In a Word ... Perfidious

A strain of English exceptionalism is enough to make any Irish person’s blood run green

 

It was galling to hear UK Brexit minister David Frost quote “Irish-British scholar-politician Edmund Burke” in that Lisbon speech last month, where he threw down yet another imperious gauntlet to the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Possibly he hoped a Portuguese audience would interpret this “Irish-British” approach as all-embracing, even if it included “the aborigines of this island” as the majority Irish were described by former Trinity College provost John Mahaffy on reading James Joyce.

What Mahaffy said was that “James Joyce is a living argument in favour of my contention that it was a mistake to establish a separate university for the aborigines of this island – for the corner boys who spit into the Liffey”.

The mentality persists. Colleague Paddy Agnew recently quoted former DUP leader Peter Robinson from a 1981 meeting in Omagh that: “Charlie Haughey’s ancestors were running around in pig skins and living in caves while our ancestors were trying to cut a civilisation out of the bogs and meadows of this country.” The view lives on at the hard end of unionism.

David Frost, quoting Burke to his Portuguese audience, said: “Politics should be adjusted, not to human reasonings, but to human nature ... People must be governed in a manner agreeable to their temper and disposition.”

The “people” he referred to were not the majority in Ireland, or those in Northern Ireland who voted against Brexit in 2016.

He continued with another Burke quote that “there is however a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue”. Indeed. But his reference is to the forbearance of that extraordinary English exceptionalism that is enough to make any Irish person’s blood run green.

He might have recalled another Burke quote, concerning the majority on this island. Referring to the penal laws, Burke described them as “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man”.

Let’s not even mention the Famine. Or Priti Patel’s 2018 threat to starve us Irish if there was a no-deal Brexit.

What did we do to deserve this British government?

Perfidious, from Latin perfidia, for “one who does not keep his faith or word”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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