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Irish nationalisms in perspective

Fred Halliday
Second Torkel Opsahl Memorial Lecture


This, the second Torkel Opsahl Memorial Lecture, was delivered by Fred Halliday, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, on December 10th 1997 in Belfast.

© Democratic Dialogue 1998

Introduction: intellectual and personal perspectives

I would like to begin by thanking Democratic Dialogue for the honour and opportunity of addressing you tonight. No one in this room needs reminding of the importance, at any time, of what Democratic Dialogue has enjoined me to do, which is to engage in 'reflective debate on the future of Northern Ireland'. But we are meeting here at a time that is for two reasons of special relevance to such reflective debate.

We are commemorating UN Human Rights Day, the occasion when, in 1948, the states of the world—for the first time, and with many imperfections—sought to lay down a set of universally applicable principles for the definition and protection of rights, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since that day in 1948 a larger body of codes, and some would say, law pertinent to this topic has been passed: there are now more than 90 such instruments within the UN corpus of resolutions. We can all talk, from our different perspectives and experiences, of what is deficient in the l948 code and the subsequent body of resolutions.

Closely related to this body of universal humanitarian law are conventions, those of Geneva in 1949 and its subsequent protocols, regulating the conduct of war, by official and unofficial groups—a point to which I shall later return. Much is now made of the selective application, and abuse, by great powers of this legislation, and much can also be said about the selective application of it by governments, and non-governmental actors, elsewhere. Yet, for all the criticisms and the lack of political will to implement universal codes universally, this 1948 code represents a major achievement, to be defended and amplified.

I have argued this for many years with regard to the part of the world that I have studied the most-the middle east. If you are in the jails of the Iranian mullahs, the Israeli Shin Bet, Saddam's republican guard, or the Saudi religious police—'the department for upholding good and forbidding evil'—you would not want to be told that you are suffering from ethnocentric delusions or are alien to your culture if you object to torture, arbitrary detention and cruel punishment.

The arguments against universal codes are too often used by states, or non-state actors, which have their own sinister, and cruel, agendas. The references used to deny universality—be they culture, tradition, or (a word I am particularly suspicious of) community—enhance not freedom or rights, but other, more limited and often self-serving, forms of domination. I therefore come to this subject with a strong presumption in favour of universalism of a legal and moral kind.

This is also a special time, for the reason I need least underline, because of the negotiations taking place on the future of Northern Ireland. As it happens, we are meeting on the eve of a significant encounter in Whitehall (between Tony Blair and Gerry Adams), the first such since Griffiths and Collins entered Downing Street in 1921.

Like everyone else who follows this story I allowed myself a certain optimism when in August 1994 a ceasefire was declared. I also engaged in what may be the professional deformation of my academic discipline, international relations, and saw the Irish case as part of a broader international trend: the early 90s had brought peace agreements to a range of countries—Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Namibia, Cambodia, Israel and Palestine—so perhaps too this could be the place in Ireland.

A friend by no means given to the naïf or the trusting, Mick Cox, has argued, persuasively, that politics in this part of Europe is not as immune to broader trends as might appear on the ground. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it might just be that after the deluge of 40 years of cold war, after Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cuba and the Berlin wall, the 'dreary steeples' of Fermanagh and Tyrone will not rise again above the ruins.

For all its national specifics, the 1994 ceasefire had something to do with the end of the cold war. It reflected strong international currents of change. I would argue that whatever its final outcome that ceasefire was not, and is not, a sham. It may have been conditional, it was certainly calculated, and I am not sure what the calculations were, but it was not simply a fraud.

But if optimism is one professional deformation of my subject, so too is caution. I begin my annual lectures by reminding students of Machiavelli's golden rule—not to confuse one's wishes with reality. And there is another rule, of which the very end of the cold war and of Soviet communism has also reminded us: that history is as much as anything a matter of surprises.

Not only can we not predict the future, but what may appear as stable, and durable, an unchanging feature of the political landscape, may itself change. We thought that communism would last for the foreseeable future. We thought that the British monarchy was unassailable. All the more so for ceasefires.

I offer these two arguments, on the universality of rights and morality, and on the comparative assessment of peace processes, by way of introduction to the discussion of the future of Northern Ireland. They say something about a question that is quite unavoidable, and quite proper, in such a context about where is one coming from, in what perspective one is trying to assess developments.

I teach international relations, included in which is discussion of both moral issues and analysis of how the world works. I have devoted much of my life to analysing and writing about the third world, most particularly the middle east. But my view of all of these issues, as of Northern Ireland, is influenced, in a way that I have found fruitful, by my own background in this island and the particular place in which I grew up—Dundalk.

I make no great claims to analytic insight by dint of having been born and brought up in Ireland, all the more so since I was at a young age sent off to school in England. Some of those who I was at school with were to return to Northern Ireland in official functions: some, like Michael Ancram, doing their bit for peace; others, like Capt Nairac, with less fortunate conclusions to their tour of duty.

A son of an Irish Catholic mother and an English Quaker father, with a Protestant mother-in-law from Co Antrim, I feel both personally and morally involved in the story of Ireland, even as I must be considered not really part of the major groups involved in this conflict. My own parents crossed the divide in a mixed marriage. In keeping with the traditions of this island, no relative came to the wedding, and the witnesses were the gravediggers from the church.

Being brought up in Dundalk one could not be unaware of the IRA—one of my aunts had been taken off to the Crumlin Road after 1916. As part of our family insurance policy, my father ensured that all the men who worked in our garden were ex-IRA and had done time in the Curragh in the 20s. In the custom of those times, these IRA men were also my baby-sitters. We all believed that my father's secretary was the local treasurer of the IRA, concealing its funds in her wooden leg.

We were, however, on both sides of our family, of constitutionalist orientation. Parnell was and remained the great inspiration—my grandmother had indeed been presented to him as a child. We were pro-treaty, of an ecumenical Fine Gael orientation. Kevin O'Higgins, murdered by the IRA in 1927, was a special hero, and his son, a minister in the Fine Gael-led cabinet of the 50s, a family friend.

My father was one of the officers of the Dundalk fire brigade who, in April 1942, came north to Belfast to help deal with the results of a particularly terrible German raid—an event which, we now believe through the researches of Le Sheridan, provoked the Luftwaffe attack on Dublin the following month in which 34 people died and 90 were seriously injured.

