However her May 17th-20th sojourn in the Republic ultimately shakes out for Queen Elizabeth II, this visit is bound to be one of the most stage-managed and carefully spun in history.
The reason for this is that a large proportion of Irish people are not in favour of the visit. This is not because we hate English people – in fact, many English citizens live and work in the Republic of Ireland where they are more than welcome and where they constitute the largest percentage of foreign residents. It’s not even about “the North” – the politically neutral term used on the island to refer to what is elsewhere known as Northern Ireland. The issue of “the North” doesn’t enter the heads of most people down here from the end of one week to the next, hardly surprising as it has been a separate political entity for nearly a century.
It is about the general values on which the State of Ireland was founded. When compared to Rest of World, the Republic of Ireland is distinctly off-message. It is a country that is generally anti-imperialist, deeply republican and somewhat anarchic, a place where – unlike the UK – no one calls you “ma’am” much less “Dr.” and where the last time I arrived at Dublin Airport sans ID, I got told to “remember it next time”. This value system is no coincidence – it is based on a deep-rooted sense of equality and an absolute lack of respect for hierarchical, pointless authority (ie fascism). Republicanism, in this greater sense, was, and is, a lot more than a minor turf war – it was, and is, about equality, freedom and self-determination, and it was/is an inspiration to oppressed people around the world. These values are what has given Ireland its unique position on the world stage: we are a neutral country; we aren’t in NATO; in comparison to other Western nations, the class system and capitalism are quite weak; we have a singular history vis-à-vis colonialism and our stance on global issues such as Palestine is quite unique in the Western world. We were also the only EU country which was constitutionally required to hold referenda on the various integration treaties, because we are the only nation with such a strong belief in the right of “the people” to make all major decisions.
Queens, on the other hand, are not about equality, freedom and self-determination, and that is why we are not very happy to see Queen Elizabeth here, especially without an apology. We are deadset against colonialism and imperialism, and it is not possible to “move forward” with a visit that does not address those important issues. On the contrary, many of the sites chosen for the visit – Dublin Castle (previous seat of British power in Ireland, where the Queen will give her only address), Croke Park (site of a civilian massacre in 1920), the Garden of Remembrance (dedicated to those who fought for Irish freedom) – as well as the dates (anniversary of the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, almost universally believed by Irish people to have been carried out by British intelligence), have, however intended, inflamed many people, who are not interested in acting as if the passage of time has magically made everything OK.
Unfortunately, Irish people are not being given a chance to express their views on this point. The official media is presenting a unified pro-visit stance, and Dublin is, at the time of writing, already in a near lockdown state. Most inner city streets are subject to a parking ban and Dublin’s main roads will be closed for the duration of the visit, including the M50, Dublin’s main highway. The police will also be stopping, questioning and possibly searching anyone found in the general vicinity. In addition, the army, navy and air corps have been deployed, as have anti-aircraft guns and seven military planes (representing a sizeable chunk of the entire Irish airforce). The trash bins have been taken off the streets and manhole covers are being sealed. Water cannons have also been brought in from “the North”, making many people feel that the Queen has not only come, but has brought the instruments of oppression with her. Because this 40 million USD security operation is highly unusual for Ireland, where police officers do not carry guns and we essentially do not have crowd control equipment. When people illegally block streets, we phone talk-radio to complain, before conceding that maybe they have a point and hey, it’s only for a few days, anyway.
People here also tend not to feel nearly as threatened by the IRA (or RIRA, CIRA or other countless variations on the same theme) as mainstream media would have one believe. After all, they generally only harm civilians when they really bungle something, and therefore the perceived need for protection from “terrorists” (notably not referred to as “terrorists” here, but rather as “dissidents”) is rock bottom. We are all well aware that it isn’t us they are after. I traveled by bus through an area of Dublin on Friday where several non-viable explosives had been found the previous day, listening all the way to a middle-aged Irishman gleefully regale some Spanish tourists about said bombs and what a glorious point was being made therewith. But while we are all quite chilled about this sort of thing, few people will be wanting to stand next to Queen Elizabeth while she is here. That is quite a different kettle of fish, and we only question the wisdom of bringing her somewhere where she is so clearly not wanted. Without this extremely high level of stage-management she would certainly be the target of at least some very hefty protests, and if the world sees a Queen happily visiting a few hand-picked Irish people as part of an imagined apology-free “reconciliation” in the next few days, I can only attest – from my vantage point here on the ground – that it is not seeing the whole picture.