Current Affairs Politics

Ireland, The British Commonwealth, Neutrality And NATO

Newton Emerson is one of those political commentators you never know whether to take seriously or not. There are days when he offers up thought-provoking opinions on Irish and British politics and there are days when he offers up little more than word garbage. As the founder and former editor of the Portadown News, a short-lived satirical blog accused of anti-republican bias in a controversy which saw the writer lose his corporate job, you sometimes wonder if he is simply trolling his nationalist neighbours with his forthright newspaper columns. Take this article from The Irish Times discussing the lukewarm reaction to the suggestion that Ireland should join the British Commonwealth of Nations, ostensibly as a means of reassuring the unionist minority on the island following the reunification of the country:

When explanations are offered [why Ireland shouldn’t join the Commonwealth] they are usually based on “anti-colonialism”, the sly sectarianism that implies Northern Protestants are imposed settlers – a ludicrous concept in European terms – with the implications of “decolonisation” left hanging in the air.

The portrayal of Northern Ireland as a colonial construct tells unionists to get out more than any “England Get Out of Ireland” banner, and nothing licences this bigotry like the Commonwealth debate.

Claims of being anti-imperialist but not sectarian are about as convincing as claims of being anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic…

The conflation of “anti-colonialism” with religious or communal “sectarianism” is nonsense and one suspects that Emerson knows this. It’s simply a matter of historical fact that the British Commonwealth of Nations is the successor to the British Empire. The latter was literally transformed into the former through the policies of successive governments in London in the second half of the 20th century. The vast majority of its members are former colonies or colonised territories of the old empire. To be blunt about it, the Commonwealth is like a support group for abuse victims where the semi-contrite abuser is the organiser of the meetings. So it’s entirely natural that there is unease in Ireland about a proposal that would implicitly lend some sort of retrospective legitimacy to the actions of the nation’s former colonial rulers. And that is quite aside from the question of what diplomatic or economic value is to be derived from associating with a globally insignificant organisation, beyond supposedly pacifying disgruntled pro-union communities in a unitary Irish state.

Newton Emerson’s alternative suggestion to joining the Commonwealth is an application by Ireland to join the military alliance of NATO. He argues that one advantage of this move would be to tackle:

…the “anti-colonialists”, who in Ireland tend to slip in and out from behind the respectable cloak of neutrality. Removing that cloak would deny their sectarianism much of its political and intellectual cover.

This is risible stuff. No least, because a principled opposition to colonialism is generally considered to be the political norm in most Western democracies. Unless, of course, one is a political apologist for colonialism.

As things stand, Ireland’s defence forces can have a culture – not unexpectedly – of unapologetic Irish republicanism. That is an underappreciated liability to unification.


33 comments on “Ireland, The British Commonwealth, Neutrality And NATO

  1. And the most successful former British colony is not even a member of the Commonwealth. The United States Of America. Even the most committed American Anglophile would laugh in your face if you even suggested it.

    • I’ve often wondered about that. Imperialists always punch down.

      • I’d say the main reason The United States was never a Commonwealth Member is The American Revolution occurred over 100 years before the inception of The Commonwealth.

        However, that doesn’t mean Britain never attempted to get her American colonies back, or ever 100% forgave the whole affair. For one thing they DID try to get the American Colonies back in 1812-1813-and really it was “Napoleon Bonaparte” who kept them from doing do-they DID burn down The White House in that war after all.

        One scholar on British attitudes towards The United States pointed out two things:

        1) How come they never complain about support for The IRA (allegedly) coming from Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, New Orleans, Scranton, or Baltimore? Those cities all have robust Irish American communities. So why is it always poor Boston that is perceived as a hotbed of IRA support? Could it be that Boston and Massachusetts have other less acknowledged associations? Boston Tea Party? Ride of Paul Revere? Lexington, MA and Concord, MA? The fact a ship named aptly The USS Constitution (aka “Old Ironsides”), the ship they couldn’t sink during The War of 1812 is still kept in Boston Harbor (sight of that “Tea Party”) and regularly sails there?

