British troops took control 50 years ago but Ireland has the big guns now – Kenny MacAskill

Earlier this week I was at the Edinburgh Book Festival listening to the Irish historian Diarmaid Ferriter and his journalist compatriot Malachi O’Doherty speak about their books on the Troubles.

A soldier patrolling the troubled Falls Road area of Belfast in 1969. Picture: PA

As a sixties child I recall British troops going in and the recounting of it from those who lived through it was fascinating, as well as frightening.

Their talks reminded me of reading the biography of Jack Lynch, who was Taoiseach at the time. The Irish Government was scrambling to protect Catholics fleeing what were literally pogroms.

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Papers were prepared by officials covering all options, including sending Irish soldiers across the border.

That was speedily discounted as it was accepted that within ten or 15 miles they’d be confronted by a larger and better armed British military.

Instead Ireland had to make do with providing for refugees and making representations. But it was isolated and diplomatically outgunned by Britain, just like its army.

Now the situation is vastly different and 50 years on the positions are reversed. Ireland now has the political and diplomatic backing of the EU. Membership moved it from a small nation defined by its former colonial master to a confident nation in a larger power block.

Meanwhile Britain is diminished and increasingly isolated. Even President Trump is unable to offset threats from senators to block a trade deal if the Good Friday Agreement’s imperilled.

How ironic that the EU and Brexit have empowered Ireland and weakened Britain.