THE visit of the Queen of England has been the subject of considerable political and media focus. However, the occasion of this visit merits a much fuller discussion about how Ireland and Britain, in the wake of the recent seismic political changes, can build a better, more beneficial relationship for the peoples of both our islands.
The cliches that this first ever visit to the state by a serving British monarch somehow indicates that Irish people “have matured” or “finally grown up” are deeply patronising and insulting.
I have nothing against the Queen of England being the Queen of England. That is a matter for the people of England. But it is not the way I want Irish society to be organised.
I am a republican. I believe that the people are sovereign and not subjects. I am against monarchies.
I am also Irish. And while I am conscious of the sense of affinity which unionists have with the English monarch, I am offended at having to live in a partitioned Ireland with the Queen of England ruling over a part of us.
I believe the visit of the queen is troubling for many Irish citizens, particularly victims of British rule and those with legacy issues in this state and in the North.
I am for a new relationship between the people of Ireland and between the people of Ireland and Britain, based on equality and mutual respect.
I hope this visit will hasten that day but much will depend on what the British monarch says.
As an Irish citizen who was detained without charge or trial a number of times on a British prison ship, in a prison camp and a H Block, as well as a more conventional prison, at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, I hope so.
So too will many of the families of victims in the conflict, including victims of British terrorism and collusion. This includes families of those killed in the Dublin/Monaghan bombs, the anniversary of which takes place on the first day of the visit.
British interference in Irish affairs has come at a huge cost to the Irish people. It has been marked by invasion, occupation, subjugation, famine and cycles of Irish resistance and British repression.
The impact of this, including partition and its consequences, are still being felt to this day.
Irish republicans too have caused much hurt to people in Britain. I regret this.
The full normalisation of relationships between Ireland and Britain is important. This will require the ending of partition and the emergence of a New Ireland.
The Peace Process, to which Sinn Féin has contributed significantly, has transformed the political landscape in Ireland and resulted in a peaceful political dispensation based on an historic accord between Irish nationalism and unionism.
The Good Friday Agreement is the foundation upon which new relationships between unionists and nationalists and between Ireland and Britain can be forged. It has fundamentally altered the political landscape, levelled the political playing field, removing the despicable Government of Ireland Act and opening up a peaceful, democratic route to a united Ireland.
And because nationalists and unionists are governing the North, decisions affecting the lives of people there are increasingly being made in Ireland and not in Britain.
Republicans want to continue and to accelerate this process.
The united Ireland that republicans seek to build encompasses all the people of this island, including unionists.
It will be a pluralist, egalitarian society in which citizens’ rights are protected and in which everyone will be treated equally.
Sinn Féin wants a new republic. That of course, is a matter for the people of this island to decide.
But no matter how we shape our society, the new Ireland must embrace our island’s diversity in its fullest sense.
This includes English and Scottish influences, the sense of Britishness felt by many unionists, as well as indigenous and traditional Irish culture and the cultures of people who have come to Ireland in recent times.
Ireland and England are not strangers to each other. We should build on what we have in common while at the same time respecting each other’s sovereignty and independence.
I want to see a real and meaningfully new and better relationship between the peoples of Ireland and Britain, one built on equality and mutual respect. Republicans have been to the forefront in working to bring this about and we will continue to do so.
The visit by the Queen of England provides a unique opportunity for the British establishment to make it clear that this is its intention also.
If this is the case it will be a matter of considerable pleasure, not just for her majesty but for the rest of us as well.