        2) Through much of the 18th century the conventional wisdom in Britain was always that American English was so much “more refined among the common classes” than was the case in England. It was in the 1780’s that it became about “The Yanks are destroying the English language”, and they still worry about that.

        • ar an sliabh

          Actually, the Americans started that one, and got their thoins kicked by a numerically far inferior force. They lucked out that the britz were war-tired and more interested in money through trade, otherwise they would have wound up as part of the Commonwealth.

          • I very much doubt that, as the Commonwealth wasn’t even a concept until almost 100 years later. I think there’s a real chance that if the British had won 1812 in the short term, the rebellion would have started up again, and would have simply had a “round two” in which The US would have been re-established as independent.

            • ar an sliabh

              What is clear is that had the britz decided to give it a go, the Americans would not have retained their independence after the war of 1812. The britz were simply a much stronger military and economic force after the defeat of Napoleon. What the result of round two would have been, we will never really know. My personal guess is that Canada and the U.S. would probably be the same country today, as I doubt the britz would have made the same (political and military) mistakes a second time around. Hence my comment.

              • Well The Colonists beat Britain in the 1770’s so there’s little reason to believe that couldn’t have done it again. And I believe they almost certainly would have. If Britain hadn’t bailed and gone to France, they would have probably faced a quagmire until finally giving up once again.

                The Colonies had gotten to a point where they didn’t trust Britain and they didn’t want to be part of it. I don’t see any realistic pathway to reversing that trend.

                Any rate you are not an honest player in this sort of debate. I’ve seen you write elsewhere that you don’t accept that The Civil War was about slavery. Anyone who makes that claim is either some kind of ideologue or is trying to sell something. Since you stand against every credible scholar on the topic of the US Civil War, that leaves you with more or less no credibility on the topic.

              • ar an sliabh

                Just because I don’t believe the civil war was about (or over) slavery (or better put, abolition), and disagree with some historians regardless how many there may be, does not make me dishonest. How someone can be dishonest by disagreeing with someone or having their own opinion is actually a bit of a riddle to me. But then again, intolerance of other opinions expressed in insult and character slight has become common in America. The general treatment of African Americans by the Union during and in the time after the civil war speaks for itself. This disparate treatment is a problem to this day. There is no question that slavery was the motivation for some participants in the war, but abolition was not its paramount and especially not its only purpose. Like most wars, it was mostly about power, territory, and money.

              • Well thanks for taking the bait pal!!!! Do you really think I consider the cause of The Civil War worthy of debate? Nope. All credible historians of the topic say the US Civil War was all about slavery.

                It’s kind of the same as assuming a Holocaust denier isn’t an honest player, isn’t it? Dishonesty is the more charitable conclusion.

              • ar an sliabh

                It would be dishonest if I ignored the suffering of the people involved and denied that slavery occurred. All I am denying is that the North did what they did out of concern for the slaves or some sort of altruism. The treatment African Americans have been exposed to after the war clearly indicates that this was not the case, many remained in abusive working and relationships with virtually no rights North and South of the Mason-Dixon line. Equality in treatment is a problem to this very day. Something you appear to be denying at this point. Simply ignoring what I am writing, and adding Holocaust denial, is a reaction I would not expect from a reasonable adult. (Bait??? Really? Are we in Kindergarten discourse here?)

    • I have to say, I’m seeing more anti-British sentiment on the American left than has been the case in my lifetime.

      I’ve asked a lot of people in their 80’s who’ve been involved since their youth and they agree that The Progressive movement has become more Anglophobic than they ever remember seeing it.

      When I was growing up an Anglophile was NOT somebody who defended British Empire politically. Anglophiles were people who loved Sherlock Holmes, British style tea and Crumpets, Monty Python, Are You Being Served, Fawlty Towers etc. It was NOT a term with any political connotations whatsoever. However, that is changing and fast. I’ve seen it taking on more political tones that I did not see even earlier in the Trump era, and certainly not before. Brexit is driving this, I swear.

      • Interesting, but could you explain why Americans have the least concern whether the UK is in or out of the EU?

