If the Scottish independence movement has always had conflicting feelings, almost more affection than rejection, towards the British monarchy, Irish republicanism has never hesitated to express its rejection of what they consider to be the main symbol of colonialism. The signal for the increase in the level of IRA violence, in 1979, was the assassination on the north coast of the island of Lord Mountbatten, the queen’s second cousin and great-uncle of the future Charles III, then Prince of Wales, about whom He acted as a mentor and adviser.
More than 50 years of all this have passed, and the current political reality would be unimaginable for the protagonists of that era. Carlos III has chosen Belfast as the second objective of the tour undertaken by the nations and territories of the United Kingdom. Unionists and Republicans continue to clash drastically, but now within the civilized framework of coexistence imposed by a democratic system of government, with hardly a trace of the sectarian and bloody violence of decades. Today the tension and frustration, especially those of the community loyal to Great Britain, are expressed by burning buses, telephone boxes and containers. It is a street violence that is rejected, to a greater or lesser extent, by all the parties, committed to preserving, at least the skeleton, of the institutional stability that was achieved in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
“Today I want to remember the way in which I value and respect the important contribution that Elizabeth II made to the advancement of peace and reconciliation between the different traditions of our island, as well as between Ireland and the United Kingdom, during the years of the peace process. , said the vice president of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill, at an extraordinary meeting of the Stormont Autonomous Assembly. The vice president of the formation that for years was considered the political arm of the IRA was the most voted in the regional elections held in May in Northern Ireland. It was a historic victory for the Republicans, and according to the peace agreement, it was automatically up to O’Neill to occupy the position of main minister of the autonomous government, a position always held, for almost a quarter of a century, by the unionists. She o’neill she has been part of the group of leaders who have met privately with Carlos III.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, the key agreement that managed to unblock the Brexit negotiations and that defines the fit of that British territory in the community customs area, has stirred up the unionist parties, especially the leaders of the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, in its acronym in English). The divisions between them, and their electoral defeat, have led them to block the institutions of autonomous government. Northern Ireland today does not have an Executive, its Legislative is still without activity, and the President of the Assembly extended in his position, the Republican politician and once a boxer idolized by the population, Alex Maskey, has been in charge of expressing before Carlos III at Hillsborough Castle — the king’s residence in Northern Ireland — the message of condolence from the deputies. His words have shown the will of each other to cling to institutions, and the desire for reconciliation, in a moment of mourning. “He personally demonstrated,” Maskey referred to Elizabeth II, “how individual acts of positive leadership can help break down barriers and foster reconciliation. The Queen showed that small but important gestures – a visit, a handshake, a walk down the street or a few words in Irish – can make a big difference in changing attitudes and building relationships.”
Elizabeth II did all of this. Especially, the handshake with Martin McGuiness, in June 2012. Those seconds face to face, affable and smiling, between the monarch and the former leader of the IRA and key politician of Sinn Féin meant for many of those present a before and after . “The queen took some brave and important steps, which no one could have anticipated. And that they had no precedent in her family, especially after the murder of Lord Mountbatten, with whom she had a very close relationship”, recalls Peter Hein, the Labor politician who helped establish a system of shared power in Northern Ireland between Unionists and Republicans.
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Mass Bath in Belfast
For the number of flags of the Union Jack (the raised flag of the United Kingdom) that waved in the air, it has become clear this Tuesday that the majority of the thousands of people who have welcomed Carlos III through the streets of Belfast were rather unionists. The orders issued by the leadership of Sinn Féin, however, to maintain at all times the respect due to the days of mourning for the death of Elizabeth II have been scrupulously maintained. And Charles III, who also had his moment of personal reconciliation, when in 2015, as Prince of Wales, he shook hands with the legendary Republican leader Gerry Adams for 13 seconds – who justified Mountbatten’s assassination in his day -, wanted to convey, during his first visit to Northern Ireland as king, a conciliatory message: “With that shining example upon me [el de su difunta madre] and with the help of God, I assume my new obligations, determined to seek the well-being of all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland”, he said.
In the cathedral of Santa Ana, the main church of Belfast, Carlos III and the queen consort, Camila, received applause and shouts of support on their arrival at the religious service of thanks to Elizabeth II. Inside, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Liz Truss, and the Prime Minister of Ireland, Micheál Martin, were already waiting in the first bench of the central nave. The two countries guarantors of peace in Northern Ireland. For the first time in almost 80 years —it was in 1945, with George VI—, the cathedral choir has sang the god save the king.
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