The fact that some Irish organisations have the word royal in their title is “a curious thing”, but also a sign of “a certain maturity about Ireland’s independence”, the British Ambassador to Ireland has said.
Paul Johnston was speaking in a personal capacity during a debate on the theme “You can be anything in Ireland now, as long as it’s not English” which was hosted by ARINS: Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South’ at the Royal Irish Academy,
The Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland (RHSI) is consulting its membership about dropping “Royal” from its name, following a motion passed without a vote at its annual meeting in May.
In response to a question from philanthropist Carmel Naughton, Mr Johnston said he had not been aware of the RHSI’s decision to put a name change to the vote. However, he said it had always struck him “as a curious thing” that Irish organisations would have the word “royal” in their title.
“But, you know, that seems to me like a sort of certain maturity about Ireland’s independence that you don’t feel the need to sort of, you know, get rid of royal bits here, royal bits there.
“You’re a proud, independent country, but you’re conscious of having, as I said, you know, your part in our shared history,” he said.
In her question to the panel at the event, Ms Naughton said: “When Irish people say the word ‘royal’ [or] ‘royal family’, we don’t mean Spain, we don’t mean Japan, we don’t mean Sweden. The word ‘royal’ is synonymous with the British royal family.
“Recently, the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland decided to have a vote to remove the word ‘royal’. And I wonder, does the panel think that perhaps the other royal societies in Ireland might consider doing the same thing? A new dawn for Ireland, perhaps?”
Ms Naughton, and her husband, Martin Naughton, have given away millions in philanthropic donations to numerous charities, including many focusing on cross-border peace efforts.
Mr Johnston also emphasised the current positive state of Anglo-Irish relations after the difficulties at the height of the Brexit era.
“I’ve lived overseas in Paris, New York, Stockholm and Brussels before coming to Dublin, and I’ve never reflected as much on being British as I have done in this country,” he said.
Speaking as a Scot, he said he has not encountered anti-Britishness “very much at all” during his time in Dublin, he told the RIA.
“I have come across some anti-Englishness, sometimes in a sort of comic, post-modern, ironic way, the same way as one does in Scotland.
“In fact, I would say sometimes in a more gentler, less chippy way here than you come across in aspects of Scottish society,” he went on.
However, Mr Johnston pulled away from X, previously known as Twitter, in June, following sustained abuse unleashed after he commented on the outcome of the Government-appointed security forum, chaired by Prof Louise Richardson.
“A number of us have been subject to abuse, on the basis of opinion, gender or in my case nationality. It’s sad to see so much unreason, but there are responses available. Thus I’m taking a break from the Twitter sphere,” he said then.
The attitudes held in both countries have changed and developed over the years, he said on Monday. “You no longer hear or you hardly ever hear Irish voices shouting or with banners saying, you know, England out of Ireland’, or ‘Britain out of Ireland’.
The debate about the island’s constitutional future is “more rich, more diverse, more thoughtful than it was”, though it has “a long way to go”.
“It could go in a number of different directions. But it feels to me a sort of healthy and respectful debate. And that feels to me a good and a happy place to be in,” he said.
This article was amended on Friday, November 24th, 2023