Among the ministerial offices of the United Kingdom, the position of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is generally viewed as one of the worse government roles that any politician can be asked to fulfil. Since the 1970s a long succession of men and women have taken on the job, effectively serving as the de facto governor of the UK’s legacy colony on the island of Ireland (a disputed territory formerly barricaded into the north-eastern corner of the country but now marked by an open and all-but invisible frontier).
With a handful of notable exceptions, including Peter Brooke, Mo Mowlam and Peter Hain, the vast majority of ministers from Britain have loathed the task, equating it with political, or during the era of the Troubles, actual death. So much so, in fact, that the threat of being appointed the administrative chief of the war-torn region became the butt of endless lampooning in British television satires of the 1980s and ’90s, featuring in comedies like the BBC’s high-brow Yes, Minister or ITV’s more ribald The New Statesman. During the same period, the government’s Northern Ireland Office in Belfast came to be spoken of in London the same way people in Washington spoke of the American embassy in Saigon during the Vietnam War.
Nearly two decades into the Irish-British peace process, it seems that the UK tradition of appointing politicians to the role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who are completely ignorant of the occupied territory and its inhabitants continues unbroken. From Politics Home, a prestigious parliamentary magazine in London, an interview with Karen Bradley, the ruling Conservative Party’s relatively new viceroy for the Six County colony:
…when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland.
I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought for example in Northern Ireland, people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice-versa. So, the parties fight for the election within their own community. Actually, the unionist parties fight the elections against each other in unionist communities and nationalists in nationalist communities. That’s a very different world from the world I came from.
And this is the British minister who will decide whether or not a future, peace treaty-required referendum on Irish reunification is held in the north-east of the country? Please, someone stick her on the last helicopter out of Belfast.
A friend sent me the IT’s reporting on this. My first thoughts were how absolutely scandalous this is. But, on reflection, his views were more accurate, sad to say:
This, Edwin Poots et al, is the real face of your union – they dont give a fuck about you, scotland or wales, or the north of england, and you will always be a paddy to them.
It’s not as if she is in her teens or early twenties. She’s 48 years of age. She was born in 1970. This was in the background, during the conflict period at least, for the first 30 years of her life. Incredible.
Well it’s a small pot to choose from – and very few in the Tory party have any real interest in ‘foreign affairs’.
At least the sense of having much curiosity about them. As opposed to be willing to pontificate about them for the sake of the home audience.
And whatever Unionists like to think, NI is foreign to the London political establishment.
True. In fairness, we’ve seen worse examples of a British SOS dispatched to the last colony. Labour’s Roy Mason was a dire example, pursuing “Ulsterisation” to save British lives (let the RUC and UDR fight and die in defence of the “union” not kids from Barnsley and Leeds) while fighting tooth-and-nail with the press – especially the BBC – to cover up the messier aspects of the counterinsurgency war. Mason was a proper Dirty War hawk.
I to think this is an absolute disgrace. The sooner Ireland is one again the better and that Scotland is independent.
I know a reunification is likely to cause trouble from knuckle draggers but that may be a price worth contemplating.
Nothing on Irexit Freedom Party?
Just reading a report on it, one speaker calling it a dangerous Marxist organisation, give me strength , it associated and financed some have said by the Right-leaning Policy Exchange
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And the National Party.
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The late Mo Mowlam was the best appointed Secretary of State , she studied up on the administration as she came from an academic back ground and did a good job during the Peace Process. Sadly died way too young