Ireland Centre Stage for the first time in over 300 years?

My mother used to say that the Irish remember too much History, the English too little. I’m not a noble and can only trace my ancestry back 11 generations. One of my uncles said to me once “Do you know you are related to your Mother?” I thought the relationship was fairly obvious but apparently my mother is also my 6th cousin on my father’s side. My wife said “Incest – that explains a lot!”

Going back to the Williamite War, with my Irish Catholic background, we were, of course, on the loosing side. Aughrim (1691), the final and decisive battle, was a disaster. My view was that it was a travesty that the Jacobites lost; it was a catastrophe for these islands. The victors however get to write the history and of course all in NI will know that the Williamite victory is still celebrated.

An interesting alternative history has been meticulously researched by Prof Sowerby (Harvard) book Making Toleration:

In the reign of James II, minority groups from across the religious spectrum, led by the Quaker William Penn, rallied together under the Catholic King James in an effort to bring religious toleration to England. Known as repealers, these reformers aimed to convince Parliament to repeal laws that penalized worshippers who failed to conform to the doctrines of the Church of England. Although the movement was destroyed by the Glorious Revolution, it profoundly influenced the post-revolutionary settlement, helping to develop the ideals of tolerance that would define the European Enlightenment.

Based on a rich array of newly discovered archival sources, Scott Sowerby’s groundbreaking history rescues the repealers from undeserved obscurity, telling the forgotten story of men and women who stood up for their beliefs at a formative moment in British history. By restoring the repealer movement to its rightful prominence, Making Toleration also overturns traditional interpretations of King James II’s reign and the origins of the Glorious Revolution. Though often depicted as a despot who sought to impose his own Catholic faith on a Protestant people, James is revealed as a man ahead of his time, a king who pressed for religious toleration at the expense of his throne. The Glorious Revolution, Sowerby finds, was not primarily a crisis provoked by political repression. It was, in fact, a conservative counter-revolution against the movement for enlightened reform that James himself encouraged and sustained.

Why the historical ramblings? It has probably been a bit under the radar, but for the first time in over 300 years Ireland is centre stage. Some analysts say the next two weeks are the most critical since the 2nd world war for the UK. The Irish border issue is one of the three roadblocks to be cleared before Brexit trade talks can begin. It is crunch time between the UK power of large nations approach, and the belief in Ireland that the EU was set up in such a way to ensure no large nation can totally dominate and small nations need also to be treated with respect. This is not a new concept; it also was used by Britain as a justification for war with Germany with reference to Belgium in the  1st world war. Its a pity May seems to have forgotten this and is riding roughshod over Scottish wishes to Remain in the EU.

The Irish understand that they are a small nation and have embraced the EU since they joined in 1973, believing very much in playing as part of a team, making friends, building up goodwill and networking profusely. Too often it seems the UK has used its big nation status to throw its weight around and act as a playground bully.

Ireland has been meticulously working to keep the “frictionless and seamless” Irish border on the agenda and has been so successful that essentially the EU27 position will dictated by the Irish effectively giving a veto to Ireland. The British position is to have a  “frictionless and seamless” border but its position paper, widely believed to have been influenced by Legatum, has  been derided as “magical thinking” and “All we have been getting from the British,” says one source, “was muzak, and nothing else” by the EU. The British would naturally like to kick the can down the road. An excellent analysis is given by Tony Connely  The Brexit Veto: How and why Ireland raised the stakes which is well worth reading.

It was anticipated that there would be 6 areas affected as set out by the Good Friday agreement but when mapping was conducted in detail:

All that mapping was highly detailed and technical.  In time, officials quantified the level of EU-relevant areas of North-South cooperation.  It came to 142 areas.It was becoming clear that, as they waded through all of 142 areas in detail, officials on both sides were discovering more and more areas of North South activity that was touched by EU law. The mapping file was getting thicker and thicker. It also was becoming clear to officials in Brussels – and Dublin – that there were things outside the strict remit of the Good Friday Agreement where Brexit was going to have an adverse impact on daily life. “The deeper you go,” says one EU source familiar with the mapping exercise, “the more examples there are, more areas where you find out that actually a lot of the Good Friday Agreement requirements are more implicit than anything else. They rest on the status quo, and that status quo involves membership of the EU single market.”

In a sense this is not surprising as the complexity of Brexit is staggering. This will, I’m sure, be repeated hundreds of times as the Brexit madness unfolds. It has major implications for Ireland and our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is no pushover and has absolutely properly in my view dug his heels in. No guarantees no progress. This has earned howls of derision from the right wing UK press with headlines such as “IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein to blame for new Brexit standoff over Northern Ireland border” which must qualify for a golden horseshoe award for the most lies you can out into a single sentence and the charming “Shut your Gob” from the Sun. Its unusual for Ireland for once to be in a position of power, the nice thing is that Leo not only speaks for Ireland, I get the impression that millions in the UK are also cheering him on.

It will be an interesting few weeks, will Brexit finally unravel or will the British muddle on?


  1. Graham -

    As we say in Scotland: “gaun yersel’ Leo”. Each day seems to bring forth yet more evidence of UK politicians’ incompetence.

    Re James II & VII, I imagined I was alone in thinking he wasn’t as bad as painted, but had tried, perhaps, & arguably, ineptly to restore some kind of toleration of different religious beliefs in a time of bigotry and persecution. I also wonder if some of the historians who have so demonised him didn’t (don’t still) share some of the bigotry which is even now so alive and well in parts of these islands.

    And it was only in 2013 that an heir to the throne could marry a catholic.

    The book you mention looks a worthwhile read. I’ll ask Santa, cos it aint cheap.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Hi Graham
      Indeed Leo has my admiration in the political game, he is playing his Brexit cards well, though FG is the closest thing we have to the Tories (but more like the one Nation Tories of two generations ago and they have a reputation for honesty and integrity) but I would find it difficult to vote for him.