Another relative on my father's side, Sam Kyle, was a trade unionist who had the distinction of sitting in both the Stormont parliament and the Dáil, I believe the only person to do so. As a representative of the socialist tradition he, at least, saw himself as able to put to good use the Government of Ireland Act of 1920.

My own outlook on the world was certainly formed by this context. It always struck me as comic when English relatives and friends of my parents would express surprise that I was as a child 'interested in politics'. I vividly recall, at the age of 10, the outbreak of the l956-62 bombing campaign, which, at the time, appeared an aberrant return to the past.

Growing up in Co Louth in the late 40s and early 50s, the north was ever present: there was smuggling to and fro, and the north, particularly Newry and Crossmaglen, were places which had goods—notably Mars bars—not available in the south. When I later came to work on the cold war and developed something called two systems theory, involving a contrast in living standards between two adjacent societies, this model was ever present: Dundalk was east Berlin, Newry the west.

As the 50s and 60s wore on, it appeared indeed as if the barriers were coming down: I can well recall the relief, and optimism, of the Lemass-O'Neill talks of the mid-60s and I even retain a lingering affection for Major Chichester-Clark. I spent some time in Ireland in the early 70s reporting on the early stages of the conflict. My mother-in-law, who has lost none of her touch or sharpness of tongue, keeps me sensitive to her views, not least on the trustworthiness of John Hume. One of her favourite sayings, of considerable relevance today as it was on the day Ian Paisley used it of the Sunningdale agreement, is 'Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly'.

Having a Catholic mother and a Protestant mother-in-law is a fascinating opportunity for comparison: some things differ, such as the attitude to money, but others do not: the word 'eejit' seems to know no confessional boundary and in the manner of dealing with inflated male egos I can, on the basis of 51 years of observation, detect no difference at all.

But I am equally aware that I do not in an orthodox sense 'belong', nor, and this is far more important, have the authority of those who have lived, suffered, struggled and endured here for the past quarter century and more. I do claim that an Irish background is a very formative one for understanding the rest of the world. Spending time in the post-revolutionary Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini I could not help but draw many a comparison, as I did when spending time with Palestinian guerrillas in the 60s or visiting Israeli settlements on the west bank three years ago. If there is any relevance in my Irish background to the subject of this lecture it is, beyond a very strong—and, as the years go by, stronger—interest in the future of Ireland, via what insights and concerns the study of the rest of the world, through Irish perspectives, may bring.

There is one further aspect of the external perception, a paradox of the Irish case, that remains offensive and baffling. This is that while the rest of the world is aware of Ireland, and exhibits a certain misty-eyed affection for it—usually associated with stereotypical views of alcohol consumption—this affection coexists with an extraordinary ignorance of what is happening in this island. This is as true of the changing nature of society in the south as of the fact—of which 99 per cent of the world's population, including many otherwise educated people, seem unaware—that the majority of the population of the north do not, and for the foreseeable future will not, wish to become integrated into the republic.

Ireland, and what is seen as its struggle—always one struggle—then becomes a fetish by which widely different groups of people claim to orientate their lives. Thus in the Arab-Israeli context both Zionists and Palestinians have claimed to model themselves on the IRA, whilst on other occasions Jews and Arabs—including in the latter category Colonel Qaddafi—have expressed admiration for the steadfastness of Ulster.

Leprechaunism for the south, simplistic nationalism for the north seems to characterise what most of the rest of the world knows about Ireland. If I redesigned hell, I would include in it a section where Americans celebrated what they call 'St Paddy's Day'. It is an insult to all Irish people, north and south, albeit one which certain factions have an interest in perpetuating.

Nor is such a patronising attitude confined only to those far removed from it. The former Austrian chancellor Franz Vranitsky tells the story of a meeting in 1990 with Margaret Thatcher. He was trying to get her to focus on the impending war in neighbouring Yugoslavia and the need to do something about it. 'Don't worry', she said, 'you'll get used it, like we have with Ireland'. How wrong she was, on both counts.

International context

Let me now come to a more specific part of my talk, one in which I want to look at Northern Ireland, and Ireland as a whole, in the perspectives of my own discipline—international relations. Here I want to identify four themes of international relevance which may help to throw some light, to reflect indeed, on northern Ireland. These themes are: the international context in which Irish nationalisms have developed; the modernity, and hence variability, of these nationalisms; the issues of moral responsibility they raise; and the relationship of Irish nationalisms to the broader political context of these islands.

The title of this lecture speaks of 'Irish nationalisms' and I make no apology for this. I shall talk of the two main forms of communal ideology found in this island, Catholic Irish nationalism and Protestant unionism. There will be demurrings at my terming both forms of nationalism but in a sociological sense that is what they both are: they are political ideologies making claims about community, history, land and entitlement.

To deny that unionism is a form of nationalism, on the grounds that it terms itself British or does not call for independence, is not valid. Unionist discourse itself talks of a Protestant nation, and it is evident to all that the Britishness proclaimed by unionists concerns an identity, and community, distinct from the population of the rest of the UK—as not only the English but also the Scots will insist. To deny unionism the quality of nationalism is no more valid than to say that Catholic nationalism is not nationalism because it is mixed up with an international value system tied to Rome.

Unionism defines a distinct community. It chose to exercise its right to self-determination not by demanding independence, but by choosing to adhere to the UK. There is nothing peculiar about this, as plenty of nationalist movements, including some within the British empire—such as the Maltese labour movement—made the same choice. The point is that the choice is freely made. One might assume that, in the event of a dire abandonment by Britain of its unionist link, the option of independence would become more prominent.

Nor, of course, do these two nationalisms exhaust the record of Irish identities: some have talked of a 'third tradition', in reference to the now disappeared Anglo-Irish identity, but there is another third tradition, to which I would subscribe. This is of an Irishness sceptical of the two main traditions and of the claims, the self-righteousness and the ever-complaining paranoia of each. There has, in recent years been little space for this third tradition—more's the pity.

The first of the perspectives I want to invoke is international context, meaning by this the degree to which the politics of Ireland has been affected by events beyond its shores. If we step aside from claims of transhistorical continuity—that everything has been the same for the past three centuries—we can see that the ebb and flow of nationalism, of conflict and conciliation, has much to do with international processes: the Reformation and the English civil war, the French revolution, the industrial revolution, the first world war. There would be no 1798 without the French revolution, no 1916 without the outbreak of World War I.

