by Frank Schnittger
Fri Sep 17th, 2021 at 06:16:18 PM EST
The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, raised a storm of manufactured outrage yesterday when he decided not to attend a church ceremony in Armagh with Queen Elizabeth II to mark the centenary of partition and the creation of Northern Ireland. Chief among the outraged was DUP leader, Geoffrey Donaldson, who has recently pulled his party out of all north-south ministerial meetings as required by strand 2 of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, in protest at the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement.
It is difficult to know whether Donaldson would have been even more outraged if the President had decided to attend the event, as he typically decries southern "interference" in northern affairs. However, his claim the the President's decision is a snub to Queen Elizabeth is just another attempt by him to draw attention away from the DUP's complicity in Brexit and the Protocol. In reality unionists are desperate to normalise the creation and status quo of Northern Ireland and extremely sensitive to any suggestion it doesn't have universal support.
My thought's on the matter have been published by The Irish Times (see below).
A chara, - President Michael D Higgins is to be congratulated for deciding not to attend the church service with Queen Elizabeth marking the island's partition and the Northern Ireland centenary. One does not have to be a staunch republican to see the partition of the island as an historic injustice imposed on Ireland against the wishes of the vast majority of the population on the island at that time.
In doing so, the British Empire engaged in its classic strategy of "divide and conquer", and impoverished both parts of Ireland politically, economically and socially for much of the past century. Partition was only accepted by the pro-Treaty side in our Civil War under threat of "terrible and immediate war" by the British and has been the source of division and unrest ever since.
It would be humiliating for our President to give his stamp of approval to the creation of that division, especially now, as under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, it may be reviewed in due course. It is also hypocritical for the Christian churches to celebrate what was essentially a sectarian split between an artificially created Protestant majority in the North, and a Catholic Church-dominated republic in the South.
The churches put their institutional and political interests ahead of their Christian duty to unite all the people of Ireland and should not be proud of that fact. Partition was the result of the actions of "perfidious Albion" and a failure of leadership on this island by the leaders of all communities, and far from celebrating it, we should be working to end it.
Queen Elizabeth is welcome to visit Ireland at any time, but that does not mean that our President should endorse the purpose of her visit on this occasion. - Is mise,
The contrary view also expressed by some southern politicians is that Ireland expressly recognised the creation of Northern Ireland in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and that, whatever the merits and circumstances of its creation, we have do deal with the current reality that Northern Ireland enjoys the support of a majority of its population and will remain in existence for as long as it does so. It follows that all attempts to promote mutual respect and understanding in the meantime should be encouraged.
That is an arguable position and the President probably would have escaped much criticism in the south had he chosen to take that view. In fact he has been prominent in attending events in the North and engaging in all sorts of attempts at reconciliation within Northern Ireland, as have government ministers generally. However there is a particular sensitivity about taking part in a celebration of the specific act of partition (which provoked a civil war in the south) and it is normal for Presidents to avoid entanglement with contentious political issues.
The Presidency is a largely ceremonial office and the President is elected to represent all the people of Ireland. There is no way he could have pleased everyone on this occasion. If anything, Geoffrey Donaldson's accusation that his decision not to attend is "political" justified the decision. The President is not to be used as a pawn in any dispute, and attending the event would have been just as "political" as not doing so.
It would also be wrong to whitewash the role of the Churches in all of this. They may have presented the ceremony as an opportunity to encourage reconciliation and hope, but their role in partition was anything but innocent and it suited their agenda's to have two states on the island entirely in thrall to their respective religious majorities. An Ireland without partition would have had to have been an entirely secular state giving no "special position" to any one religious denomination and in which no set of religious leaders would have been entirely in control - as happened both north and south.
Perhaps current religious leaders should reflect on this as they rapidly lose influence in both parts of Ireland, and as the real work of reconciliation takes place largely without them. Those who fostered sectarianism won't get a free pass for their past misdeeds, however much they may claim to be only interested in reconciliation now. They are simply losing relevance, and the President's decision not to attend their event no more than reflects this.