Thursday, March 30, 2006

Misplaced outrage of the British colonists

Irish Echo:

Irish unionists expressed their outrage this week when British prime minister Tony Blair referred in a speech to "Protestant bigots." Politicians complained and unionist newspapers railed against Blair for not condemning the Catholic community while he was at it.

It would be easy to dismiss this reaction as the usual whining. In fact, it is more dangerous. It represents another indication that the unionist community is still not ready to embrace the future.

At the root of the "outrage" is a desperate need to keep alive the unionist community narrative. In the minds of most Protestants, their community is made up mainly of God-fearing Christians, earned its collective wealth and position in Ireland, proved loyal to Britain through centuries, and suffered terribly and unjustly at the hands of IRA bigots.

Alas, this myth is as false as it is self-serving.

In reality, Irish unionists today suffer a sense of guilt and paranoia because of the "original sin" of their forbearers, who stole vast tracts of land and wealth from Irish Catholics in the 17th century plantations. Generations of Protestants down the years have maintained this wealth by force, or the threat of it. Most Irish Protestants were indeed loyal to the British, who supported their complete domination of the country, by force when necessary.

When in the early part of the 20th century it finally became impossible to maintain control, Protestants armed themselves -- in many cases illegally -- and clamored for their wealth and privileges to be protected. The British duly invented the state of Northern Ireland, with the border being determined purely by a sectarian headcount.

Protestants ruling the North systematically discriminated against Catholics, refusing them even the right to vote.

Unlike loyalist paramilitary organizations for whom "any Catholic will do," the IRA had some Protestant members, and targeted all members of the British forces, regardless of their religion.

It is time for Irish unionists to admit their distasteful past, root out remaining bigotry from their midst, and move forward finally to share power with their Catholic neighbors.

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