Of greatest relevance to Northern Ireland is a subject on which we all have views but which remains to an extraordinary degree unsystematised—the explanation for the outbreak of violence in the late 60s. For nationalists of either side there is, of course, no problem: for republicans, events since 1969 are just part of a single struggle going back to the rebellions and land wars of the 19th century and before; for loyalists, they are another example of Catholic subversion and treachery. But there is something to explain here.

The claim of continuity is itself ideological—an assertion disguised as fact, part of the language of legitimation and mobilisation, not an historical reality. The very term most used, the 'troubles', is itself a myth, an assumption of something continuous that is very much not so. To make the most obvious point: the central issue in the Irish question up to the beginning of this century was the land question, but this ceased to be the case well before the beginning of World War I, as a result of the successive reforms.

Before l968, the north had been at peace for four decades and more; the IRA's 50s campaign had failed. The south had, from 1958 onwards, under Lemass' leadership, begun to modernise. People were more educated and better off than before. The Catholic church was, in the form of John XXIII, relaxing its dogmatic grip, opening the windows in the idiom of the time.

No one factor can explain this shift, the descent into violence from l969. The fact that it played on historic fears and loyalties, and that there were armed men and women willing to take advantage of these, does not prove that it was inevitable. It was not inevitable but a result, like the much bloodier descent of Yugoslavia from 1991 onwards, of conscious acts by some, and mistakes by others.

The international context for the Yugoslav descent is obvious enough: the collapse of communism on one side, and the disarray of the UN, the European powers and the USA on the other. In the case of Northern Ireland several factors can be pointed to: the heightened anxiety of some Catholic and some Protestant traditionalists at reform in Rome; the celebration of the 50th anniversary of l916; the US civil rights movement and the revolutionary atmosphere of the times; and the impact of a very international trend, deindustrialisation.

The international atmosphere of radicalism and optimism was not the only factor, but as in the two other parts of western Europe where military activity began at this time—the Basque country and Corsica—it provided a new language of legitimation and encouragement. The old generation of nationalists, the conciliators, the Eddie McAteers, had failed and some other lads were now in the offing. Once each of these got going, of course, a dynamic of violence, revenge, sectarian splits—within and between groups—and state mishandling followed.

There is, moreover, one other lesson common to all three of these cases—to Belfast and Derry, Bilbao and San Sebastian, Ajaccio and Bastia. It is that, once up and running, an armed resistance of this kind can be sustained for long periods even with only minority support.

A couple of years ago, I was teaching in the Basque country and got a sense of the use to which ETA was putting the Irish ceasefire: they had an investment in its failure, and their paper Egin, the Bilbao equivalent of An Phoblacht, was running stories on its imminent breakdown. The fact that they such movements operate in broadly democratic contexts means, of course, that the ability of the state to use its repressive potential to counter-attack is the weaker.

Events of the 90s offer two other forms of comparison, of suggestions of common features of different conflicts, both of which have some relevance to the Northern Ireland case. On the one hand, the range of ceasefires and peace agreements signed reminds us that such conflicts need not, and will not, go on for ever. But such transitions do not come in the ways that either the combatants themselves, or the more benign centre, would wish.

For the combatants, the goal is clear—victory, the final crushing of the other side, a goal epitomised in the well-worn slogan 'One last push'. One last push never comes, of course, any more than does the socialist revolution in which proletarian solidarity prevails over ethnic suspicion. Instead each side mobilises all the more in response to the push by the other.

The liberal hope may also be delusory: this is of a sweeping aside of the military and intransigent leaderships in favour of a more conciliatory politics. This has been, I would suppose, the hope of many in Northern Ireland as it has been elsewhere.

Such mobilisation against militarised nationalism is, for example, very much the case in the European context that is most akin to Ireland, namely the Basque country: here, and in marked contrast to Northern Ireland, there have been enormous mass mobilisations against violence, against ETA—five million people demonstrated on July 14th after the kidnapping and murder of Miguel Angel Blanco, a town councillor in the Basque country. Similar groups were evident, and remain so, in the Bosnian context.

But, faced with the determination of armed groups, be they tiny minorities or not so small, such movements do not prevail. The good do have conviction, and great heroism. The centre does hold, in the sense of remaining committed to its independent and anti-militarist position. But this on its own is not sufficient.

The shift comes neither with victory nor with the effective marginalisation of the intransigents, but with the decision by those very leaderships that they cannot attain their maximalist goals. There is no victory, conventionally defined, and the costs of war outweigh those of peace. This is what in the peace studies literature is termed a 'hurting stalemate'.

A stalemate has to hurt for it to work. This is, grosso modo, what happened in South Africa, and in the Arab-Israeli context, and in many of the third-world conflicts where peace was brokered in the early 90s—central America being a good example.

It appeared, in l994, as if this might be the same here. But this was not to be, at least not then. By chance I was in Dublin in February 1996 ,at a conference on the role of moral factors in international relations. I had that afternoon had the honour to meet in her residence the then president of the Republic, Mary Robinson, and the conversation, which began in the middle east, ended up with the eerie question 'Would it last?', the 'it' being peace in Ireland. She talked of the enormous enthusiasm she had felt from groups from the north—particular women's groups from both communities—who had come to see her, but she felt the limits of what she could do.

Later we had been invited to dinner by the chief of staff of the Irish army and were seated, at 7.00 in the officers' mess, with, over the mantelpiece, the famous portrait by Leo Whelan of the first commander in chief of that body, Gen Michael Collins. When the news came in of the resurgence in activity of that organisation which, spuriously, calls itself Oglaigh na h-Eireann—and which the real Irish army fought, and defeated, in the 20s—there was a sinking feeling, akin only to what one feels at a serious medical relapse, or the news that an alcoholic relative has gone on the bottle again.

After that time, if we were a bit optimistic, we all became more cautious. For the other comparative lesson from the peace agreements of the 90s is that of the unravelling of such understandings, of the return to violence—slowly but inexorably—as hopes raised by the breakthrough are dashed, as intransigents temporarily silenced by a momentum of peace decide to strike back, as old fears return, and once active international actors favouring peace find other things to preoccupy their attention.

We may be seeing this in the Arab-Israeli context, we are almost certainly seeing it in Bosnia. Elsewhere, in Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia hopes for peace have indeed been dashed: there are more than 40 wars going on in the world today, and it is estimated that over 5 million people have died worldwide since the end of the cold war.

The optimistic comparative judgement is that in Northern Ireland the main actors have, with many a shudder and relapse, reached that hurting stalemate that can lead to a more lasting peace. If the government and guerrilla armies of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala who massacred and fought to the tune of many tens of thousands could do a deal, if Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk could break the logjam, why not here?