        • Let’s turn that around Marconatrix. When some people in Scotland put up Mexican flags for Donald Trump’s visit to Scotland, most progressives in the US didn’t have a problem with that. In fact, we found it hilarious. (I’ve had -mostly positive- dealings with Mexicans all my life, and am an English-Spanish bilingual. So really, it’s cool.)

          I’d say that it’s not so much leaving the EU in and of itself, that they have a problem with. It’s more about how Parliament is handling the whole affair and some of the dirt on the more visible Brexiteers. The sense you see in progressive circles is sort of, “If individual countries like Norway, Switzerland, or the UK don’t want to be part of the EU that’s fine, but Britain’s way of handling it may endanger the whole project.”

          More so than anything else, the fear is that a dissolution of the EU could lead to a situation where Europe becomes prone to major world wars once again. Britain opting out per se wouldn’t be a concern. Some Brexiteer antics are.

          Also The DUP seems to be more or less running the show despite it’s status as a regional party with only a tiny number of seats. Since the DUP has a reputation as an extremist party their ability to just order the music and watch the Tories march to their beat seems more than a little horrifying. This also seems to make it look possible that a post-Brexit UK could turn into an erratic force on The World Stage.

          Which brings us to The GFA. You should have known better than to expect nothing but indifference from The United States on that one.

          For most of the Troubles The US government largely accepted the British government’s view that the whole situation was the result of historical circumstances and simply couldn’t be fixed. That any questioning of Britain handling it as Thatcher’s administration saw fit, would only make it worse. When Bill Clinton refused to accept that logic, the road to the GFA began. It was a tough one, but it did produce something that least kept the peace, and to some degree protected the rights of the people living in Northern Ireland.

          Again that doesn’t mean the UK has to remain in the EU, but in leaving they should have been prepared to accommodate the GFA, as it is UN Recognized. And that’s not what the world is seeing, I’m afraid.

        • I’m also afraid that Brexiteers have undermined a lot of narratives about modern Britain that most US progressives accepted with little debate. The assumption was that Britain had changed quite a bit since the days when The British Empire. Even Anglophiles tend to agree that not much good could be said about The British Empire. However most progressives honestly believed that Britain today was a vastly different society than it had been when Britain controlled India, during the Irish Famine, and of course at the time of a Revolution we had during the 1770’s. Most liberals believed that The Queen was essentially a figurehead, the your NHS was the best in the world (many don’t quite understand how it differs from the Canadian model), that your labor unions and suffragettes were just plain cooler than ours, and that British people had a strong sense of class politics that we were simply too stupid to replicate. Also most educated people have at some point, met the argument that our Founding Fathers sort of fucked up by going with a Trias Politica, since they say “The Westminster Model is The Gold Standard”.

          It turns out Brexit has seriously undermined all those assumptions among those paying attention. And since American progressives have always gazed across the Atlantic at times when their morale is low, quite of a few of them are paying attention. So you have a lot of people trying to figure out how the DUP with it’s 10 MPs seems to be more or less setting the agenda. In Presidential systems it’s pretty much impossible for a small regional party to command that sort of leverage over a much larger national one-of course, with a trias you pretty much trade in such scenarios for gridlock and shutdowns, but that’s another story. Then you have things like key Brexiteers wanting to weaken Britain’s drunk driving laws, sexual abuse in high class British “public schools”, and “libel tourism” to Britain being used against professors and journalist in several countries-including the US.

          In short, a lot of people are realizing that much of the highly positive view they had of Britain contained a number of false premises. That doesn’t mean we don’t recognize a number of progressive people in Britain, it’s just

          • it more like they are seeing some the “dark side” of British society like htey haven’t before.

          • ar an sliabh

            The key here is, “those paying attention.” There sure are not a lot of those around these days. Even they are too engaged in useless squabbles most of the time. The vast majority of Americans do not know, and not care about the EU, Brexit, the GFA, or anything else concerning Europe, regadless of what political conviction they may be. Most will be able to tell one what Megan Markle wore today, and will give you sorts of “romantic” insights into English court life, they either saw on TV, read in the Enquirer, or People Magazine, however. All’s well, happily ever after…. Remember that article asking why the Republic would consider leaving the Commonwealth, the one about eating pigeons? Yeah, that and warm Guinness about sums it up.

