By Damian Kiberd (for Daily Ireland)
Why is it that the most fearsome enemies of the armed IRA are now running scared in the headlights of an unarmed republican movement?
You might think that a united Ireland is an ideal outcome to the current phase in Irish history -- but not everybody would agree.
Professor John A Murphy, who has been training a generation of historians at University College Cork in recent decades, regards the decommissioning of IRA weapons as “armed struggle by other means”.
He viewed a republican anti-partition rally in central Dublin nine days ago and observed that it was “part of an intensifying unification campaign which will continue to be stepped up as a compensating balance for de-commissioning”.
Professor Murphy was outraged by the recent anti-partition rally. This is, according to Professor Murphy, “a fast-tracking attempt at unification by stealth”, which “violates the Good Friday Agreement”.
The professor observed that the Dublin regime should declare that “the political unification of Ireland will come about, if at all [sic], only at the end of a very long day of reconciliation in Northern Ireland and with unionist (and Southern) consent”.
Murphy even attacks justice minister Michael McDowell, who is apparently unable to sleep because of his fear of a state within a (free) state, for evincing attitudes of what Murphy terms “feel-good greenery”.
Murphy is not alone in his pro-partition ethos. A letter writer to The Irish Times last week reflected a common view.
He asked: “Is it not screamingly obvious that the real dread of those that doubt the totality of the recent decommissioning exercise is that the prospect is now clear for the unwelcome tapis of a united Ireland being vaunted as a routine of political discourse?”
He added that “only by firm renunciation of the territorial incentive can the process of cross-community harmony be nurtured and brought to bloom”.
But if you think that this fear of Irish unity is isolated, you should consult yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, where a political journalist called Alison O’Connor conducted an interview with the Free State minister for social affairs, Seamus Brennan.
The pocket rocket said there was “no shame” in wanting a united Ireland. In other words, Brennan was worried that we might be ashamed of asking the soldiers of a foreign army to leave the farms and fields owned by our people.
Brennan glided to power as general secretary of Fianna Fail during the sleeveen Taoiseachship of Jack Lynch.
He sensed a public mood that would resent any move to unify the country.
He said: “The aspiration has been kept in the background in recent times because of the delicate nature of the situation in the North.”
Coming straight out of the party of Constance Markievicz, of Margaret Pearse, of Harry Boland, of Eamon de Valera and of Cathal Brugha, Mr Brennan added: “At the moment, we are constrained in how far we can push that. It is not some old-fashioned idea. A lot of young people believe that.” Indeed they do.
The pro-partition mood among the Dublin elite is perhaps best summed up by Pat Rabbitte, current leader of the Labour Party and former member of the Official republican movement.
He observed that, in advance of decommissioning, “they [Sinn Fein] have done nothing to persuade the people of the South -- who remain to be persuaded -- that the best solution to Northern Ireland as a failed political entity would be to collapse that failed dysfunctional and still violent entity into this state.
“If the communities that go to make up the North cannot function together, why in God’s name should anyone believe that they would function better by attempting to smother them with a largely uninterested Southern embrace?”
Rabbitte added that, “on any rational analysis, Northern Ireland as a demonstrably functioning entity should be a precondition that is proven to exist before anyone thinks about Irish unity -- rather than the proven failure of the North being a reason for thinking about the unity of Ireland as a whole”.
He added: “We down here do not have the solution and we should not pretend that we do.” In other words, you will have to make Northern Ireland work before the leader of James Connolly’s party will entertain any idea of a united Ireland.
Connolly, by the way, was the man who wrote that the partition of Ireland would create a “carnival of reaction”.
The decommissioning of IRA weaponry has forced the most reactionary people in the Free State to come out into the open and express their antagonism to a united Ireland.
Not surprisingly, many of these people spent their early years as apologists for the Workers Party/ Official republican movement. But some are simply Castle Catholics -- people who don’t want to scare the horses.
The problem for these people is that Northern Catholics and republicans have not gone away. They are becoming increasingly self-confident. And they do not want to live under constant physical threat from the drugged-up unionist lumpenproletariat that thinks it can terrorise Catholic districts on an annual basis, safe in the knowledge that the number of arrests carried out by the PSNI will be minimal.
The leader of the political slum that is Northern Ireland is now Ian Paisley. Dr Paisley has been politically active since the early 1960s, when he confronted ecumenist preachers in Belfast and shot to public prominence. Since that time, he has been Dr No.
He is possibly the only politician in Western Europe who has never -- in the space of 40 years of active political life -- sat down and negotiated an agreement with his political foes to operate a political system in his native place.
Dr Paisley should wake up and smell the coffee. He might even condescend to attend a match at Croke Park, where the “Fenians” try to park their BMW and Mercedes cars without being clamped before seeing the “puke footballers” of Tyrone hammering the skilful men of Kerry.
He might ask himself where the future lies. Is it among the people of Fermanagh, Tyrone, Derry, south Armagh and west Belfast? Or is it to be found in the constant blocking of political progress?