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Northern Ireland should exploit its many natural advantages and not hold out the begging bowl

Mairtin O Muilleoir is deluded if he thinks Irish America will invest out of sentiment, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Published 07/11/2016

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir
Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir

Irish-American support has been key to the success of the peace process,” the Northern Ireland Finance Minister, Mairtin O Muilleoir, explained last week. Well, that’s one way of putting it. It would be more accurate to say that Irish-Americans’ support was the key to the war process that with the help of money and vicious Anglophobic propaganda, from the late 19th century, encouraged generations of young people to murder and die in the name of Ireland.

However, revolutionary-minded Irish-America represented just an infinitesimal proportion of descendants of Irish immigrants

And mercifully, there are only a few left that haven’t followed the republican leadership’s instructions to channel money into supporting Sinn Fein rather than financing arms shipments, though the warmongers haven’t all gone out of business.

Mr O Muilleoir, who has been seeking investment in the United States, went on to explain that while there were only 6.6 million people “on the island of Ireland”, there are “40 million in the Irish and Scots Irish diaspora in the US” and “the power of our global family remains our ace card”.

Family?

We’re used to Mr O Muilleoir thinking big, but he gets a bit carried away.

Most members of the Irish diaspora, like most other diasporas, concentrate on being American and go on St Patrick’s Day parades because they like leprechaun hats and Irish pubs.

In Indiana primarily for a crime fiction convention, I gave a couple of talks in small cities on the 1916 rising and its aftermath and checked out the heritage of members of the audience.

A few had a vague memory of having heard of some Irish ancestor somewhere along the line and almost none knew anything about Irish history. Whatever their background, what they mostly had in common was they came from famine-ridden or oppressive countries, were happy to be ingredients in the great North American melting pot, and amazed to learn that people would so hang on to historic grievances that they would fund revolutions thousands of miles away.

Mr O Muilleoir should realise the limitations of banging the Irish-American drum.

Among his other American media interests, he owns The Irish Echo, which claims to be the country’s “most widely read Irish-American newspaper”, yet its circulation is only 60,000.

The article he wrote for the Echo, however, was certainly upbeat about “the power and reach of Irish America”.

Wherever he went, apparently, “when I made the case for a ramped up engagement between the North of Ireland and the US, I found a ready ear”.

(I sometimes wonder if a member of Sinn Fein who accidentally said “Northern Ireland” would actually choke.)

He also found “a strong determination among Irish-Americans to defend the mandate of the people of the North who voted to remain at the heart of Europe”.

Admittedly, he was hanging out with “progressive politicians” on the West Coast and I was in a conservative state, but I met a lot of people who — like Donald Trump — thought Brexit was a great blow for independence.

I’m pleased the Northern Irish finance minister is chasing investment opportunities, but the notion that the hard-headed business world can be driven by romantic ethnic loyalties and the Sinn Fein political agenda is nonsense.

I’ve been visiting America for years and have had many people from an Irish-American background complaining about the begging bowl mentality of Irish nationalists.

I went back to a biography I wrote of Patrick Pearse years ago to locate a furious piece of doggerel written in New York in 1910 by a second generation Irish-American called John Quinn, who was “sick and tired” of “the hard luck tales”.

“I think they have become a race of spongers,” it ended. “And have long ceased to be the land of saints.”

Like the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland will do fine if it’s sufficiently competitive.

The trick is to exploit one’s natural advantages, of which, I’m sorry to tell Mr O Muilleoir, the English language, a reliable legal system, and a competitive approach to taxation top the list. 

Even for Irish-Americans.

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