attitude now incubates a neurosis in the Six Counties as they see people called Siobhan and Kieran doing well in life, better than them.

That is because the loyalist community does not put a high value on education.

The presence of the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland an ex-IRA Volunteer from Derry probably infuriated Dissident Republicans and Loyalists in equal measure.

I have huge sympathy with the relatives of the victims of IRA operations demonstrating outside of Windsor Castle.

However you make peace with your enemies not with your friends.

There is now peace on this island and the contribution of someone like Martin McGuinness cannot be underestimated.

These are different days from when I first saw the light of day in the late 1950s.

The totality of relationships within these islands has been transformed.

Britain is no longer a world power and everyone; bar a few drunken Etonians in Westminster know it.

These are better days for all of the peoples of these connected islands.

In rural Ireland we put great value on having good neighbours.

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