Editorial from Church & State, Winter 2005 (Number 79)

A New Departure?

The longest-established and most widely-read political columnist in Ireland, Bruce Arnold, has reasserted the Protestant supremacy. this comes as the culmination of a succession of moves in that direction, beginning with Hubert Butler's election manifesto in the Kilkenny local elections of 1955.

The old Protestant Ascendancy depended on military power and the monopoly of land ownership. Those supports were knocked away about a century ago with the establishment of democratic local government in 1898 and with the revolution in land ownership around 1904, and national independence was asserted within a generation—voted for in 1918, and fought for when the British Government carried on governing in defiance of the electoral mandate.

The Protestants in the South, insofar as they continued to exist as a distinct community, do not seem to have been active in Irish affairs from 1918 to 1921. They were inactively Unionist for the most part, and were disinclined to identify themselves with the Ulster Unionists—with whom in fact they had little in common, particularly when the Ulster Unionists indicated a willingness to make their own separate arrangements.

The 1918 Election and the declaration of independence which followed were seen by Southern Unionists as comic-opera episodes which the British Government would brush aside. And "President De Valera" was ridiculed in the Church Of Ireland Gazette as a fantasist.

The 1918 Election was assumed to be invalid. No thought was applied to it. No reasons were given. There was simply an assumption that the existing power structure would deal with this Irish aberration as it had dealt with others in the past. When the Irish persisted in their foolishness more obstinately than they had ever done before—since the 1690s—their actions in support of what they had voted for were seen as murderous. But then, like a bolt from the blue, came the traumatic event in which murder was rewarded: the Truce of July 1921.

Months of apprehension followed. Then, in December 1921, Whitehall succeeded in splitting Sinn Fein with the offer of a degree of self-Government under the Crown, combined with the threat of all-out war with the gloves off if the Dail persisted in regarding itself as the Parliament of a Republic. The Church Of Ireland Gazette then became an active player in the game, on the Free State side.

In order to avail of the terms of the Treaty, the small pro-Treaty majority in the Dail had to meet as the Parliament of Southern Ireland under the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. Those Dail members did their best to pretend they were not doing it, but the Church Of Ireland Gazette reported the event (13 Jan 1922) and commented:

"For those who have never had Sinn Fein sympathies the passing of the old system has many pangs. We are taking a leap into the dark. We have… no real fears… Nevertheless it would be foolish to imagine that the loyalists of the South and West regard the change… with any great enthusiasm. Ireland is their country. Thousands of them will never leave its shores; and they are determined to make the best of things… But they have certain principles, which no change of Government can banish. They are good Irishmen, but they are also good Britons, loyal to the Throne and person of their King, and to the glorious traditions of the centuries which are woven round Great Britain's name. They have never been and never will be Republicans. They will give their wholehearted and active support to the Irish Free State… but they will always be mindful of the ties which bind them to their kinsmen across the Channel and in 'Northern Ireland'."

"Southern Irish loyalists are to be found in every part of the British Empire, and they have no reason to be ashamed of the part which their ancestors, and some of themselves have played, and are still playing, in the administration of the great Commonwealth in which Ireland is to take her honoured place in the near future."

The Gazette hoped that in this new situation the old political parties would dissolve and be replaced by "a more rational division of opinion". That might, possibly, have happened if Britain had recognised the Dail as an independent Parliament, even if only in the 26 Counties, free either to be a republic entirely separate from Britain or to choose a form of association with Britain which was acceptable to the bulk of the Irish electorate.

But the delegates signed the Treaty under threat of immediate and terrible war, a small majority carried it in the Dail under the same threat, and a very substantial minority of the electorate voted against it despite the threat. The new division of opinion, entirely rational in the circumstances, was Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty. And, once the threat of war receded, the electorate began to return to the Republican position, from which it had only departed under the threat of all-out war.

On 5th May 1922 the Gazette said:

"The Irish people are now their own masters. They can no longer look to England to take their decisions for them, and they can no longer put the blame on England for their misfortunes."

But that was patently not the case, as was evident even in the Gazette itself. Collins and the Anti-Treatyites were trying to devise ways of keeping the Army (the IRA) together as the Free State was set up, and to formulate a Free State Constitution which would not outrage Republican ideals, while Whitehall was intent on preventing matters from being fudged and on precipitating conflict in Ireland. And the Gazette was in two minds about the matter. It was actively Free Statist, and therefore apprehensive about its position in the event of war, so it welcomed peace moves between the two parties in the IRA. On the other hand, it was "Briton" in outlook and therefore wanted the Republicans to be put down.

Church Of Ireland Gazette 26 May 1922:

"We represent the Protestant minority in Southern Ireland; a minority which is defenceless, not so much on account of its numerical inferiority as on account of the fact that it has not needed to defend itself against anything or anybody. A situation has arisen now which no Southern Protestant ever anticipated. The less said about it the better. But this much should be said. As long as the Protestants of the 26 counties obey the law of the land, and continue to work for its benefit, they have the right to the protection of the majority."

