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By Jason Michael
“You Irish,” said Sky News’ Adam Boulton on Twitter, reminding the world once again of the nasty and bigoted ill-opinion England has always had of Ireland and Irish people. Brexit is the final denouement of Great Britain.
Paula is a young woman I met at university. Her high-end wardrobe and top designer handbags broadcast to the world she was no ordinary “poor student.” In fact we discovered she was the daughter of one of Ireland’s wealthiest families. She was a proper socialite with connections, through her father – a Papal Knight, to the highest rungs of the Irish political establishment. Paula is one of those rare people we meet who could speak of the multi-million euro tax-free gift her parents gave her to help them avoid death and inheritance duties. Her family home is in the suburbs of south County Dublin, in the most exclusive residential area in the country.
Being a republic, Ireland does not have nobility, but by English standards Paula could easily have given Kate Middleton a run for her money. “Her people” – as folk say here – are wealthy, wealthy people. Due to the dearth of their economic peers on the island of Ireland families like Paula’s are forced to couple-up over the water in England. One of her sisters married an Irishman “in finance” and another “married up” into an English family with a title.
This match sounds like your perfect fairy tale ending, but there were more than a few flies in the ointment. Paula, quite spitefully jealous of her siblings, always spills the beans on the family business when she is a few sheets to the wind. Ronald, her older sister’s new husband, is considered by his own people “the runt of the litter.” No English family would take him. As a reject – I’ve never met the man so I don’t know what this means – it was thought best they find him “an Irish girl.” Even before the wedding, Paula would tell us, his family were “jokingly” speaking of her family as “the Pikeys” – a nasty pejorative term for Irish itinerants or “Travellers.”
No matter how well-heeled, no matter how high they are situated on the social and economic hierarchy, Irish people are always second and third order human beings – if even human at all – in the English imagination. Paula and her family take this in their stride, the benefits of the marriage being of infinitely more value than their sense of national pride. The cream of every society, it seems, is rich and thick.
As outsiders looking in, we, her friends, learned – or were reminded of – what Ireland and Irishness mean to England: precisely nothing. Its mares are good for breeding, for producing heirs and spares for England’s minor families, but that’s about it. Since time immemorial the English media has depicted the Irish as savages and animals, seldom as noble as mares, and this caricature has seeped deep into the wells of the English establishment’s bigotry and prejudice. In recent years, as neighbouring members of a wider European project, this disgusting and dehumanising ill-opinion has been muted, but it has not gone away.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney answers Adam Boulton's "do you think this week's kerfuffle has been necessary?" https://t.co/PkoJ0VgZ9y—
Robert ☃️ (@RobDunsmore) December 08, 2017
Earlier today, thanks to the effect Brexit is having in England, we were treated to a glimpse of this hatred on Sky News in an interview between Adam Boulton and the Irish Tánaiste (deputy Prime Minister) Simon Coveney. Boulton asked Coveney if he thought “the Irish government over-briefed what they had achieved as a victory over the British,” as though Ireland acting to protect the integrity of the island of Ireland and Irish people living in the north was an act of aggression against Britain. This is a framing of Anglo-Irish political discourse by the English media that is now very familiar in Ireland; every British action that threatens Irish interests is presented as a disgruntled Ireland having a go at poor little England – that’s what savages and wild animals do.
Simon Coveney is no angel himself. He’s a private landlord in politics who as Minister for Housing oversaw the creation of the worst social housing and homelessness crisis in the state for decades. Still, this pales in comparison to how his counterparts in London have dealt with the poor. Be this as it may, he’s no dunce and is well acquainted with England’s treatment of Ireland, and he called it out. “Well clearly that’s a briefing you’ve been getting from the British side,” he answered after Boulton suggested Ireland had not been straightforward (another trope of Irish/Traveller trickery), “we never looked for or claimed any victory over anybody.”
The twittersphere responded immediately. Boulton had been telt. Ireland doesn’t see Brexit as a competition. Ireland understands its actions around Brexit much in the same way parents see their protective actions towards their kids when an obnoxious drunk staggers up to them. The drunk can read this as hostility all he wants, but the truth is the parents don’t give a rat’s arse about him. No one in Ireland cares what England is doing. England has long since stopped being relevant to people’s lives here. What people are concerned about, however, is the damage England is attempting to do to Ireland as it tries once against to get its own way.
Bored now. Some of you Irish need to get over yourselves. Interviewing is about challenging the interviewee not respecting.—
Adam Boulton (@adamboultonSKY) December 09, 2017
On both sides of the Irish Sea people took to social media to congratulate Mr Coveney for so calmly putting the mouthpiece of Blighty back in his place. “Why are your Irish politicians so much smarter than ours?” asked Andrew Atter on Twitter, “They actually use real words. They seem to know things.” Yes, Irish politicians have the accumulated experience of a few hundred years dealing with the bargain basement level of England’s anti-Irish politicking.
True to form, having been bested by an Irishman and having run out of any other rational arguments – well, he never had one in the first place – Boulton came clean out of his foxhole to respond to the derision he was getting in Ireland. “You Irish,” he spat back, “need to get over yourselves.” You Irish! We all speak the same language. We know what that “You [insert ethnic group]” means. In just two words Adam Boulton had typed out a concise summation of over six hundred years of England’s anti-Irish hatred. It didn’t offend anyone here. Ireland is used to it, people here even expect it. On the contrary it was beautiful. This was a poetic unveiling of the true nature of England and Britishness, something Brexit has now exposed for all the world to see.
Simon Coveney in interview with Bloomberg