Belfast Telegraph

Time for the monarchy to bow out at last

By Liam Clarke

The Queen has done a good job, but that shouldn't blind us to the fact that the monarchy is now an institution out of its time, no longer necessary.

Before rapid communication and electrification, only small places like ancient Athens could be run as democracies. Citizens had to be able to all meet together and speak directly fairly regularly.

Monarchy was one answer. The strong man who imposed order could establish a dynasty, train his children to succeed him and could act as protector of the people against the nobles.

The idea was that you had to have someone with enough power to be above political pressure. It was claimed that monarchs were chosen by God.

Monarchy was also a way of passing on political power without a violent struggle. Sometimes, there were civil wars over the crown, but the rest of the time it made for an orderly succession.

Monarchies have held countries together through crises, like the emperor of Japan after the defeat in the Second World War, or after the fall of Franco in Spain. Dynastic marriages could seal peace between countries.

We don't need much of that now. People can vote in elections, there are legal protections for our rights and democracy has provided a way for power to change hands.

This is reflected in the fact that the royal duties get smaller as time goes on. They are now largely ceremonial and cost us a fortune in state aid, plus no compulsory tax bill on private wealth.

Queen Elizabeth has performed them very well - in fact, she seldom put a foot wrong apart from her initially reticent reaction to the death of Princess Diana.

She has been good for our peace process and Anglo-Irish relations. She shook hands with Martin McGuinness three times and that can't have been easy, given the IRA murder of Lord Mountbatten at a time when Mr McGuinness was a senior figure in the organisation.

There have been attempts on the lives of other members of her family, including two bombs aimed at her in Sullom Voe and Coleraine.

She does her duty and does it well; her speeches in Ireland, north or south, have always been healing, unselfish and positive. But is it time for a change?

Other nations get by with bicycling monarchies (like the popular Dutch royals), or none at all, like most of Europe and America. It is a bit of an anachronism.

Prince Charles could be given a chance - and a reduced budget - to modernise the image. He has been a friend to us here, too, crossing the community when he can and saying nothing that could cause offence. The fear would be that he would become too outspoken for a largely ceremonial office.

The problem is that, if you get a bad monarch, you are stuck with him (or her) for life.

Belfast Telegraph


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