Current Affairs Politics

Brexit Britain’s Leave And Remain Camps Are Equally Ignorant Of Ireland

Given that the political history of Ireland has been forcibly bound up with the history of England since the 12th century CE, with parts of this island serving as both the first and last overseas colonies of the English state, it is remarkable that our neighbours to the east continue to be so casually ignorant of a nation they have interfered in for some twenty-eight generations. Even supposedly sympathetic or liberal British people display an astonishing lack of knowledge about this country, resorting to false assumptions or cultural stereotyping when discussing Irish affairs. Take this recent episode of the anti-Brexit YouTube series, Three Blokes In A Pub, and the evident lack of understanding on even the most mundane of matters.

Jason J Hunter: If you look at the numbers, right. There are twenty-eight members of the European Union. We have seventy-three members of the European Parliament, democratically elected people. That’s almost one in ten out of the 753 members of the European Parliament. Almost one in ten. And there’s twenty-eight members…

But guess what. Not only do we get our own seventy-three votes, we also work really, really closely, our MEPs, with the ones in the Republic of Ireland. Or Southern Ireland or, before you start complaining, whatever you want to call yourselves down there –

Madeleina Kay: Air. Air!

Jason J Hunter: Ayer. Ayer!

Madeleina Kay: Ayer!

Jason J Hunter: Ayer. There are other names that I’m not gonna go into. But we also pick up their eleven votes as well, so not only do we get our 73 votes in the parliament we also get their eleven which puts us above France. We are so punching above our weight, as Britain, already in Europe…

Needless to say, the name of this island nation is not the “Republic of Ireland” or “Southern Ireland” but simply Ireland, that is Éire in the Irish language (not “Air” or “Ayer”), and the country’s eleven MEPs are not part of the United Kingdom’s allocation of European parliamentarians or associated with that seventy-three strong grouping. Of course, this level of ignorance in the UK also exists in deliberate form among Britain’s hard-right movement, as in this entirely spurious opinion piece published by The Spectator magazine in London.

[The] damaging Brexit impasse, though, has been caused not only by British incompetence. A mighty contribution has also come from Dublin.

It was only in June 2017, when May lost her majority, becoming reliant on the DUP, and Varadkar replaced Kenny, that the Irish border hit the headlines. Brussels then saw an opportunity to raise the political stakes by asserting the ‘impossibility’ of avoiding ‘a hard border’ unless Britain stayed in the customs union.

Since then, Dublin has danced religiously to the EU’s tune. Varadkar disbanded Kenny’s working groups and cranked up the rhetoric, claiming that Brexit threatened the Good Friday Agreement.

Varadkar leads a minority government in need of support from Irish nationalists. He has an incentive to make the Brits sweat.

The current coalition government of Fine Gael and Independent TDanna in Dáil Éireann does not rely on the support of “Irish nationalists” to stay in office or to implement its policies. And the author of the article knows that.

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26 comments on “Brexit Britain’s Leave And Remain Camps Are Equally Ignorant Of Ireland

  1. This article raises certain questions. One question would be what most British people are taught in school about the history of Ireland:

    https://newrepublic.com/article/88797/british-empire-queen-elizabeth-india-ireland-africa-imperial

    For example, would the man who wrote the article above be describing a typical case? Would it matter what “type” of school (Good Lord, their system with different types of school strange!!), the region of the UK, or when they were in school?

    One thing I’ve observed in a lot of countries is that sometimes politically “hot button” topics are not just minimally or not addressed in schools, but it can almost become a bit taboo for a curious individual to rent or purchase a book on the topic. I’ve seen the Russians do that with regards to aspects of Stalin’s Rule, or Argentines with regards to “The Dirty War”, and Chileans with the Pinochet era. I remember growing up with a massive taboo about looking into the history of The Vietnam War, or the history of Southeast Asia. (For some reason movies like “The Deer Hunter” and The Rambo movies were OK.)

    Like the cliche of a man with a thick German accent saying “Ve do not talk about ze war.” Could there be a taboo in Britain against “knowing too much” about Irish history? Or would be more like an blithe uncomplicated indifference?

    • The Germans implemented a policy of “denazification” in the education system following the fall of their would-be empire. The British implemented a policy of “imperial glorification” in their education system following the fall of their actual empire. I think that makes all the difference. The British genuinely see no moral equivalence between their imperial conquests and those of other nations. They had a “good empire”, the rest of the world had “bad empires”. The majority of Brits hold to that view, even the younger ones, and seem incapable of accepting otherwise. From such poisoned roots has Brexit grown.

      • The successful De-nazification programme was held only in Western germany. Eastern Germany remained as was . Even today differences in attitudes are very marked.

