by Finn McRedmond
Saturday, 10
September 2022
Explainer
08:00

What explains Sinn Féin’s warm tribute to the Queen?

Contrary to popular perception, most Irish people are not hardline republicans
by Finn McRedmond
Queen Elizabeth II arriving in Ireland in 2011. Credit: Getty

The Irish flag is hanging at half-mast over the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, Dublin. The most hardened republicans may cringe at such a tribute: the GPO was the headquarters of Ireland’s failed insurrection against British rule, the 1916 Easter Rising. It is still riddled with bullet holes from the six days of fighting between the small cohort of Irish rebels and the British Army. It is in many ways the symbolic home of Irish independence.

But most Irish people are not hardened republicans. And this gesture is not out of step with the character of the nation or the will of its people. In fact, lowering the flag to half-mast is a rather unremarkable act.

Britain’s frequent misread of Ireland is that it is a robustly nationalist country, and vehemently anti-monarchy. The recent electoral success of Sinn Féin — the face of Irish nationalism — is taken as evidence of this assumption. But Sinn Féin’s booming popularity is not because of its republican credentials but instead thanks to its social policy. Most people in the republic are ambivalent on the question of reunification. And the IRA never came close to having anything resembling popular support.

Instead, Ireland’s mainstream nationalism is moderate, and in possession of a quiet respect for the crown it once fought to remove.

Despite the crown’s fractious relationship with Ireland, the Queen played an active and central role in bringing an island – only recently at peace – closer to true reconciliation. Her understanding of Ireland’s fragile peace seemed instinctive, and the steps she took to heal the wounds inflicted by her ancestors were not costless. The IRA killed her husband’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, along with two children in 1979. In 2012 she shook the hand of the IRA’s former leader, Martin McGuinness. And in 2011 she visited Dublin and laid a wreath at a monument to those who fought to dispose British rule in Ireland.

This forgiveness went both ways. In 2014 McGuinness toasted the Queen at a banquet in Windsor. In Dublin she was warmly received by Irish crowds and the president of an Irish republic. In 2007 in Croke Park — the sight of a 1920 massacre of Irish civilians at the hands of British forces — the English rugby team was welcomed and God Save the Queen was cheered.

Brexit has threatened to reopen old wounds both sides spent decades trying to heal, bringing the Anglo-Irish relationship to its lowest point since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. But the link has not been broken, and had it been the Crown could hardly be blamed anyway.

The extent of this progress cannot be better summarised than by the conciliatory tributes from even Sinn Féin’s leaders – the most straightforwardly nationalist, and anti-monarchist politicians in Ireland. “The British people will miss the leadership she gave as a monarch” said Michelle O’Neill, the party’s Northern Irish leader.

“Personally I am grateful for Queen Elizabeth’s significant contribution and determined efforts to advancing peace and reconciliation,” she added. The suggestion that a Sinn Féin politician could ever make such a statement even 20 years ago would have been incredible.

But now the Irish tricolour hangs at half-mast over the symbolic stronghold of the Irish republic, without so much of a flicker of discontent — proof of a world changed utterly by Britain’s longest reigning monarch.

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Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
22 days ago

Like most people, I just think we appreciate a class act. May she rest in peace.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
20 days ago

Amen to that: she was indeed a class act in Cork, enthusiastically cheered by tens of thousands there. I believe Her Majesty enjoyed the visit especially as she was treated as a very special lady without the usual obsequiousness reserved for her as queen (she was not our queen).
A gracious and wise lady worthy of much respect. The other side of the issue can wait for another day. Today we salute one of UK’s finest.
And btw as a fan (since his taking on modern architecture in the RAH all those years ago) I wish KC3 nothing but the very best in his unenviable gig: not just a very hard act to follow but he has to do so at a very difficult time to say the least! Good luck to him.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
22 days ago

Naive at best. In reality chauvinistic nationalism and anti-British and anti-Unionist prejudice has grown in recent decades, and is now far stronger amongst the young than amongst older generations. Most Irish people used to follow royal events avidly and the Queen was always personally popular. “True reconciliation” has gone backwards with the rise of Sinn Fein, and with the playing of the green card over Brexit by Varadkar and Coveney, even if it has backfired on them politically.