      I know of another book which is at the publishers which has done considerably more research on James II & VII on the same vein. I know the author so will contact him for a price and publishing date, it might well be cheaper. I think demonising James was done deliberately by the winning side as the legitimacy of William of Orange was questionable. It did however establish an important principle unquestioned for over 300 years, until after the Referendum, of the sovereignty of parliament over the monarch then, but over a tight government executive now. It was rather ironic that the DUP, with close ties with the Orange order are the ones who have colluded in usurping the sovereignty of parliament.

      Another interesting fact is that Diana apparently had a lot of Stewart blood (illegitimate apparently) and there are rumors that there was a deliberate push behind the scenes to get some Stuart blood back in the monarchy.

      What is possibly even stranger is that whereas I have many dear Scots friends, very progressive, tolerant and largely pro independence, the NI protestants of Scottish decent are the backbone of the DUP and rabidly Unionist. They claim to be British, but it seems the Britain they belong to disappeared 300 years ago. Should there be a United Ireland they would be happiest in the parts of the bible-belt southern United Stares which voted most heavily for Trump.

      I do hope that the Brexit disaster will bring Ireland and Scotland closer together. They are similar in terms of area, population, economy and seem to be converging in terms of pluralistic, tolerant and progressive social attitudes.

  2. Charles Adams -

    Excellent post Sean.

    1. Graham -

      Seconded. I downloaded a (free) sample of Toleration to my Kobo desktop – 120 pages(!!), so that’ll keep me going for a while. Look forward to any update on the other book. Thanks.

      1. Sean Danaher -

        Graham thanks. Let me know what you make of Sowerby’s book. I’ll look around for a 2nd hand one if you give it the thumbs up. The victors tend to get to write history. I’ve emailed Roland (the historian I mentioned earlier) and hope he gets back to me. He may even post here but seems uncharacteristically shy!

        Of course Prof Richard Murphy, one of the founding members of PP is a Quaker and religious tolerance is part of the DNA of Progressive Pulse. Maybe being a Jacobite will become fashionable again!

  3. Steve J -

    The EU embodies a notion that capital has rights greater than the individual and state enjoys and that it is free despite its amorphous nature to enjoy those rights in any way it pleases. That is a corrupt philosophy and one that has to be reformed.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Indeed its a very important issue. When the four freedoms (The free movement of goods, services, capital and persons) were first thought up at the Treaty of Rome in 1957 the world was a very different place. The liquidity at speed at which capital can move means the timescales are much shorter, quite literally milliseconds these days. This can lead to very large instabilities and abuses. I discussed this very briefly with Charles Adams some months ago and he agreed to give it some thought. I think Richard Murphy is also looking this issue. Definitely worth some substantive posts

    2. Graham -

      “a notion that capital has rights greater than the individual” I think someone wrote a book about that.

      Another issue is the way money makes money out of betting – currency movements, commodity prices, packaged “securities” designed to fail. To paraphrase Adair Turner: most of this activity is socially useless – in fact, I would say, anti-social.

  4. Steve J -

    One of the reasons I voted to Leave is that there is some possibility for changing things internally. Change does come from the people, however slowly.

    The EU is impervious to change (other than changes it desires). It is a closed shop. You and Charles and Richard can dream up whatever solutions you like. Unless it suits those in charge, they’re not interested. Forget it.

    1. Peter May -

      The only possible advantage of leaving would be to control capital but I cannot see the current government ever doing that – can you? Whereas the EU, unlike HMRC, has been rather resolute on gettting corporations to pay proper tax. The EU is not impervious to change – as Mrs Thatcher proved! I’m more worried that the current British establishment is pumped up with its own importance and therefore more impervious to change.

      1. Steve J -

        Blimey, you have to go back to someone who has been out of office for more than 25 years to argue the EU is not impervious to change.

        At least if we leave there is a chance of turning things around. Popular movements do affect things domestically. The EU meanwhile operates with 2 fingers in its ears. By advocating ‘remain’, you are accepting zero chance of change, and the inherent corruption that entails.

      2. Sean Danaher -

        I’ll let this stand for now but please read our comments policy. Your comments are very peripheral to the specifics of the Irish issue under question. I would particularly emphasise points 2 and 5 of the comments policy:

        Secondly, the comment offered must be intended to develop the themes under discussion. There are ample opportunities in a wide range of media for opposing the opinion offered and you are welcome to use them. This blog is not one of those places. This blog is focussed on providing creative solutions to the political economic and environmental issues we face in the interests of all rather than a few. If your comment is not a constructive contribution to that process it may well be deleted.

        Fifthly, all the above being said, we will usually post comments that we do not agree with even when we believe it the intention of the commentator to provoke a response. However, when doing so we will usually indicate that we are choosing not to respond as our points of disagreement should already be obvious to the commentator. We will permit such comments only because others may wish to offer constructive response. If, however, the original commentator does then continue to comment in broadly similar vein on the same or other posts it is likely that those further comments will be deemed disagreeable or disruptive and the further comments will then be deleted for that reason.

      3. Peter May -

        So when exactly did the EU become impervious to change? A week last Wednesday? Like all large organisations, it is slow moving. I don’t think that remaining means things cannot be changed and I don’t see evidence that EU systems are substantially more corrupt than UK ones.
        If leaving means ‘turning things around’ there will be a period of substantial impoverishment that precedes it.

  5. Steve J -

    Thanks, noted.

    I was responding to further points raised by you and Peter in your responses which had also moved on from the Irish issue. Am I to assume this doesn’t count as ‘topic under discussion’?

Comments are closed.