      • Which would be quite extraordinary. While a regime that creates murder factories that “process” human beings into gas chambers by the thousands a day, like Nazi Germany does have to be seen as something out of the ordinary……I don’t see any real case for The British Empire as “good”.

        I guess most of the Brits I’ve met are not representative of most of the population. I did have one man with what they call a “posh” accent, inform me that the American Revolution was “unwarranted”….but I thought he was joking.

        Do the products of this “education” think what? Do they think the whole Indian Salt March and such were just a bunch of fanatics? (Although I’ve also seen British left-leaning mags that wrote good things about the nonviolent Revolution of India.)

        On top of being ignorant of Ireland or Africa……….do some of these folks even go so far as to see the American Revolution as a sort of fool’s cause?

        • Yes, the industrial nature of the Nazi genocides seem particularly abhorrent. And, if we are quite honest about it, the horror is made worse because it was White Europeans slaughtering other White Europeans. Literally their friends and neighbours in some cases.

          The British Empire can escape similar opprobrium because its genocides were more old fashioned in nature, by sword and bullet, and over extended periods. Decades or centuries of graduated ethnocide. And because the victims were primarily not White Europeans.

          In part, that is why a significant number of contemporary British view their history of overseas misadventures as beneficial to the world. And why the allure of Empire 2.0 is so strong.

          • I’ve heard a right wing version of what you are saying about the Holocaust. I’ve met a lot of right wing people (American, British, French, Mexican) respond to the idea that the Holocaust was anything unique by saying “Stalin and Mao Tse Tsung killed more people”. In that argument the alleged bias was “left wing” or even “crypto-communism” rather than racism.

            As I see it, the biggest danger of downplaying the Holocaust like that, is that some evil genius might try to “improve on” the Nazi death factories at some point-who knows where and against what “group”.

            I’m not trying to imply you are wrong about today’s Britons-I can hardly do that not knowing what to think.

            But it’s utterly puzzling WHY they’d actually want that Empire back in some form. Even if they do believe it was a good thing, would they really want to “rule” some of those countries again?

  2. “The Republic of Ireland” is often used as a term to distinguish between the state which governs most of the island and the whole island. In that context, it’s a useful and practical term. Within the EU – as we’ve seen – the UK and the RoI did tend to vote together precisely because they had common attitudes and assumptions and policies had similar effects on both.

    That said, the English/British attitude to Ireland is based on ignorance precisely because historically the only reason the British government was concerned with Ireland was because of its proximity and the danger that posed: “England’s difficulty; Ireland’s opportunity” meant that governments took great care that the Irish were in no condition to use any opportunities they had. The Irish who settled in Britain and their descendants didn’t – couldn’t – help the ignorance because they were in no condition to do so: many of then were physically in England but lived in a fantasy Ireland based on their childhoods or their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods with less and less connexion with reality and their own occasional visits. Many of the others dumped Ireland and Irishness psychologically except as a rhetorical convenience. For the British natives, Ireland was reflected through the views of the Irish emigres they knew. Ireland is much less important to England than the reverse in every way, which is annoying and inconvenient, but we just have to put up with it, unless we go in for a definition of Irishness based mainly on not being English, which has practical difficulties and enormous emotional attractions and confirms the English attitude in its way.
    Fianna Fail is an “Irish nationalist” party. Not a very active one, but it still aspires to make the island and the nation one. Whether that is what inspires some of their current policies is another matter, but it’s a reasonable inference that it does.

    • There’s a common claim that people of Irish descent in the UK, generally had a rougher time than those in the other major countries to which large number of Irish fled.

      • Dara O Rourke

        They also had less incentive to become high achievers – because they imagined they were going home ‘ next year’. This illusion could not be sustained in the USA

        • My understanding is that also in the UK, society was much, much crueler to ANYONE below a certain economic level in the 19th century, and until after WWII it was harder to be an achiever if you weren’t born at a certain level-even for the English-compared to the other countries that took in a lot of Irish. Also things that lead to gradual Irish acceptance in a lot of other countries were not “on” in the UK. Australians are fond of saying all their great heroes are Irishmen. And apparently “taking the King’s schilling” just didn’t “win hearts and minds” as “fighting for Mr. Lincoln”.

          I’ve also heard that in a lot of other countries (Canada, US, Australia) that the Irish had more opportunities to protect themselves via labor unions, political parties, Catholic parishes and such. And that a lot of this activity tended to “deliver the goods” to the working classes in general-which also tended to “win hearts and minds” so to speak. In the UK….the opportunity to do the same thing largely wasn’t there.

    • Dara O Rourke

      Thanks wee Jim. I’d actually forgotten Fianna Fáil were 1. A nationalist party
      2. Propping up this government. That’s how irrelevant they are

    • But “down there” is Ireland and it’s not hard to use it in the correct context.