The pessimistic scenario is quite simply that the leaderships have not given up their maximalist goals, that they think of negotiation as wearing down the other side or that—in contrast to the wars of central America—the leaderships inclined to talk cannot bring enough of their people with them. Only time will tell.

This brings me to another aspect of the international perspective, one in which I think the international is potentially misleading. The whole issue of what is a state, and what is a nation, and what the relation between them should be is a matter of energetic debate in contemporary politics and sociology. This is as it should be. None of these terms, or the relationship between them, is constant.

This discussion is given added impetus by two processes: on the one hand, globalisation and the ways in which it weakens traditional powers of states; on the other, European integration. These issues, academic and political, are real enough. But there is a tendency to use them in regard to Ireland in a way that tries to sweep the divide between parties and communities under the table.

We now live, it is suggested, in a post-national world; old ideas of sovereignty and independence are no longer, it is said, relevant. The practical import of this is, of course, that unionists should drop their opposition to a united Ireland. But we do not live in a post-partition world., any more than we live in a post-republican or a post-unionist world.

What this discussion ignores is that such a lessening of concern with sovereignty can only take place once the self-confidence and security of the respective communities is guaranteed. You will only get people to open their doors when they trust each other, and know that lots of strangers are not going to come and occupy their house.

Moreover, the briefest of glances around the contemporary world will show that the very process of globalisation is accompanied by growing tensions between social classes and ethnic groups: the collapse of communism in Yugoslavia unleashed greater hatred between ethnic groups, the opening of markets has prompted reaction from organised labour.

We talk of the globalisation of money, ideas, technology but there is another side: never in the history of humanity has movement of people across frontiers been so difficult, so controlled by states. To talk of 'post-nationalist' Ireland is not only confused, but sinister—naïve when not a cover for the old, definitely not post-nationalist, republican agenda.


This argument on post-nationalism is closely related to another aspect of the debate on nationalism, namely modernity. The term modernity is much debated but its core meaning is clear: in any study of society, and that would include nationalism, we must recognise that in the early 19th century the western world underwent a profound change, associated with the political, specifically French, revolution and the industrial revolution.

Politics and society are fundamentally altered by this shift, and everything we look at in the modern period—be it nationalism, or the family or state forms—is shaped by this modern context, of political and economic change. Nationalism is, in this perspective, not a simple continuation of ancestral or ancient forces, but a product of modernity—a turning to contemporary uses of elements of history, culture, symbolism and, equally, an invention of such elements where they are lacking.

For the Irish case this argument, accompanying the international argument above, would establish a very different context for looking at nationalisms than that which historians of either tradition would allow. It would stress what is common, as distinct from that which divides. It would show how what we take today to be continuous struggles are in fact new creations, masquerading as ancient ones. And it would direct us to look at how what we see today as the ancient symbols of nationhood are themselves selections, or inventions, of modernity.

It is the claim, indeed the conceit, of each nationalism that it is unique—the product of a particular soil, people, struggle. It is as such that it is justified and felt. In this view, the national struggle is neither analysable in comparative terms—for it is unlike any other and has nothing to learn from it—nor is it to be seen as subject to international forces. It is unique and discrete.

Such indeed is the meaning of both major forms of nationalism in Ireland—Catholic nationalism and that of Protestant unionism. And one does not have to search far for invocations of this. In his insightful but perniciously indulgent book on the IRA, Rebel Hearts, Kevin Toolis writes:

People often tried to explain the Troubles in terms of other conflicts, but this was not Cuba, nor Algeria, nor South Africa nor Vietnam. It was Ireland and the tenacity of the struggle between the rebels and the Crown was older than all the 'isms' of the twentieth century ... It was the longest war the world has ever known.

On the other side of the fence, we have the valiant Dr Conor Cruise O'Brien, claiming in his Ancestral Voices that Irish nationalism is somehow unique for its oddity, its 'rumness' as he calls it. I well recall interviewing Ruairi O Bradaigh, then a leader of the Provisional IRA, in 1971 and asking him about the influence on his movement of other radical movements in the world at that time. He was not happy with the question: 'We have no need of your Che Guevaras and your Ho Chi Minhs' he told me, before reeling off a list of Irish revolutionary heroes from Wolfe Tone onwards.

On the Protestant side the same applies. The symbolic hero of the Protestants may be an Orangeman—in the literal sense of the word, someone from Holland—but the terms of reference of unionism are strictly particular. Protestant people attached to their land, faced it is true with an international conspiracy coming from central Italy, but unique in their steadfastness and commitment.

Yet the briefest glance at the history of these islands, and of this region, over the past centuries will show both this uniqueness and the appearance of insularity to be untrue. The great conceit of nationalism is that, for all its pretensions to peculiarity, it asserts a general set of claims: that a nation exists, that history vindicates it, that it has its land, that it is threatened by alien forces, that it is entitled to fight. The moral claims are common to all nationalisms. And Irish nationalism, in both varieties, is not so unique or insulated.

The very formulations of Irish Catholic nationalism in the 1840s were inspired by the romantic English writer Thomas Carlyle, the utopian socialist excoriated by Karl Marx for his glorification of peasant, feudal life and of the clergy. The economic philosophy of that nationalism, and later of Fianna Fáil, was based on the propositions of Friedrich List, also first articulated in the l840s. If you read the historic programmes of the republican movement, they are a collage of romantic, autarchic, militaristic ideas—common currency of European nationalism and radicalism of the early 19th and 20th centuries.

All the symbols of nationalism in Ireland today—the shamrock and the harp, the red hand and the sash, the songs and the marches—are products of recent history, turned to transhistorical legitimation. The word Eire, now a political term, has only come to have this connotation in modern times. The reason why certain events—1798, the famine, 1914, 1916, the civil war and more recent episodes—are so ferociously defended is that to lose control of the definition of these events would be to lose political control itself.

Yet the history of Ireland is full of things that sit uncomfortably with both dominant interpretations. The very claim of a united Ireland has an apparent natural, mystical, perhaps God-given character: this is the import of article 2 of the 1937 constitution. But it is, of course, just an arbitrary assertion by one group of people, an ideological not a factual statement. Ironically, in a context where history is often invoked for purposes of legitimation, it is no use here: Ireland was, famously, not united at all before the coming of the English. Indeed on the logic of nationalism and unity the real hero of republicanism should be the first monarch of all Ireland, Henry VIII.

