Gerry Adams, speaking in the Dáil, reprimanded Tánaiste Simon Coveney, and others by extension, for referring to the Republic of Ireland as simply ‘Ireland.’ As Adams said, ‘Ireland’ refers to the country as a whole, which is divided into two separate states.
This rebuke was reminiscent of comments made by comedian Andrew Maxwell on Radio 4 last year. Maxwell lambasted references to the ‘Irish border’ as part of the Brexit debate, saying that the ‘Irish border is the beach’. He said that more accurate phrasing would be the ‘British border in Ireland.’
Time and time again, from minister after minister, from Leinster House to the Palace of Westminster, the need to “avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland” has been reiterated. It is a tense and sensitive topic of discussion.
Linguistic faux pas have the capacity to harden the border wherever they emerge. The partition of Ireland was a reaction to the divisions of the early twentieth century. Rather than countering them, this decision had the effect of suspending those divisions in time and allowing them to simmer and grow unimpeded.
One effect of this was that on both sides of the border, power was planted firmly in the hands of the partitionists, who made the border of the mind even stronger and more fortified than it was in actuality.
One such partitionist was de Valera, and this confusion regarding what words to use is one of the many things for which he is to blame. The Constitution of the Free State, ratified in 1937, stipulates that the state shall be referred to as Ireland in the text.
However, Article Two of the Constitution also made clear that ‘the national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands, and the territorial seas.’
It has never been anything more than a notion to anyone that the twenty six counties of the Republic, alone, constitute Ireland. In much the same way, only the delusional have ever referred to the six counties of Northern Ireland as ‘Ulster’.
In just the same way that doing the latter serves to blockade Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan off from Ulster identity, referring to the Republic as Ireland is merely a half-witted venture of northern erasure. It dumbs down the vast and technicoloured spectrum of Irish history, and each fragment of the Irish identity, into a happy bitesized chunk which can henceforth be sold to gullible tourists at an extortionate price - washed down with a creamy pint of Guinness, shamrock and all.
The last three years have demonstrated fully how little knowledge of or regard for Northern Ireland there is in Britain. This is evidenced by the succession of poll results which show the greatest support for Irish unity is in Britain itself. The same ignorance and ambivalence exists to some degree in the south, with the result that the Northerner is a second class citizen in two jurisdictions.
The irony here is that Northern Ireland is in many ways the most distinctly Irish part of the island. It should be noted that the one part of Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom was also the very last part to fall to British rule. British parliamentarians would do well to consider whenever they discuss post-Brexit border arrangements that their forebears spent more time fighting the O’Neills than the French and the Germans.
The first part of the island to succumb to British rule was its modern day capital. Still, even a cursory glance over a map of Dublin will reveal an awful lot more English sounding place names than one will discover from Doire to An lúraigh in Northern Ireland. Dublin was the second city of the British Empire, while Belfast was the home of the United Irishmen.
We will go nowhere until we know the fullest view of ourselves and accept it without shying away from the parts which upset a picture of homogeneity. If there is anything which should be considered in the week of the Twelfth, then let it be this.