      And the UK did not get Irish MEPs as well. Occasional cooperation is different to the implication here.

      FF is hardly the “Irish nationalists” that FG needs to placate to stay in power. Especially given FF’s new found Blueshirtism. The claim is just a false one. It’s like saying, as in previous UK commentary, that FG is being anti-Brexit because of pressure by SF or in pursuit of SF voters!

      • john cronin

        as I have previously pointed out Ireland was not England’s first colony in the 12th c: It was a Norman colony: as was England.

  3. Richard McHarg

    England still looks on Ireland as a possession, so gets uptight when the Irish act in Ireland’s interests, rather than those of the UK (in reality, England). Scotland is there to be asset-stripped, without any actual influence on the political direction. The Empire is dying, no doubt. It’s simply a matter of time, but their mindset is still coming to terms with it, and they’re angry.

  4. I’ve given this a like but I don’t quite see ASF’s objection (???) to his fellow Celt (and canine!) WGD, who simply was pointing out how Ireland (Rep. of) as a fully independent state within the EU has found itself in a position to dictate terms to the UK to a degree that Scots are naturally envious of.

  5. Jams O'Donnell

    The ignorance is just an integral part of the imperial arrogance derived from a few centuries of being able to push everyone else around. Now that the empire is almost gone, (just Scotland and NI left, plus a few rocks and islands) and Brexit has shown just how weak England is, they will eventually have to learn about everyone else.

  6. In a colonial/imperial system, ignorance isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. Same goes for the harvesting of the best of people and materiel to serve the narrow interests of the elites of south-east England, which has destroyed the capital and capacity of not just Ireland but of Wales, Scotland and elsewhere. Just because those in the imperial metropolis spoke and still speak of it as “natural”, doesn’t make it so.

    • You got it in one, they milked countries for their own benefit and the shock of their not getting all they want from the EU has set their Imperialist DNA into overdrive.

  7. TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has met with the grand secretary of the Orange Lodge Reverend Mervyn Gibson at Government Buildings this afternoon to discuss issues affecting its members in the Republic. So reports the Press in Ireland, he reaches out to these sectarian bigots, you could not make it up

  8. TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR certainly met with the grand secretary of the Orange Lodge Reverend Mervyn Gibson at Government Buildings this afternoon.
    I doubt if it was to discuss orange order members in the Republic.

    Might I suggest it was to discuss the position of the orange order in NI?
    The OO is finding it very hard to come to terms that they are not getting their Northern fiefdom back or maintaining their behind the scenes control through the DUP –
    Stormont isn’t there any more!

  9. TurboFurbo

    The British Establishment has never forgiven Ireland for fighting for independence and successfully getting 5/6 of the country out of the UK and creating an independent Irish state – and continuing with the unfinished business of getting the remaining 1/6 out too.
    British imperial policy for centuries was directed at preventing the emergence of an independent Irish state from ever emerging.

    The recent Brexit shambles illutrates very clearly how a small independent state – Ireland – can assert it’s best interests in spite of the most strenuous – but ultimately failed – efforts of a much larger state – Britain – to undermine Ireland’s position and damage Ireland.

    We need to also bear in mind that the British population is constantly bombarded with the message throughout all media in Britain that the terms “Britain / UK / British Isles ” are used interchangably and in the context that always includes Ireland. This is plain to be seen in general news reports, sports reports, weather reports and maps which are all designed to show the British public that Ireland is a part of the “greater British family” – even if Ireland is a little bit weird (snigger, snigger), wink-wink, nod-nod.

    Furhermore, even when terms like “Northern” (sic) Ireland and Republic of Ireland are used, the British public are led to believe that the Republic of Ireland is akin to the status of one of the Soviet republics in the former Soviet Union – thus, the British line points to the Republic of Ireland as a part of the UK whilst utterly ignoring what an independent Republic actually is in the real world.

    We are exposed to the evidence of this, for example, by former “Mr. Brexit” David Davis who tells all and sundry that you can use British sterling in Dublin to purchase products – and of course, Mr. Andrew Bridgend, British MP who advises all and sundry that he is entilted to an Irish passport by virtue of being English. Such ignorance goes unchallenged in what passes for informed media in Britain. Of course, the sub-text being that the British Establishment simply refuse to acknowledge that the Irish Nation gave Britain a kick in the bollox when forcing Britain out of 5/6 of our country – it is simply still too painful for the same Establishment to admit that they were defeated in their primary aim to subvert Irish nationhood and prevent an independent Irish state from emerging.

    The ultimate paradox for Brexiteers and hardline Unionists who supported Brexit in the north-east of our country is, however, the fact that Brexit is acting as a catalyst for the inevitable
    Re-unification of our country.

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