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.