The UK government is treating Ireland like a place out of which Paddy and Mick emerge from the bog, uneducated and acting rather like the characters in Spike Milligan’s ‘Puckoon’. That has only ever been a caricature of the Irish. Now they are a cosmopolitan, increasingly secular, well educated and ambitious nation.

The Johnson factor

Johnson still does not comprehend that well before his lifetime, Ireland had become a republic, and even left the British Commonwealth. All that is left now is the assumption of some kind of superiority and authority that has allowed an overconfident group of political incompetents to walk into a trap they built for themselves. They allowed Johnson to stumble on Paddy’s green shamrock shore*.

Johnson imagines himself to be of superior intellect, however he little realises that while his old school classics at Oxford make him merely educated, it neither makes him especially intelligent nor intellectual. He has many words in his vocabulary and his joyous spouting of Latin; they are superficial, the reasoned mind of an intellectual is not part of that package. Sorry Boris, I have classics too, I come from a council estate, but I learned what you learned without going to Eton, if not as well then because I did not study ancient literature and classical philosophy at university. I have the same level in my own discipline, an upper second class degree. In the case of many people, perhaps young Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson included, a degree is a means to an end.

He tried management consultancy, but lasted only a week, so he turned to journalism. He is still best remembered for his invented straight banana and ban of prawn cocktail crisps stories. Apart from that, the “bumbling oaf” on BBC’s Have I Got News For You gave him a wider audience. There was plenty more poor journalism, made up and plagiarised content included, none of which makes him any more reliable than intellectual. After years of being in one of the world’s top universities where I taught undergraduate and postgraduate students, I developed the ability to recognise intellect. It is rare and precious, those who possess it may be as brash as Johnson, but never as ignorant. He goes to Ireland playing the superior intellect card that he has no legitimate reason to try, then leaves with a flea in his ear like the village idiot, exactly what he appears to have treated the Irish as. An own goal well scored.

So, off he had trotted to Ireland to play them for fools. It blew up in his face, so now it is not mentioned because it turned turkey on him. He has a track record of unforgettable, often unforgivable gaffs and diplomatic misjudgements since the misguided British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed him the UK’s Foreign Secretary. However, his poor diplomacy has resonance in the misguided politics of others.

Who is being obstructive?

Placing emphasis on Northern Ireland, the Conservatives ‘allies, the DUP, and the inane utterances of Arlene Foster particularly has displaced Johnson’s little jolly in the media. She has already contributed far more to the high risk of blowing the present peace in Norther Ireland apart and colluded in what should have led to her political career ending with an honourable resignation, but now believes she can accuse the Republic of such matters as being obstructive.

Obstructive to what? Obstructing her undermining the peace process with her diktats? Then she gets the support, albeit extraordinarily so, of an opposition MP in the London constituency who demands the Irish build a wall! Kate Hoey probably has a few bricks short of a wall herself. Although often remembered for her ‘Marxist’ political background, she had a unionist background being a native of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. She is a well known Labour Euro-sceptic who has often been out of step with her party. This time she appears to be closer in step with Donald Trump. So how is she supporting Foster who wants no hard border, which a wall clearly would be? She is doing so by stirring the nest of hornets that would see a resurgence of violence, something that by all accounts is not yet on the boil but at present simmering just out of view. Now, whilst editing this, I see the media is reporting that a deal on Ireland is close, but then that is days after Liam Fox said that despite warnings from Brussels, trade talks cannot proceed unless an agreement is reached very quickly. Unless somebody flipped a coin to decide over a cup of coffee, I really cannot see how such a quick decision on a deal could have been reached that appears contrary to the words of a cabinet member. There is no clarity, much speculation and there are shadows of how Johnson treated the Irish as idiots at every stage of whatever vague game is being played out. We shall inevitably see.

Varadkar is no school boy

To the British, Leo Varadkar was probably seen as a novice, therefore using the fact he is not purely ethnically Irish (whatever that may be), gay and leading a minority government and would be out of his depth. Whoops, no he is not and is singing the right song regarding the use of veto, but in response to which the UK has hands over ears and is saying ‘We can’t hear you, we can’t hear you…’ as though he will just go away. Now the tantalising prospect of a new election he might lose has passed by when Ireland’s Deputy Taoiseach, Frances Fitzgerald, said she had resigned, should make them think again. They should also remember that they are also obfuscating on the topic of another land border, the UK dependency and tax haven, Gibraltar, thus we have the possibility of at least Spain standing firm beside Ireland exercising veto rights – if no other countries do, that suffices. Unless the deal in the forthcoming talks is what is wanted all round then the UK should be preparing its Foreign Secretary for some diplomatic difficulties.

The Scottish are watching

And rest assured we Scots will prick up our ears and whilst the Sottish Parliament is playing a waiting game, in time the people there will see that the way the Irish are being treated is perhaps a very good indicator of what will befall them in Scotland. If the Irish who are not governed by Westminster are treated as though they are, what chance has a country that only has a measured devolution that falls short of any kind of autonomy, let alone independence? As it is, a group of four Scots politicians, two MEPs and two MSPs, from Labour, SNP and Greens, wants the European Court of Justice to rule on whether article 50 can be revoked by the UK without taking it out of the hands of the government if voters or the House of Commons decide the final Brexit deal is unacceptable. That has a whiff of unity among Scots politicians including at least some of Labour moving on toward other goals, perhaps a new independence campaign that may threaten Westminster’s intentions. Much remains to be seen, it is not at all clear.

Beneath the veneer of all of the negotiations and alliances, something tells me that if anything, there is an element of the English ruling class that would gladly cast off the restless, troublesome Celts. Now is their best opportunity rather than causing years of division and unrest, but lacking intellect to support their blind ambition they cannot find the way to take that last step toward achieving that end. So, Ireland is not a second or lower division player in this game, but one that can punch its weight, one that has grown in recent years when the inward looking Westminster cliques were not looking because they actually had no interest in Ireland. The 14th and 15th of December EU Council summit at which Brexit will be hard fought will be interesting. Unless Ireland is being satisfactorily dealt with behind closed doors, out of reach of media and public attention, then it may still be potentially the single biggest hurdle over which the UK negotiators will fall. Thus far it has not looked good; Johnson simply drew attention to the fact that Ireland is still considered a bunch of inferior Paddies who will do what England says. That is denying history, exactly the one element of the nostalgia for past empire Westminster appears incapable of moving on from that stands in the way and will win only disbelief if Leo Varadkar says an emphatic ‘No’ and all parties leave the talks to start all over again.

*Taken from the song ‘Paddy’s green shamrock shore’ by Kevin Conneff of The Chieftains.

Brian Milne
A Social anthropologist who specialises in the human rights of children. In practice Brian Milne has worked on the street with 'street children', child labour, young migrants, young people with HIV and AIDS. Brian’s work has taken him to around 40 countries, most of them developing nations; at least four of them have been in a state of conflict or war, thus taking him to the front line in two. Brian’s theoretical work began with migration; working on, written and publishing on citizenship and generally best known as an 'expert' on the human rights of children. Brian has a broad knowledge of human and civil rights for all ages, environmental issues and has been politically active most of his life. An internationalist and supporter of the principle of European federalisation.

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    1 Comment

    1. Back in 1977 we were in Dublin to play football. Sunday morning, almost certainly on our way to the pub, we passed a newspaper stand. My mate wanted a Sunday Times, but there was no colour supplement. “Sorry” said the man, “we don’t get that here, we’re a backward nation” in perfect self-mockery. The likes of Johnson still have that attitude.

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