The discussion of conversations in a modern Ireland

Bertie Ahern has challenged the people of Ireland to have a national conversation on what it means to be Irish in 2006, the idea being that out of it will come a unified sense of nationhood, an agreement on our past and a direction for our future but such a debate is flawed from the beginning. Ireland has at never point been in agreement about what it means to be a citizen; is it the language you speak, the place you were born in or the money you have?

Sunder Katwala, from the unique perspective of a half-Irish, half-Indian man born and raised in Britain has suggested a more important debate; a historical one.

History is what happened, and what has made us the nations we are. It is also what we choose to believe about it. The Hindu nationalist or the Sinn Feiner can choose to edit out the complexity and connections, and return to a purer past… An alternative approach makes us products of our histories, and of the mutually defining contacts between them, but not prisoners of what we inherit. At its best, this can root patriotisms which are the more secure for not needing to falsify their own pasts. These can, in turn, provide the foundations for a secure and rooted internationalism.

In this day and age, as Gerry Adams claims to be making an attempt to reach out to Unionists such a debate is vital. Irish people need to take their rose-tinted glasses off; for example saying the 1916 Rising was a failure which angered the people of Dublin more than rouse them is not to destroy its significance, it could agreed that the rising was an event doomed to failure but based on ideals that few can reject. Both sides of the political divide need to push the debate forward; we cannot change history, as much as we might try. Many parts of Irish history (and British history in Ireland) are not as glorious as some would like to believe and none of it need define the way we live our lives today.

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