Some of us Irish need to get over ourselves: English journalists and Irish oversensitivity

Every so often an English journalist says something about or merely touching on Ireland, and a bunch of Irish people misconstrue it as something either bad, or worse than it was. These Irish people ought to get real or grow up.

Instance #1: A general subtweet on Thursday, May 10th, precipitated by Julie Bindel’s UnHerd article on the referendum on the Eighth Amendment:

This was much liked and retweeted, which is how I saw it.

Here is the Bindel passage that got the man’s goat: “That’s why, in my view, asking an entire country to decide whether women should be ‘allowed’ to terminate a pregnancy is abhorrent. Fifty per cent of the referendum’s votes will go to those who cannot get pregnant, cannot give birth, and who have no fear of becoming pregnant either by accident or by rape. Men given the right to vote can choose not to take responsibility for any pregnancies they may cause, with no fear of any consequences.” Note that it’s not about Ireland. It’s making a much broader point.

Elsewhere in the article, Bindel writes: “The fact of the matter is, that there are many men in countries around the world who consider it their right to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. And the Republic of Ireland is no different from Spain, or Poland. This whole debate is about preventing us from taking control of our ovaries, and the whole premise that abortion is wrong is built on misogyny.” Summarised: it’s a disgrace that we are in the position of needing to have a referendum.

Given that Bindel notes that the Eighth Amendment was passed by referendum in 1983, and gives other evidence of knowing the history of abortion law in Ireland, it’s reasonable to think she knows it needs also to be repealed by referendum. So why is this bore waving his green flag in my face?

Instance #2: The affected brouhaha after the ITV presenter Robert Peston said to Jacob Rees-Mogg last week: “You are a student of British history. Ireland, the issue of Ireland, in so many different ways has undermined British governments, you know, going back well over 100 years now.” On and off in the course of the interview Peston focused on disagreements on customs and trade within the Tory Party, and his comment on Ireland was consistent with this. It was part of this interview:

Peston was right. Think of Lloyd George and Churchill proposing Ulster’s exclusion from the 1912 Home Rule Bill, causing trouble in the Liberal government. Think of the split of the Liberal Party in 1886, when Conservatives and Liberal Unionists killed the first Home Rule Bill.

Cue misrepresentation and heavy breathing. A clickbait Irish Times headline: “Ireland has ‘undermined Britain for over 100 years’.” Guardian columnist Dawn Foster’s misquote, giving British left validation to sore Irish feelings: “Ireland have undermined the British government for over 100 years.” Big difference there, and all she needed to do was remove the “s” in governments

None of the smart liberal-minded Irish people who (wrongly) believe the press by and large tell them what’s real-and-important feel the need to check what was actually said. So they get huffy. I’d be huffy too.

Saying all that doesn’t meet the objections of those who feel Brexit is a disaster for Ireland, and saw red at Ireland being brought up as an object in British political debate; nor those who consider it objectifying of Ireland in the first place. But that’s life.

Instance #3: The tizz after the Sky News journalist Adam Boulton saying, “Some of you Irish need to get over yourselves,” after this interview with Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister.

He had been questioning Coveney about some abstruse element of the Brexit negotiations regarding the Border, asking if the Irish government had claimed a victory that week which it hadn’t achieved, thereby annoying the DUP and the British government. Coveney did not escape criticism in Ireland about this, either. And we are not noticeably further along regarding the Border, so maybe Boulton was right?

Irish people on Twitter, with a Brexit itch on the brain, had a go at Boulton, some by his account calling him a “Brit” and a “cunt”, and perhaps the marriage of the two words. These were likely the people Boulton was especially referring to. His full reply was: “Bored now. Some of you Irish need to get over yourselves. Interviewing is about challenging the interviewee not respecting.”

The hashtag after that was not #SomeofYouIrish, but #YouIrish, which makes all the difference in the victimisation stakes. Apart from saying that this instance shows that Irish oversensitivity is not an isolated phenomenon, it’s not worth rehashing this little tempest. Brian Boyd’s Irish Times article has already dealt with the specifics — and diagnosed this problem.

So: the misrepresentation going on in each of these examples is what shows something pathological is going on. It is something more than just an argument about politics. It is bizarrely shocking that modern Irish people seemingly still need to see themselves as a nation demeaned by the English. Particularly funny to me, is how often this anger coexists with a touching belief that the British government is fundamentally decent, and could never believe that it would lie about (say) Skripal: just as their older Irish forebears detected God’s hand in Churchill becoming Prime Minister in May of 1940.

I was glad that both Peston and Boulton remained unrepentant. This is the true British fair play, if not the bulldog spirit.


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