Sunday, May 28, 2006

Passport palaver

Everybody's getting hot under the collar because FIFA has said all Northern Ireland team players have to carry British passports. Naturally, the world soccer body is a bit touchy about ensuring players have the necessary nationality credentials to play for a certain side. And naturally they've struck at the heart of the Irish question right and proper.

Technically, of course, FIFA's right: Northern Ireland is part of the UK. A lot of people wish it were different, but FIFA's interested in facts, not aspirations.

I'm proud to hold both passports and have no trouble with my Irish/British identity mix. If I had to do without either of them I'd feel cheated out of something special. It's comforting that Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires all those it may concern to let me pass freely and to render me such assistance as may be necessary. On the other hand, the one with the harp makes my Celtic heart sing.

I'm happy enough to be British, but somehow it undersells my Irishness. In truth, you see, the Ulster Protestant is as far removed from Middle England commuters culturally, ethnically, politically and genetically as he is from Corkonians. And yet he's no less British than a Surbiton commuter and no less Irish than a Kilkenny priest. Maybe that's why he can be so insular, especially when fired up by divisionist Unionist politicians.

I remember the West German government in 1974 recognising "eine deutsche Nation, zwei deutsche Staaten", and that's exactly what we have in Ireland today. One nation, two jurisdictions. Not that there's any further similarity between either state and the evil regime that was East Germany, mind, but if we recognise the distinction between nation and jurisdiction two interesting consequences emerge which can help us towards reconciliation:

1. The Irish Republic does not have a monopoly on Irishness;

2. Ulster Protestants are fully Irish and equals within the Irish nation.

Through understandable reactionism, the newborn Irish Republic rejected most things British and embraced all things Gaelic, even all things Catholic, while the Northern Ireland government did the opposite. The entrenchment on both sides produced terrible results. Fortunately, today, the Catholic hierarchy in Éire has a much reduced influence on the affairs of government and public life, and immigration has teamed with the Celtic Tiger to tame the dominance of Gaeldom in Éire. (In fact, note that the Gaels were but one set of invaders to Ireland). Éire today is much more multi-culti than many Ulster Protestants realise.

Those same Ulster Protestants have a birthright as part of the Irish nation as well as citizenship of the United Kingdom. They need to be allowed to feel more comfortable with both of these without being threatened from south of the border or east of the Irish Sea. This is a prerequisite to productive cross-border cooperation under the Good Friday Agreement, because as long as people feel threatened they'll not contribute their best.

Politicians (especially MLAs): do the Big thing: stop the divisive rhetoric and start uniting us under our pan-Irish identity.


At 12:27 a.m., Blogger The Phantom said...

Big Man

You don't post often, but when you do, it's well worth the reading.


At 1:49 a.m., Blogger GlendaloughExile said...

Since reading about Brian Keenan's dual passport status in his Lebanon book I've been keenly interested in Ulster Protestant attitudes to things "Irish".

You're absolutley correct about the reversion to type after partition with both sides becoming uber-prod and uber-gaelic.

How typical would you say your views are?

At 9:40 a.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Thank you, Caped Person. GE, most Ulster Protestants fight shy of accepting their Irishness publicly lest their brethren see them as less than loyal to the UK and, most importantly, each other. But this is purely reactionary because Éire usurped the concept of Irishness. I think the time is ripe for the store to be set right.

You out there, Aileen? Be interesting to hear what you think. BU.

At 5:23 p.m., Blogger CW said...

Good post, John. I think the whole passport thing was a storm in a teacup anyway and was surprised it generated so much publicity to be deemed a major news story. I don't think most of the players will give a toss about whether they have a piece of paper with a harp or lion and unicorn on it as long as they get their £20,000 a week.

At 1:24 a.m., Anonymous Aileen said...


LOL I nearly missed this. I don't think that I am typical. I agree with bits of what you say and not with others. To me Ireland is now a geographical entity and I have been born and brought up in it and an therefore as Irish as anyone is. Except that for most purposes it does not really resonate emotionally with me and it is not my nationality. My Britishness in my nationality and does resonate emotionally with me. I would not be intereted in what you call an Irish passport because to me it is a passport of the Republic of Ireland which is not the totallity of Irishness and cannot bestow Irishness in me. (BTW I carry the same logic into not referring to NI as Ulster because of the other three counties)

This is all slightly blurred because of the influence of my mother, a proud Donegal woman. So I suppose I am half of the ROI. She was also the prime mover and shaker for giving me my Christian name - what hope did I have ;o)
If asked where I am from I would never say "Ireland", it would always be "Northern Ireland". My mother would always proudly say "Ireland". When she was in the RAF during the war, she and a few of the others from Ireland used to change the last line of the chorus of "There'll always be an England£ to "if England means as much to you as Ireland means to you". I have probably mentioned that she always made a big deal of St Patrick's day. When it fell on a school day we were sent to school covered in greenery and apparantly before her last St Patricks day had been mentioning to someone that she was thinking of sending me over some because I may have trouble getting hold of any. I sometimes think of wearing ot on the day just for her, but I haven't as yet - maybe next year.

What my view or emotional attachment to things Irish would be if it hadn't been for the IRA campaign and if it hadn't been for what they did to her, I'm not sure. It is ironic that any positive emotion that I may have/might have had would have come from her.

Sorry for the ramble and I don't know if it really answers the question.

BTW my relations still in Garvary await your next challange ;o)

At 9:36 a.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Goodness, thanks! My own family roots are Donegal and Leitrim (like half of Co. Fermanagh), and my grandparents would have shared your mother's take.

First off, I take the point, made through your quotation marks, that an Éire passport should not be described without further explanation as an Irish passport if 'Irish' refers to a nation rather than one of its constituent states. (This is self-fulfilling, by the way, because only an Irishman can split hairs like that).

