Opinion: Why you should care that a UK journalist thinks Ireland isn't real

Melanie Phillips of The Times refers to Ireland's claim to be a republic as 'tenuous'

Irish women and Irish men, we are gathered here today to mourn the death of a nation... Today, Tuesday 7th March 2017, our little country was put to rights by a UK commentator. Melanie Phillips of The Times of London showed she has Ireland sussed when she asserted that our Republic has but “a tenuous claim to nationhood, having seceded from Britain as the Irish Free State only in 1922”.

Well knock me down and take my passport. Lower your tricolours and don’t even think about humming Amhrán na bhFiann. I didn’t realise our legitimacy as a State was measured purely by something so arbitrary as the flipping of calendar pages.

By the way, we might want to mention our illegitimacy to our friends in India, Pakistan and dozens of other parts of the world on our way back into Britain’s warm embrace. They, like us, probably foolishly believed themselves to have gained independence over the past 95 years. Boy, will they be surprised?

Phillips’ point, as poor as it was, is that the United Kingdom faces a massive political challenge in battling back rising political nationalism both in Northern Ireland and Scotland. In that, she’s right.

A fake nation

The problem for Phillips, and the swathes of paid commentators who have voiced similar opinions in recent times, is that she has, not for the first time, revealed herself to be dangerously historically and culturally illiterate. She has previously railed against diversity, her book tells us that climate change isn’t real and is a perversion of science and is a staunch advocate for the nation of Israel (as is her right) despite the fact it was founded in 1948 - some 26 years after the foundation of the ‘tenuous’ Irish Free State.

In a time where “fake news” has rapidly become one of the most overused phrases in the world, Phillips goes on to suggest that we have a fake nation, “in contrast” to the “authentic unitary nation” of the United Kingdom, as she put it. Her reasoning for our falseness when compared with Britain, is that “Britain” is “an island nation defending itself (or not) against invaders across the seas.”

That is a statement of such breathtaking ignorance that it manages in one rhetorical wheeze to insult Ireland, Northern nationalists and Northern unionists who feel attached to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - and are left out of the geographic term “Britain”. 

Motivated by hate

The article continues to claim that Scottish nationalists and Irish republicans are motivated by “hatred” of the English or Protestants, which is just pure vitriol. 

From my experience of reporting on Scottish politics and the 2014 Referendum, the suggestion that pro-independence Scots just ‘hate’ the English couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, the vast majority of those I know who support Scottish independence do so not out of any small-minded xenophobia or bitterness at the ‘auld enemy’, but a genuine belief, right or wrong, that they can stand as equal among the nations and economies of the world.

I’m not sure if Phillips has ever heard of Wolfe Tone, Sam Maguire or Roger Casement but she might do well to pick up a Junior Cert textbook or even flick on Wikipedia before she offers lies of that magnitude to her readers in the future.

Distorted history

The sad fact uncovered by Melanie Phillips’ column is that, to many British commentators, Irish independence is a myth. It’s a historical wrinkle that means little in their worldview. People with these views look at us as being in a similar position to the North and to a lesser extent Scotland and Wales - “We’re all the same really”.

You hear it regularly enough when you talk to English people in pubs here or abroad. There’s no malice intended and it’s forgivable given its prominence in writings like Phillips’. In fact, I actually find the constant sense of outrage and the wave of clickbait articles whenever a British broadcaster mistakenly claims an Irish athlete as British really tiresome.

By the same measure, I wouldn’t consider myself a republican by any stretch of the imagination but this nonsense is maddening on a good day. And however funny or bemusing as we might find this kind of talk by writers who should know better, these views undermine hundreds of years of cultural identity and a defined heritage.

But listen, I digress. I’m off to listen to 'Fake Nation Once Again' and I’ll catch you at the next 'Last Night of Proms' street party!