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Anne Harris: It is time to rein in the Anglophobia

Perfect storm of circumstances has fostered a casual anti-Britishness in Ireland

On Monday, Virginia Giuffre launched a legal action against Prince Andrew for sexual abuse more than 20 years ago under the US Child Victims Act. She was able to do so because of an extension, during the pandemic, of the statute of limitations on the act by New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

On Tuesday, Cuomo resigned after a report by the New York state attorney general claimed he had sexually harassed multiple women. Do we still think American society has no irony gear?

The most important achievement of the MeToo movement is that the word of a woman now carries clout. The unintended consequence of MeToo is that words and allegations without verification can destroy reputations as never before. Prince Andrew has not been charged with any crime. We know he was guilty (as was Bill Gates) of a shameful lack of judgment in fraternising with Jeffrey Epstein after Epstein had been found guilty of soliciting prostitution with a minor. We know he revealed a deluded denial about this in a BBC interview. But he is still innocent until proven guilty.

So what? Does anyone care about the British royal family? And a mere supporting character in The Crown at that?


But a civilised society has good reason to care.

Firstly, because of living their whole life under public scrutiny, the royal family has become the magnification of society’s fundamental conflicts. Their mistakes provide lessons for all, such as that respect for women, like forgiveness, needs constant practice. Whatever happens, they cannot dismiss Giuffre the way they dismissed Diana and tried to dismiss Meghan Markle. These women are their nemeses.

Diana's anniversary is enthusiastically marked, Mountbatten less so. Memorialising, as we have learned in recent years, can be a selective business

Equally importantly the royal family is bound to our republic through terrible ties. But a perfect storm of Brexit, the decade of centenaries and Covid captivity before RTÉ screens, has fostered a kind of casual Anglophobia which has expunged appreciation of the ordinary humanity of royals, their foibles and failings.

Every August, acres of print are dedicated to commemorating the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

But the royal family had another August cataclysm. In the dying days of summer 1979 Prince Charles’s great-uncle, and surrogate grandfather, Earl Louis Mountbatten, was blown to pieces by the IRA at Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, along with his grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, Nicholas’s local friend Paul Maxwell and grandmother, Lady Brabourne.

Diana’s anniversary is enthusiastically marked, Mountbatten less so. Memorialising, as we have learned in recent years, can be a selective business. The tragedy for Mullaghmore, with its simple hillside cross and peace garden seat, is that it can never forget.

Writer Tina Brown, commenting at Princess Diana’s funeral, said it was a measure of how far she had fallen that she found herself in Paris in August. It was a silly remark, but it carries tragic resonances of Sylvia Plath’s line in The Moon and The Yew Tree:

“I have fallen a long way... and the message of the yew tree is blackness. Blackness and silence.”

Blackness and silence. Just about sums up one golden August day at Mullaghmore.

In April, after the death of Prince Philip and more than 40 years after the atrocity, Sinn Féin addressed it for the first time. Asked about the murder on Times Radio, Mary Lou McDonald said: “The army and the armed forces associated with Prince Charles carried out many, many violent actions on our island. I can say of course I am sorry that happened. Of course, that is heartbreaking.” This was interpreted as apology.

There was no ambivalence from Prince Charles when he visited the scene of his uncle’s murder in 2015. He said the tragedy taught him much about suffering in the Troubles and thanked local people for helping after the atrocity.

President Michael D Higgins was impressed – both by the prince’s words and his grace under the pressure of Gerry Adams’s opportunistic, outstretched hand.

So much has changed that one has to wonder if Queen Elizabeth, should she visit today, would be taken to our hearts as she was 10 years ago

Our President is a pluralist, but even he has been affected by the decade of centenaries: last year he compared the sack of Balbriggan by the Black and Tans to the Vietnam war. Can this level of grandiose self-pity be good for any national psyche?

Once upon a time, mutual decencies were commonly observed between Ireland and Britain. And in times when the War of Independence was still fresh in the memory, Dr Noel Browne, in his autobiography, described the British doctors who saved his life during the second World War: “I still marvel at the generosity of a society which, in the middle of a war of such ferocity, could have turned aside to concern itself with saving the life of an unimportant outsider, whose own country had chosen not to concern itself with the struggle.”

So much has changed that one has to wonder if Queen Elizabeth, should she visit today, would be taken to our hearts as she was 10 years ago. She has had her travails since. There is no way back for her beloved Andrew. But we can still cherish our nearest neighbour and rein in the Anglophobia.