The Queen’s visit to Ireland has been a subject of puzzlement for many of us.
What’s the big deal? Why so much security? Who cares?
To many of us in the Republic, particularly people under 40, the Troubles are – mostly – an unpleasant memory that never affected us directly. To many young people even in the North, they are of the past, and the few dissidents who continue to stir trouble are reviled as throwbacks to times that nobody wants to repeat.
It was only on Monday that I realised the significance of the visit, and why it is being hailed as historic in the manner that it is. It’s not about us.
We take peace for granted now; this is not a country at war, no matter what the deluded dissidents say.
The visit is historic because the North has become a symbol of hope for people who suffer under oppression in other places. Even rare outrages like the despicable murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr only serve to demonstrate just how few people in the North wish to return to violence. When an atrocity like that is a notable exception that outrages society, it shows a society that has grown unused to violence.
Much of the pivotal work on the Peace Process was carried out by people like former US envoy George Mitchell. He has just resigned as the US envoy to the Middle East.
On Sunday, Palestinians commemorated the ‘nakba’ or ‘catastrophe’, their name for the 1948 settlement of Palestine and the declaration of the State of Israel. Israelis know it as Israeli Independence Day.
Thousands of unarmed Palestinian refugees attempted to walk from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon across the border to what is now Israel. The majority were peaceful. Accounts differ, but approximately ten Palestinian civilians were killed and hundreds injured after they were fired on by border security.
No matter what your perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is no doubt that the situation there is desperate. Violence, terror, and atrocities on both sides are widespread. There is no security, no trust and no social cohesion.
Think, for a minute, just how far our lives in Ireland are from that reality, when they could be so close to it. If so many people had not worked so hard on achieving peace here, scenes like the shameful, pathetic riot in Dublin on Tuesday would be commonplace.
Peace has brought civilisation, and it cannot be taken for granted. At this moment there are active wars going on in 38 different countries, according to the website globalsecurity.org. That is 38 countries where people do not trust their authorities; where civil liberties are at risk; where violent death is commonplace; and where acts of war like rape and torture are part of everyday life.
The Queen’s visit is a symbol of a time beyond war and terror. For ordinary people in places like Palestine and for politicians and peace brokers, it’s a sign that, in one generation, giant, unthinkable progress can be made.
For us, who no longer realise the gift we have been given, it may be a minor inconvenience. But it’s not about us.
- Source: George Mitchell stepping down as Middle East envoy (cnn.com)
- The Queen in Ireland: what Irish writers have to say about it (kimbofo.typepad.com)
- Letters: Queen’s Ireland visit heralds new chapter (guardian.co.uk)
- In Ireland, Queen Elizabeth writes new chapter with visit to Bloody Sunday site (csmonitor.com)
- Queen gives Ireland closest royals have come to apology for Britain’s actions (guardian.co.uk)