At the risk of getting a pasting, here goes: I fully welcome the Queen’s visit to Ireland in May, or whenever it is she’s coming.
You’d think in an Ireland that has done a lot of growing up in years passed this would go without saying, and for the vast majority of people it probably won’t be an issue, but already I can hear the hysterical cavalry saddling up. Within days of the announcement, I began hearing all sorts of reasons why she shouldn’t come: the expense, the worry that her coming will cause trouble, or simply because she’s the Queen. None of these pass muster.
First of all, why so hostile? When it boils down to it, the Queen is just another head of state, like Mary McAleese with a room full of jewels, visiting a neighbouring country, as heads of state are wont to do. And if the notion that the Queen is “just another head of state” horrifies you, why on earth would it? Even when the Anglo-Irish relationship was at its most fractious, the Queen’s role in the defining moments of The Troubles was negligible. It’s not as if she ordered the introduction of internment without trial, ordered people shot on Bloody Sunday or took a horrifyingly obstinate line against the hunger strikers personally. In that respect the Queen is a victim of her position: she can’t speak out against government policy no matter how much she might abhor it, as all hell would break loose otherwise. If you have a gripe with, as Gerry Adams referred to them as, “legacy issues”, then blame Margaret Thatcher, or Jim Callaghan, or Harold Wilson, or Ted Heath. Not the woman who spends her days visiting factories and youth centres and Commonwealth countries.
Let’s consider that phrase Gerry Adams used in reference to the visit, actually. “Legacy issues”. I mean, where do you start with that one? Throughout the general election campaign I was critical of the way Micheal Martin insinuated Sinn Féin still had a whiff of dodginess about them, and how it was wholly disingenuous of him to encourage Sinn Féin into power-sharing and talking about a new future in the North while simultaneously intimating they weren’t fit for office and their old past in the South. Now sadly it seems Gerry has used that same act on the Queen. Given the fact power-sharing was delayed in the North for so long by the likes of the Democratic Unionist Party because of the legacy issues they had with Sinn Féin, it was a bizarre choice of words. Nearly two years ago to the day Martin McGuinness called the dissidents who killed the soldiers at Massarene Barracks “traitors”. That was a huge leap from the dark days of “These shootings are inevitable given the actions of the British Government”, or words to that effect. Why a woman in her eighties still bothers them so much is beyond me.
And then there’s the money issue. We can’t afford visits like this, apparently. An economic situation like ours will inevitably account for an increase in utilitarian deficit hawks, but the cost of such a trip would be miniscule compared to, say, the cost of buying and then storing voting machines. Then of course, the old Wilde maxim about the difference between price and value comes into play. Within the space of twelve months, we’ll have had the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland, and an unvarnished mea culpa from the British Government on Bloody Sunday. The Saville Report, incidentally, cost £200 million, a figure scorned by those on the troglodyte wing of the DUP. You can’t put a price on banishing old ghosts.
That the Queen coming would stir emotions is unsurprising, but it certainly isn’t logical. It is however a chance to show that Ireland doesn’t have to feel like a victim for the whole of its existence, that it can look at its past with acceptance and its future with hope, and that it can look its neighbour and former foe in the eye as equals. And even if the silent majority of Irish people don’t, as Ward Bond put it in The Quiet Man, “cheer like Protestants” during her visit, polite indifference would do much the same job. And if the loud minority could keep it down, the kind of people who shout “800 years ya c**t!” at an (Irish) DJ friend of mine with an English accent while he’s working, or who talk about the occupied six counties despite having never been further north than Athlone, that would be even better.