HAD William Faulkner been an Irish writer instead of a Nobel laureate born in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1897, he might not have left us his famous line: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
An Irish writer of Faulkner’s perception would not have thought such a self-evident truth worthy of comment.
Like the air around us, the past is an eternal presence and even if some of us try to step beyond its clutches it drags us back to adjudicate on the long ago and reflect those conclusions in our everyday. We are not alone in this.
The murder of nine people in a Charleston church just over two years ago provoked South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds.
Since then, public monuments remembering Confederate leaders — generals Robert E Lee and PGT Beauregard and president Jefferson Davis — have been removed or are earmarked for removal.
That these statues have to be dismantled by workers wearing bullet proof vests in the dead of night shows how emotional this issue still is.
Purging these mementos of a racist and immoral past may be comforting in a dishonest closure exercise but that is all it is — it does not change history in any way.
The same issues played out at Oxford University when international students on Rhodes scholarships failed to have a statue of their racist, imperialist benefactor removed.
The issues play out in Ireland too. That the campaign to have Dublin Airport named in honour of 1916 signatory Tom Clarke continues even though he was remembered when the East Link Bridge in Dublin was last year renamed the Tom Clarke Bridge is an example.
The campaign to rename streets in Cork named after British “aristocrats and war criminals” is another example of how one side or another tries to pasteurise history.
The most obvious example of that process today is Sinn Féin’s hijacking of the Irish language in its unwavering determination to make Stormont fail because if that political entity, the unfortunate, often bigoted compromise made unavoidable by history, succeeds they fail.
It would be cheering to think that Sinn Féin’s determination to try to save Irish is a cultural mission but it is not. It is a political exercise designed to humiliate Unionists whose intransigence and sectarian history makes them vulnerable.
But then, that community has seen how, once in power, Sinn Féin have rationed their national flag. It is not hard to imagine a Sinn Féin administration, just like revisionists in America’s south, purging the North of Unionist symbols.
It is unfortunate Foreign Minister Simon Coveney allowed his office be compromised in this highly-choreographed “crisis” but as British prime minister Theresa May learned in a £1bn lesson, Northern politicians have made negotiation or when required, intimidation, an art form.
Ironically, Sinn Féin’s enlistment of Irish for political exploitation is another nail in the language’s coffin.
This politicisation, even if only symbolic, is anathema to many who would otherwise use the language.
Sooner or later, the North’s two communities will have to start with two blank sheets of paper.
This contrived hurt delays that moment as does any indulgence offered to either side by others mired in this dysfunctional behaviour.
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