From Irish Political Review: August 2008
We Are All One Now
If there was to be any credible sensitivity or reconciliation at the British Legion's annual commemorations at Islandbridge on the 12th July, then it could have started with an apology. The main West British speaker, the Archdeacon of Ferns, the Venerable Christopher Long, could reasonably have been asked by the Irish Government to apologise for the slaughter of so many Irishmen in British uniform at the Somme and other such battles. But no, instead a muted triumphalism of noble sacrifice . . . the giving of one's life for one's country was the note struck. It seems we are all one now.
This little bit of make-believe didn't stretch as far as the Irish ex-British soldier in his regimental uniform who carried the Irish tricolour at the head of all the massed British regimental flags present. At the march past, when he finished his last arthritic goosestep, he was slapped on the back by the next ex-soldier in line who congratulated him in consumptive dublinese . . . "AH . . . bejaysus , Jack . . . ...ye were only bleedin brillo" . . . whereupon Jack collapsed in spasms of pent-up laughter at the mockery of it all now that he had stepped offstage. He clearly didn't believe he was part of the Venerable Long's . . . "we are all one " message. I felt a spasm of anger at the spectacle of the flag being dishonoured in such a way. It does stand for something better than this.
In fact I felt uneasy the moment I arrived and saw the Irish Army acting as stewards at the gate. There's one thing being an invited guest, but do we have to immediately revert to the servant role as if it's our proper place. I didn't see any transcendence of past enmities here and only a cosmetic attempt by the British Legion to do so. It was . . . as you were lads ...nothing's changed . . .we all know who's on top.
The Irish national flag was given first place amongst the British regimental flags present, I was assured by an Irish army officer present. The Legion, he said, accepted our flag as pre-eminent. To my mind even the passive presence of our flag at such an event is plain wrong—.but even more so as an active participant in the celebrations. I made my feeling s known to the officer .He didn't disagree. He merely said that was a political matter. I should take it up with the Government. He was following orders. It was clear to me the there were tensions within the military over the obvious contradictions of trying to implement the "we are all one" political position of the Government.
I spotted one Fianna Fail TD present, Pat Carey, TD for Finglas and surrounding area . . . a decent man and good energetic representative. I instinctively remonstrated with him for gracing the British Legion's affair, not just as a guest but in the manner described above. I gave him a leaflet. He accepted it in silence. He seemed bothered, maybe at the sensitivity of the surroundings but certainly at the questionable choreography of our armed forces and national flag on the day. Never one to be short of a few words, his mute response and eyes cast down to me spoke of his uncomfortableness at being there. Perhaps it was not his free choice. He is always the one sent out in public to bat a sticky wicket when Defence Minister Willy O'Dea is not available.
Only Fianna Fail, the 'can do' party, could get away with this abject toadying and misuse of hard-won freedoms. If Fine Gael did it, Fianna Fail would rightly be up in arms at the West Britishness of it all.
The army officer mumbled something to the effect that it was all part of the peace process. I met him the next day at the 'real', State war celebrations in Kilmainham, where he seemed much more at ease in the UN context and was quite friendly, enquiring after my safety at the previous day's celebrations.
The only hostility I encountered on sat.was from an Office of Public Works man who charged me with "poor form" for attempting to spoil the party.
The West Brits just didn't get it: that anybody could object. They thought we were handing out some congratulatory epistle of adulation to the memory of the dead. Yes, in a way we were, but not to their dead and the cause they fought for. That is the point. In our 1916 a courageous minority went to considerable trouble so that so that we could go our separate way from activities like happened at the Somme. It was clear to me in Islandbridge on the 12th that, despite the 'no expense spared' efforts of the present Irish State to make it appear that we are all one today, the West Brits are only laughing at the antics of it all.
The other point of note was the absence of any significant media presence other than the Irish Times. Also the absence of the general public was notable, if it really is the case that we are all one now. Clearly the nervousness of the Government's position is evident. Being overly nice to Prods is leading them to lie down and let the British Legion tickle their collective fur at Islandbridge like the little pussycats they present themselves as. Tigers they ain't. Cute they maybe. Cute Hoors they certainly are. Just like Sinn Fein. Where were they to protest at this cavalier use of national freedoms? Still cowed [or is it Cowened ] . . . .by Fianna Fail after their mauling in the last election? Surely they haven't lost all their political instincts?
Commemorations, like those on the 12th and 13th July, would come out of the Dept of Arts and Heritage, you would think, if it is the case that we are all one. But no, they are part of the Taoiseach's Dept, so decided by Bertie Ahern as part of the peace process. Martin Mansergh is the conductor, attempting to work in the spirit of Parnell's new departure of the 1880's, rather than the SDLP/Sinn Fein-inspired pan-nationalism of the 1980-90s. He has been spectacularly successful. The only trouble is, it is not clear what this latter-day 'new departure' is, except the final confused dismantling of much of what Fianna Fail stood for under its founder,Eamon De Valera.
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