Before 1921 a 'Northern Ireland' identity would have been alien to everyone, so maybe it's a generational thing (which Nationalists need to just accept, because unless you're a raving loyalist there's no malice in stating you're from 'Northern Ireland'). Equally, if it is a generational thing, perhaps we have to accept that (maybe) it's an identity which arose to bolster a political regime which our generation wasn't involved in. If that's so, maybe we've been cheated out of some of our Irishness like Tony Blur's now trying to do to our Britishness. BU.

At 2:25 p.m., Blogger Jacqui said...

Good afternoon:

I would like to ask about Irish passports please.

Would a child born to a foreign national while resident in Northern Ireland be eligible for an Irish passport?

Would the nationality of the partner need to be Northern Irish or Irish?

At 5:36 p.m., Blogger B.U. said...

The situation on Éire citizenship is that a person born in NI after December 1922 with a parent or grandparent born in Ireland prior to December 1922 is automatically an Éire citizen. (That may mean the parent in your example might have to apply, and once he/she had the passport, the child could too.

Incidentally you can't have 'Northern Irish' nationality as NI isn't a sovereign state - has to be British or Éireann. BU.

At 10:43 p.m., Anonymous Aileen said...


I did rather warm to my theme LOL!

just noticed a tupo that will bug me. The latered lyrics were if course "if England means as much to you ans Ireland means to me".

I wonder what difference WOBS (West-of-the-Bann Syndrome) makes ;o)

BTW Garvary awaits LOL

At 11:15 p.m., Anonymous Tony said...

I enjoyed your very reflectfull piece John. Quite refreshing and even brought out a side of Aileen that I hadn't witnessed on another blog. All in all good stuff.

At 11:49 a.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Quite right. WOBS has a lot to do with it I think. And I haven't forgotten Garvary's cultural needs. Just give me time. BTW, were you at the Class of '76 reunion a few weeks back?

At 8:18 p.m., Blogger Jacqui said...

"has to be British or Éireann. BU. "

And you are both and pleased to be both, I think? :) It is good to see someone who is comfortable to be what they really feel here and is not afraid to say it. You seem a very nice man.

Sorry but you raise another question for me.
As for the parent of a child born to a foreign national in Northern Ireland. If the natural father is French and the mother has a Northern Ireland woman for a legal partner, that would be a test of the law?

At 9:31 p.m., Anonymous Aileen said...


I was indeed. It was beyond special! I flew over for the weekend and it was well worth it. O)ver 50 of us!!

Have you had one with your fellow wasps? ;o)

At 3:36 p.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Yup, a 20-year bash 7 years ago. No 'Impartial' coverage though (mercifully). Have a good weekend. BU.

At 8:36 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

the german analogy is really stupid. One german state collapsed - if your looking for two state solution analogy germany is the worst possible one to chose.

At 9:39 p.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Anonymous, I'm not looking for a solution; I'm looking to stimulate thought by distinguishing between the overall concept of 'nation' and the specific reality of jurisdictions. If the people of Northern ireland and Éire united around a pan-Irish identity, and Northern Ireland got more self-government, the border would assume less significance. That may take the wind of of many parties' sails - readers may wish to reflect on whether that may be why their more vehement supporters incite division all the time. BU.

At 4:47 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post Big John.
Few points:

"that's exactly what we have in Ireland today. One nation, two jurisdictions"

I disagree. Unfortunatly we have no such thing, if we had that I don't think we'd have half the trouble we have today. We have an Irish nation (to which I belong), a British nation and perhaps a Northern Irish nation. There might even be another "Irish" nation in there i.e. those of a Nothern persuasion who describe themselves as British, N.Irish and "Irish" though not the same "Irish" as me. It's all very effin confusing, and perhaps i'm just mixing "identity" with "nation".

"The Irish Republic does not have a monopoly on Irishness"

Dead right but can't there be more than one type of "Irishness"? You're 'as Irish as me' sure but how I view Irishness is likely different to how you view it. I'm not sure we can have a single all encompassing Irish identity spanning two jurisdictions. How would that even work. Once there is a border between us we will always probably do things a little differently and our Irishness will always be a bit different.

Don't have time now to address other points...


At 5:57 a.m., Anonymous Bill said...

When my parents were born, There was no Northern Ireland. I was born and raised an Ulsterman. Still am. While I was born outside of Ireland, I have lived and worked in Northern Ireland and my oldest son was born there. He has triple nationality. My youngest son now has dual citizenship and is waiting for his passport. I have mine. Since the border will probably disappear before my demise, it will in fact represent my only nationality. It will be good to have one home and one house undivided against itself again. The part of me that is Ulster Scot (not Scot-ish) is disappointed that, as a people, we and our traditions are about to vanish thanks in no small part to Rev. Paisley and his ilk (just my opinion). Once the border is gone and people of both persuasions are no longer required to defend the indefensible, things should improve considerably for everyone.

At 12:17 a.m., Blogger pakman said...

"Irish" is a definition of citizenship offered by the state calling itself "Ireland". That's fine as is the fact that said state offers its nationality to those born outside its' borders. What's not fine is to peddle the lie that being British is somehow compatible with holding citizenship of a state whose raison d'etre is to define itself as anything but British.

The Irish state has expropriated the Irish identity and they are welcome to it. Unlike Bill I am a v. confident unionist and secure in my (British) identity. Secure enough to only need one passport.

BTW enjoy Italy. I love the lakes esp Maggiore. Soave heaven!!!

At 9:52 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

wowwwwwww!!!!!! "irishness" comes from the heart ...not from where one comes from or ones political feelings-and the same applies to those who choose their "Britishness"
Its interesting to know that in New can claim to be a Maori -if your heart wants you to be a Maori!


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