Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

By Royal decree there's a change in Irish psyche

The legacy of the Queen's visit may be that the corrosive toxin of Anglophobia has finally been purged from the Republic's body-politic

Royal Show: the Queen's speech at Dublin Castle

There were reports last week that there were tears in David Cameron's eyes during the Queen's historic address at Dublin Castle.

The possibility that Her Majesty's groundbreaking speech had nearly made the Prime Minister weep underlined how moving and significant her speech had been.

A few hours later, inside the international Press centre inside the castle's grounds, there were a few hardened hacks with tears in their eyes, too - this time on learning that Dr Garret FitzGerald had died.

Many journalists who dealt with the former Taoiseach - both as a politician and an astute political/economic commentator - always mentioned his warmth, decency and patience.

They have also noted the bitter irony that a southern Irish politician, who desperately wanted a more pluralistic republic that eschewed Anglophobia, had died just hours after the Queen's words of "sincere thoughts and deep sympathies" inside the splendour of St Patrick's Hall.

Although many unionists still remember Dr FitzGerald's role in championing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they cannot deny that he was also a resolute opponent of the IRA's armed campaign and that, in essence, his policy was far less hawkish than Fianna Fail under Charlie Haughey.

Dr FitzGerald promoted the principle of consent before it was fashionable among all the parties in the Dail and, while he was a passionate European integrationist, the former Fine Gael leader always emphasised the importance of good working relations with Britain, both in politics and the economy.

Dr FitzGerald would have been fully supportive of the overwhelmingly warm welcome the Queen and Prince Phillip enjoyed on their four-day visit to the Republic.

As the Queen addressed her Dublin Castle audience, a small band of republican dissidents were confronting gardai a short distance away. They had marched on Wednesday night from the Liberties area of south inner-city Dublin to just before Christchurch Cathedral, where the Garda lines were drawn.

In the most serious outbreak of violence during the visit, a couple of dozen youths - many of them masked, or 'hooded-up' - hurled fireworks, bottles, stones and beer cans at gardai. Yet the violence was short-lived and within minutes of a well organised charge by the Garda riot squad, the troublemakers had scattered.

They tried several times to re-group, some of them going up to the Garda line and hurling only insults at the officers. However, they did not attempt a second sortie on the security cordon and their numbers gradually reduced as the night wore on.

The inability of republican dissidents to significantly disrupt last week's visit undoubtedly marks a stunning blow to their morale.

It will not deter the three main terror-groups from mounting further attacks in Northern Ireland or even, if they get lucky, in Britain.

But, by turning up on the streets in such depleted numbers, their ranks pitifully thin near symbolic locations such as the Garden of Remembrance and Croke Park, they exposed their lack of any popular support - especially south of the border.

The trip was a key test for both the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and the Irish state on the one hand and, on the other, those republicans opposed to the peace process. The authority of the government and the state was on the line even before the Queen's arrival.

Granted, they had to spend €30m to protect her and the Duke of Edinburgh from any potential attack, but the fact is that the Irish state faced down that threat - both in terms of terrorism and street disorder - and won. Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore will be hoping that the Republic will now get an economic-tourist 'bounce' from Britain as a result of the visit.

For the dissidents, there was a marked reluctance to physically confront the Garda. Indeed, at the Eirigi protest while the Queen attended the ceremony in the Garden of Remembrance, it was notable that the republican group had deployed stewards in high-visibility yellow vests to prevent hangers-on from starting a riot.

Perhaps they, too, realised that there is no appetite whatsoever in the Republic for anyone to attack their police force.

Another by-product of last week's visit may be that, having seen a human side to the Queen behind the usual pomp and ceremony - especially in 'normal' settings like a brewery, or when she spoke in Gaelic to President McAleese - the Royal 'brand' has begun to change in southerners' eyes.

Anglophobia in the south may now only be confined to the English football and rugby teams when they take on the men wearing the green jerseys.

The concept of the British Crown as a focal point for southern nationalist ire may be a casualty of the successful tour of the Republic.

People on the streets may not have been able to see the Royal couple in the flesh, due to security considerations, but the impression you get is that the southern public enjoyed the four-day spectacle.

Garret FitzGerald continually railed against Anglophobia - both as a political leader and as a commentator.

It was deeply poignant that he was to die in the same week that this corrosive toxin in the southern Irish body politic appeared to have been flushed out of the system.

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