Equally, on the Protestant side the paraphernalia of drumming and marching, and the deployment of symbols, reflects the growth of a unionist working-class culture from the l860s. There were no men in bowler hats at the Battle of the Boyne. Indeed, not many of those who fought there, on either side, were Irish at all.

The argument on modernity is, in my view, overwhelming and would apply to any nationalism, Irish or Chinese. It strips away some of the central illusion of nationalism and makes it possible to write history in an objective, critical way.

It also strips away some forms of legitimation—those which, in the manner all too common in this island, prevail in romantic nationalists evocations of history (echoed with such a lack of critical spirit in works like Rebel Hearts) which stress continuity with the past. By showing that nationalism, identity, tradition are not givens, but rather forms of association and culture that are constantly redefined—and which, even where constant, have to be consciously reproduced—it opens the possibility of change: those who wish to rewrite their history, or alter their symbolism and attachments, are able to do so. To give two examples: unionism insisted up to 1914 on keeping the whole of Ireland inside the UK and only then accepted partition; republicanism accepted for decades the idea of a separate, autarchic, Irish economy, yet no one now, in the epoch of globalisation and Brussels grants, proposes such a thing.

But there are also dangers here, as there are with the arguments on international context and globalisation. For the argument that someone's nationalism is recent not ancient, selected not fixed, artificial not given by history, can easily be used to argue that the political claims—the contemporary political claims—of that group are not valid. The invocation of modernity, like that of capitalism or imperialism, is, all too often, a way of deploying some apparently critical intellectual insight in the service of a sectarian argument.

This was indeed evident in the use of Marxist language in inter-ethnic conflicts: when you point out that the others are settlers, colonialists, fascists or whatever, you validate your own argument. For the Palestinians in the period after the l967 war it became fashionable to denigrate the Israelis as just capitalist settlers, just as for Israeli Zionists a generation earlier their struggle for a socialist Eretz Israel took precedence over the interests of the Arab feudalists. 'Of course the Protestants have the right to self-determination - provided they go and do it somewhere else', I remember a Marxist associate of the republican movement telling me in 1970.

A similar risk arises with the argument on modernity. You can make all the criticism, literary or historical, of the myths of the other side without disqualifying the contemporary political claims the other is making. Ian Paisley would not be concerned to hear that Governor Lundy was, in fact, a courageous and wise military leader. It is no answer to the Orange marchers of Drumcree to say that, well actually, all this marching and drumming is a modern invention. It is no answer to the claims of republicanism to show that some Irish farmers profiteered from the famine, or that most Irish people opposed or were indifferent to 1916.

Equally, it is no argument against Irish cultural nationalism to point out how much of the symbolism and heritage are imported—for instance, that the tricolour is just an off-the-shelf, 19th-century radical form, or that the Celtic cross is taken from eastern Christian symbolism, probably brought by Coptic refugees from the Arab Muslim invasion of the seventh century. St Patrick may have been a Welshman, King Billy a Dutchman, de Valera half Spanish, Randolph Churchill English, James Connolly born in Edinburgh and Mr Paisley's ideas derived from Scotland or the USA—but these and other points do not alter the strength of contemporary feelings and claims.

We can use the modernity argument to explain and write history, but we should be very careful about introducing it, as a weapon, in arguments between competing, modernistically constituted but contemporaneously antagonistic communities. It is the contemporary antagonism, not the artificiality of identity, that counts. Both Catholic nationalism and Protestant unionism are ideologies, created in modern times, by writers and political leaders, to serve contemporary ends.


So far I have talked of analytic dimensions of the nationalisms of Ireland, ways in which perspective derived from comparative and international study may throw light on what is happening here. But there is another dimension to the study of politics, domestic and international, and that is the moral one. This may involve religion, but that is not what I intend to address here. Rather, I intend to explore how the nationalisms of Ireland, and the record of their recent conduct, may be viewed through the perspective of contemporary discussions in political philosophy about morality and in international law.

This is, of course, the way in which issues once monopolised by religion have now been secularised and made available for lay discussion. It is also the context in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written and subsequent codifications have taken place. We are, to repeat what was said at the beginning, in a world where some degree of general, universal, moral discourse is possible.

Here I want to look at three aspects of political morality that pertain to the question of nationalisms, in Ireland as elsewhere. The first concerns the issue most present in the 1948 declaration, the rights of individuals. Nationalism may provide a context for the realisation of individual rights, but it also makes claims about individuals that are, in broad terms limiting of, or negative, for individual rights. So indeed do religions, all of them.

Nationalism makes a claim to the automatic loyalty of individuals. It seeks to prescribe an identity, often clothes, languages, even food. It denies not only choice as between different national possibilities but also, what is more important, about the interpretation of that single national tradition. This has been evident for minorities, for women, for dissidents of all kinds. Salman Rushdie has trodden a path already familiar to J M Synge, William Butler Years, James Joyce and many others.

It is here, unfortunately, that I feel wary of the apparently helpful language we now have in Ireland about the 'two traditions'. Such mutual recognition is welcome, especially if it has a political payoff. But what of those who are of neither tradition, or, equally, who wish to challenge interpretations while remaining within one tradition? What of the Irish gays who tried to join the New York St Patrick's Day march, and when will we see them marching on the Falls and the Shankill?

If talk of two traditions becomes—as it is becoming, in the Arab-Israeli context and in former Yugoslavia—a way of enforcing cultural homogeneity within blocs, the better for their leaders to cut a deal between them, it is doubtful if it will achieve much. As a child of a mixed marriage, I am well aware of the coercive, punitive dimensions of community.

Talk of two traditions will, I will be told, achieve peace. It may do, and that may be the supreme desideratum. But that peace will be achieved, as was the independence of the south and of so many other nations around the world, at the price of other freedoms and rights, at a high moral cost. It would, moreover, do violence to much of what is happening within the two main communities today, where, at least to an outside observer, there seems to be as much change and conflict as ever about how to define that tradition.

Parity of esteem between traditions must extend to those who are not by birth or choice part of either of the two main traditions, and must be matched by parity of critique within. Hence my suggestion that we pay attention to the third tradition, those who are part of neither of the other two, and whose Irishness may be more critical, and individual, than either of the major communities will permit.

