The view from ...

... Dublin

William Hederman
Friday September 3, 2004
The Guardian

With the 10th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire this week, the Irish press reflected on the past decade in Northern Ireland and on the prospects for this month's series of talks, to be held at Leeds Castle in Kent, aimed at restoring the Stormont institutions.

The Sunday Business Post was typically candid: "Ireland's unionist community has, of course, spent the past decade trying desperately to avoid inclusive negotiations and above all, the inclusive, power-sharing government that would flow from it."

Referring to Gerry Adams' recent statement that "republicans need to be prepared to remove [the IRA and the issue of IRA arms] as an excuse" for unionists to use, the paper warned the Sinn Féin president not to "believe that if and when the IRA formally stands itself down, unionists will suddenly be happy to share power with nationalists. Unfortunately a significant number of unionists are quite simply anti-Catholic bigots. For many, the entire North itself is like an Orange march - the whole point is to keep the Fenians down."

As unionists "would rather have direct rule from Westminster" than share power with nationalists, the Sunday Business Post called for a "mechanism ... to ensure that if the North's institutions collapse, they are automatically replaced by something that intransigent unionists would see as worse than sharing power with nationalists. This ... should be the focus of the Irish government at the talks."

The Star was more upbeat. "The [Democratic Unionist party's] old guard are on the way out, leaving a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin must change their tunes and start seeing each other in a new light. And all sides must get the message that failure this time is not an option," noted the paper. But the Irish Times was cautious as ever, warning that the "difficulties involved are immense and it may not be possible to overcome them at the September conference".

The success or failure of the peace process impinges on Ireland's image abroad, a concern that featured in commentary on other events this week. The defrocked Irish priest Cornelius Horan's violent intervention in the men's marathon at the Olympics was, not surprisingly, the subject of acute discomfiture in Ireland. The attack by the kilt-wearing Kerryman on the then race leader, Vanderlei de Lima, "made us cringe with embarrassment", said the Irish Independent, which noted one of the priest's brothers went as far as comparing the incident to his parents' deaths. A caller to the Liveline phone-in show on RTE Radio One reckoned Mr Horan was "probably the most hated man in Ireland". Mr Horan was on the other line and refused to apologise for his stunt, which was intended "to draw attention to the Bible".

The Evening Herald tried to soothe the pain of national embarrassment. "As a nation we can't be held responsible for the actions of a man obviously suffering from some sort of mental infirmity."

Overseas perceptions of Ireland were also cited by the Irish Independent in its reaction to the announcement by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) that it was dispensing with the shamrock in its logo. The paper saw fit to devote an editorial to this development. "What have people got against the shamrock?" it wondered, alluding to previous attempts by the national airline and the tourism board to abandon the trefoil-leafed plant. "The FAI claims the new logo 'represents the very essence of Irish football - inclusive of all who enjoy the game'. Are they suggesting that the shamrock, as traditionally depicted, is somehow alienating or exclusive?"

The paper also considered whether the aversion to the shamrock could be explained by "a cultural cringe towards anything associated with Ireland from before the Celtic Tiger? Overseas the shamrock is an instantly recognisable symbol of Ireland, one that conjures up images of a friendly and hospitable country. Why would anyone want to get rid of that?"

In the Sunday Tribune, Diarmuid Doyle also devoted his column to the subject. "The ditching of the shamrock is little more than part of a continuing process in which Ireland is being robbed of its unique character," he argued. "The new logo means nothing and says nothing and exists only as a means to, once again, change the Irish jersey and milk hundreds of thousands of euros from Irish fans ... As a symbol of greed and avarice, the new shamrockless logo is perfect."

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