The Irish in Britain have been welcomed and included, at the highest levels of cultural activity, for more than a century - one recalls Yeats in London, one thinks of Faber's healthy Irish list now. The green passport has allowed a comfortable sense of kinship to develop, so that more than one contemporary poetry anthology of British poetry has felt the need, indeed, the wish, to include Irish brothers and sisters. It must come as something of a rude awakening, then, to see that this friendship was fickle, and about a nickel, or pound, deep, in some quarters. No less than The Guardian's Polly Toynbee has argued in today's paper that the Irish have been "terrible neighbours to us" (Britain) because of the tax rate of 12.5%; and, many less-left politicians and public figures, in the Tory party and mad media, have expressed outrage that so much largesse should be shown, so much noblesse obligingly proferred, to Ireland.
I find talk of bad neighbourliness a bit much. I can't help thinking that the badness has been mostly blowing one way for well on three or four centuries now, at least - from the East. Without bothering to roll out a full carpet of crimes and follies, may I mention just two: Cromwell, and The Famine. I cannot help but feel that Ireland has done well by the UK this past 80 years or so, as a modern nation state, and that the healthy two-way traffic, marred as it was at times by troubles and world wars, benefited the UK as much or more than the Irish. Needless to say, the growth of Ireland also helped the UK economy. More to the point, the sad, shabby and sorry history of English involvement in Ireland inflicted more cost, pain and bother on Ireland than £10 billion can ever repay. Toynbee should be ashamed.