A nation’s history should be taught impartially

It is disgraceful that Rachel Durnings’ brother (August 30) was bullied at school, ostensibly for being English. Bullies will use any perceived difference as an excuse to taunt their victims. To blame such bullying on history taught in Irish schools is however a step too far.  One might  as well blame the English historian Denis Richards for the signs ‘No Dogs, no Blacks, no Irish”  commonly posted on English lodging Houses in the 1950s. 

Rachel rightly points out that English people, like those of most nations, were abused by their ruling classes.  However, nothing in England’s history after the Black Death begins to compare with the devastation of the genocidal Gorta Mór which resulted in the deaths of up to two million  and the consequent halving of the population. 

Nations evolve slowly. ‘Brutal fighting between Irish tribes’ no more negates Ireland’s claim to nationhood than do 30 odd internecine wars,  innumerable riots and a general strike, all of which afflicted England throughout her long history, after the invasion of the Anglo Saxons. 

British policy in Ireland was geared towards extirpating all traces of Irish culture and identity: Irish teachers were paid by the British government  to beat children in the ‘national’  schools for speaking Irish. To add insult to injury schoolchildren were made recite to a poem giving thanks to God for being “a Happy English Child”.

Britain’s empire was build upon notions of white supremacy and absolute entitlement; subject countries were regarded as England’s treasure trove and a source of cheap or slave labour or, in Ireland’s case, as a bread basket and useful source of cannon fodder. India was once perhaps the richest country in the world. Centuries of exploitation by the empire and the slave trading East India Company reduced it to beggary from which it never fully recovered. 

Mrs Durning claims that African  and Indian friends praised Britain’s investment in their countries –(people are kind!). One wonders then why former colonies threw off the imperial yoke by force of arms and/or civil disobedience. Shashi Tharoor on India and Caroline Elkins on Kenya have exposed the monstrous primaeval savagery of imperial rule,  savagery in which many Irishmen,  to our eternal shame, participated. Thankfully Irish people differentiate between England’s government and her people, which is why many Irish people happily study, even settle there and support English football teams, especially those of Liverpool and Manchester, cities with large Irish populations. Today  400,000 Irish in Britain and 150,000 British-born people in Ireland have respectively made enormous, cultural, economic and social contributions to their adopted countries. 

Rachel is right when she says that history should be taught impartially. This  applies to all nations,  not just Ireland.  Impartiality does not mean sanitising history or ignoring inconvenient truths. 


Newry, Co Down

Non-effective Executive

For the first time I agree with the former MLA David McNarry.  His views were recently expressed when he queried the ability, willingness, selflessness or vision of the major parties to make the Executive work for the betterment of Northern Ireland.

I query a lot of the inaction in NI which has led to so many failures to make coherent progress, which all have caused distress, waste and created the apathy which is so obvious among ordinary people.

In case we have forgotten, here are some the botches: abolition of 11-plus with no agreed replacement; the non-completion of the MI/Westlink obstruction caused by the York Street Interchange; the non-delivery of an energy from waste plant; the non-building of the Casement Park stadium; the non-delivery of the clearly spelled out improvements for the health service in the Bengoa report, Renewable Heat Incentive scheme and so on. We need coherent leaders to make the hard decisions and stop prevaricating.

Are these defective actions caused by the Executive, the responsible government  departments, general incompetence or something else?

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement provided a stepping stone to normality. It requires our maturity and development, which so far has not been apparent. Because of the institutionalised sectarianism of having to designate an MLA’s tribe (or non tribe), MLAs are not encouraged to reflect their own views and those of their constituents.

We should now be mature enough to accept a 70 per cent democratic vote to be acceptably inclusive and decisive. Get rid of the institutionalised sectarian head count and let us get on and make the changes required to make NI vibrant, inclusive and progressive.


Belfast BT1

PIRA was not the cause of Troubles

Personally, I do not think Michelle O’Neill should lead Sinn Féin within these six counties. That said, I do wholeheartedly support her statement that it was inevitable that the PIRA were an integral and inevitable part of what we call the Troubles but they were not the cause of it. Catholics were burnt out of their homes along with a good number of their Protestant neighbours who opposed such behaviour of loyalist thugs being covertly urged on by the powers that be running this part of Ulster at the time – which showed that it was a sectarian orientated attack, not a religious one. The bloodshed was the unfortunate outcome of such a conflict but there was a Good Friday Agreement at the end, flawed as it may be, but it brought about the end of this murderous war. Would the pacifists have got this outcome with a ‘turn-the-other-cheek’ attitude put forward at the time? One cannot negotiate with such people as they reverse the facts to suit themselves, as you can read now. Argue over every point if you must but there is very little hard-core aggression now and I, for one, am grateful to all those who helped to bring this settlement about, fragile as it may be.  


Ballycastle, Co Antrim

Mountain built out of a small molehill

It is now five years since Leo Varadkar took over from Enda Kenny as taoiseach and ordered Irish customs officials to cease the discussions they had been having with UK customs officials about how to manage the small flow of goods over the open land border from Northern Ireland into the Republic and thus the EU Single Market.

He, and his UK counterpart Theresa May, were both keen to see a mountain built out of this small molehill, preferably to prevent the UK from leaving the EU, but at least to keep us under the economic thumb of the EU in its Single Market and Customs Union, as stridently urged by business pressure groups such as the CBI. Yet as repeatedly pointed out any significant threat to the integrity of the EU Single Market could easily have been countered by UK export controls over the goods flowing north to south, and indeed there was already an established system for licensing exports of sensitive goods such as arms, which could have readily been adapted for this additional purpose. 

It is only necessary to google for ‘SPIRE export licences’ to bring up information about this system, which is run by the Department for International Trade; hopefully Liz Truss will bring in a sensible alternative to the ghastly Northern Ireland Protocol. 


Maidenhead, Berkshire