by Frank Schnittger
Fri Feb 19th, 2021 at 02:43:12 PM EST
Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland, is an old time socialist, university lecturer, sociologist, and poet from the left wing of the Labour Party. The role of President is largely a ceremonial one but he is following a relatively distinguished line of succession from Mary Robinson to Mary McAleese in taking an activist approach to the office and promoting gender and civil liberty issues. What these Presidents have in common is a rejection of simplistic nationalist myths and an abhorrence of violence for achieving political goals.
He has recently written an an op-ed in the Guardian in which he invited UK readers to share in his project of re-examining the myths of nationalism and imperialism and how they still shape our lives today. His piece provoked a vituperative anti-Irish response in the Daily Telegraph "The Irish president has a cheek lecturing Britons about history" and a chiding by Irish Times Columnist, Finn McRedmond, "Are we really entitled to lecture Britain about remembering?".
[Update]:The Irish Times has published an edited version of my letter in response under the headline Lecturing Britain about remembering?
A chara, – Finn McRedmond set up a classic straw-man argument when she accused President Michael D Higgins of casting “the entirety of British history as a monolithic, purely malign tale of imperialism” and of possessing “a unique level of arrogance to believe we are paragons of virtue in contrast; to believe that we are not in possession of our own ‘feigned amnesia’; and to believe we occupy a moral high ground thanks to a more nuanced understanding of the history of these two islands”, in his article in the Guardian recently. (Finn McRedmond, Are we really entitled to lecture Britain about remembering? Opinion & Analysis, February 18th).
He did no such thing, but he has certainly touched a nerve in British Tory sensibilities, to judge by the vituperative anti-Irish tone in the Daily Telegraph response, “The Irish president has a cheek lecturing Britons about history,” and their readers’ comments.
We all have our national myths, and no one has been more active than our President in seeking to question and understand ours.
But in asking the British to consider that there might be more than one side to the glories of their former empire he has clearly gone a bridge too far.
They need their myths now, more than ever, to overcome the dystopian reality created by their Brexit overlords “taking back control”. The UK economy declined by 10 per cent last year, which the UK government likes to blame entirely on the pandemic. But our economy grew by up to 3 per cent last year, despite the impact of the pandemic, and is projected to grow by another 3 per cent to 4 per cent in each of the next two years, despite the ongoing lockdowns and the impact of Brexit and a hugely reduced level of trade with Britain. Our exports to the UK declined by 9 per cent and our UK imports by 5 per cent last year, and that was before Brexit border controls were implemented. Meanwhile our exports to the EU single market and customs union grew by 13 per cent, and so must our level of political engagement with the EU and our fellow member states.
Sadly, our President is wasting his time trying to persuade British Tories that they should reconsider the impact of their imperial past on their former colonies. They will find out soon enough, when they try to reassert their former dominance in trade negotiations with those countries.
Brexit was a choice to distance the UK from Ireland and our fellow EU member states, and we must now accept that reality and move on to developing our shared historical narrative and future with the latter. – Yours, etc,.
Finn McRedmond is a young Irish journalist who was awarded a degree in Classics in Peterhouse College, Cambridge, among the oldest and most traditional institutions in the University.
In the 1980s it became associated with Conservative, Thatcherite politics, counting Michael Portillo and Michael Howard as alumni.
Since graduating McRedmond has been writing - alongside Irish Times work - for British commentary and news magazine Reaction. Its editor-in-chief Iain Martin was previously head of comment for the Telegraph group, while Chairman of the board, Lord Salisbury, was once Conservative Leader in the House of Lords, opposing the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, and offering freelance services to the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.[xi]
Its advisory panel includes luminaries such as Lord Hill, a former European Commissioner and advisor to John Major, as well as Adam Boulton, Editor at Large for Sky News.
McRedmond's association with the publication perhaps came about through Deputy Editor Alastair Benn, whose Linkedin profile reveals he too graduated from Cambridge in 2015, also with a Classics degree, and with whom McRedmond has collaborated on a number of podcasts.
She claimed, in 2015, that "I'm not a bad person because I voted Conservative." She is, however, the latest in a long line of Irish emigrants to Britain who became more "English than the English themselves" and has adopted the dominant narrative of her new domicile hook, line and sinker.
There are a number of Irish Tories operating in the Irish media who have, in Marxist terms, internalised the consciousness of their imperial masters, and who are always quick to point out "both sides do it" when discussing national narratives. There is, however, no equivalence between the historical narratives of imperial powers and their subjugated colonies, and I wish Irish editors would just move on and stop giving these writers so much space.
It is time we engaged more with our fellow EU member states, and stopped this obsession with British imperialism, good, bad or indifferent. As a British Tory party supporter, based in Westminster, Finn McRedmond has no particular standing to be criticising Michael D Higgins in the Irish Times, and is, frankly, irrelevant to our future. We have some unfinished business in N. Ireland which will not be resolved by international sparring and rivalry, and it is best that we all move on.