Editorial from Irish Political Review, May 2007

Warding Off The Inevitable?

"Never! Never! Never! Och alright then" : that's the headline of the April issue of the Loyalist Shankill Mirror.

Why was it alright then? Paisley says it's because the alternative would have been worse. But the alternative of joint British/Irish rule was entirely lacking in credibility. Paisley, who has never been a ranting simpleton, must have had other reasons for doing what he did.

He has let down many people. Dublin die-hards, such as Conor Cruise O'Brien and Bruce Arnold, were relying on him to hold the line against the party for which they have an irrational hatred. But he sold the pass and opened the gate—and now they can only gnash their teeth as public statements are issued jointly in the names of Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley.

So why did he do it? And why did he give an implausible reason for doing it?

We take it that he pretended to be frightened by the alternative in order to frighten stubborn elements in his party. The alternative of London/Dublin collaboration was likely to be much ado about nothing. Bertie Ahern has never had a Northern policy, and even if he had, it is unlikely that Gordon Brown would screw the Unionists for him.

Perhaps Paisley, who has been waiting for Gordon during the past year, reckoned that Tony would try to do something drastic during his last weeks in office unless a concession was made on March 26th. And the Water Rates had to be taken account of. But those considerations do not explain the way Paisley has been acting since he made the concession. No doubt he is still waiting for Gordon, but he is doing more than that. He is attempting to bind the Provos into 'the Northern Ireland state'.

Once of his first actions was the letter he sent to the Secretary of State, jointly with Deputy First Minister-to-be Martin McGuinness, instructing him to vacate Stormont Castle—an old centre of aristocratic power that became the site of the Unionist Cabinet when the 'Northern Ireland state' was concocted. It is far removed from the gaudy Stormont Parliament that nationalists have grown accustomed to attending.

It is only forty years since Paisley undermined Captain O'Neill. Now, having destroyed the Unionist Party, he aspires to re-establish O'Neillism on a sounder basis.

Apart from Brian Faulkner—who was destroyed by the diplomatic trickery of Doctors O'Brien and FitzGerald at Sunningdale in 1973 and their intransigence in 1974—Paisley is the only Unionist politician who showed signs of having thought about the reality of the Unionist position and who acted on the basis of what he saw.

Both Paisley and Faulkner briefly adopted an 'integrationist' stance in the early 1970s, and both of them discarded integrationism without explanation—as did a long series of British politicians of our acquaintance from the early seventies to the early nineties.

"Integrationism" meant the governing of Northern Ireland as part of the state to which it belongs, recognising that it is not itself a state and is unlikely ever to become one. (Elements in the Unionist Party, led by William Craig, flirted with demanding statehood in the late sixties and early seventies. Craig asserted that Northern Ireland was a de facto Dominion and should be recognised as one de jure. But it came to nothing.)

The Six Counties might have been democratically governed as part of the British state, within the politics of the British state. It could not be governed democratically within the British state but outside its political life. The 'Northern Ireland state' could never fall into a political routine resembling that of a democratic state.

The function of the 'Northern Ireland state' was to keep the Six Counties attached to Britain in a way that gave Britain continuing leverage in the affairs of the Irish state. Governing the Six Counties as an integral part of the British state would have deprived the British state of its leverage in the 26 Counties.

The 'minority' in the North was never a mere policy minority. Policy in the ordinary sense did not enter Northern Ireland politics. The only issue was whether the region should remain attached to the British state or transfer to the Irish state. The way Northern Ireland was governed made its political parties expressions of the two religious-national communities which were in active conflict with one another when the pseudo-state was imposed on them.

Scotland and Wales were not required to vote Unionist in order to remain part of the Union. They just participated in the party-political life of the state. But the Ulster Protestant community could only remain attached to the Union by voting Unionist from outside its politics, while governing the Catholic community outside the democracy of the state.

Catholics would undoubtedly have participated in the democratic politics of the state during the two generations after Partition if it had been open to them to do so. (In the 1940s they tried to force their way in by electing an MP on a mandate of taking the Labour Whip, but they were rebuffed.) In the 'Northern Ireland state' there was no politics for them to participate in but the politics of community.

In the politics of community there was only one way that the minority could become the majority—the way that is called demographic.

Everybody knows—or should know—that there was funny business about the last British census in the North. There was a long delay in publishing the figures. The reasonable suspicion was that the figures were being rigged for the purpose of minimising the increase in the Catholic community as a percentage. It was, of course, denied that this was the case.

Garret FitzGerald was amongst the deniers. But now he writes about the

"…outflows of Protestant third level students to British… universities. The great majority of these do not return after graduation—nor, in many cases, are they encouraged by their parents to come back to a divided society which is seen by them as being an increasingly cold place for Protestants. By contrast Catholics now outnumber Protestants in both Northern Ireland universities, and they are much less inclined to go to Britain for third-level education. Moreover those who do go are more likely to return to the North.. In the short run, this process has been accelerating the growth of the Catholic sphere of the Northern population—a trend upon which Sinn Fein has seemed to place hopes of Irish reunification within a foreseeable future. In fact this is a quite illusory hope, for polls have consistently shown that at least a quarter of the Catholic population wish to remain in the United Kingdom" (Irish Times).

