Nationalist Ireland's dead and gone: Kow-towing to the Queen
Was it for this the wild geese spread The grey wing upon every tide; For this that all that blood was shed, For this Edward Fitzgerald died, And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone, All that delirium of the brave?
“September 1913" W. B. Yeats.
If there is one image (though there were so many) from the state visit by the Irish president to Britain that demonstrates the complete debasement of nationalism it is the sight of members the Irish elite and British royal family happily singing along to a rendition of “The Auld Triangle” during a special gala concert at the Albert Hall. When royals can sing revolutionary songs it is a sure indication of how far the threat from upheavals in Ireland to the establishment order of things has receded. The final symbolic nail in the coffin of radical Ireland will come in 2016 with British royals taking part the in ceremonies to mark the anniversary the Easter Rising. Such a prospect would probably have even been beyond the satirical vision of a Brendan Behan. Yet this is the political reality of the present.
The overriding theme of the state visit, the first official visit to Britain by a head of state since Irish independence in 1922, was the establishment of “normal relations” between the two nations. The visit by President Higgins, reciprocating one made by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in 2011, is presented as the final symbolic step in this process. But what is the nature of these normal relations? The traditional republican view was that normal relations could only be established after Ireland was unified and independent. A watered down version of this was reflected in the official ideology of the southern state and had expression in things such as articles two and three of the Irish constitution. While the Irish ruling class had long abandoned 1916 type Republicanism it still felt it necessary to make gestures towards it particularly during periods of heightened anti-imperialist sentiment. This was the reason why the state visit had taken so long to come about.
That it is taking place at this time is evidence of the degree to which political consciousness amongst the Irish people has declined. A major factor in this is undoubtedly the defeat of the Provisionals – the last major political movement that claimed adherence to traditional republican principles. The sight of Martin McGuinness, a leader of a party that was once committed to ending Britain’s involvement in Ireland through force of arms, attending a banquet in Windsor Castle in honour of the British Monarch is symbolic of how compete that defeat has been. One of cornerstones of the new normality is the acceptance of partition and the direct control of part Ireland’s national territory by another state.
Going hand in hand with the acceptance of the division between north and south there is also an acceptance of the sectarian divisions within the northern state. The concept of the “two communities” has become the accepted basis of political organisation in the North and informs the operation of the system of administration brought into existence by the Good Friday Agreement. Despite claims of power sharing what these institutions and mechanisms are really about is the distribution of sectarian patronage. Of course its sectarian nature means that there cannot be an equal sharing between the “two communities” – the unionists must have the upper hand. It is the necessity for this advantage to be demonstrated that explains the agitation by the unionist troika (Unionist parties, loyalist paramilitaries & Loyal Orders) around such issues as flags and marches. The acceptance of this schema also enables the British government to present itself as a neutral negotiator between two conflicting groups while at the same time consolidating Northern Ireland as part of the British state.
Also, the British interest does not stop at the border. Indeed, during the state visit the North was largely a sideshow with most of the emphasis being placed on the links between the British and Irish states. This was set out most clearly in the address by President Higgins in the City of London in which he repeated often quoted fact that trade between Britain and Ireland (estimated to be €1 billion every week) is greater than that between Britain and Brazil, China and India combined. Higgins also praised Britain’s role in securing the Troika bailout for Ireland and in providing a separate bilateral loan of €3.8 billion. For this Ireland was "deeply grateful".
Of course this was not an altruist act by the British state to help out Ireland. Rather it was a means to protect the massive commitments that British financial institutions had in Ireland. The loan also carried a significant interest rate and was dependent on the Irish government signing up to the punishing Troika austerity programme. The British state also contributed indirectly to the bailout through its support of the RBS owned Ulster Bank (the third biggest financial institution in Ireland) that has so far racked up losses of £16.6 billion. All of this flies in the face of the claim in the Downing Street Declaration of 1992 (the blueprint for the current political settlement) that Britain has no selfish economic interests in Ireland.
Another mechanism for the increasing links between the states has been the British and Irish states membership of the EU. This has provided a platform for common political positions on the internal workings of the Union and its external relations. We see this over the current crisis in Ukraine in which the Irish foreign minister resembles a modern day Skibbereen Eagle in his denunciation of Russia. The EU has also provided the basis for military co-operation, with Irish soldiers serving under British command for the since time since 1922 as part of a mission to Mali.
What the state visit to Britain, and all that goes with it, represents is the utter bankruptcy of Irish nationalism and the complete subornation of the Irish state to the interests of imperialism. The weak gestures towards a democratic programme such as national self-determination or military neutrality, that for many years were the political currencies of half-baked bourgeois radicals like Michael D Higgins, have been cast aside as the Irish ruling class enthusiastically embraces this role. It is comprehensive evidence that the Irish capitalist class cannot achieve even the most basic democratic tasks. This is why the cause of Ireland is, as James Connolly asserted, bound up with the cause of labour and the working class.