At last, the Queen visits the Republic of Ireland
Her Majesty the Queen (aka ‘Elizabeth Windsor’ to Gerry Adams and his ilk) commences a visit to Ireland today. She is the first British monarch to visit the South since King George V, exactly a century ago, and she is the first ever to visit the Republic. Not, of course, out of indifference or irrational ideological preference – Her Majesty has patiently travelled to many nations and greeted hundreds of odious heads of state – but because of ancient grudge and enmity, civil strife and bloodshed. Over the centuries, the narrative has become one of Irish Roman Catholic subjugation to the Protestant English Crown; oppression and exploitation by an absentee landlord who deigns to return periodically to inspect his/her Irish territory, partitioned since 1921. The Monarch is the symbolic head of the murderous British military, and the Crown has historically patronised the persecuting constabulary and been chief prosecutor of Ireland’s ‘freedom fighters’. This is about victimhood and vassalage.
Those who subscribe to this crass and simplistic narrative began to fall into two main camps: the armed resistance of the ‘Irish Republican Army’ and the more defensive ‘Loyalists’ who fought for a British Ulster. And so professing Catholics and Protestants bombed each other to bits, both oblivious to the command to love one’s neighbour and pray for one’s enemies: the Catholic IRA was at war with the Protestant RUC, and there was no common ground to be found. But eventually, through numerous treaties, agreements, appeasements and reforms, the paramilitaries were defused, the RUC disbanded and military operations largely ceased. Inevitably, perhaps, splinter groups arose – specifically the ‘Real IRA’ – and they are pledged to continue the armed conflict until ‘British occupation’ is over. And ‘Continuity IRA’, who are closely associated with Sinn Féin, ‘haven’t gone away’. After a decade of relative peace, we have once again returned to the summary execution of members of the PSNI because all British police and security are ‘legitimate targets’. It is not so much the individual identity or faith of policemen and women (which now include a significant number of Roman Catholics), but the symbolism of the uniform they wear: British rule in ‘Ulster’.
The ultimate and supreme symbol is, of course, the Queen. And so there are snipers, bombs and rumours of bombs, for the Irish Republican who manages to assassinate the British Monarch will go down in history as the supreme avenger, the one who vindicates generations of martyrs and freedom fighters. She is Chief of Staff of the British armed forces – they occupy Ireland in her name. She remains, as Gerry Adams has so frequently said, ‘a legitimate target’.
Of course, most Irish people – on both sides of the religious and political divide – would be appalled at the thought of an assassination attempt on the Queen. But terrorism has always been a minority ‘fringe’ pursuit. No matter what cultural, linguistic, economic and historical connections exist between Ireland and the United Kingdom, it is that which divides and separates which has made a Royal visit impossible. It has perhaps taken too long for Ireland to elect a president who grasps the link between Catholicism and kingship. Or perhaps it is because she is married to an Englishman that ‘reconciliation’ may now take place. Or maybe because the Republic has abandoned its historic constitutional claim on the North and accepted the principle of democratic consent.
Whatever, we must be grateful that centuries of bloodshed, sectarianism, corruption and decades of cultural waste are largely put behind us. The economic hardship continues, but that can hardly be laid at the door of Her Majesty. We are a family of nations, and the Crown will always be a greater friend to Ireland than any prince or potentate from Brussels.