On my first visit to Belfast, on a BBC World Service assignment 24 years ago, I was taken on a tour of the troubled areas by an RUC patrol in bulletproof vests. They were all Proddies, of course, tough and persevering, with low life expectancy. Our Land Rover—not a fully-clad Tangi but a regular Army model—had wire mash over all its windows to protect them against stone throwers. The city’s dividing walls were covered with gloomy murals, crudely executed and inspired by raw violence old and new, by Cromwell, Bobby Sands, the Red Hand . . . The old Ulster adage that the Protestants make the money and the Catholics make the art was not much in evidence on either account. The city was depressed and depressing. The politicians on both sides of the divide agreed on one thing: that there was, and could be, no solution to “the Troubles.”
On my last visit to Britain earlier this month I witnessed a remarkable spectacle: Protestant and Catholic deadly foes of yore, Rev. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, were sworn in as Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively, as self-rule was finally restored to the Six Counties. Their coalition is an unbelievable construct, the emerald equivalent of Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen, or Vojislav Kostunica and Agim Ceku, holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.”
The unlikely pair pledged to “work for a common future” amidst much pomp and circumstance at Belfast’s Stormont parliament building. “We are starting on a road which will bring us back to peace and to prosperity,” said Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Paisley, who once famously declared that “where Christ is, there can be no pope.” “I am increasingly confident that all of this is going to work,” replied McGuinness of the Sinn Fein and a former commander of its military wing, the Irish Republican Army. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, for many years the fighting face of Irish republicanism, added: “We are going to change the political landscape from here out. It’s a good day for Ireland, it’s a good day for all the people of this island.”
How was it possible?
The answer is prosaic and sobering: old identities, allegiances and creeds no longer really matter in Ireland, north or south. Collective memories and bonds of kinship and faith that, until a generation ago, defined an Irishman, are dying. A “social scientist” would say that cultural frames that had determined the substantive, psychological, and procedural levels of the Irish society’s political and social reality are no longer operational. Both Paisley and McGuinness realize that the game is up, even though they’ll never admit it: sectarianism is dead because the assumptions necessary for the “sects’” very existence are dead.
No country in the world has gone from premodernity to postmodernity as rapidly as Ireland—and here we mean the whole of the geographic, cultural and historic entity known by that name. In one generation, as I noted last fall, the combined effects of economic prosperity and all-pervasive global sub-culture have turned the place into just another Postmodernia. The demographic freefall is in full swing among former Protestants and former Catholics alike, likely to halve the country’s already ageing population in the next four decades. What few kids there are worship the Flickering Screen on Sunday mornings, while their parents cure their hangovers. The pews are empty, unless filled by immigrants.
Whether Ireland “unites” or stays “divided” is by now utterly irrelevant: either way it is just another post-modern corner of the European Union, characterized—like the rest of the superstate—by historical amnesia, tolerance, collapsing birth rates, dysfunctional families, rising crime, and general ubiquity of our Village’s mass-cultural pap. The number of unassimilable immigrants and “asylum seekers” is rising rapidly, of course, their influx inevitably coupled with the imposition of ideological and legal mandates of “diversity”, multiculturalism and anti-discriminationism by the elite class. In the meantime, Irish culture is fast becoming a relic, either neutered à la “Riverdance” and relegated to heritage, or else condemned as retrograde. “Plucky little Ireland” has joined the global mainstream, and is now hell-bent on birth-controlling and multiculturalizing itself to death.
That bombings and shootings have stopped is a great and glorious thing, yet Messrs Paisley and McGuinness have precious little to celebrate. The peace over which they will jointly preside is that of a cultural and spiritual graveyard. Read any new Irish writers recently?