FORMER Wales rugby captain and independence supporter Eddie Butler has told Irish media that Wales lacks the confidence to govern itself. 

The BBC commentator said support for independence is held back by a belief that Wales is incapable of managing its own affairs. He also said there had once been a near ‘apartheid’ like division in Welsh society and stated his belief that English should become the country’s “back up” language to Cymraeg. 

The 64-year-old, who played for Wales between 1980 and 84, said: “There is a terrible lack of self-confidence in Wales. There is no question that we, in general, we simply do not feel we are strong enough, or even brave enough, to take on the responsibilities of governing ourselves. 

“There is a saying the Welsh make great foot soldiers but they don’t produce officers. There is no officer class in Wales because the decisions are left to others, and we have to disprove that.” 

The Cambridge University graduate made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with Irish sports media platform Off The Ball

It had sent reporter Eoin Sheahan to Wales to film a series of videos in the days leading up to last weekend’s opening Six Nations rugby fixture between Wales and Ireland in Dublin. 

Sheahan, who works for the OTB AM programme, said when researching his visit to Wales he became aware that the well-known commentator was an independence supporter and arranged to meet him near his home in Abergavenny. 

“People in Ireland would be very interested in this question,” said Sheahan of his decision to discuss independence as part of a preview to a Six Nations match but said the suggestion that Wales could leave the UK isn’t on the radar of most Irish people. 

 

While based in Cardiff Sheahan also travelled to Nelson in Caerphilly borough which is home to Wales’ last standing handball court, built by Irish labourers in the 1860s, and where the game, which is similar to Irish handball, had been played until recently. 

“The Scottish question got massive coverage here. Wales is at a different stage but I figured a lot of people would be interested in it and when it came up in Nelson it felt natural to talk about it.” 

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It was from conducting interviews, “with a very small sample size” in Nelson, that Sheahan was given the impression that many in Wales simply think independence is unaffordable. 

“Eddie Butler nailed it, a lack of self-belief. I didn’t feel the people I spoke to didn’t feel Welsh but one gentleman said Welsh independence would never happen.” 

Eddie Butler on the terrace at Pontypool Park where he made his name as a Number 8 during the 1970s and 80s Picture: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans AgencyOTB AM reporter Eoin Sheahan in Nelson which is 15 miles north of Cardiff and 10 miles south of Merthyr

The reporter said he was also conscious that the Brexit referendum result is still a conundrum for Wales: “People couldn’t get their heads around Wales wanted to move away from the European Union when it was EU money behind a lot of these great projects and now they don’t want to move away from the UK because of a lack of confidence.” 

The UK’s withdrawal has created a land border with the EU in Ireland and Sheahan thinks the island “does feel like it is moving to a united Ireland” but was frustrated to find in Wales people were more likely to ask him about the unlikely prospect of the Republic following the UK’s Brexit lead. 

“Apart from a few relatively extreme voices, this country’s not thinking about that and it’s not realistic.” 

 

While the Irish are united as a rugby nation the Republic and Northern Ireland, for various historical reasons, still compete as separate entities in football which Sheahan said is a regular talking point in the country. 

“As the Republic and Northern Ireland tend to underwhelm it is a debate, what better way to make a team stronger than join with the other team on the island? 

“Like in the rugby the (united) women’s hockey team reached the women’s world cup final in 2018, which was extraordinary, and they were supported by people from both sides of the border.” 

Eddie Butler on the terrace at Pontypool Park where he made his name as a Number 8 during the 1970s and 80s Picture: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency Eddie Butler of Wales looks for a way past the grounded Roy Laidlaw (9) of Scotland in a 1982 Five Nations match Picture: Huw Evans Agency

Butler, who won 16 caps for Wales and who has built a distinguished career as a journalist, has become a high-profile independence supporter after speaking at a Yes Cymru rally in Merthyr Tydfil in 2019. 

He told Sheahan how his English parents, who had a very strong “British identity” bolstered by the national effort during World War II had moved to Pontypool during the “last great wave of investment in Wales” in the post war years. 

On division in Wales the former Pontypoool player said “it is almost an ‘apartheid’ system of Welshness” as he explained what he said people see as varying levels of national identity. 

“At the very top, and maybe not be their own design, you’d have the Welsh speakers from the north west, north Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, natural born Welsh speakers who survived thousands of years, from Roman days, all of those who have sought to suppress their language they have survived it. 

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“Then you have the influx, through more modern industrial times, the influx of English-speaking people who have become Welsh by living here, just by absorbing something of that, but without speaking the language and now they represent the majority. And there is, or there was, a conflict between the two that if you were English-speaking Welsh you always felt slightly looked down on by the Welsh speakers.” 

Eddie Butler on the terrace at Pontypool Park where he made his name as a Number 8 during the 1970s and 80s Picture: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans AgencyEddie Butler in the Pontypool Park grandstand Picture: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency

Butler said that division had “finally come to an end” and also stated his support for providing all education, starting at primary level, through the medium of Welsh: “Instead of force-feeding adults, who are so set in their ways they don’t like change, the Welsh language will start at primary school.  

“So the children, our children, and our grandchildren, will be taught in the Welsh medium and they will absorb it so easily.

"Within two generations you will have people speaking Welsh as naturally as French is spoken in France. English is always a good backup language. From Portugal to Norway people have English as a backup language. It’s an advantage that in Wales we speak it pretty well.” 

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