What is the point of an Irish state that is not very Irish?
As we celebrate the centenary of the events that lead to the creation of the Irish state, we are asked to reflect and reimagine Ireland. It is worth asking is there a point of there being an Irish state when there is very little Irish about it?
When women and men went out on many occasions in Irish history to fight, kill and die for Ireland, why did they want Ireland to be free? Why was English domination of Ireland so unbearable and alien that Ireland had to be freed? What was so different between Britain and Ireland that we could not live in an harmonious unitary state?
Nation states are states for separate nations. Those who strove for Irish independence always claimed that Ireland was a separate nation, so therefore Ireland deserved to be an independent state. However, when one looks at the nation state that is Ireland today, it is worth asking, does Ireland really need to be a separate state when there is very little Irish about the Irish state?
English is the main language in every domain of Irish life. During the recent election campaign, a debate in the Irish language did not happen, as some of the leaders of the main parties could not speak the first official language of the state. Would this happen in other nation states such as Finland that have a unique national language and fought for freedom from domineering neighbouring states?
The misspelling of Éirí Amach na Cásca at the unveiling of a remembrance wall in the Glasnevin cemetery in the presence of the head of government of our independent nation state is further proof of how far from official minds the first official language is. How come no one spotted the error before the wall was dramatically revealed? There is no chance that this would have been let happen in the English language.
If we look at other domains of the state, the Irish legal system is a leftover from English common law. Why did the new Irish state not switch to a civil law system? Why become independent if the plan is to keep using the laws that the colonisers used?
The Irish statute book still has ancient laws going back to 1069 – passed by the English parliament. Again, what is the point of there being an Irish state if Irish people are still bound by ancient English laws? Alsace Lorraine were part of the German empire for nearly fifty years. Would France still use German law in these regions? Do the former regions of East Germany still use laws from that defunct state, even though they now form part of the Federal Republic of Germany? In fairness, the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 has aimed to repeal all laws passed before 1922, but many anachronistic statutes remain in force.
Our local government system is a shambles and lacking real power. This is how the British wanted it as they did not want to give too much power to the local councils in Ireland. Real power lay in London and in Dublin Castle. Instead of empowering the local councils since 1922, Irish governments have removed powers from local authorities and abolished some of them. The opposite should have happened.
We should ask ourselves if we are a separate nation, what makes us a separate nation? The native Irish princes disappeared after the defeat at Kinsale. The ancient Irish legal system, Féineachas (known as Brehon law) died out shortly after. Some would argue that the Catholic faith of most Irish people is what makes Ireland distinctive. If that were so, there would have no difference between Irish, British, Spanish, French, German, Italian people etc. before the Reformation.
Scotland is currently moving towards greater freedom. Scotland had its own parliament before it was incorporated into the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. When Scotland was made part of the UK, it kept its distinctive Scottish legal system, its own education system, its own church and at the time it had strong and distinctive languages (Gaelic and Scots). Ireland did not have a separate legal system when it was made part of the enlarged UK in 1801 nor did she have her own distinctive education system.
The strongest claim to separateness was and is our national language. We all know that there is much official hypocrisy regarding using the Irish language. If we do not care so much about the Irish language, is there a reason for a separate Irish state to exist?
Many neighbouring states speak the same language – the Arab states, the Hispanic states of Central and South America, the German-speaking states of Europe – but without asserting our distinctiveness through our language, it is difficult to find a strong reason for Ireland to be an independent state.
Ireland could easily be a self-governing unit of the United Kingdom with its own parliament to administer matters in Ireland but without the need for those things that are the domain of sovereign states e.g. an army, a diplomatic service, a separate currency, etc. Northern Ireland has such a status within the UK.
If we reflect honestly on our claim to independence, it will be shown that without something really distinctive such as the Irish language or a separate and better legal system, then there is very little reason for an Irish state.