Features and Opinions Editor, Édith de Faoite, explores the surprise, sorrow and celebration following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
I often see things that surprise me, but when I saw a video on Twitter of Michelle O’ Neill and the newly-crowned King Charles III, it took me a second to believe it. The aspect of this that was even stranger to me was the warm manner with which the new king interacted with the head of the republican party of the North. This meeting sparked much conversation, including some criticism that this interaction was receiving too much attention. According to Arlene Foster, there was too much focus on it as there have been many meetings between members of the monarchy and Sinn Féin over the years. The question in the minds of the people, especially here in Ireland, is: what’s in store for the people of the North now?
It has been said again and again that Queen Elizabeth II was popular as a result of the stability she provided to the people of the United Kingdom and she led the country through the terms of 15 Prime Ministers (both long and short) and countless significant events. Those in favour of the monarchy argue that it gives stability to the country during times of uncertainty, but in the space of a week, a new Prime Minister and a new king was appointed in the United Kingdom. That doesn’t look like stability to me.
Indeed, there were varying responses to the Queen’s death, and the full range of these responses could be seen on the island of Ireland. To use one example, the fans of the soccer club Shamrock Rovers were recorded singing in celebration of the Queen’s death during a soccer match against the Swedish team Djurgardens. On the other hand, graffiti was painted on a wall in Dublin that mourned the loss of the Queen. Hundreds of people came to offer their condolences when the King came to Northern Ireland on his official visit, but then there was a group in a pub in Derry that were recorded jubilantly celebrating when the Queen’s death was first announced.
Now there is a changeover regarding the monarchy. Instead of a frail old woman that reigned for as long as most everyone could remember, we now have a far more controversial figure. From the scandals regarding his personal relationships with Diana and Camilla (don’t forget the tampon incident) to the rumours that he has attempted to exert his influence in political affairs, there is an endless list of negative situations associated with him in the eye’s of the public.
We also cannot forget the new king’s relationship with the military. King Charles is the Colonel in Chief of the Parachute Regiment, along with other military titles. The people of the North will never forget the devastation caused by soldiers from that regiment in the region. It was members of that regiment that were responsible for the massacre in Ballymurphy and for Bloody Sunday, violent events where innocent civilians were murdered. It’s difficult to forget the connection that King Charles has to those dark days. There is a possibility that many in the North will be unhappy with a king that has a hand in a group that is responsible for death, violence and terror in the region.
Another of the chilling aspects of the death of the Queen is the cost of the funeral and all associated events. It has been reported that the funeral will cost around £8 million, and that is only a rough estimate as the true cost has not been released by the Palace. It has been announced, however, that taxpayers will be shouldered with the financial burden of the funeral. Security costs will be included and they will be high, due to the attendance of a majority of the world’s leaders. The pay of workers that are working and will be working on the day must also be considered in the final cost. At the funeral of the Queen Mother in 2002, there were approximately 12,000 police officers and 1,000 various others working, but we can expect many more in this case. There was a cost of £5.4 million associated with that funeral, just to get a rough idea of what can be expected in this instance. This is all happening amid a cost of living crisis worse than has been experienced in many decades. According to the Asda’s Income Tracker, the average family in the North have less than a hundred pounds left at the end of each month. People are at their wit’s end trying to pay the bills, without help from the government, but the same government is willing to splurge millions of taxpayer pounds on a funeral for a woman who had an estimated worth of around £300 million.
I’m not going to deny that the Queen was not important. Many people around the world were fond of her. She ascended to the throne when the United Kingdom was at the height of its power, with an empire that covered vast portions of the earth. She provided a sense of stability during times of uncertainty and, for many, she represented the strength of the United Kingdom. But now, it is a chance for everyone, especially those in the North, to reexamine the importance of the monarchy. Will the people of the North attempt to get rid of this institution, headed by a military man responsible for death and devastation, or will they choose to focus on the future. Maybe we should follow the lead of Michelle O’ Neill and acknowledge the shared history between Ireland and the United Kingdom, while also fighting for freedom from the vestiges of imperialism.