Thursday, 28 June 2012

Pictures of the Queen


This is the first and probably only time a picture of the Queen will appear on this blog. It appears here because she’s shaking hands with a murderer.

Despite well-argued protestations to the contrary, it is symbolic—a symbol of the long-awaited and much-appreciated peace northern Ireland has enjoyed for a nearly a decade, and which everyone involved wants to continue.

A sign that the English Lion can lie down long term with today’s Irish Republican lamb.


But let’s not get too carried away with it.

Is it as symbolic on its own scale as, say, the day Ulysses S. Grant shook hands with Robert E. Lee on the steps of Appomattox Courthouse after Lee had fought for five years in defence of black slavery? No, because the issue of right and wrong is much cloudier with McGuinness and Elizabeth.

Is it as symbolic on its own scale as the day ending the Second World War when the surrender of the Japanese was taken on board the battleship Missouri ?  Not really. The peacetime attack on Pearl Harbour was far more murderous than anything McGuinness’s boys ever attempted, fortunately, and the picture of peace breaking out after three years of slaughter was much more widely welcomed.

But it is symbolic. Irish Republicans have still never forgiven the British for Ireland’s brutal seven-hundred year occupation; for the Potato Famine; for partition and the oppression of the Catholic minority in the Six Counties; for the murder of civilians in Derry and elsewhere during the Troubles. These are  reasons enough to bear ill will. But the former commander of the IRA is shaking hands with the figurehead of everything British.

There are just as many well-rehearsed reasons for that figurehead to bear ill will towards McGuinness—the murder organised by McGuinness of her husband’s uncle Louis Mountbatten being just one of many of which you will all be aware. Yet she still shook hands—even if her husband couldn’t.

What the handshake symbolises then is that those things are in the past. There’s no likelihood of then happening again. That the peace begun when the IRA laid down their arms after the atrocity of 9/11—laid them down in part in the realisation they would never have the stomach for that scale of atrocity themselves—that peace has continued, its benefits are recognised, and the participants wish it to continue.

And being people of honour that desire for harmony is best symbolised with a handshake.

It’s true that one reason they can shake hands is because both the causes of Irish Republicanism and British Imperialism look somewhat quaint today. This is not the age of Parnell and Palmerston. The world has moved on, passing by what seemed issues of great moment generations ago. So in truth  it’s a rather moth-eaten English Lion preparing to lie down with an emasculated Irish lamb.

Still, whatever they think themselves these two can only shake hands because their constituents support it. Perhaps their supporters too have come to understand that it matters less what colour flag you have flying over your head than what that flag stands for—and these days both the Union and Irish flags stand for much the same brand of failing mixed-economy morass.

In the end I think it is a good picture.  It’s one of the better things the English Queen has done. I’d like to think it represents that same understanding that occurs at the end of wars like the two cited above; that animated the desire for peaceful coexistence in Chile after the fall of Pinochet rather than bloody retribution; that impelled Nelson Mandela’s Truth Commission after the ousting of South African apartheid; that we can only hope one day inspires those nursing grievances in Palestine –that as long as right is recognised and both sides can agree then in the long term peace is far better for everyone than war—and then even shaking hands with murderers might be worth it for the sake of the peace achieved.

It’s a shame the Queen’s husband couldn’t see his way clear to understanding that.


  1. So you would shake the hand of someone who murdered your favourite uncle?

  2. Well, I think I've given the context. The blokes on the deck of the Missouri (for example) shook hands far bloodier than McGuinness's, and did it happily. So too did those in South African and Chile. (And so too, incidentally, did Michael Collins.)

    And Philip wasn't there as a private individual--he was there as the figurehead's consort.

    His reaction is understandable. Understandable, but wrong.

  3. Just a thought, I recall the play 'Death and the Maiden' was very good at carrying the theme that after a period of war or violence reconciliation is necessary if you're ever going to avoid generations of further hatred.

    I guess the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission is good example of that approach having working well. The history of the Balkans might be an excellent example of the opposite.

  4. The video clearly shows Phillip shaking McGuiness's hand straight after the queen does, so nothing to see here. Not sure where this rumour came from


  5. It is, indeed, a symbolically momentous act. I imagine my grandfather, who was a Protestant Republican in 1921, would be pleased, were he still alive, to see it.

  6. I do not know what is wrong with you people. I would kill the murderer and the murderer's son,

  7. Curiously a series of interviews with Irish Republicans on TV the past few days has shown that for most of them, attention has turned to economics - and of course they are woeful at that.

    Gerry Adams and others of Sinn Fein are Marxists who claim the poverty in the north (and the problems of the Irish Republic) are due to capitalism, and are openly pushing for a socialist Ireland.

    It already effectively exists in the north with the public sector representing over 75% of GDP, but if pursuing voodoo economics keeps them busy for a generation then it is preferable to what they used to do. They no longer claim the economic problems are due to partition - difficult when they are part responsible for the goverment in the north and the border is no longer guarded.

  8. My family have Protestant Scottish origins, so I also know the rhetoric of the mindless sectarianism (and stories of how that worked in practice with tribal discrimination, crime and pettiness having been passed down to me).

    It's easy to play a counting game of which side was worse, which side killed more innocent people, etc. You can do this with all sectarian, nationalistic, tribal conflicts - but if they are JUST about that, they remain banal, empty and both sides are to blame for maintaining it.

    Yet you can't pillory Irish Republicans forever yet turn a blind eye to the behaviour of Unionists, same with Serbs vs Croats etc etc.

    The Queen didn't have to do this, it is one area where she has choice, like she chose to go to the Irish Republic before.

    For me, that trip was her most profoundly honourable act, that raised my opinion of her enormously.

    However, her most likely successor will do more for promoting Republicanism in the UK (and elsewhere where he will be head of state) than any of the rhetoric of the murdering thugs of Sinn Fein.

  9. PC

    A question in good faith...

    Given your previous remarks on the wars in the middle east, would you accept Obama shaking the hand of Ahmadinejad? Contingent on both parties agreeing to stop their wars, of course.

    It seems that that would draw quite a bit of criticism here?

    I find the conflicitng positions on war and peace confusing. the USA should never negotiate with terorists, but the queen should shake the hand of same.

    I would like to know your principles on this.

  10. @Dolf: There's been ten years worth of evidence of good faith from McGuinness.

    If Iran's council of criminals could show similar evidence of honest intentions, I'd be all for what you suggest. But the chances of that being possible are remote, at best.

    It would be like agreeing to a peace treaty on the basis of promises about invasions etc. of Czechoslavakia. To make up a completely imaginary example.

  11. philip meguire12 Jul 2012, 06:54:00

    I believe that my surname hails from County Fermanagh.

    The real problem in Ulster is the collapse of the Belfast shipyards and the associated metal working. Meanwhile, Sean Lemass's 1960s vision of a prosperous Irish Republic has become a reality. Thus Ulster went from being more prosperous than the Republic, to less so. The Protestant working class is now poor. Thus there is no reason for envy; the equal sharing of misery about which Churchill waxed sarcastic has been splendidly achieved!

    I noted 35 years ago the Marxist rhetoric of the IRA, and for that reason alone concluded that they were a cure far worse than any of the social ills they denounced. This Marxism is also why the IRA has almost no support whatsoever in the Republic.

    The Troubles in Ulster were a queer kettle of fish, given that since 1973, the border between Ulster and the Republic has been an open one. It is very easy for a former Ulsterman to obtain an Irish passport. I would rather start a new life in Dublin than risk getting my knees drilled in Belfast.

    The result is a part of the planet avoided by multinationals, and where private enterprise is little more than shops and farms.


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