The occasion of the death of the English Monarch last month raises the full complexity of the relationship between the peoples and governments of the Islands bordering the Irish Sea. Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and the Isle of Mann are nation states who have had various levels of love and loath over the centuries. All or parts of these Islands sharing the Irish Sea have been ’united’ for centuries, largely through the end of the gun.
It is an appropriate time to reflect on the life of the late Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, but equally appropriate to reflect upon the relationship by and between these nations. Perhaps now, with the “fierce urgency of now,” in the words of Dr. Marin Luther King, is the best time to start, as equals, a credible conversation to determine what a shared vision of a chosen and deliberate relationship should or could be, to create a relationship where these nations of the Irish Sea come together as equals, not dragged to the altar by the act of or threat of State sponsored violence.
But let’s first examine the life of Queen Elizabeth II, the conversation of the relationships among nations will take longer. The Queen, a leader blessed with a strong sense of duty, and wisdom developed from a front seat of the post-World War II world made clear her support for the opportunity for peace provided for and by the Good Friday Accord (GFA). I will share the most gracious words of two women who have provided leadership for nationalist Ireland and nationalist Scotland to sum up the English Queen’s over seven decades of being on the front lines of modern history.
Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the First Minister of The Scottish Parliament, lead the motion of condolence to honor the Queen. The First Minister offered her sympathies to King Charles III, who was present at the meeting of the Scottish Parliament, and his family. She was publicly thankful for the Queen’s leading by example, to demonstrate the need for kindness and compassion in society.
The Story of Modern Scotland
Sturgeon further offered that Queen Elizabeth was “intrinsic to the story of modern Scotland.” Sturgeon warmly recalled her personal time with the monarch. And she called upon history when a young Elizabeth declared, on the occasion of her 21st birthday, at a time when India was still a part of the empire: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Perhaps taking this moment to gently remind all that assumed relationships among nations evolve and change over time. Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish independence movement, concluded with her kind focus stating, “we are grateful for her life, may she now rest in peace.”
Across the Irish Sea, Michelle O’Neil, the First Minister designate of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly, echoed the gracious comments, with an eye to communicate that Sinn Fein is respectful of the people who are part of loyalist tradition on the Emerald Isle. O’Neil, the leader of Republican Sinn Fein in the Six Counties shared, “Personally, I am grateful for Queen Elizabeth’s significant contribution and determined efforts to advancing peace and reconciliation between our two islands.”
On a positive note, Nationalists recalled the Queen’s historic visit to Ireland in 2011, the first English Monarch to visit the Irish capital in over 100 years, where she visited the Garden of Remembrance, the Irish monument to those who gave their lives fighting England for Irish Independence and bowed her head. And recalled her handshake with Martin McGuiness, then the leader of Sinn Fein in the Six Counties with an unrepentant history in the Irish Republican Army.
Additionally, her speech at Dublin Castle, where she led off speaking in the Irish Language, acts all that collectively provided leadership and encouragement to her loyalist followers to continue the path of peace and reconciliation provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. O’Neil’s comments were particularly gracious in front of her fellow members of the Northern Ireland Assembly from the Unionist tradition who refuse to fulfill their duties and honor the democratic choice of the voters and formally recognize O’Neill as the First Minister of the Assembly.
Not So Special
Speaking recently during her campaign to succeed BoJo, Great Britain’s new Prime Minister, Elizabeth “Liz” Truss told her fellow Tory’s that England should not compete for the affection of the United States. Britons, she said, should not worry “like some teenage girl at a party if we’re not considered to be good enough.”
Certainly, a peculiar take on the so called ‘special relationship’ that The Brits and American Anglophiles work to foster and perpetuate to describe American/Anglo relations. It certainly was also a clear signal by the new U.K. Prime Minister that she does much care for what America thinks or does.
She may reconsider her approach when she inevitably comes to Washington seeking a free trade agreement now that the U.K. operates outside the trade agreements the U.S. has with the European Union, post-Brexit. In a call of congratulations from U.S. President Joe Biden on the first day of her being P.M., Biden took this opportunity to remind her that the Good Friday Agreement must be respected and protected.
Likely those advancing the ‘special relationship’ were somehow hoping the American President would sweep the GFA under the rug or put it on the back burner. Those who value peace on the Emerald Isle and the cause of Irish Independence should be most thankful that we have a President willing to speak clearly to Westminster.
At least with Boris Johnson there was some entertainment value to his tenure in office, but there is little humor in the newly minted P.M. Liz Truss. Liz, unfortunately, looks to former P.M. Margaret Thatcher for inspiration and mimicry, down to the sporting of Pussy-Bow blouses.
Truss authored the legislation providing for Britain to unilaterally negate the Northern Ireland protocols (Irish Sea trade border), in violation of the U.K.’s treaty obligations and international law. It is speculated that BoJo allowed the bill to move forward to strengthen his leverage with the E.U.
However, Truss seems to actually want to the legislation to be implemented and eliminate the Protocols. For Irish Republicanism and supporters of the peace process in the Six Counties, matters have truly gone from the frying pan to the fire. Stay tuned for a likely short, but bumpy ride with the mini-me P.M. Thatcher.