OK I was riled - but the often heard chant of "you should learn your history" when there is a disagreement is irritating.
I would not try to apologise for all of the actions of the British Empire. However, as the concept of "Empire" is inimical to socialism, it is very easy just to label it as a bad thing, the British as the evil bastards of the world (at least historically) and have done with it.
It is this that I object to and why I think that historical debate of the empire on a "socialist" site will tend to have trouble maintaining objectivity.
I believe that a lot of good sprang from the empire. Before you dismiss this as fatuous capitalist apologetics, consider the wider perspective.
The strong dominate the weak. According to Marxist theory, this still goes on today in a more insidious formm and it is only recently that the strong have ceased to dominate the weak in more obvious ways. Looking back through history, was there ever an example of a strong nation treating a weak neighbour benevolently? We can say, now, that this is wrong and I am all for working against this tendency. But this doesn't alter the fact that it happened.
The Irish were weak. The British strong. The results inevitable. Furthermore, when the British became stronger than just about everybody put together in the 19th century, the potitical enlightenment that would have prevented domination by this powerful entity just didn't exist. This was a time when perfectly nice, right thinking peolple (for the time) believed blacks were sub-human.
So when I say that the British Empire was not universally bad, it is in the context that, in a technologicallly adolescent world someone was bound to dominate. The structure for peaceful and constructive international relations did not exist except between those nations powerful enough to maintain a deterrent affect. From the posts I have read here, you will no doubt believe that such a system remains intact, except that the domination has a subtler form.
If someone was to dominate, better the Brits. Other than the Celtic, indiginous cultures were left largely intact and progress was made interms of infrastructure and education. Given the degree of domination we had ,I would say the most striking thing about the Empire was not the attrocities that did happen, but those that didn't.
I don't have the figures, but more people were probably murdered in Stalinist Russia in one year than at the hands of the Empire.
Oh, and Ireland isn't an imperial issue; we were interefering in that nation's affairs from the middle ages as part of the predicable subjugation of a weak neigbour. Just as the Celts drove out the Picts and strong clans massacred weak ones.