Sunday, 5 June 2011
The Changing Dynamics of Anglo-Irish Relations
“So ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to rise and join me in a toast to the President, and the people, of Ireland”. Few thought they would live to see the day where a British monarch would express any such sentiment regarding the Irish people. Over the course of her visit Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, together with President Mary McAleese, has indeed made history.
With the turbulent and often violent history that Ireland and England share, many found no difficulty in being sceptical about the royal visit. After all, how could a four-day visit make amends for centuries of oppression?
It was said during her visit that an apology for the atrocities that were carried out during the course of our shared history was highly unlikely. It later became clear, by the end of her only speech of the visit, that a direct and official apology was not forthcoming. However, by the end of the second day, it became almost unnecessary.
In the Queen’s first two days in Ireland, there were enough symbolic gestures and expressions of sincere sympathy to render an apology useless. After all, words crafted into an apology do not carry the same weight as respecting the Irish struggle for independence and paying tribute to those Irish who died in pursuit of freedom.
For centuries Irish people fought for the right to be free. In 1922, with the signing of the Treaty, Ireland negotiated a significant degree of independence. This level of independence was expanded greatly in 1949 when the country (with the exception of the North) was declared a republic in the Republic of Ireland Act. Because of this, we are a sovereign state and any choices we make regarding partnerships abroad are our own. We chose to maintain economic ties with Britain because it was practical, realistic and overall, a good idea and not because it was forced upon us.
Ireland was always tied to Britain somehow, but what makes this partnership different from our pre-independence partnership is that we are no longer on the subordinate side of the relationship. This is the achievement. This is what our ancestors fought and died for. It must be noted that those who continue to fight and those who were very much opposed to the royal visit are still trapped in the mentality of the subordinate (I do, however, accept that many of these people have experienced serious emotional turmoil as a result of this shared history, and this has shaped their political view of the British).
It is important to recognise the importance of a good relationship with Britain. They are our nearest neighbours and our trading industry relies almost entirely on this special relationship. Over the last number of decades, this relationship has developed and proceeded in the right direction. Closer ties and co-operation led to a successful agreement in the North and many other achievements. This warmer relationship even led to the British government contributing to the EU/IMF deal that was negotiated to put Ireland back on its feet economically.
The Queen’s visit highlighted the importance of this relationship and the actual success of her visit proved that a new era of warm relations has begun and that even closer ties in the future is very possible. In the words of our President, “While we cannot change the past, we have chosen to change the future”.
However, I believe that one of the most significant themes of the royal visit was the sense of equality that was conveyed by our President, Mary McAleese (who should be applauded for her work over the course of the visit) and by Queen Elizabeth. I believe that independence was the first step in this direction. One might interpret Michael Collins’ “freedom to achieve freedom” argument not as freedom from Britain, but the freedom to make our own choices, the ability to choose our partners and choose whatever course of action best suits our people. I believe that we have achieved this freedom.