Baha'i News -- The beam that blinds tribal eyes
The beam that blinds tribal eyes
I am a friend of David Trimble's. Those who find it bewildering
that he should get on well with a Dubliner from a Catholic, nationalist
background do not appreciate that his tastes are eclectic, writes
Ruth Dudley Edwards.
He likes intellectual challenge, which is why he chose as
his biographer a Jewish, half-American, anti-Belfast Agreement
journalist who makes him think and makes him laugh, and why he has
applied for a House of Commons researcher's pass for a convicted IRA
murderer, Seán Ó Callaghan. One of his advisers is openly gay
and his favourite foreign statesman is Cyril Ramaphosa of the ANC.
Though Trimble is very much of his Ulster Protestant tribe,
intellectually and emotionally he is far less constrained by tribal
beliefs and prejudices than most politicians North and South. However,
in his loathing of dissimulation and meaningless rhetoric, and his
penchant for telling it like it is, he is a true Ulster Prod and
therefore bound frequently to offend a tribe like ours that loves the
soft word and resents criticism.
Such was the carry-on about his recent speech that I requested
clarification. We met in London on Monday afternoon; he and his wife
Daphne had just come from a service at Westminster Abbey honouring
Commonwealth Day and Queen Elizabeth's golden jubilee. Representatives
of 54 countries processed with their flags, speakers came from
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i and Sikh communities, and there was
Indian dancing, African singing, a few rousing hymns and, of course, God
Save the Queen. Being patriotic, lovers of pageantry and mad about
music, both Trimbles had hugely enjoyed themselves.
We addressed ourselves to his description of the Republic as a
"pathetic, sectarian, mono-ethnic, monocultural state", which, to
Trimble's irritation, had distracted attention from his proposal that a
Border poll be held next year to help stabilise Northern Irish politics.
What with commentators doing sectarian head-counts in advance of the
census results, Gerry Adams contravening the agreement by referring to
the illegal status of Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin pushing the
united-Ireland agenda, the only way to stop the triumph of
anti-agreement unionism at the next Assembly election is to put the
issue of constitutional change to bed for at least seven years. Sinn
Féin and the SDLP do not oppose a poll; Dublin does.
TRIMBLE makes no apology for the thrust of what he said, but he does
regret that the word pathetic - which he did not use in his speech -
appeared in the printed version. He pointed out, however, that it is
usually impossible to get the Republic to listen to any explanations as
to why unionists value being part of the United Kingdom. "If I go down
to Dublin on my best behaviour and talk to everyone politely," he said,
"they think I'm coming round to the idea of a united Ireland. Sometimes,
to make your point, you have to kick over a chair."
Hard to argue with that. His language has certainly set off an
overdue debate. Trimble is the first to admit the sectarianism of
Northern Ireland, but like many unionists he is frustrated that
nationalists ceaselessly insult Ulster Protestant culture, while
becoming deeply wounded the moment any unionist criticises them. That,
of course, is part of what we are. In my youth, we knew unionists were
bigots because they talked about Rome Rule and the Banana Republic.
Decades on and many scandals and tribunals later, we say things like
that ourselves about our past, but think all has changed utterly so
there is nothing to criticise. Tame clerics are on hand to say
Protestants are happy; Samantha Mumba proves we are diverse; and we laud
other cultures - except, of course, the culture of our unionist
neighbours or of those we call West Brits.
Well, sorry, but to Mr and Mrs Ulster Prod and to dissident southern
Protestants the situation in the Republic looks very different. "It is,"
said Trimble, presaging what Wesley Boyd said yesterday about the
Angelus, "the only country in Europe where the six o'clock news starts
at one minute past."
MUCH is being made of the No vote last week, but the truth is that
the Government did a deal with the Catholic Church and ignored any other
religious group. In the very recent past John Bruton was punished for
taking the pluralist view that the Irish Government should be concerned
with the well-being of all the people of Northern Ireland, not just
nationalists, and the Orange Order was prevented from parading in Dawson
Street. The Constitution still has sectarian elements, and, despite
agreement obligations, the Government ignores such minorities as the
Donegal Protestant community and has done almost nothing to encourage
reconciliation with unionists at grass-roots level.
Above all, what really makes Mr and Mrs Prod fed up is that the
Republic is so transfixed by "Aren't-we-great? ism" that it thinks
itself irresistible. Most unionists see the Republic as a predator and
want nothing to do with a culture which they see as distinguished by
Anglophobia, hypocrisy, sneaking regardism and pubs offering craic agus
ceol. They visit their cousins in Scotland, Canada, Australia and the
US, or, if they are David and Daphne Trimble, spend their holidays
immersed in the culture of England, Italy, France or Germany. And they
doubt if the Republic will ever, ever, look at the beam in its own eye.
Ruth Dudley Edwards is a historian and journalist. Mary Holland is on
©Copyright 2002, Irish Times
Page last updated/revised 031502
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