Those who refuse to conform with the agenda and language of the loudest groups in Ireland today are more likely to be called a ‘shoneen’ or a ‘lundy’, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
“The exceptional complexity of our history is often pushed aside so that there is little evidence left of the understanding and reconciliation which remains the great challenge of our time,” he said in a speech at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin on Wednesday.
Addressing the theme ‘History, Identity and Politics’, the Taoiseach said the approaching of the end of the decade-long programme to commemorate various centenaries is “a very good moment to take a broader perspective on whether and in what ways our views of history are evolving”.
“We are in many wonderful ways a more diverse and tolerant country than we were in the past – but it is a sad fact that if you refuse to conform with the agenda and language of the loudest groups you are today more likely than 20 years ago to be called a ‘shoneen’ or a ‘lundy’”.
Shoneen is a pejorative term for an Irish person who imitates English customs; lundy a unionist who sympathises with nationalists.
There is “no positive purpose to be served by trying to promote a one-dimensional and partisan picture of our past”, said Mr Martin.
“It is possible, indeed essential, to be able to combine a pride in your own tradition with rejecting the idea that you must keep alive the divisions and methods of the past.”
He found hope, and a positive message, “in the remarkable volume of evidence that our history, and the identity which it informs, is constantly evolving. One where each generation seeks to create new opportunities for the next – where divisions can be both respected and overcome.
“It is in this that I find the greatest relevance, indeed the greatest challenge, to our generation”.
The Shared Island initiative, he said, is “a priority for me”.
“Whatever your political position is, and whatever your identity is, the absolute starting point for securing peace and reconciliation on our island is for us to know each other better. We need to move beyond making assumptions about each other and to start a systematic engagement.”
He said he is convinced “of the incredible future we could have together in an Ireland which united its diverse communities”.
“In terms of prosperity, creativity and inclusion, I know that we could be a powerful example for other countries. However, I completely reject the idea that this could ever be achieved by seeking the victory of one tradition over another.”
“And in this we are confronted by our failure to move from rhetoric to the reality of challenging how we define our Irish identity,” he said.
“For those of us who are nationalists, how far have we actually gone in engaging with the fact that others who we see as Irish do not share our narrative?” he asked
“How far do we accept as part of Irish identity symbols which do not stir the emotions of the group to which we belong?”
“A genuine conversation about our shared future must start with an acknowledgement of how much we all must do to include within our understanding of Irish history the diversity and change which has been so central to it,” he said.
Our island “has remained a shared space but one with deep divisions to overcome”, he said.