Brexit wound. Covid failure. Fairness of retreat. March nationalism. As a successful country in the modern world, it is difficult to find a reason to rejoice in the future of this country. But in the west there is a light of hope. Look no further than Ireland to see what kind of politics Britain has to learn in this period of trouble.
For many, this will seem unintuitive. The suggestion that Britain can learn from Ireland flies in front of the long-standing self-image of former John Bulls’ dismal superiority over other islands. It reverses the centuries in which the British government viewed Ireland as a problem to be mastered and controlled, not an island providing solutions, insights or lessons.
This is why learning in Ireland is so important. Classes include thinking and behavioral habits. The two are connected by Um Billy. Habits of Mind is what Irish President Michael D Higgins presented here last week when he wrote about the post-denominational ethical memories here reflecting the centenary of the birth of modern Ireland between 1916 and 1922. The habit of practice is to constantly seek political compromise in 21st century relations within these islands. These are currently exemplified as lines to the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol, but there are many others.
These habits aren’t just a magic wand to get through a complicated and jagged problem. After all, learning and applying the skills of acknowledging different perspectives and accepting honestly is paramount. This was launched in Northern Ireland, where John Hume and others were severely divided in the late 1970s. Today it is the same approach that British politicians must re-create in order to overcome the many national, political and cultural divisions of the UK in the 21st century and turn it into a constructive and shared effect.
With different approaches and interests, this honest wrestling has come to fruition in many aspects of North and South Irish life in recent decades. As a result, the Irish state often appears to be a lot more comfortable for itself as a modern country than Britain or its components can claim, at least for those who visit this occasionally. Given the history of Ireland, it is an enviable and studied achievement.
These habits of mind and practice were not randomly endowed to Ireland by the good god of good governance. They had to beat in a crucible of experience, through a process of trial and error, at the expense of time and a lot of blood. Most of them were innocent. A special new book, The Dead of the Irish Revolution, contains the names, dates and details of the 2,849 violent deaths that occurred between 1916 and the end of 1921. The same goes for the trouble with more than 3,500 people killed.
This death is a powerful reminder that Ireland and England were once places of stronger identity and loyalty than they are today. Some of these still persist and should not be rejected. Others evolved into what Higgins called a post sectarian possibility for the future. Nevertheless, modern England is still a hesitant student. It spoiled the greatness of itself so much. Higgins is right that it is unlikely to change until Britain more openly participates in the empire’s past. Britain, too, desperately needs a broader and more pluralistic view of British history to become a comfortable country.
However, in many ways, the UK shares the same experiences as the two parts of Ireland. This spring, 100 years ago, the British divided the island in two. As a result, there was a violent civil war in the south, decades of sectarian rule in the north, and 30 years of trouble. For much of our lives, Ireland and sometimes Britain have often lived with fatal consequences. However, 100 years of division, such as the Irish Uprising before 1921, are not being considered very much in Britain.
Finally, in the 1980s, both sides of the border and in England began to find a better way. As a result, in 1998 there was compromise, change and peace. This, like Northern Ireland’s leaders, is an approach to politics that today the British government urgently needs to reaffirm.
The Northern Ireland Protocol is a compromise in the 1998 tradition. This ensures a smooth Irish border that has helped put an end to the problem in exchange for a variety of goods traveling between England and Northern Ireland, mainly after Brexit for food, and port checks. It’s been less than two months since it took effect and the threat from unfortunate union members is on the rise. The protocol is obviously messy. However, it can still work in an imperfect way. Neither the British government nor the European Union has an impeccable record of implementing this. But they insisted they are doing their best to relieve tension again this week.
This should be the right approach. That doesn’t mean it will succeed. Brexit has released the bull in a delicate Chinese store called Power Sharing since 1998. However, the intentional overlapping ambiguity of the protocol outweighs the risk. That represents a step away from the zero-sum approach. This is neither an isolated example nor anything that applies only to special conditions in Ireland. It is a way of political thinking and action learned from Irish experience, and if learned and applied here, it will hold the key to the future of England.
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