            • I think you are being a bit of a cynic.

              Most people I know-and the community I live in fits nearly every stereotype that when make people assume it was 90% Repubilcan but it’s more like 75% Democratic- don’t actually care much about Meghan Markle or The Royals in general-precisely because they assumed most of their life it had no real power.

              While 70% of the political talk revolves around election 2020, there is a lot of critical talk about the UK going around. It’s not a hatred of British people in general, but it’s obviously driven by Brexit.

              • ar an sliabh

                To me Republicans and Democrats are really not that different from each other, they just give away the tax payer money to different billionaires. Of course I am a cynic. A choice between Trump and Clinton should make anyone a cynic. Both parties align their policies with the viewpoints of their payers, and are both equally detrimental to the country. Most Americans are conservative and so are the two parties (at least from a European point of view), so I can see why assumptions can be deceiving. Perhaps (actually, I am pretty sure they are) the folks in your community are better educated and wealthier than those in the communities I have lived in over there, but in my experience what you describe is simply not representative of the average.

            • I don’t know who you are actually dealing with. Everywhere I lived-and I’ve lived in numerous states, at least a slight majority of people have been utterly obsessed with politics to the point where they see it as the fabric of their lives.

              The simple fact, you think most Americans keep track of the affairs of the Royal Family-I’m can’t think of even one person offhand who does-suggests to me that maybe you aren’t the canny truth teller you like to style yourself as.

              • ar an sliabh

                I didn’t mean to say most Americans keep track of the families of the Royal family, but that most don’t keep track of Europe at all. I do exaggerate things from time to time, that’s just how I am. In my range of experience, only very few Americans know or care about Brexit, or any other things important to Ireland or Europe. Similar to most Europeans being unaware of the intricacies of American laws and political systems. I have nothing to sell or any ideologies to impress on anyone, and do not style myself as anything, that time has long passed at my age. You may have a different experience. In my range of experience, Americans simply are not becoming globally aware or super-politically involved any time soon (even though Trump sure got things going). To me, their voting records imply that. When more than 65% of their eligible voters regularly start going to the polls, then I will change my opinion. That is all it is, an opinion. Sorry you don’t like it. Just because my experience does not mirror yours, I don’t feel like I have to call you a liar.

  2. Okay, so what we have here on the island of Ireland are two polities. On a binary level, one is a success and one is a failure. In Planet Newt, the solution to problems in the failed polity is reform of the successful polity. Baffling.

  3. the failed polity won’t admit its polices were and are a disaster

  4. Pat Murphy

    When one reads his tripe the unfortunate thing is you can’t unread it. You have lost valuable time when you could have been counting sheep.

  5. Wasn’t Ireland (the Free State?) at one stage a member of the British Commonwealth, though maybe only for a few years to soften the transition to a fully independent republic?

    “No[t] least, because a principled opposition to colonialism is generally considered to be the political norm in most Western democracies.”

    Although this doesn’t seem to extend to ‘internal colonialism’ (which I suppose would marginally include Ireland?), just ask the Bretons, Basques, Catalans etc. etc. not to even mention Scotland.

    • Pat Murphy

      The south of Ireland is still just a free state. When our (32) thirty two counties are free from foreign interference then it can be called a fully independent republic. Not until then. As far as internal colonialism is concerned Ireland does not fall into that category.

      • NI is for the time being, in part at least, an internal colony of the UK, just like Scotland and Wales, and in some folks eyes, Cornwall even. Of course if the roles of the UK and the Irish Republic were at some point reversed in the North, i.e. it became legally part of Ireland but with some remaining UK input, then the ‘Loyalists’ would probably regard it as an Irish internal colony, no?

