A century on, have things really changed much?

If certain heartbreaking developments hadn’t happened during the summer, I can only imagine the debate myself and Myles Fahey would have had on Monday night. It would surely have got feisty but would just as certainly have wound up being adjourned over a pint or three. Now read on…

Monday night pints were always my favourite. Invariably the pub would be quiet, and our usual gang would assemble in the usual corner. Now this writer is the only one of the five left. Long ago, it was imparted that politics and religion were two no-go areas when it came to public house discussion. Only once did I hear the latter be a contentious topic in a hostelry. Even at that, it was a case of a debate over some of the more nefarious goings on connected to said institution.

On the other hand, asking or expecting people to refrain from political discourse would be akin to requesting a feline to desist ingesting a certain dairy product. For me, political leanings come down to two basic factors – identity and differing opinions on how to do the same thing.

Nowhere were the pair of factors above more prominent than on the island of Ireland. December 6th marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The document which enshrined six of the Ulster counties as part of the United Kingdom. Thus shaping the geography and political landscape as we know it today.

The Big Fella

Michael Collins signed the Treaty on behalf of the Irish Government. Eamon De Valera deployed Collins to do the needful but then tore the manusscript up. Thus were the beginnings of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael as we know them today. You were either pro or anti Treaty depending on where your political leanings were.

Collins was quoted as saying he had “Just signed my own death warrant” upon completion of the deal. Which would explain the haunting lyrics from Johnny McEvoy’s beautiful ballad Michael – “As we hung our heads in prayer, in our sorrow and despair, we wondered was it friend or foe who shot you down”

Depending on your political leanings, ‘The Big Fella’ could be seen as either hero or villain. Personally, my view is somewhere in the middle. By all known accounts he was carrying out De Valera’s orders, even though Dev didn’t agree with it at all. A bit like Margaret Thatcher and the Anglo Irish Agreement decades later. The thing is though, if Collins didn’t sign the Treaty what would the situation have been then or be to this day? Not good for Ireland either way.

Essentially, I have always felt that party politics amounts to differing opinions on how to do the same thing. Nobody knowingly goes into politics to make any situation worse. Even leopards that would like to convince the masses their spots have changed. Thankfully so far dealing with such eventualities being acceptable has been avoided.

The seminal point here being that only a parking of what has dubbed Civil War politics has made avoiding the undesirable outcome possible. A bit like 1921 all over again. It hardly sits well with people of certain ilk that a portion of what in an ideal world would be a 32 county Republic had to be left as part of the United Kingdom but leaving six behind was better than what had gone before and the alternative.

That was the case then, but it is a question which must be revisited sooner rather than later. There is surely the basis for a 32 county Republic now, in which each denomination should be able to co-exist peacefully while still staying through to their own beliefs and being respectfully afforded the right to do so.

The political divide crossed

In it’s own way, the formation of a coalition Government between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael represented a similar shifting of the political sands. Is it ideal? Far from it, it’s not something which resides comfortably with this corner, never mind what older generation must think, but sometimes a little discomfort for the greater good is the safest and best option from what’s on the menu. Now if only the ‘leaders’ of today could espouse similar courage to Collins and his comrades. We live in hope.

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