THE BRITISH ISLES

 

Sir, - Some letters in the last while have discussed the term "The British Isles" and its reference to Ireland. It's an issue that is at once very minor, and incredibly significant. While it is of no real significance that (for instance) BBC TV weather forecasters refer to the weather over "The British Isles", it is significant that people think there is such a thing as the "The British Isles" at all - at least, when it is meant to include Ireland.

It can ultimately affect the strength of the Irish pound, and thus Irish monetary policy. It greatly affects the world's perception of Ireland, and ultimately it even reflects and affects Ireland's perception of Ireland.

Ireland is a booming, independent country. The economy is finally on the way up. The Irish are slowly becoming as confident and relaxed about their nationality as any country should be. We've lost our inherited paranoia about, and hatred of Britain or England. The definition of "Irishness" no longer includes the caveat "and it's not bloody English either". (Compare this with Scotland and Wales.)

The term "The British Isles" is, quite simply, an anachronistic political designation, and has no real basis in geography. Ireland is, quite simply, not a British island. It used to be one in a political sense, but the fact that a piece of it is still in the UK is no real argument for calling the whole place British. British islands include Skye, the Orkneys, Anglesea, etc. They don't include Ireland.

I did notice that your letter writers were quite passionate about the topic. I've raised the same argument in Ireland, in Britain, and with British people here in The Netherlands. I have always found that it raises most passionate argument in Ireland. The British in Britain are reluctant to view their island as anything other than the centre of the universe, but are still prepared to admit that the term is a bit past it (as is the term "The Home Counties").

The British ex pats I've met in The Netherlands are more forthright. One comment was that people who still said Ireland was included in the British Isles" were just idiots". Other common responses/descriptions include "obsolete", "not current", "doesn't include Ireland anyway", or "God, do people really still use that term?"

The people who react most strongly to the proposal that the term be allowed to die off (and it is dying) usually live in Ireland (both the Republic and the UK part) and are usually confused about their terms. They will often say things like "Northern Ireland is in Britain" (ignoring the correct title of the United Kingdom of. . . etc.), that "Eddie Irvine is a fantastic representative of Great Britain", or generally have very little notion of what country they actually live in. They also include Irish (Republic only) people who are uncomfortable with the rapid cultural and economic progression in Ireland, and who still look to London as the major "local" city centre because Ireland is leaving them behind.

The term "British Isles" will die off by itself. As Ireland emerges from the Third World and becomes increasingly prosperous and self confident, Irish people will refuse to be associated with a country that is working hard to get into the Third World and which no longer has any claim to superiority: additionally, the more anti Irish among the British will become too embarrassed by their problems to claim the association. Already, the fact that the Irish pound is worth more than sterling is intensely embarrassing to those who hold the more extreme "poor little Ireland" view. I knew people in London who stopped insulting Ireland the day the Irish pound bought more than £1 sterling. They're going to face more and more of the same. - Mise le meas,

Den Haag,

Netherlands.

PS: Perhaps the President, Mrs Robinson, could work on this problem. I can think of better ways of improving Ireland's image in the world than simply removing ourselves from "The British Isles", but I can't think of many cheaper ways.