A few weeks ago I suggested in the Dáil that the queen of England might be politely asked to contribute to the cost of her bed & breakfast during her visit to Ireland this week.
I pointed out that the Irish people needed the financial help since they could soon be — metaphorically speaking — sleeping rough, as the country faced bankruptcy to pay off the debts of German and French banks which had recklessly gambled and lost in the Irish property bubble. The political establishment was not amused at this seeming lack of respect for Her Majesty.
I was only half joking actually. Although our government will not give us a firm estimate, the massive security arrangements surrounding the back-to-back visits of the British queen and the president of the United States of America, are estimated to cost up to €30 million ($42 million). This is the same amount of money which has just been earmarked to provide emergency jobs for 3,000 unemployed people as part of a revamp of school buildings throughout the state.
With almost half a million (14%) of our workforce jobless, which would be more socially useful, another 3,000 jobs or entertaining high-profile visitors?
The exorbitant cost is not the main reason, however, why the Irish people should not roll out a green carpet for the British queen. Nor should a refusal to welcome her stem from reviving folk memories of centuries of persecution of the Irish nation by her predecessors.
True, British kings and queens presided over a diabolical repression of the people of Ireland. Relentless conquest, land theft, savage penal laws and other cruelties were the order of the day. Nor did the conquest ease up when British feudalism gave way to modern capitalism during the 19th century. During the reign of Queen Victoria, the great-great-grandmother of the present Queen Elizabeth, the greatest trauma in the history of the Irish nation occurred. Victoria presided over the brutal application of the laws of free market capitalism in Ireland which meant that bountiful harvests of wheat left our shores while a million died of starvation and consequent disease following the failure of the potato crop.
One result of the British conquest remains of course, with Ireland divided into two states. Calling for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland and a United Ireland isn’t unfortunately a simple matter. Until the working class people, Protestant and Catholic, unite in a fight for a new society free from the sectarianism and poverty, that division will continue.
If we were to hold today’s leaders responsible for their predecessors who historically presided over the brutal colonialism of the past, no formerly colonized nation could have any truck with many of the great powers that still dominate our world economically and politically. We can and should however hold today’s rulers responsible for the crimes they continue to preside over and that is why we should not welcome Queen Elizabeth II.
The British queen is head of state and head of the British armed forces, which along with the United States under President George W. Bush staged a criminal occupation of Iraq under the flimsy cover of a blatant lie. That occupation has cost the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and of hundreds of young British soldiers. These “workers in uniform” and the Iraqi dead and maimed were sacrificed for the economic and political advantage of the British capitalist class. We should disown this barbarism, not turn a blind eye to it.
Although you will not find it publicized in the establishment media, the British queen still retains inherited powers of a dictatorial nature. In certain circumstances a British monarch could remove a prime minister and select another to form a government. We saw how this could work when it happened in Australia in 1975. The British queen’s representative, Governor-General John Kerr, removed the Labour Party Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam and appointed a right-wing caretaker prime minister in his stead.
The British monarchy is a relic of feudal times. Such relics should be preserved in museums and in historical buildings for our interest and education. They should not be part of the governance of a modern society. Neither should we collude in the never-ending propaganda of the British establishment media using their royal family for their own purposes.
The British press provides endless coverage of matters royal. This coverage goes into palpitations of manufactured excitement at events such as the marriage of Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, even if it was to a “commoner.” No doubt it is felt that royal “circuses” will distract the mass of the British working class from the savage program of cuts in public spending by the economic and political establishment which simultaneously finds billions to bail out speculating banks.
While we extend no welcome to their unelected ruler, we stand for the greatest solidarity between the ordinary people of Britain and Ireland and we remember also that almost one million people born in Ireland have found a home in Britain.