Column The strength of our Irishness lies in our differences

first_imgUNLIKE ITS PEOPLE, Ireland’s international image hasn’t been taxed heavily by the global economic crisis. The rest of the world still sees us as an island of brogue-speaking rogues and redheads. To them, we’re an uncomplicated and largely cheerful people who love the ‘craic’. Thanks to Irish charm, cities across the world will go green come 17 March and countries across the world will welcome Irish government ministers and officials in a shower of shamrocks and leprechaun hats – and being country cute, we’ll wink and nudge and know it’s all for show.This quaint image of Ireland – nicknamed ‘Brand Ireland’ during the 2009 Global Irish Economic Forum— has been of great benefit in attracting foreign investment, promoting Irish exports and building the Irish tourism industry. Traditionally, this global profile has been a sound investment. Playing up to the gallivanting, green-clad idea of Ireland has been good for business. But what effect has this play-acting had on our society?Three weeks ago, the Taoiseach declared that he would be attending the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York despite its exclusion of LGBT groups. When asked by a member of the Opposition whether he would at least wear a rainbow badge to the event, the Taoiseach replied that he would be wearing a shamrock— as if the two were mutually exclusive. He then went on to say that St Patrick’s Day parades were about “our Irishness and not about our sexuality”, and with those words drew a line down the middle of the Irish LGBT community: cutting them into two distinct parts.The shamrock as a symbolOf course if he’d looked at the shamrock as a symbol, he might have remembered the story behind it. He might have remembered that the shamrock was used to illustrate that something holy, something whole, is made up of many pieces. If such a simple foundation story can be forgotten to the point that it is twisted back upon itself, then it needs retelling.Ireland and the Irish people have never been as simple as everyone likes to pretend. Although other nations see us as rural, boozy bumpkins, we’ve helped build some of the biggest cities in the world. We’re adaptable, we travel and we’re worldly. In the early 1920s, 43 per cent of Irish-born men and women were living and working abroad and today— almost a century later— Irish communities overseas range from Western Australia to the United Arab Emirates. We are a lot more cosmopolitan than other countries would credit.In truth, we’re a nation of travellers. Presbyterian, Catholic, Protestant, Nigerian, Lithuanian, British-born, Scots-descended, naturalised or otherwise, we all have a long history of migration and of moving to new places and accepting the differences there. Today, in light of recent reports from the Immigrant Council on a huge rise in racist incidents, this is a part of our past and present that should be celebrated this St Patrick’s Day.A counterpoint to official, prejudiced paradesIreland’s complications have produced some of the best poets and playwrights in the English canon. As our society evolves and our people continue to emigrate, it might be tempting to cling to simplified clichés rather than acknowledging and embracing these complications and the difficulties in defining ‘Irishness’. However, there is a wealth to the diversity of creeds, skin colours and sexualities that now openly exist in Ireland and we would lose something that cannot be rated in economic terms should we not celebrate it.As such, We’re Coming Back— the campaign for emigrant voting rights— has decided to launch a St Patrick’s Day parade on social media. The event, which begins on 14 March, will last three days and aims to provide a counterpoint to official, prejudiced parades. The St Pat’s for All committee, who organise an annual LGBT friendly St Pat’s for All parade in New York, have backed the event and Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss has given it his blessing . Under the hashtag and title #misefreisin, we invite all groups campaigning for a more inclusive Ireland to participate in a celebration of Irishness to the fullest and farthest extent of that term.Truly celebrating IrishnessIn the wake of controversy over the certificates of Irishness issued last year, and the Gathering 2013 initiative, the onus is on the Government to show that it is capable of truly celebrating, and not just capitalising upon, Irishness. Fine Gael and Labour are currently facing criticism for their failure to promote or take an interest in the Irish language and Irish emigrants are still disenfranchised despite alternative recommendations from the EU Commission. Given that most Government ministers will be out of State on St Patrick’s Day— leaving only one senior minister, the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn, in Ireland— you’d be forgiven for wondering whether we focus too much on providing a charming front to tend to the backyard.All over Europe, with the rise in extreme right-wing parties, gulfs are growing between the various groups of people that make up a single country. As a nation born in civil war and long divided along sectarian lines, we should be wise to old mistakes. We should celebrate our diversity on St Patrick’s Day and found our Irishness in our differences, not in spite of them.David Burns works in Paris as a TA (Teaching Assistant) at La Sorbonne Nouvelle. He left Ireland after the Dublin restaurants in which he used to work, Frankie’s Steakhouse & Chatham Brasserie, both closed. David is a campaign member of We’re Coming Back, the new movement for an emigrant vote.Follow We’re Coming Back on Facebook, Twitter or email [email protected]: Martin O’Neill on what it means to be IrishRead: ‘Irish-ness’ hugely important for success of businesseslast_img read more

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