Last edited 22 days ago by Stephen Walshe
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
20 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

It was a tango of two dancers and Lord Frost was as good at stepping on toes as was Davos man: Simon Coveney.. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and maybe even KC3 will help to pour oil on the troubled waters of the overegged Irish Sea ‘border’.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
22 days ago

My recent experience of the Anglo-Irish relationship is that it is regressing. Critical Theory is starting to seep into Irish academia and historical grievances are starting to rear their ugly heads. My own take on this is that in the current milieu if you’re not a victim (the good guy) then you must be an oppressor (one of the bad guys). Increasingly it is the rich and powerful who cast themselves as victims while denouncing the working classes as plebeian f*scists:
https://www.spiked-online.com/2021/08/27/if-this-is-anti-fascism-count-me-out/

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
21 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Ireland has essentially positioned itself as Silicone Valleys EU tax haven, it’s only a matter of time before the attitudes of those employers started seeping down into society

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
20 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The ol’ tax haven argument is a bit 2010’s. The day when any Yank attitude seeps down into the Irish psyche check for two moons in the sky and the odd flying pig up there as well!

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
21 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

This is correct.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
20 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

My hope is Charles will mend a few fences and give Liz Truss the dressing down she deserves on NI. The NI Protocol is working fine: indeed it’s a bonanza for NI business and only dyed in the wool DUP dodos think differently. BJ saw them for what they are (he had the distinct advantage of being a bit of a dodo himself but too clever to get suckered in). We must hope his protégé Liz is equally pragmatic.

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
21 days ago

There has been a merging of traditional nationalism and identity politics which has rejuvenated nationalism in the young.

Younger people support sinn Fein the way students supported Corbyn in Britain. The author is right about that.

The independence of the Free State was achieved through violence. There was never a referendum on Ireland leaving the UK. Anyone who thinks that 1918 general election was such a referendum must also conclude that, solely by virtue of being in power, Sturgeon has the right to take Scotland out of the UK.

Sinn Fein are a long-lasting example of a phenomenon from the late 19th and early 20th century whereby groups in Europe resorted to violence against supranational structures (Ireland was never in the British empire – it was in the UK) on behalf of ethno-nationalist causes. These included Serbian nationalists, the German National Socialists, and the Bolsheviks.

All states that came out this way have a bad karma hanging over them.

If Sinn Fein succeeds in the way that identity politics and critical Theory inspired beliefs have succeeded in America and the UK then a generation of Irish people will be educated to believe that the British in Ireland were like the SS in Poland – which will make them very stupid indeed. Sinn Fein and the SS have much closer common ancestors than the British had with any identitarian nationalist or racial thinking.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
20 days ago

Spot on, seeing the parallel between the fascistic Sinn Fein and the SS.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
19 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Personally I didn’t and don’t see it myself.. maybe you will explain the linkage in fascistic terms. To liken any group to the Nazi SS is a gross insult and has to be justified. No group on Earth matches the SS except perhaps the ĪDF?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
19 days ago

Grossly overstated. And the notion of common ancestors between the SS and SF is an odd statement. Surely the words Angle and Saxon suggest otherwise?
England was lucky (or ruthless) enough not to have been occupied by a foreign state in recent centuries. It might be instructive to imagine a successful Nazi invasion of England in 1941 (the US staying out of the war). It was close after all. How would you expect the average redblooded Englishman to have responded? To become a freedom fighter (aka terrorist) or just accept the Nazis as did Austria perhaps? Why not? Very closely related not least via your royal family surely?
It wasn’t so much any racial difference as the fact that huge quantities of Irish food was exported to England at gunpoint while a million Irish people starved to death! That was only 60 years before.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
20 days ago

Many years ago, we used to live in the republic, and continued to visit after we moved to England. My father was a serving British army officer, and we never felt the slightest reproach, and indeed, the locals clearly respected his status, and tended to call him ‘the colonel’, even though he never used the title.
I’ve no doubt that they were loyal republican Irish people, but they were a warm and friendly people and past differences never intruded. An additional factor may have been that many had worked in the United Kingdom, or had friends or relatives who had, or had relations still living there.
It may be different, now, as a result of the vastly increased flow of news and comment, and as new myths replace the memories of people who were actually there, in common with many parts of the free world.

Last edited 20 days ago by Colin Elliott
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
19 days ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

You’ll be pleased to know it is no diffent! If anything it us better, especially since the Queen’s visit.
We are a modern, forward looking people with little interest in the past and even less in any silly bigotry or animosity on either side.

