Queen Claims to be Head-of-State of Ireland!

According to “the official website of the British Monarchy” the queen claims to be head-of-state of Ireland.

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a FAQ it claims:

“Q9. In how many countries is The Queen Head of State?

A. Including the British Isles, The Queen is Head of State in 16 Commonwealth countries. Her Majesty is head of the Commonwealth which includes 53 countries.”

Now as I have discussed here before, the most common definition of the term “British Isles” that is accepted by many, including the British Ordnance Survey,  the BBC, the British Council and the European Community Directorate of Translations , includes Ireland.

I know very well that the Queen is not head-of-state of Ireland. I don’t believe in this age of mutual respect between our islands that such an inflammatory remark would be made. However, based on the most widely accepted definition of the term “British Isles”, this is what is being claimed! Now we can take this as the definition doesn’t include Ireland, but does this not show how ambiguous and in some regards dangerous this term because of this?

Most worrying as not only is this the official site but it called “20 most asked questions”! Can people not see how confusing and misleading this is to, well, everyone, but especially those outside of the UK and Ireland who use the term widely influenced by the BBC and British Council. The British Council promotes the teaching of English widely and includes Ireland clearly in their definition of the “British Isles”, as discussed here previously.

It is clear from the use of the term in other parts of the website that they consider Ireland to be part of the “British Isles”:

“In the eighth century, smaller kingdoms in the British Isles continued to fall to more powerful kingdoms, which claimed rights over whole areas and established temporary primacies: Dalriada in Scotland, Munster and Ulster in Ireland. In England, Mercia and later Wessex came to dominate, giving rise to the start of the monarchy. “

This I hope demonstrates why the term should not be used or at least avoided. I hope that you see that when using the term you really have to think is this really what I mean? Is there not a simpler less ambiguous way of stating this? There is; she is head-of-state of the British Islands.

Ordance Survey Promoting the Use of the Term “British Isles”

This post is about the Ordnance Survey claim that the term “British Isles” is a “purely geographical term”. I recently asked them on their blog what was the justification for it being “purely geographical” The Ordnance Surrey maintain that it is not in their remit to discuss the logic of this term, but still insist on using it, promoting its use and describing it as “purely geographical term” despite it clearly not being one. Just because you claim it repeatably, doesn’t make it so!

If they defined the term as the islands of Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man then I would agree it was a geographical term. Note if you define it as the UK, Ireland etc… then it is automatically a geo-political term, as the UK is not a geographical term but a political term defining a country. The addition of the Channel Islands make it a geopolitical term.

I would suggest, however, that in this modern age of continued cooperation between our government’s and people that we could be progressive enough to come up with a better term that is not hindered by the political and linguistic problems that this term causes. The ambiguous nature of the term, its continued inaccurate use and extension to political and cultural spheres make me realise the only way forward is to abandon the term and retire it to the dustbin of history. I am not offended by the term, but by its ignorant and lazy use; the term should not be used in this modern age of mutual respect between our islands. There is no need for such a term, certainly outside of purely geographical literature, or justification for its use. There is always a more accurate and less ambiguous term that can be used for the groupings of islands referred to.

If it is not in the remit of the Ordnance Survey to comment on this term, then why is it in its remit to define and promote its use? Especially when it is known to cause offence by the way it is used? They are clear about not inaccurately using other terms so as to not offend people, yet they don’t adequatily do so in this case?

I see no reason to use this ambigious term unless you are trying to cause offensive. If you disagree please enlighten me. When would be acceptable to use it?

Who is Offended?

I started writing this blog because I wanted to popularise the ambiguous nature and confusion caused by the term “British Isles”. The ambiguousness is caused by the multiple definitions used, with different organisations choosing different ones. This results in one never knowing what is meant when the term “British Isles” is referred to. To make the whole term more confusing, organisations are not consistent in their use of this term, using it to often refer to some other groupings of Islands. Commonly, it is used as a lazy short hand to refer to UK and Ireland.

The Irish Government does not like the term and would like to see its use “discontinued”. In the Good Friday agreement the term is not used, with the term “these islands” being used instead. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, when asked in the Dáil about its use, said:

“The British Isles is not an officially recognised term in any legal or inter-governmental sense. It is without any official status. The Government, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, does not use this term.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern) in Dáil Éireann 2005, Vol 606 No. 10.

The use of the term by the BBC has been discussed here before; here and here. I am still waiting to hear back from them about their inconsistent and ambiguous use of the term that leads to offence. However, knowing the Irish Government’s stated view on the matter, as above, I was surprised to find that the European Commission, Directorate of Translations endorse this terms use in their style-guide, defining it (in its most common incarnation) as:

“The geographical term British Isles includes Ireland and the Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man and Channel Islands).”

They go on to use this term in many publications referring to the countries almost as one country, especially when referring to waters around our countries. At first, I thought that they wanted to be inclusive of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, but neither of these islands is in the EU. Nearly every time they clarify that what they mean by the “British Isles” by saying either “i.e. Britain and Ireland” or “i.e. UK and Ireland”. Why can’t they just omit the term “British Isles” that erroneously makes the countries sound like they are somehow politically linked? Especially when they don’t use the term in the way it is defined in the style-guide. Why is there only one geographical term used to describe two or more member states defined in the style-guide? Why does every other country get to be referred to by its country name?

