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‘Planter’ is a description one takes on oneself – coming from others, it’s another term of abuse

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US Congressman Richard Neal arrived by plane in Ireland to investigate the protocol deadlock but he may as well have been travelling by time machine.

His comments about how the US in the Good Friday Agreement talks acted as “honest brokers… accepting the notion that we could make space for the Planter and the Gael to live together” were like being transported back to the worst excesses of 1970s Irish-American sentimentality.

Indeed describing the crisis as “manufactured” by unionism was exactly the sort of tone-deaf clunking remarks that would have ensured there’d never have been peace brokered here.

But who was surprised? A man who plants trees in remembrance of IRA hunger strikers was hardly likely to be an impartial observer.

His speech to the Irish Seanad confirmed his political biases and infatuation with a certain version of Irish history. He even had nostalgic tales of his own derring-do. Crossing the “old border” in 1989 or 1990, he recalled how “our bus was stopped by a British Army patrol and … was subjected to a thorough search by armed soldiers with night vision equipment and heavy armaments”.

Congressman Neal might have balanced that with the experiences of border Protestant families grateful the Army and police were there to offer protection from the IRA onslaught.

It might have occurred to him that the bus search was to prevent outrages like Enniskillen, which took place two years previously.

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