NI is not “under British rule”

A conversation about the Irish name for “Belfast” degenerated recently into the comment “It’s the English name that counts, we’re under English [sic] rule”. Isn’t it telling that people still phrase it like that – “we’re under British rule“? Who, with an iota of self-worth, would phrase it like that?

Eight years ago this week the England football team visited Northern Ireland for a World Cup qualifier. The papers were full of the questions English players were asking about Belfast lough, what room David Beckham was staying in at the Culloden, and what sandwiches Wayne Rooney was eating. These great English invaders were lauded as superstars and latter-day colonial masters. Before they lost 1-0…

To be clear, I am half-English, I was largely educated there, I am genuinely fond of England above and beyond that, I support all its sports teams they play anyone except Ireland/Northern Ireland (or occasionally South Africa). But I do not for one second believe as a resident of Northern Ireland I am “under their rule”. What a ridiculous notion! It is quite obvious to anyone who views it objectively that we are every bit as good as they are, as David Healy proved that night.

Of course, there are people who do believe we are “under English/British rule” on both sides of the divide, and who do innately carry an inferiority complex – this is surely a colonial overhang. After all, Ireland was under English Rule (i.e. Parliament in London was able to legislate for it without any Irish representation). This goes well beyond the inner cities too. Indeed, one excited new NI21 member wrote over on Slugger that our (NI) politicians “shouldn’t bother with the difficult stuff like welfare and tax” (in other words, that they should leave it to those superior beings over in England – you know, like the obviously incredibly competent David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg…)

It is true that Northern Ireland was not fully included within the UK in 1921, but rather cast asunder from it – uniquely attaining Home Rule when it didn’t want it and when Scotland and Wales were still 80 years away from having it. It is true that most people in Great Britain are aware of Great Britain’s own boundaries but often unsure of Northern Ireland’s or Ireland’s relationship with it, treating people from either jurisdiction much the same. It is true that, unlike Wales and particularly Scotland, Northern Ireland politicians rarely play a significant role at the heart of UK-wide politics. And of course there’s the “not available in Northern Ireland” syndrome.

But Northern Ireland is not “under British rule”, as this would imply something involuntary about it and/or that it has no say over that rule – so it is particularly odd to hear Unionists using the term. The 1998 Agreement makes it absolutely clear that Northern Ireland is in a Union with Great Britain (post-devolution, perhaps best seen as a Union with England, Scotland and Wales) which it may remain within or depart from entirely of its own accord. Furthermore, the 1998 Agreement makes it clear that Northern Ireland has its own rule for domestic matters, co-operating with Great Britain on excepted and reserved matters through Parliament in which it is perfectly fairly represented proportionately; indeed, it also cooperates on certain agreed matters with the rest of Ireland through bodies with Boards with equal numbers from each jurisdiction reporting to each legislature – so there’s no “under anybody’s rule” there!

What the phrase really gives away is an ongoing inferiority complex – as if we somehow should be under someone else’s rule because we’re too stupid to govern ourselves. That then becomes somewhat self-fulfilling when, in the certitude that someone in Great Britain will bail us out if we do anything too ludicrous, we overwhelmingly elect to Stormont a load of “community representatives” with a narrow, one-sided view of everything in preference to competent legislators who can think and feel for everyone in NI.

Yes, we have our foibles, but taken as a whole they are no worse than any other country’s. It is about time we in Northern Ireland gained some self-respect, with or without David Healy banging in hat tricks or Rory McIlroy banging in birdies. We are actually worth it.

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7 thoughts on “NI is not “under British rule”

  1. This is a joke post surely Ian? A plain and obvious strawman. No serious person could have made that assertion!

    • chris roche says:

      Mulroney says:
      For years I assumed that ‘Ian Parsley’ was a jocular pun on ‘Ian Paisley.’ I gradually came to accept that Mr Parsley was a real person in his own right and in proud possession of a functioning brain. But now the old doubts have returned, especially regarding the functioning brain assumption.. Translating Mr Parsley’s latest dictum into real politic speak, ‘Norn Iron is not under the limp wrist of the ‘Army Gone English Watch Your Ass’ nation!!!!! If what you say is correct Mr Parsley, why are the PSNI armed, why is there an armed English garrison in your wee lunatic asylum of a ‘country’?

      • I suspect we are at opposite sides of this Chris. I meant that no serious person could have made the assertion that NI is under “English rule”. It’s an absurd claim. We have representatives at Westminster and a devolved assembly. This is hardly America in the 1700’s!

      • There are UK military garrisons all over the UK, funnily enough. Always were and always will be for as long as NI is in the UK.

        The police service is armed because some lunatic groups on either side can’t deal with necessary compromise.

    • The term “English” was used essentially to link to the linguistic point. It was best taken as “British”.

      I hear the term “under British rule” frequently.

  2. Interesting points except I’ve never used the term under English/British rule. Nor have I heard any friends & acquaintances make the assertion. What annoys me is what I call the “David Coleman” syndrome in the media. Why David Coleman, well it harks back to the runner Alan Wells. He wins Olympic gold and Coleman says – great race by the British athlete. A year later he doesn’t win – a disappointing performance by the Scottish runner.

    • Honestly, I hear this claim all the time. But can you provide a shred of evidence for it?

      I’ve asked many times for someone to give me even one concrete example of any media doing this. Can you link me to one?

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