He then engages in some criticism of the IRA for having fought the war that brought about the present willingness to make a rapprochement, and concludes:

"The trouble is that Sinn Fein's preoccupation with securing a Catholic majority in the North will tend to make it resistant to any measures that the DUP might wish to take to slow the Protestant brain drain. That could provide a future source of tension."

This presents the demographic issue as a Sinn Fein issue. But Sinn Fein is very much a component part of the Catholic community, and to our knowledge the aspiration for a Catholic majority is a Catholic aspiration long pre-dating the formation of Provisional Sinn Fein.

It was our reckoning thirty years ago that a quarter of the Catholic community was predisposed to take an active part in the politics of the British state, given the opportunity of doing so. Some Unionists took that as meaning that a quarter of the Catholics were Unionists. They would not see that taking part in the democratic politics of the state was a very different thing from being Unionist in 'the Northern Ireland state'.

Since then communal voting has hardened and the segregation of the communities has increased. And Dr. FitzGerald's initiatives during his two periods in Office contributed substantially to that development, particularly his 1985 one.

The general outlook of the SDLP in this matter is much the same as Sinn Fein's, and twice it refused to make a political deal with the Unionist Party independently of Sinn Fein. And the Unionist Party would not strike a deal with Sinn Fein with Paisley breathing down its neck. So Paisley had to do it himself.

With the demographic watershed in sight, he is attempting to make provision for the situation in which keeping Northern Ireland in external association with Britain will depend on implicating the Catholic community in 'the Northern Ireland state'.

He did not explain, thirty-five years ago, why he abandoned integration. We assume it was because it was convincingly put to him, by an authoritative Whitehall source, that Britain had a use for Northern Ireland which did not include having it settle down as part of the democracy of the British state. He was made to understand that there were sufficient reasons of state which required that the Six Counties should not be governed as an integral part of the state.

In the mid-1970s we were approached by somebody who had been much influenced by Paisley, and had been close to him, and had also been influenced by Athol St. Such people were not rare. This particular person was both a trade union shop-steward and a lay preacher—a combination that was not rare. He told us that in the early seventies he had belonged to a group which had taken seriously Paisley's talk about resistance. They had taken it too seriously for Paisley's liking. He had called the leaders of this group to a confidential meeting at which he told them that the unification of Ireland was inevitable, and admonished them that they must not attempt to resist it by force. Our informant, who could not be disbelieved, had been made bitterly anti-Paisleyite by the experience. He saw it as mere duplicity that Paisley should make stirring speeches which roused the spirit of resistance and should then go on to subvert that spirit. But it was not mere duplicity. It was expressive of the dilemma which the Ulster Protestant community allowed itself to be put into when, following its terrorist resistance to the Third Home Rule Bill, it accepted Home Rule for itself outside the politics of the state.

"Sitting down with terrorists" is a mere debating point when put by Unionists. Without terrorism Northern Ireland would not have existed.

Unionists in recent times asserted that the existence within the state of an army which was not authorised by the state was an act of terrorism regardless of whether it was actually shooting people. We did not dispute the point. But it does not only apply in one direction. If the IRA on Ceasefire was engaged in terrorist action by virtue of existing, then so was the Ulster Volunteer Force that was raised in 1912 to prevent the implementation of the Home Rule Bill. And the 'Northern Ireland state' concocted in 1921 was in substance nothing but the terrorist UVF made legal by Westminster.

Unionism in official authority never succeeded in establishing political legitimacy for itself vis a vis the minority of a third (which has now risen to well over 40%). The purposefulness with which that minority supported the terrorist action waged on its behalf against the arrangements won by the terrorism of the majority in an earlier generation is what brought about the present rapprochement. Democracy has nothing to do with it. The new arrangements are more blatantly undemocratic than the old. It is now officially laid down that the majority shall not govern.

There is no normal, "bread and butter", politics in the situation, which might be the source of a real party-political division that might supersede the communal division. Both sides represent the workers more or less. Both sides are socialists more or less—as it goes these days. Both wants lots of money to spend—which is to say, they want the state to give them lots of money. The points of disagreement will be the old points of communal disagreement in internal matters—with the Protestants in control of planning trying to constrict Catholic expansion.

Sinn Fein has a purpose beyond the 'Northern Ireland state'. The DUP has the purpose of curbing that purpose by implicating Sinn Fein as far as possible in 'the Northern Ireland state'.


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Roger Casement (Reply To Roger Sawyer).
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Editorial Commentary.

Das Kapital: A Critical Appreciation.
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Shorts from the Long Fellow.

Harry Boland Was Murdered By The IRB (To Be Or IRB?—Part 6).
Manus O'Riordan

Faulty Official Irish.
Ted O'Sullivan (Report of unpublished letter to Irish Times)

Kevin Myers: a study of 'exceptionalism' in free fall.
Nick Folley

Arrogance, Hypocrisy And Blind Partiality.
David Alvey

Ireland: Now And Then.
Brendan Clifford

Labour Comment
Edited by Pat Maloney

Supreme Court Judgement In Breach Of ILO Conventions.
from Socialist Voice

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