The Guardian define the term “British Isles” in their style-guide as:

“A geographical term taken to mean Great Britain, Ireland and some or all of the adjacent islands such as Orkney, Shetland and the Isle of Man. The phrase is best avoided, given its (understandable) unpopularity in the Irish Republic. Alternatives adopted by some publications are British and Irish Isles or simply Britain and Ireland”

The Guardian has got this almost completely correct. Firstly, they have omitted the Channel Islands. The inclusion of the Channel Islands would make it a geo-political term. The only reason it is included is because the UK Government defined the term to include all the islands that were somehow “British” and the term has been linked to nationality in the past. This is the only reason why other islands off the North-West Coast of Europe are not include e.g. the Faroe Islands.

This question was asked some time ago on-line about the Faroe Island’s inclusion in the “British Isles” . The response to it are interesting:

“No way”

 

“Not really. They’re also closer to Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Ireland than they are to Denmark, but that doesn’t really count for anything other than their location.

A lot of Faroese are proud of their individual heritage and culture. They don’t really want to be lumped in as a part of another country. Just because a nation is small, doesn’t mean they can’t strive for their own identity.

 

Singapore is half the size of the Faroe Islands (although admittedly with a much larger population). Would you consider Singapore to be a part of Malaysia?”

It is interesting, and I have found from experience common, for people outside of Ireland to refer to the “British Isles” as one country. Could I not make the same argument about Ireland as they do here? Why would we want to be lumped in with the UK, when we have our own unique language, culture, and out-look on life. I am not arguing for the Faroe Islands to be part of any such group just pointing out that the term “British Isles” is a geo-political term that only relates to islands that were historically considered “British”?

I agree with “[t]he phrase is best avoided…”. It is not “purely”  geographical as stated by the Ordnance Survey. If it is, I would like to see the justification for it and wonder why it is used in research literature to refer to just the UK, Ireland and Isle of Man? However, I would go further and say that the term should not be used. There is no need or justification for it.

Gen Map, a geographical software company define the term as the UK and Ireland. This definition, of just the UK and Ireland (and sometime the Isle Man) is common in research. Why don’t they just say the UK and Ireland?  Sure who would be offended by that? And in most cases (like the EU usage and common usage) it would be more accurate.

The populations of the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are shown the the table below.

UK

62641000

Ireland

4487000

Northern Ireland

1789000

Isle of Man

83327

Channel Islands

15800

Population estimates for Ireland and the British Islands (all from Google)

The first column in the table below has the “official” definition of the terms with the population each term refers to. In the third column is a rough estimate of the absolute population “offended” or opposed on some level to the definition. This estimate of the number of people offended is simplistic at best. For example, the number of people offended by the term “British Isles” does not include the number of people offended by it in outside the island of Ireland i.e. people in the UK, USA etc… Similarly, the number people estimated to be offended by using the alternative term British Islands is overly optimistic. It does not consider the scores of ‘British nationalists’ opposed to not using this term out of “tradition”, such as the BNP.

“Official’ definition Number of people contained in definition Offended

%

“British Isles” UK, Ireland, Isle of Man, Channel Islands

69016127

5381500

8

British Islands UK, Isle of Man, Channel Islands

64529127

0

0

UK England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

62641000

99127

0.15

Britain England, Scotland and Wales

60852000

1888127

3

It is clear that the worst term you could use is the “British Isles”. It is the most inaccurate term you could use a synonym to refer to the British Islands, see here for the defination of the British Islands. It offends the equivalent of 8% of the British Islands’ population. This is equivalent, as Ireland is not part of the British Islands. The most inclusive and acceptable term, after the British Islands, is the UK. This offends much less than 1% of the total population of the British Islands. It would seem that maybe this would be a reasonable alternative term for Team GB after all. Team UK would include over 99% of the people who could qualify for the term. Maybe Gregory Cambell wasn’t so wrong after all, see here.

Complaining…

I Complain

I Complain (Photo credit: shtikl)

I was once told by a foreign restaurant owner, near where I lived in Ireland, that Irish people don’t complain. They just smile politely, saying everything was great, leave and never come back. He didn’t understand that mentality. ‘Bad’ restaurants then can’t change without their customers feedback and because we vote with our feet they go out of business not knowing what they had done wrong.

I think this is the approach we have taken. We get offended when we are referred to as the “British Isles” so we vote with our feet. It is interesting to point out that subscription based services don’t tend to us the term “British Isles”. Indeed, the National Geographic changed their policy and now no longer use this term to refer to the Ireland after a complaint by an Irish Lobbying Group in America.  There are some exceptions, when contacted Geograph Project agreed that the term was inappropriate and have agreed to use an alternative wording. Geograph Project, thank you for your support and understanding.

It has become the preserve of groups and bodies that have no commercial interest in Ireland, or do not sell something to Ireland. The BBC falls into to this category, as does the British Ordnance Survey. Neither entity is funded from Ireland, as Ireland has its own national broadcaster and its own ordnance survey.

Well, then all one is left with is complaining. So that is what I have been doing, and learning on the way. Starting with the BBC and moving on and on.

If you notice anything online, or want to help or show support, don’t hesitate to contact me via the comments on the site (you can put your email on it if you wish me to contact you). I won’t approve any comments you don’t wish me to or any comments with an email address, so don’t worry about getting spammed.