Wed. Jan 26th, 2022


Many people in Northern Ireland will tell you that nowadays they no longer automatically ask themselves if someone they meet is Catholic or Protestant. A quarter of a century of peace has wiped out many of the bitter sectarian divisions of the three-decade-long problems.

But to understand how important identity remains, just look at Northern Ireland’s football team in front of an international. Some players belt out God saves the queen with surrender. Others listen in silence to a national anthem they do not think they represent.

Football was split with the island of Ireland in 1921. But a long-chattering debate about whether a new national anthem is needed is just one way the UK region is struggling to deal with the emblems of its twin identities.

In December, four years after its initial deadline, an official commission issued a report about emblems and other cultural expressions of identity.

“In the conflict politics in our society,” it remarked wryly, “it remains as if we are spending an excessive amount of time discussing flags, symbols, bonfires, statues, murals, banners and memorials.”

Take flags. The commission considered whether public buildings should fly only the union jack, as Northern Ireland is part of the UK, or the Irish flag also to honor both Irishness and Britishness – a compromise would be to let the union jack fly only on certain days or to have a no-flags-and-everything policy .

As for other, similar issues – the reason why the £ 800,000, 168-page report is likely to gather dust on a shelf – the commission concluded that “there is currently no meeting point”.

Ironically, Ireland’s tricolor is supposed to represent both communities – the green of the Catholics, orange for Protestants, and white symbolizing peace.

But even color coding can be complicated. The Northern Ireland soccer team plays at Windsor Park Stadium, in a traditional trade union area, and wears a stripe in the color – green – traditionally associated with the Republic of Ireland. At the start of my Ireland placement last summer, I must have unknowingly hedged my bets when, without calculating, I took an orange jacket and a green dress with me to a conference.

Sinn Féin, the Republican Party, which is now the most popular in Ireland both north and south, wants a vote on reunification in five to 10 years. Polls in Northern Ireland suggest the popular mood is less certain – its population may already decide to identify as British, or Irish, or both. But Brexit can form opinions.

To prevent a hard border on the island, the post-Brexit trade rules, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, drew a customs line along the Irish Sea, bringing Northern Ireland within the EU’s customs union leaves.

A Lucid Talk poll in Northern Ireland in November found 36 per cent of respondents would abandon the protocol, reunite with the Republic of Ireland and return to full EU membership, compared to 30 per cent who wanted to stay British, even if it meant a land border with the Republic .

On the other hand, a December poll by conservative peers and pollsters Here Ashcroft found that 54 per cent were in favor of remaining part of the UK, compared to 46 per cent who were opposed after undecided votes were removed. But it also found that 67 per cent thought Brexit made Irish reunification more likely.

In the Republic, almost three-quarters of the people accept the idea of ​​a reunited Ireland – as long as it does not happen now and they no longer have to pay taxes or change their flag and national anthem, according to a Ipsos MRBI poll for the Irish Times. Even among Sinn Féin voters, just over a third of respondents saw Irish unification as a priority.

The Northern Irish comedian addressed an Irish government forum on his “shared island” program Patrick Kielty summed it up: “The vast majority of people in the north no longer look at things through a binary prism. “They go on with their lives – and each other,” he said. “Is it a love-in? No. Is it united? Definitely not. But you know too often on this island we get fixated on the idea of ​​being united – of staying part of the UK, of becoming part of a united Ireland. . . This island will never be united, and that is right. ”

jude.webber@ft.com



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