Posted: 2021-07-07

A partitionist mindset not only resides in reactionary organisations and political parties but also seems to have permeated humanist associations as well.

BBC Northern Ireland's The Road to Partition, recently shown on TV, was expertly made and raised many questions about the events leading up to partition as well as the contemporary state of political uncertainty today. The comment was made in one of the episodes that as with the UK’s botched Covid response today, the British Establishment does not emerge in a positive light regarding David Lloyd George's plan to fob off nationalists with the promise of some sort of Home Rule. 

Prime Minister Johnson’s Brexit programme and the crazily formulated Northern Ireland Protocol which resurrects the notion of  ‘Perfidious Albion’ can be seen as another historical legacy of the disastrous outcome of the political manoeuvrings within the British ruling class.

Thomas Hennessy, Professor of Modern British and Irish History at Canterbury Christ Church University, stated that “Britain had gone to war for small nations in 1914 but now it is coming home to roost”. He was referring to the crisis at the time in Ireland when British imperialism was confronted head-on.

The two-part documentary was to some extent aimed at a British audience, a demographic often assumed to be ignorant about the intricacies of Northern Ireland affairs. However, most viewers in the Republic of Ireland are no better informed about the wee province's difficulties, and it would have assisted them in gaining a greater understanding of the history of partition and the attitudes which created it and which remain today.

On a lighter note regarding the psychological aspects of partition in present-day Ireland, the former Ulster and Ireland rugby star Tommy Bowe recently urged the Irish Government to issue free bus passes for visits to Northern Ireland tourist attractions to encourage cross-border understanding. Tommy had been speaking at an all-island economy event and called on people on both sides of the border to take pride in the Good Friday Agreement. He said that as a Catholic born in the Republic who grew up in Monaghan, studied in the north, played rugby for Ulster and had worked in Dublin, he was the epitome of an inbetweener. He questioned how many schoolkids or university students from south of the border had visited Belfast, or anywhere else in the north. 

His idea for free bus passes sounds a bit contrived to visit places like the Marble Arch Caves, Portrush Strand or the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast, and likewise to encourage young people from the north to kiss the Blarney Stone, hit the beach in Rosslare, or have a pint in Temple Bar. Nevertheless, the proposal does have merit in building relationships north and south to make a better future and fits into the Taoiseach’s ‘Shared Ireland’ discussion project.

Interestingly, efforts by the Irish Freethinkers and Humanists (IFH) to discuss the possible development of an all-island humanist association recently met with little enthusiasm from the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI). Some have interpreted this as an unwillingness to engage in Northern Ireland as it would clash with the UK Humanists. It is worth noting that the latter duplicitously set up a N.I. branch a few years ago and have selfishly sought a monopoly on state humanist ceremonies, though recently an independent celebrant has obtained this right. Maybe the HAI fear a new British celebrant colonisation of the 26 counties!

2022 is the 300th anniversary of the death of John Toland (below), Ireland’s first secular philosopher, who was born in Inishowen, Co Donegal, in 1670. The IFH has suggested to other humanists that a weekend conference at Queen’s University should be held next year to celebrate his contribution to freethinking and philosophy in Ireland. As yet there has been little response.

 It is sad that a partitionist mindset not only resides in reactionary organisations and political parties but also seems to have permeated humanist associations as well.  

Roger Kelly, July 2021