Despite tensions over Drumcree, Anglo-Irish relations have been transformed over the past 25 years. Inside the EU, Ireland has become a more open, self-confident country, pursuing with Britain the goal of peace in Northern Ireland. But Garret FitzGerald and Paul Gillespie fear that differences over Europe and the rise of English nationalism threaten the ententeby Garret Fitzgerald / October 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in October 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
Pessimism about the condition of Northern Ireland since the end of the IRA ceasefire and July’s Orange march confrontation at Drumcree is widespread, and justifiably so. The retreat of the security forces at Drumcree in the face of a unionist mob infiltrated by paramilitaries was seen in Britain as a sensible move to avoid bloodshed. But it was greeted with dismay, even despair, in the Republic. Irish governments have attempted over several decades to persuade Northern nationalists-especially those in isolated areas and city ghettos-to rely on the security forces for their protection and to abandon a view of the IRA as their ultimate defender. The retreat at Drumcree may have given the IRA its best recruiting argument for a generation. Even more depressing, division between the two communities now seems to come from ordinary people, rather than, as so often in the past, from opportunistic political leaders. There has even been a return to shop boycotts in certain areas.
The ugliness of the present should not, however, obscure the profound, and positive, shifts that have taken place in relations between London and Dublin over the past 25 years-over Northern Ireland and much else. These shifts are a necessary, although clearly insufficient, condition of a settlement in the North, and have gone rather unsung in both countries. Hopefully the new Anglo-Irish relationship can withstand tremors such as Drumcree; but it must now brace itself for the longer and deeper rumbles from Britain’s identity crisis.
it has become a clich?o talk of Ireland’s new political and cultural self-confidence, borne on a tide of rapid economic growth. What is less well appreciated is the contribution of the European Union to this self-confidence and, indeed, to a reassessment of the insular tradition of Irish nationalism. It is no exaggeration to say that-Northern Ireland aside-EU membership has completed the project of Irish independence, which had been hamstrung after 1922 by the extent of the continuing links with Britain.