Furious response to column saying Ireland has ‘tenuous claim to nationhood’

Writer Melanie Phillips' column is entitled 'Britain is the authentic nation in this battle'

Daniel Mulhall, Irish ambassador to Britain: he challenged Ms Phillips’s contention that Ireland’s nationhood is ‘tenuous’ by pointing to over 100 years of independence.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Daniel Mulhall, Irish ambassador to Britain: he challenged Ms Phillips’s contention that Ireland’s nationhood is ‘tenuous’ by pointing to over 100 years of independence. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A column in a British newspaper which describes Ireland as having a “tenuous claim to nationhood” has provoked an angry reaction from the Irish ambassador to the UK, among others.

The column entitled “Britain is the authentic nation in this battle” appeared in the opinion pages of the Times of London on Tuesday, and elicited a seething reaction from social media commentators.

The piece by writer Melanie Phillips, known for her incendiary views on a range of topics, claims that “Scottish nationalism and Irish republicanism are cultural phenomena rooted in romanticism and myth and hatred of the other in the form of the English or the Protestants”.

The article achieved the unusual feat of riling both Irish republicans and unionists equally by describing the latter group as “not British”.

Unionists

“The Unionists hate this being said but they are not British. They’re the bit that got tacked on to Great Britain to make the UK,” Ms Phillips opined.

On Ireland’s status as a sovereign state she wrote: “The claim to unite Ireland is tenuous since Ireland itself has a tenuous claim to nationhood, having seceded from Britain as the Irish Free State only in 1922.”

The article cites the 18th-century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke as a prime example of England’s primacy within the British Isles.

“Englishness . . . came to stand proxy for all the communities of the British Isles. Even Edmund Burke, although a loyal Irishman, wrote of himself as an Englishman rather than describing himself as British.”

Ms Phillips further categorises Northern Ireland and Scotland as the “most troublesome bits of the UK” and accuses Sinn Féin and the Scottish National Party of wanting to “reclaim powers from Westminster in order to surrender them to Brussels”.

She describes the EU as an “artificial construct” as opposed to the “authentic unitary nation” that is Britain.

‘Right to rule itself’

The column concludes with the rallying call: “Faced with the contemporary resurgence of regional or tribal uprisings, it’s the ancient British Isles that must hold itself together to take its place once again as a sovereign nation in the wider world.”

Reacting to the remarks, Irish ambassador Daniel Mulhall wrote two tweets saying: “As Ambassador I cannot ignore @MelanieLatest’s outlandish claim that Irish nationhood is ‘tenuous’. 100 years of independence.

“Irish nationhood based on strong sense of identity, distinctive culture & shared values and interests. Nothing ‘tenuous’.”

Ms Phillips forcefully defended her views amid a maelstrom of angry messages on social media, telling detractors: “Off you go, chummy”.