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.