Alphonse Reinhardt
Alphonse Reinhardt
22 days ago

Is the warming of relations between Ireland and Britain a result of the world-historically unprecedented dominance of an English language cultural hegemony, with a distinct pluralism regarding both religion and political opinion, in the wake of the internet? Or, with the end of the Cold War abrogating the appeal of political violence draped in the banner of “national liberation”, have the tactics, methods, and ideologies of traditional anti-colonial struggle become increasingly less relevant to modern politics? Perhaps. I think that the Queen of England is simply a remarkable embodiment of political genius who managed to reconcile the conflict with her indomitable will and supernatural charm.

Harry Child
Harry Child
21 days ago

She was the Queen of the whole of the UK not just England

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
19 days ago

I think you hit both nails on the head there! If you approach the question from a modernistc viewpoint it is fairly obvious: but if you’re a dyed in the wool bigot it’s much harder to see as several contributions here attest.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
19 days ago

Mind if I submit this to Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner?

Kate Heusser
Kate Heusser
13 days ago

An intriguing angle but, I think, misled and misleading. The universality of the English language is not something that would endear Britain to a country in which its own language had been systematically suppressed – by the English – in the mistaken belief that a common language would foster a common identity (and stop the locals from saying rude things in front of their rulers in their own language!) Equally, isn’t it the end of the Cold War that has, in other areas of the world, emboldened those with historic grudges to take chunks out of each others’ countries?
One aspect that I think has been under-examined is the reduction in the importance and influence of religion throughout the British isles. Protestants could no more easily live comfortably under a regime in which the Catholic Church dictated many areas of public policy and even criminal law than could Catholics stomach the second-class status and prejudice of the British-ruled area north of ‘the Border’. Both churches have had their prestige and influence hugely diminished – as much by the revelations of sexually predatory behaviour on the part of clergy and the appalling abuse of ‘fallen’ women as by the growing secularisation of all inhabitants. Ireland – Northern Ireland – even the UK – none is anything like the place it was when I was a child, let alone when the late Queen and Duke of Edinburgh spent their formative years.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
20 days ago

Brexit has threatened to reopen old wounds both sides spent decades trying to heal, bringing the Anglo-Irish relationship to its lowest point since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. “

You peddle more Remainer propaganda. It’s the EU that has threatened to reopen old wounds by seeking revenge for the cessation of a mere trade agreement.
Its the EU that wants to have border controls whilst the U.K. doesn’t, thus undermining the GFA.

And its the EU that is choosing to ignore the views of the Protestant community, when heeding the views of all the communities is the central plank of the GFA.

Really poor and inaccurate piece.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
19 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

You may be confusing the Protestant view with the DUP view.. there is a significant overlap of course but a large chunk of Protestants are quite happy with (A) the GFA and (B) the NI Protoocol: not least Protestant businessmen who have a huge advantage in the leg-in-both-camps status they now enjoy. Hence NI has gone from lowest GDP growth to highest GDP growth since Brexit.

Kate Heusser
Kate Heusser
13 days ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

To what extent is the NI Protocol consistent with the Good Friday Agreement? Because, at first sight, it seems to contradict and undermine it.

polidori redux
polidori redux
21 days ago

What explains Sinn Féin’s warm tribute to the Queen?
The obvious explanation is that they are being two-faced so as not to frighten the horses.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
19 days ago
Reply to  polidori redux

There is another, even more obvious explanation: but you would have to lose your extreme prejudice to see it so ‘not much point in suggesting it to you.

Joseph Holland
Joseph Holland
20 days ago

There are a lot of Irish people living in the UK and a lot of descendants of immigrants.

And are the young Irish really anti -British. If they are it certainly reduces their employment opportunities.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
19 days ago
Reply to  Joseph Holland

I don’t know for sure if there is an increase in anti-British sentiment in young people in NI, but I doubt it very much. There is no such resentment in the ROI apart from a tiny group of BNP like dodos..

John Lee
John Lee
20 days ago

This is a very nice article which disguises the facts the the Irish government did, for 40 years, protect and aided the activities of a murderous IRA.

Ivanna Zelda
Ivanna Zelda
20 days ago
Reply to  John Lee

yes it is

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
19 days ago
Reply to  John Lee

That is entirely untrue. The Irish government expended vast sums on policing and (army) patrolling the NI border and we imprisoned many IRA activists. You forget the Irish govt was as much the enemy of the IRA as was the NI govt.