There has been a lot of heat, and rather little light, around the decision of the President of Ireland declining to attend an event commemorating the partition of Ireland, alongside his British counterpart, Queen Elizabeth II. Naturally, despite the measured and calm tone that has been so characteristically exuded from Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins, the DUP and other Unionist voices have collectively thrown their toys out of the pram.
I speak on this as someone who up until very recently would have described themselves as a liberal Unionist. I no longer recognise that as an accurate reflection of my own evolving personal politics, and would be more assertive in stating that I am a socialist, and there is no war but the class war. Sectarian and imperialist issues seek only to divide the working class, and deflect from the real issues. But I digress.
The main issue in this entire saga is the attitude of Jeffrey Donaldson, and like-minded Unionists within the British establishment – that Ireland isn’t a sovereign, and independent nation with the same status and international footing as the United Kingdom – the Republic of Ireland is simply the one who got away. That dent in the imperial pride of certain sections of Unionism has never waned, and that manifests itself as a distinct lack of respect for the sovereignty and independence of Ireland as a nation state. They see the Irish President as being uppity, of being ungrateful, and of not giving the Queen her rightful place has his better, rather than his equal.
There have, of course, been more measured responses from Unionist commentators such as Sarah Creighton (please read her work, she is one of the few talking sense in a time of noise), as well as unhelpful interventions from Republican columnists so this is not a one-sided argument.
Michael D Higgins hasn’t “snubbed” the Queen – he is a democratically elected head of state who has a mandate through universal suffrage – and as such he has the right as head of state to determine his own mind, and to reflect the wishes of his people. The official title of Michael D Higgins is ‘President of Ireland’, not of the Republic of Ireland. He is the head of state for the 26 counties of the Republic, yes, but Ireland is not a land mass defined by borders. Ireland is an idea, and an identity that is alive in the millions of Irish diaspora living across the globe, and in Northern Ireland where Britishness and Irishness live side by side, and intrinsically linked with one another. As a holder of an Irish passport, and someone who was brought up in a Loyalist community, Michael D Higgins is also my Presdient as much as Boris Johnson is also my Prime Minister (this is not, by any means, an endorsement of the Tories.)
President Higgins has made it clear that his issue was with the wording of the invite, by referring to him as the President of the Republic of Ireland, rather than giving him his official and internationally recognised title. This has now been clarified to have been a mistake on the part of the President as the invite below demonstrates.
Furthermore, what would compel the elected head of state for the Irish state and diaspora to attend an event marking the deliberate carving up of his own country? This isn’t by any means an interpretation in favour or against partition, but a reflection of the facts to which the DUP and British establishment are willfully ignorant and insensitive.
Jeffrey Donaldson would do well to reflect on the arrogance, and entitlement of his party, and the mindset they aspire to represent. The DUP have threatened to pull down the fragile, and democratically elected devolved institutions should the NI Protocol remain as is (it will, and it won’t be changed), and have withdrawn from the North-South bodies that aim to facilitate reconciliation, co-operation and participation in the ongoing and evolving peace process on this island. This is the same party who has refused to engage in discussions about what a new Ireland would look like, should a border-poll be successful, have referred to the Taoiseach and the Tainaiste as their opponents, and continue to denigrate and disrespect the mandated position of Irish Nationalism within the devolved mechanisms that were endorsed by a majority of people on this island.
If anyone is being uppity here, and acting above their station, it certainly isn’t President Higgins.