Saturday 19 January 2008

Sinn Fein's 1950s throwbacks

For years, the Republic of Ireland was crippled by a narrow nationalism that fed the economic and social isolationism that kept the country far poorer than its potential suggested. That started to change in the sixties, but since the 1990 election of Mary Robinson and the emergence of the Celtic Tiger, all has changed, changed utterly, to paraphrase Yeats. The President now properly commemorates Ireland's many war dead: when I visited Ypres a few years ago, the names of thousands of working-class Dubliners stood out. When Diana was killed, Dubliners queued up to sign a book of condolences. The Queen is likely to visit Dublin soon, the first such visit by a British monarch for over a century. Nationalist Ireland - at least in the South - is now capable of celebrating its British heritage, because it is self-confident about being Irish. Now, turn to the petty-minded throwbacks that still populate Sinn Fein at local council level, this time in Limavady. Of course, it is true that they are often more than matched by their Unionist counterparts who have sought to deny that Northern Ireland has an Irish as well as a British heritage. However, times are supposed to have changed. So, what message do these councillors think it sends to their fellow Northern Irishmen and women to seek to scrub all memory of one of New Zealand's longest-serving prime ministers, William 'Bill' Massey, and Limavady's most successful sons, because he was a member of the Orange Order? This sort of petty act might have been acceptable in dreary 1950s Ireland. It should have no place in modern Ireland - North or South.

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