Mary Lou McDonald has been on the receiving end of political ire and ostentatious breast beating for having walked behind a banner in the New York Patrick's Day Parade which proclaimed England Get Out Of Ireland.
The banner would capture the time honoured republican sentiment of separatism, one of the "five isms" of republicanisms. Republicanism has long wanted England to get out of Ireland. The "Adam" of Irish republicanism, Theobald Wolfe Tone, exhorted his fellow citizens "to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils."
England get out of Ireland is simply the boilerplate republican position of Brits Out. As Martin Galvin pointed out in a letter to the Irish News England in this context is synonymous with the Westminster parliament. Even Sinn Fein which has abandoned everything in its quest for respectability and the pursuit of careerism has not yet concocted the bedazzling formula that will see another bamboozle inflicted on the grassroots and allow it to fly into the Westminster parliament on the magic career carpet.
So what if the banner is anti-British? There is nothing wrong with being anti-British if by being anti-British it means opposition to the continued involvement of the British state in the political administration of any part of Ireland. There is even more reason to be anti-British given that Britain has brought a right wing Brexit; has invaded Iraq and refused to prosecute Tony Blair for war crimes; has tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib; has bombed and destroyed Libya; and has derisorily dismissed the anguish of the relatives of the Bloody Sunday dead.
It may by now be academic because England has no intention of getting out of Ireland, nor ever has to, due to a political reality made possible by Sinn Fein having signed up to Good Friday Agreement. When stripped of its spin, the substance of the GFA is that it was a British declaration of intent to stay on the same basis that they had previously stayed in Ireland – until a majority of people in the North say otherwise. Moreover, as Richard Humphreys has pointed out in the best book yet to address the Good Friday Agreement, even after such a vote the British will continue to have a role in Ireland.
One of those leading charge has been Simon Coveney who found it "offensive, divisive and an embarrassment” that McDonald should stand beside the banner but not about his party leader and Taoiseach standing beside Donald Trump. While Sinn Fein is correct to dismiss such posturing as faux outrage, it is more than that. For many like Coveney in the political class, the Good Friday Agreement meant not only the strategic capitulation of republicanism but its ideational strangulation. Okay to proclaim England Stay In Ireland but not England Get Out Of Ireland.
Only a week after the faux outrage, Coveney's party Fine Gael applauded Jeffrey Donaldson after he had figuratively hoisted the banner Ireland Get Into The British Commonwealth.