Which brings me to the second ethical issue, national self-determination. This is very much part of the package of nationalism, its major ethical component, linked not to the rights of individuals but to the rights of groups. The problem with it is, of course, that nations are not neatly distributed in homogeneous geographic areas. The national and the territorial do not coincide, in the Balkans, in India, in much of Africa as much as in Ireland.

Therefore some balancing of the self-determination of some and of others has to be found. The answers are all familiar from the Irish case—partition, population exchanges, guarantees of minority rights, consociationalism/power-sharing and so forth. There is a vast literature on this, and much of it has been applied in theory to Northern Ireland.

The 'where do you stop?' problem with self-determination always recurs: if the Bosnians have the right to secede, why not the Bosnian Serbs from Bosnia? In the Transcaucasus, if the Georgians have the right to leave Russia, don't the minorities in Georgia, the Abkhazians and Ossetians, have the right to leave Georgia?

The only answer can be pragmatic. The claim that a particular territory is God- or history-given can not be accorded contemporary political, or ethical, value. Similarly, the claim of historic priority should carry diminishing weight the further it goes back beyond living memory. We do not pay much attention to the Croatian claim that the Serbs in Krajina were brought by the Ottomans in the 15th century, and we should pay as little attention to the claim that the Protestants were brought by the British in the early 17th. We have to start with who is on the ground.

To be more precise: the fact that Ireland is an island is a geographic statement, without ethical import. There is an obligation to observe democratic norms within the north; there is not, however, any ethical principle, based on generalisable norms, for denying the right of the northern population to decide its own fate. Within a states system arrived at by legal and democratic means, as the l922 partition was, democracy can, and should, take precedence over claims of self-determination.

The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 and the treaty of 1921 were legal agreements, democratically ratified. The principle that such treaties should be respected, pacta sunt servanda, is as universal as any other moral or legal principle: it does not cease to apply when it crosses the Irish Sea.

The most contentious of all ethical issues involved in nationalism is, of course, that of violence. Discussion of the morality of violence has, traditionally, distinguished between two issues: the right to use violence in principle, jus ad bellum, and the morality of different forms of violence, jus in bello. Although formulated by mediaeval Christianity, this argument, and the distinction between ad bellum and in bello, is found in other religions and is equally explicable in terms of secular, international law.

Nationalism has a clear ethic of violence as far as ad bellum is concerned: those who represent the nation, or who can be presumed to do so, have the right to take up arms against the enemies of the nation, those who frustrate its self-determination. As far as in bello is concerned, the situation is less clear: nationalisms have been guilty of horrendous atrocities, both by nationalist states and nationalist movements. Yet here too, given the high moral tone that all nationalisms adopt, one can argue that moral considerations, and criteria, can be applied.

Opposition organisations that are not states, and not signatory to Geneva conventions, but which claim the right to political authority should, at the least, be judged by applying the standards relevant to the political status they claim for themselves. Certainly, nationalists do not deny the validity of in bello concerns: they are never reluctant to accuse their opponents of in bello offences—be it killing innocent civilians, excessive use of force against demonstrators, killing prisoners, torture, unfair detention and the rest. Those who reject the authority of the British crown are often the first to claim that its judicial processes do not accord with its own standards. They cannot, therefore, on grounds of logic alone be exempted from discussion of their in bello activities either.

In addition, such organisations are not exempt from the provisions of international law, from article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Convention and protocol II which amplifies it. Amnesty International has recently launched a major worldwide campaign to remind all belligerent groups of their legal obligations in this field. We may reject their ad bellum claims, but that does not mean they are not subject to in bello considerations: a convention against the torture, or killing, of civilians, or unlawful detention, applies as much to paramilitaries as to regular armies.

The right of oppressed nations to take up arms is widely recognised. But this wide recognition does not constitute a carte blanche even as far as ad bellum is concerned. For that right to be legitimately exercised, two criteria must apply. On the one hand, the group using violence must plausibly be able to argue that it represents the majority of its people: this was the claim which the PLO made for decades and which most people, rightly in my view, took as providing it with legitimation. Ditto for the ANC.

Secondly, the group using violence has to be able to argue that other forms of protest are impossible—that peaceful means, and whatever resources an imperfect legal and democratic system might afford, are blocked. It is perfectly clear that, on these criteria, the two other armed nationalist movements of western Europe, ETA and the various Corsican fronts for liberation, fail, and on both counts. Elections in their respective territories give minority votes to the parties fronting them, while since the death of Franco in 1975 both operate in countries which, whatever the limits, are democratic.

The same applies in Northern Ireland. The resort to violence by loyalists has, throughout the recent phase of war, been unjustified. The military groups did not represent a majority of the Protestant population. Even more so, they acted in the first place in l969 and its aftermath to protect a system of sectarian discrimination, later to engage in sectarian murder. There can be no ethical argument for ad bellum here.

On the Catholic side, it might appear more complex, but it is not. Even if one takes the framework of Northern Ireland itself, Sinn Féin has not won a majority of the votes, or even of the Catholic votes: half of the Catholic vote is not a legitimation for ad bellum. If one takes the context implicit in Sinn Féin's own programme, that of Ireland as a whole, the support is even less—a few per cent.

Moreover, the political system in Northern Ireland is not so oppressive that other forms of opposition and struggle are ruled out. There is no law against proclaiming a wish to have a united Ireland: this is what constitutional nationalists have always done; it is worth recalling that George V, when he opened the Stormont parliament in December 1921, expressed the same hope.

There was for 50 years institutionalised sectarian discrimination, evident in four domains above all: housing, employment, electoral administration and public order legislation. These injustices were, belatedly but incrementally, addressed in the 70s and 80s. There was also, in the late 60s, real danger of murder by Protestant paramilitaries, but the defence of the Catholic communities was, as we recall, carried out by the British army, welcomed at the time, on August 14th and 15th 1969 to be precise.

Those who built up the armed struggle did so by opportunism, exploiting real anger at discrimination and at the attacks of l968-9, to provoke a broader crisis. It is obvious enough but needs saying: peaceful means had not been exhausted. There was no ethical mandate for violence. To compare the condition of northern Catholics to blacks in South Africa is demagogic: a more telling comparison is that, invoked by the very campaign for civil rights, with the southern states of the USA. In the latter case, the black leadership, facing far greater discrimination than anything experienced in Northern Ireland, held to a non-violent path.

The issue of democracy is relevant to the issue of the British forces. According to Sinn Féin they have no right to be here, no jus ad bellum. Much is made of the past actions of the British army, and of the representatives of the crown. But this is another example of spurious tranhistorical simplification. The British army up to l922 was occupying a country against its national will; it was illegitimate. But the situation since is quite different.