        • Pat Murphy

          No. Would you regard Gibraltar as an internal colony? Or the Falkland isles?. Ireland according to the world map is a separate country from Britain. All of ireland belongs to the Irish not the British. The Irish people have a right to self determination. The British have no right to have any influence in the affairs of Ireland. North ,south,east or west. Force of arms does not confer a right on the part of any nation. The sooner the British realise this the better for both our nations. A tiny bunch of British loyalists in the north east of our country will not be allowed to dictate to the rest of ireland. We as a people will not be bullied by a minority into accepting their will. It has become so very apparent over this last while, with this brexit fiasco, that Ireland as a whole will not bow down any longer to the toffs in Whitehall or the flat earth brigade. We bow to neither king nor Keizer.

    • ar an sliabh

      You must, after all, be an American. Otherwise, you would know this. The official “Irish Free State” was formed by the blasted treaty in 1922 (treaty being ratified in 1921) and ended with the passing of the constitution of Ireland in 1937. There “Irish Free State” was a Dominion similar to Canada and Australia, and as such part of the Commonwealth. There was no “soft” transition to a fully independent republic. The fact that the Free State was not independent was the whole basis for the civil war that followed. Anti-treaty Irish were not happy, after fighting a horrific war, to remain a dominion and continue to have to swear an oath to the king of england, no matter how special the wording. The pro-treaty Irish saw it as the “freedom to achieve freedom”, and sacrificed NI for it, along with true independence. The latter, however, did not even become a possibility until after the Westminster act of 1931 granted all Dominions true self determination. For the first time, these territories could pass laws without approval from parliament. After Éamon de Valera regained power through the 1932 general election as head of his new party, Fianna Fail, he removed legal statutes and other obstacles one-by-one, culminating in and allowing the passage of a new Irish constitution creating a new Irish state in 1937, freeing the country of all political british tentacles. The 26 counties were then officially referred to as Ireland, and Ireland became an independent, neutral, country. Most Irish Republicans refer to the now Republic of Ireland as the “Free State,” to stress the fact that it does not encompass the entirety of Ireland, and hence is not truly Ireland per se. There is obviously much more to this (trade war, constitutional claims, etc..), but this should do for a nutshell.

      • Thank you for all the detail, and clearly this is still a much more sensitive subject than I’d realised, although I hesitate to forgive you for calling me ‘American’ !
        Anyway, the top and bottom of it is that the bulk of Ireland achieved its present condition as a fully independent, internationally recognised nation, by degrees, being for a while semi-independent commonwealth member. Could it be said that the Brits, by the outlook at the time, were doing their best to facilitate the process, and were it not for the ‘Revolting Irish’ … ???
        And would you really have wanted to deal with The North through all the Troubles, with Irish troops being killed, and Irish cities getting bombed etc. ???
        As for the name Irish Free State, I recall hearing that (IIRC) Dev was supposed to have been negotiating with Lloyd George, who rejected the use of the word ‘Republic’ and asked Dev how he’d say it in Irish. ‘Saorstát Éire’ came the reply. But that just means ‘Irish free-state’ says Ll. G. Ok, let’s call it the Irish Free State. Again, given the times and the circumstances, was that not a serious attempt at compromise?
        And the irony is surely that right now, with Brexit, Ireland finally has the whip hand over the UK, with partition having once again come back to bite London in the arse?

        • ar an sliabh

          We have bantered back and forth enough by now to hopefully not take too much offence, I hope. But I do apologise if I offended you. To most people I know, freedom is not something to make a compromise over. The Free State was the only dominion with british gunships and troops in their harbours, and paying land-based tributes (until they were stopped by De Valera). They were also the only dominion with part of it stripped off and declared actual british territory. So the only thing they did their best to facilitate is as much continued exploitation as they could until the inevitable end. I really do not know what will happen with Brexit. All we can do is hope for the best. Our government is doing some good things, but it somehow does not appear they are really working towards reunification at this time. We have to be vigilant regarding the developments and demand action when it is needed. Not much more we can do right now.

  6. I wonder if he’d apply the logic that states colonialism is “a ludicrous concept in European terms” to the USSR’s actions in Poland and other Eastern European countries.

  7. Sharon Douglas

    Brilliant, Séamas, just brilliant.

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