Belfast Telegraph

Ruth Dudley Edwards: It is possible to identify as both British and Irish and that is an awkward truth for Sinn Fein

Niall O Donnghaile’s spat with Paul Clark betrays  intolerant agenda of republicans, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

I was in rain, wind and sun at the first West Cork History Festival at the weekend, enjoying a feast of  stimulating ideas and good debate that included a keynote address by that fine historian Professor Roy Foster — A Fair People: Antagonism And Conflict In Irish History.

The first part of the title refers to Dr Samuel Johnson’s remark that the Irish were a fair people in that they never spoke well of each other.

These days, however, we’re told to accept others.

If I were now to say that henceforward I was to be accepted as male, the LGBT bandwagon would cheer me on.

But would they all accept that I’ve a human right to be accepted as British and Irish? As has Paul Clark, the distinguished UTV anchorman who was criticised the other day by Senator Niall O Donnghaile, one-time Belfast Lord Mayor, because he tweeted: “Day Two of my reports from Afghanistan. How do our soldiers stay sharp? Join me @UTVNews at 6.00.”

The vigilant senator leaped on this with what these days is known as micro-aggression, though Professor Foster might file it under antagonism.

“Paul ain’t speaking for me and many, many other UTV viewers when he uses the term ‘our’.”

Mr Clark is as polite as he is patient and professional.  

“Ah Senadoir don’t tell me you disown Irishmen from Corcaigh, Gaillimh, Tiobraid Aran agus Baile Atha Cliath. Is mise Gaeilge fosta you know.”

Which, for the benefit of the 95% of Northern Irish people who don’t read Irish, means “Cork, Galway, Tipperary and Dublin. I’m Irish too you know.”

Senator O Donnghaile continued to carp, complaining about British troops being in Afghanistan or Ireland, but it was clear he was nettled that Mr Clark was fluent in the language.

I was thinking of them this weekend when people from all around Ireland and some from further afield tried to wrestle with such difficult questions as why Protestants in west Cork were murdered, threatened, attacked and intimidated by the IRA during what is called the War of Independence, Cogadh na Saoirse, or the Anglo-Irish war of 1921-2.

But present was also the tiny contingent of the antagonistic, a few men whose response to people saying what is not the received Sinn Fein view on anything was to deliver lengthy rants that had the vast majority of the audience applauding loudly when they were asked to shut up.

You might think that having 200 people making their irritation and distaste for their words and their manner very clear was a bit humiliating, but clearly not if you’re a local Sinn Fein councillor who sees antagonism as an end in itself.

“What did you do today, Daddy?”

“I tried my hardest to mess up a discussion between Irish people trying honestly to understand their history, son, and at the end I succeeded in annoying almost everyone.”

“And how did that help our fight for Irish freedom, Daddy?”

“It’s called attrition, son. We work hard to close down free debate and impose on everyone the MOPE (Most Oppressed People Ever) version of Irish history people have impertinently been challenging.”

The senator is smarter than the small group of Cork MOPE guerrillas, who merely repeat ad nauseum wherever they are the old, old story about wicked Brits and heroic Gaels.

He’s on top of modern technology, and, as a senior officer in the Sinn Fein thought-police, is ready to take issue with a word or a concept anywhere that meets his disapproval.   

Mr Clark’s excellent Irish, his courtesy and his inconvenient truths about Royal Irish Regiment recruits from the Republic seemed to lessen Mr O Donnghaile’s enthusiasm for further debate, so he accepted the invitation to a chat and some tea. 

Mr Clark infuriates Sinn Fein by identifying as British and Irish.

Like him, I love both countries and there are many Irish people living and working in the United Kingdom who feel the same way. 

We think mutual respect and good manners are preferable to antagonism or conflict.

And, at events like the splendid West Cork History Festival, we like to listen politely and learn from each other.

Any chance Sinn Fein might acquire some hearing aids?

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