The act and treaty of 1920 and l921 were, it must be underlined, legitimate agreements accepted by democratically elected representatives of the parties involved: the Dáil ratified the treaty on January 7th 1922, and this was confirmed in the southern general election of June 1922. It is that democratic and legal character which gives to partition its legitimacy, and which altered the character of British rule in the north. Moreover, contrary to tranhistorical simplification, the state ruling the north today is not, except in a silly and symbolic sense, the crown at all: modernity affects states as much as communities. Britain has plenty of constitutional, and legal, imperfections, but the British state is a democratic one and the British army the tool of an elected parliament.

What of in bello? The war has been fought according to some ground rules, usually applied: warnings have been given for bombs, planes have not been hijacked and the British army has, nearly all of the time, stopped at the border. The IRA leadership, their families, lovers and associates walk openly on the streets of the north. Here nonetheless we enter the arena of conventional polemic where in bello violations are used to discredit a cause that may, on political grounds, be legitimate if not persuasive.

The use of the word 'terrorist' is frequently found here, as if violation of the rules of war disqualifies a cause. This is not the case, as Dresden and Hiroshima show all too clearly. Nationalists argue that, for them, anything is valid, but of course accuse, and seek to delegitimate, their opponents by arguments about their atrocities. The state plays the same game: if you call someone a terrorist you use particular in bello actions to delegitimate the whole cause.

As far as the authorities are concerned, the British state has, most of the time, pursued a legitimate in bello campaign. It has not always done so: prisoners have been tortured, prison conditions have been made inhumanely hard, crowds have been fired on, surrendered or inoperative guerrillas shot in cold blood. These do not discredit the overall claim of the British state, but nor should that legitimacy be used to deny that such violations have occurred, be it in Derry in 1972 or Castlereagh later on. To refuse to do so, as is the wont of armies and states, only serves to confuse the in bello/ad bellum distinction and so hand the in bello delegitimation to the other side.

As for the paramilitaries, even if one accepted that they had an ad bellum, there would still be limits, in terms that would generally be accepted, on what it would be legitimate to do, above all in regard to military targets. There is, therefore, much, if not most, in their in bello which is indefensible, and this needs saying, whatever the justice of cause. Bombs in civilian areas, sectarian murders, torture and murder of kidnapped suspects, kneecapping and the like are all, on any moral basis, criminal activities.

The claim, as with the issue of representativeness, is that invocation of the national overrides such moral concerns. It does not and cannot. That indeed is the central import of the UN declaration which we commemorate: the principle of universality applies across the board of humanitarian law and convention, including, I repeat, the Geneva conventions on war.

This is, of course, not just a matter of ethical or legal adjudication but also of direct relevance to any process of reconciliation and peace in Northern Ireland. Analogies have been drawn with other cases: there has been talk of memorials to all those killed, of apologies for Bloody Sunday, of truth commissions. There should be an apology for Bloody Sunday and for other instances where the British armed forces, the RUC and prison officers, have violated jus in bello. Only discussion, full and informed, by a competent independent tribunal can assess what this would cover. But the principle of it seems to me possible and just.

Yet if the British army has to apologise, so too should the paramilitary forces. Some have done so: individuals on both sides have expressed regret and acted to make sense of their lives. Some groups have stepped forward to renounce their past, notably some of the Protestant paramilitaries. But I will surprise none by saying that this does not apply to some of the other loyalist groups nor, even more so, to the IRA.

On the loyalist side, there are those who are not reconciled to compromise. There are also politicians who must, in any reckoning of responsibility, bear responsibility for what happened. Mr Paisley is not a murderer. His DUP is not a Sinn Féin to the LVF's IRA. But he has, for close on 40 years, and with a frightening and irresponsible consistency, done his bit to fan the flames of fear, ignorance and bigotry. He has done so in a tone and content far beyond any legitimate use of the democratic system, or the defence of the interests of his community.

I recall seeing him speak in 1970 at an election rally in Ballycastle: 'Bring back the B Specials', he intoned; Shirley Williams, the then Home Office minister of state, was the 'whore of Rome'. This language has been a trifle muted in recent years, but not much, as his conduct over the peace talks shows. Nor would such toning down be enough, if he did not express some contrition; of that, there has been none.

For his part, Martin McGuinness spoke recently of 28 years of heroic struggle. Twenty-eight years of bombs in shops and hotels, of lives lost and destroyed, of bodies and even more minds twisted for ever, of families living in fear and grief, and anger. We can count the numbers killed, and maybe those wounded. How many tens of thousands have seen their lives blighted, how many children have seen their childhoods stolen from them? And all of this in the course of unnecessary, and illegitimate, campaigns by self-appointed armed élites.

British-Irish context

So far, I have mentioned three perspectives within which the nationalisms of this island may be viewed: the international context, modernity and the ethical. I would like to conclude by looking at Irish nationalisms through a fourth perspective, one at once political, cultural and geographical, namely these isles as a whole.

The focal point of both main currents in Irish nationalism, and indeed in the whole evolution of Irish conflicts, is the relation of these currents to Britain. For one current it involves rejection, in the name of a centuries-long struggle; for the other it prescribes identification, epitomised in the term loyalism. But the assumption in both cases is that the object being related to, in Westminster or wherever, is the same.

In some respects, this continuity may indeed apply. The British state has been in continuous existence for more than 900 years, since 1066 indeed. The attitudes associated with that continuity, and with the status of its ruling élite, show that not everything has changed: English arrogance, be it in the statements of Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher, has been alive and well in this century. The explosion of Robert Kilroy-Silk only two or three years ago, denigrating the Irish people as a whole, speaks to a much broader conceit. 'He must be thick or Irish', they say.

But continuity of attitudes, and the continued presence of the British state in one part of the island of Ireland, do not prove the point. For the reality is that over the years and the centuries the British state has changed fundamentally. It is an irony that the most notorious oppressor of the Irish was not a monarch at all, but a man who cut off the head of a monarch—a republican indeed, Oliver Cromwell. To identify the British state of the late 20th century with the crown is a symbolic trick: the British state, for all its failings, is now a broadly democratic one, and the army being stationed in these counties is sent by, and composed of, citizens of a democratic country.

