Irish writer Edna O’Brien has been criticized for accepting a British royal title.
Edna O’Brien, from Co Clare, made her name with her first novel The Country Girls in 1962 and has since had a long and distinguished career. The award-winning author, a resident of London since the 1950s, has now been given the title of Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which is the second-highest rank in the British honours system.
The author and playwright described the honor as “very gratifying,” saying: “It unites me in some etheric way to readers I don’t know and is an incentive, at 88, to keep going.”
In response to the question about the politics of an Irish author known for her republican sympathies accepting a British royal title, O’Brien’s literary agent said:“The honour is for her services to literature and her belief is that literature transcends politics and borders.”
However, in an opinion piece written for The Irish Times, O’Brien has been slammed for accepting the title.
“Has she forgotten what the British Empire has always been and continues to be? Are all those lives so wilfully destroyed meaningless to her in the face of this vapid honour?” asks Irish writer Emer Martin.
Martin goes on to say: “However, we, the Irish, should know the truth about the British Empire. We are in a unique position of being a former colony in western Europe and have the luxury of being white, thus being accepted and absorbed by the dominant culture in the US, Britain or Australia within one generation. Many others cannot do this and are forever seen as outsiders. This should make us all the more aware of our obligation to use this privilege to speak out on behalf of those whose voices are routinely dismissed.”
Martin writes that while some may argue Britain’s wrongs are all in the past, “the empire is still going strong; it merely morphed into neocolonialism.”
“…Neocolonialism has morphed into global capitalism and war profiteering, whose wars and environmental destruction have created 65 million refugees. These people, stateless and impoverished, are now unwelcome in the wealthy industrialised countries that caused this massive displacement. Brexit was devised by the British to avoid responsibility and cost for the machinations of their own empire.
“This is not history. The largest displacement of people since the second World War is happening as I write, though it might be hard to sense it in the polite society of Islington and Chelsea. Edna O’Brien is a brilliant writer and a great mind, so why is she seduced by this empty honour? Couldn’t she make a stand for the dispossessed, both then and now?”
She concludes, "We Irish can show our solidarity with our fellow imperialised and work to bring about the destruction of this racist, capitalist system that is funnelling wealth into so few hands and creating huge disparities, while destroying our planet. Accepting this title means Edna O’Brien is acquiescing to the powerful forces of an empire that still rages under a different guise, and a title of Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire means that she is prepared to overlook all that the empire embodies.”