The Southern Protestants as a community were defenceless because, as a community, they were put in place by the Williamite conquest and were kept in place by British power. As a community, or a people (as Yeats put it), they lacked the power to preserve themselves as overlords over the majority. They were "Britons" protected by the power which put them in place and maintained them there. On the withdrawal of British power they might have bided their time. Instead of that, they became actively Free Statist, even though they could add no material force to the cause of the Free State in battle. The Army, which had brought Britain to the negotiating table, for the most part rejected the Treaty dictated by Britain, and it held sway over many parts of the country. The Protestant community (Unionist and Imperialist, as the Gazette described it) was therefore, as a partisan of the Free State, in an unprecedentedly vulnerable position.

The Collins/De Valera Pact was still in being on 26th May, and the editorial continues:

"Now that an arrangement has been made between the two parties in Southern Ireland which hitherto (i.e. for 5 months) have been divided on the issue of the Treaty with Great Britain, we suggest that one of the first cares of the Coalition bloc in Dail Eireann should be to restore to their rightful owners all the houses and lands which have been seized in recent months. A start might be made with the Masonic Hall in Dublin."

If the "Coalition bloc" had been allowed to evolve, it would no doubt have overcome the disorder that resulted from the imposition of the Treaty. But Whitehall vetoed the Coalition. Collins was forced to break the Pact before the election, and he was then manoeuvred into making war on the Anti-Treatyites: and disorder increased.

Once the 'Civil War'; started, the Gazette became incredibly patriotic:

"It is not a question of a Republic or a Free State. It is rather a question of freedom versus tyranny, of the people’s will against the dictates of a small and violent minority" (21 July).

"The war for Ireland’s liberty is raging still… The Irish Government is faced with a heavy task andnd deserves the active support of every member of the Irish Church, whatever his or her political views may have been in the past, or, for that matter, whatever they may be today. Politics have nothing to do with the present crisis. Ireland is fighting for the right to live. The men who are attacking the Government are trying to drive the country back into hopeless struggle with the British Empire" (28 July).

This is a tacit acknowledgement that it was not a civil war at all, but a war to enforce an Irish settlement in accordance with the will of the British Empire.

The Empire party won the war, and won the election the following year. But the fall of the War Coalition in Britain, on the Turkish issue, brought in a series of weak and disoriented Governments, the Imperial will became confused, the prospect of war to sustain the Treaty receded, and the "small and violent minority" of 1922 took power in the state in 1932 and set about revoking the Treaty to which the Protestant community had attached itself.

The "small and violent minority", having so quickly become the substantial and stable majority, accorded the Protestant community a privileged position within the new Republican Constitution of the state, and a long period of quiescence followed.

When it was broken by Hubert Butler with his assertion of the superiority of Protestant blood in 1955, and the Gazette published his manifesto, there was dissent from Protestants who were active in politics as citizens of the State.

Butler asserted a proportional right of representation for Protestants as a community, and this was rejected by Protestants who were involved in the party politics of the state as citizens. There was no political equivalence between the position Protestants in the Republic and the position of Catholics in the Six County region of the British state. Protestants might achieve high political office in the Republic, and many of them did so by participating in the politics of the state. No Northern Catholic ever achieved political office in the British state, being institutionally excluded from the political life of the state. If the political opportunities, which were open to Protestants in the Republic, had been open to Northern Catholics in the United Kingdom, they would certainly have participated in large numbers and the course of events would have been entirely different. While a great many Protestants took part in the political life of the state as citizens, the turn of events in recent years suggests that a kind of Protestant political community with a Unionist orientation maintained itself in seclusion during all those decades and has now begun to assert itself.

Bruce Arnold has been making the going in his Irish Independent column. He maintains that Protestants have always been oppressed in the Republic, and that it is now, and always has been, a sectarian state. Professor John A. Murphy went a lot of the way with him in this, but he baulked at some of the extravagant statements made at the "Reform" Conference some months ago (which was patronised by the British Ambassador). Arnold responded to his defection with a sharp reprimand in the Irish Times (28 October), which includes the following passage:

"I am tempted to call his "free-thinking mentality" flabbiness when it fails to recognise the difference between whatever it is that he means and the more rigorous discipline of the Protestant mind."

We were interested to see how this statement would be responded to, but no response of any kind has appeared in the Irish Times. It is unlikely that a response from Professor Murphy has been suppressed. And we are sure that modest disclaimers from the Protestant community of the sectarian superiority of its mind would have been published. It would seem therefore that there is agreement amongst Irish Times readers that the Protestant mind is inherently superior. And that is surely one of the most remarkable events that happened in Ireland last year.

PS: Has John A. Murphy been sacked as a regular contributor to the Sunday Independent for daring to criticise the Reform Society agenda, or is it just a coincidence that he is no longer featured?

Contents of Number 79

A New Departure?

Theatre And Life.
Brendan Clifford

The Puritan Millenium.
Stephen Richards

Tom Moore ON New Labour!
Pat Muldowney

Vox Pat (Consumerism And Values; Article 44; Rezoning Church Land; Tim Healy; Homosexual Marriage; Seán MacEntee; Catholic Papers; Commandments; Moore On Slavery)
Pat Maloney

Osama, Freedom & Democracy.
David Morrison

Speech To The American People.
Osama Bin Ladin

Seán McGouran

The Protestant Experience In Ireland.
Pat Muldowney

A Multi-Cultural Palestine?
Hashemi Rafsanjani

One-State Awakening
Peter Hirschberg

Crusader Genocide ?
Seán McGouran

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