Equally, to see, in quasi-Leninist manner, the domination of Britain over Northern Ireland as some form of imperialism is to miss the point that whatever economic, strategic or symbolic benefits London may have derived from controlling this region have long since gone. To the contrary: the UK subsidies Northern Ireland to the tune of up to £4 billion a year.

It is common, in the discourse of republicans, to hear talk of Ireland as England's 'first and last colony'. First colony it may have been, and remained so until the treaty of 1921; but it was, thereafter, not a colony, since those who remained part of the UK did so by a free choice. The discriminatory practices that continued thereafter, and up to the 70s, did not derive from colonial status. If the majority of this region voted to leave the UK, the overwhelming majority of the population of Britain would acquiesce, to put it mildly.

This change in the nature of the British state is not merely an analytic point, however, for it has come about not through anything natural, or through benevolence, but as a result of struggle. The British state did oppress Ireland in the past: no one reading the history of centuries of persecution, discrimination, arrogance and brutality can fail to recognise that. But this is a state, we should recall, which has spread if domination far and wide—over the other Celtic peoples of the British isles, over the dominated classes of British society, indeed over much of the world through the colonial system.

The rolling back of that domination, accompanied by the democratisation of the UK, has been a long process, one in which the struggle for Irish independence, culminating in 1922, played a part. It is, moreover, a process which is far from over, as recent mobilisations for constitutional reform in Britain indicate.

What is the relation of all this broader pattern of domination and resistance to the conflict in Northern Ireland? There is not necessarily a direct connection. To take the most obvious parallel, there has over the past century been remarkably little common cause or common character between the three strands of Celtic nationalism in the British isles: the Scots and the Welsh distrust each other, and both have seemed keen to distance themselves from the troublesome Irish. Yet the very fact of devolution to Scotland and Wales shows that no constitutional system endures for ever, and the same will be true for the relation between Northern Ireland and Britain.

One of the hallmarks, and one of the tragedies, of the last quarter century is that the conflict in Northern Ireland has been so insulated from this broader democratisation of the British state. Some individuals and sections of the British left have sympathised with the IRA, but in a craven and naïve way that speaks more to far-left posturing and misconstrued guilt than to any critical engagement with the issues at hand. There may, however, be more possibility now for a fruitful renegotiation of the relationship between Northern Ireland and Westminster, provided it is based on respect for the wishes of the democratically constituted majority.

Such a renegotiation would recognise what everyone knows, which is that the islands of Britain and Ireland are—as they have been for a thousand years and more—inseparable, economically, culturally and demographically. Over one million people of Irish extraction live in Britain. The shared destiny of being English-speaking states in a wider Europe creates further linkages, of affect and interest. In this broader skein of interaction, traditional Irish nationalist Anglophobia, and the idea of escaping from English rule, has less meaning than for many centuries.

The other external player in this story is, of course, the republic. Let us be clear: since 1922, the majority in the republic has respected the partition of the island and the implications thereof. The Irish army fought its first and only major campaign against the IRA—you will not find much love for the IRA in the Curragh or Portlaoise.

But this acceptance has been accompanied by other features of the southern state that have helped to freeze political change and confirm unionist anxieties: nationalism of an irridentist kind, clear in articles 2 and 3 of the constitution, has gone together with clericalism on the one hand and political corruption on the other. The figure of Charles Haughey embodies all three in exemplary fashion. It would be rash indeed to presume that all this is in the past. The civil war remains the dividing line in southern politics, and recent developments on the presidential front, with the collapse of Labour and the triumph of a candidate of strong nationalist and clerical orientation, should give us pause.

Equally the south continues to affect a position, in international affairs, of moral superiority, embodied in its policy of neutrality. Yet neutrality is not a moral stance, only a legal one, and may be as much in conflict with morality as in accordance with it. We have seen in other contexts how the apparently high-minded neutrality of European states has concealed something else-self-serving and hypocritical freeloading at the expense of others.

The Irish case may not be as abhorrent as that of Switzerland or Sweden. But it bears critical scrutiny: to have abstained from taking sides in World War I, as Irish nationalists and English dissidents alike did, was defensible at least and, arguably, legitimate. The neutral states played, equally, a positive role in the cold war. To have been neutral in World War II, in the face of the greatest challenge to human liberty seen in modern times, was not.

That said, there is, nonetheless, much that is new about the south and which could help to foster compromise in the north. The country is more prosperous, more confident, more open to the world, and less obsessed about the north than it ever was. There has, in recent years, been much talk of a 'new Ireland' and there are many reasons to see the south as indeed different from what it as in the 40s and 50s. The process of overcoming its past is, however, not over, any more than it is in Britain. Equivocation on partition, as hitherto epitomised in the constitution, is one index of this, as is the continued strength of clerical attachment.

There is much that is positive, too, in the revival of Irish culture, including, in the language so brutally crushed in the 18th and 19th centuries. But there is also a maudlin undertow to all this—too often linked, in song and affect, to anti-democratic forces in the north.

I have tried in this lecture to set the conflict of Northern Ireland in some broader perspective, and to avoid transhistorical generalisations and myths. There is no one Irish nationalism, no one Irish question. We find ourselves today in a situation, with a set of dangers and opportunities, distinct from those of one generation, let alone three or ten generations ago. If there is one transhistorical generalisation I would accept, however, it is that this not a forgiving culture—on either side—and it would be foolish to pretend anything else.

Compromises, and peace, can come, but they will only come by grasping the opportunities of the present and the future-and we can only hope that they will then stick. The study of the past cannot resolve the conflicts contained within it, but it may, as I have tried to do in this lecture, reduce the sense in which we should be seen as prisoners of it.


  1. 'Bringing in the "international": the IRA ceasefire and the end of the cold war', International Affairs, vol 73, n0 4, October 1997. A shorter version was published in Fortnight 367.
  2. 'Nazis "bombed Dublin to punish aid for Belfast"', Times, June 20th 1997
  3. The Maltese Labour Party also thought it had to fend off Rome by adhering to Westminster; the problem was Westminster did not want it.
  4. To digress for a moment, if the British state had withdrawn from Northern Ireland without a settlement, and we had entered the high stage of one-last-pushism, I would not have put my money on a republican victory.
  5. "Being only yourself is what ethnic nationalism will not allow. When people come, by terror or exaltation, to think of themselves as patriots first, individuals second, they have embarked on a path of ethical abdication."—Michael Ignatieff, Blood and Belonging, BBC, London, 1993, p188
  6. "a country ruled by peasants, priests and pixies"—Daily Express, November 16th 1992

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