Saturday 24 July 2010

Holidays and Integration in Ireland

Over the last week there has been a bit of debate over holidays and integration in Ireland. This was started when a former Tánaiste Michael McDowell suggested that it would be a good idea to make the Twelfth (of July) an official holiday in the Republic of Ireland. The Twelfth is a loyalist holiday mainly celebrated by the Orange Order, which commemorates the defeat of an English King by the Dutch Stadtholder William of Orange (hence the Orange Order). If you're wondering why the supporters of the usurping King designates themselves "loyalist" and why the nationalist Irish are let down by the defeat of the English king, well... it's mostly about religion but has since become more about nationalism. It's best not to think about it too deeply, really.

The argument for is that it will help re-integration and that it would be a good signal to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland (and those Orange Order lodges in the Republic) that they are a welcome part of the Irish tradition and the Irish nationality. Also, the Irish flag is supposed to be a symbol of reconciliation between the "Green" and "Orange" traditions in Ireland, and support has been drawn from the secular nationalist/romantics in the Irish nationalist tradition (Wolfe Tone, etc.). Plus, it'd be another holiday!

The argument against is that the Orange Order is an essentially sectarian organisation with a history of burning effigies of the Pope, etc., and that celebrating a sectarian tradition doesn't aid re-integration. The Twelfth is marked in NI by the iconic Orange marches, and these have caused unrest since the marching routes run through Catholic/nationalist areas. Also, it seems strange to celebrate an event of monarchist history in a modern republic.

Generally people seem to be against it (see the Irish Times letters page). The marching season has been undergoing a PR re-invention in recent years with the events being portrayed as "Orangefest" and European funding going to them. However, the image within Ireland remains of a fundamentally Protestant organisation that is anti-Catholic (Catholics are not allowed to become members).

It is very hard for me to imagine the Twelfth being an inclusive holiday, and the goals and nature of the Orange Order mean that it's difficult to find a place for it in a modern secular(ising?) republic. There could be a place for it in the future if it's "modernisation" attempts achieve some success, but I don't think it's anywhere near "detoxified" enough to be an inclusive holiday - and the re-invention of the holiday can only come from within the Orange community; attempts to change it some outside (especially by the Irish state) are unlikely to work. But attempts of cultural integration and tolerance definitely need to be explored and promoted.

Another aspect of integration that wasn't explored during the debate is the great changes in Irish society over the last decade. Ireland is, despite the recession, much more open and European than ever before, and these trends are likely to continue, regardless of the pace of institutional European integration. There has been lots of immigration from Eastern Europe, and from elsewhere, and integration has been celebrated to some degree during the last St. Patrick's Day parade(s). But we do have a Europe Day that we're not making use of; one that would be perfect to celebrate the cultural diversity of modern Ireland, and a perfect way to have fun with festivals and promote connections between communities. It's strange that we're not making use of it.

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