A Letter from Ireland -Putting a Name to a Place.
a Chairde, This week marked the 100th Anniversary of the opening of a Parliament in Belfast to govern the 6 northeast counties. It was the imposition of partition on Ireland by the British Government.
The event was marked by reflective contributions. There was no sense of celebration. Strikingly no commentator described partition as a good initiative. It was explained as political expediency in the face of Unionist threats and violence. A short-sighted and undemocratic policy that led to decades of conflict. As part of the coverage, former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was asked why didn’t he call the state by its legal title of “Northern Ireland”. He said he preferred other terms and explained that he was born into a state that had no place for him which excluded, imprisoned, and persecuted him. He then laughed saying “Northern Ireland” would make no difference to unionist opinion or his relationship with the state.
It was a simple question that betrayed complex assumptions and subtle allegations. Most Irish Republicans call the state, “the Six Counties”, “North of Ireland” or simply the “North”. (Meanwhile the most northerly county, Donegal is actually in “the South”) Most Unionists and broadcasters prefer, “Northern Ireland” or “Province/ Ulster” ( which is not geographically correct either). I am relaxed about whatever terminology is used. Each to their own. What wrangles is the demand to conform and self-censor. The issue is not a disagreement about what we call the place. The issue is that a section of Unionism refuses to acknowledge that others have a different, valid, and equal set of experiences and aspirations. One hundred years on from partition and the failings of the Northern state is laid bare by a question with the implicit demand for nationalists and republicans to conform. Our society is enriched when we respect the diversity of experience. There is no paradox in living in a state and wanting to change it. As Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said this week, “there is no contradiction in working within a functioning power-sharing government while building for a new united shared Ireland.” A new and united Ireland must be a home for all the diversity of experience and identity that share the island. Meanwhile, my American friends you say potato, I say spud. You say fries and I say chips…. and don’t even get me started on craic. Is mise Ciarán
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Fein Representative to North America
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