'The Unloved, Unwanted Garrison - The Unionist Community in Northern Ireland' by Antony Alcock (1994)
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The following chapter has been contributed by the author, Antony Alcock , with the permission of the publishers, Ulster Society (Publications) Ltd. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
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The Unionist Community in Northern Ireland
I shall carry to my grave with ignominy the sense of injustice that I have shown to my constituents down the years when in their darkest hours I exhorted them to put their trust in this House of Commons, which one day would honour its fundamental obligation to treat them as equal British citizens.These bitter words convey all the bafflement and frustration of a community which sees its history as one of defending Britain and British interests, yet has felt utterly rejected by the nation that created it. What is so sad is that whereas for the last seventy-five years, but particularly for the last twenty-five years Unionists have had doubts cast on their identity, have been vilified in the British media and academic worlds, have been ignored, have been isolated, have been told that Britain has no interest in Northern Ireland, have been treated politically different from the rest of the country, and have been subjected to fearsome terror and economic sabotage, they are still loyal and carry on political discussion to try and obtain equality of conditions with their co-nationals as if this was actually possible, that common sense would, in the end, prevail.
What has puzzled many Unionists is that often a new secretary of state for Northern Ireland is appointed who immediately makes enthusiastically pro-Unionist comments. Then suddenly, after a few weeks, it is as if the unfortunate man has been taken aside, to a small room, and been shown something or had something said to him which had the effect of altering his attitude.
In June 1993 Enoch Powell, Ulster Unionist MP for South Down from 1974-87 gave the third Ian Gow Memorial Lecture. He said that in 1981 Mr Clive Abbott, an official in the Northern Ireland Office had told an assistant to the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, James Molyneaux, that the integration of Northern Ireland into the rest of Britain was a non-starter for two reasons. The first was the expected loss of co-operation with the South over border security. And second, 'we couldn't break certain undertakings we have given to the Irish government over the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.' 
Powell was not able to find out whether there actually were such undertakings even after an investigation carried out by the then secretary of the cabinet, now Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. What can be said is that the basic policy of successive British governments as well as the great majority of Labour and Liberal MPs is Irish unification by consent, and therefore, particularly since the fall of Stormont, that has meant encouraging any moves likely to bring about that consent and blocking anything that might be construed as likely to interfere with the unification process. It has meant close consultation with Dublin and the SDLP on the significance, in that light, of any economic, political or social move. It has meant explicit denial that Northern Ireland is 'as British as Finchley' (as the then prime minister and MP for Finchley Mrs Margaret Thatcher put it).
What departures from normal standards of political behaviour this policy has forced British governments to adopt will be recounted in the following chapter. This chapter will be devoted to the effects of British policy on the Unionist community.
Since it is essential for Irish unification that Britain has no business in Ireland then it is vital for the label 'British' to be removed from the Unionist community. This has taken two forms. On the one hand they are labelled as Irish by many Irish and British people; on the other hand they are condemned for not having a definite national identity like the English, Scots, Welsh or Irish. For example, the New Ireland Forum made the statement that 'Unionists also generally agree themselves as being Irish, even if this does not include a willingness to live under all-Ireland political institutions.
Another example of this view was found by the author in some graffiti in the University of Ulster:
First writer: Brits out of Ireland!This is, of course, the one nation theory: that there is one Irish nation but it has two traditions, defined by religion.
This theory has the merit of political simplicity. Thus, since the only difference between Irish people generally and the Protestants in the North is one of religion, and, according to the doctrine of self-determination the Irish people can and should be united, the only reason the Northern Protestants refuse this obvious conclusion is the perverse one of wishing to maintain their dominant economic and political position in the North. All the British need to do is withdraw and these Northern Irish Protestants will be welcomed into their natural community. John Hume, the SDLP leader, has often defined their rightful place in a united Ireland: representing the Protestant ethos in the island.
Supporting this line in the British media is the definition of unionism as religious sectarianism, the object being to keep out Catholics and thus maintain Protestant supremacy at home and not become merely a religious minority in an all-Ireland state.
The line that Unionists are Protestant bigots is very popular and promoted in England. To the English Ulster suggests seventeenth-century turmoil and intolerance, 'a state of affairs they no longer associate with the "genius" of British policy. In particular they object to religious fanaticism and dogma as being "destructive of order and tranquillity". In the godless society that Britain has become these sentiments are only to be expected.
Another view is that Northern Ireland Protestants have a bastardised culture, they do not really know what they are, and therefore they overemphasise their Britishness in order to reject being Irish.
So what is a Unionist? Is he or she British? Irish? A mixture? Or something different?
The Unionist community itself is composed of persons of different origins. About half is Scots, most of these finding their roots in the Presbyterian Lowland Scots of the 1610 Plantation. It is with Scotland that Ulster has been most closely connected in terms of trade and politics for centuries before the Plantation. And whereas few Unionists now have close kinship ties with England there are many with Scotland. Orange and green still provide strong emotional ties, particularly in Glasgow where the fanatical rivalry of Scotland's two leading football clubs, Rangers and Celtic, is not based entirely on football. In the first half of the twentieth century 'The Twelfth' would be celebrated in Ulster by boatloads of Orangemen from Scotland. Today some murals in Protestant housing estates in Londonderry boast the Lion Rampart of Scotland and the flag of St Andrew. The Black Preceptory of the Orange Order leads off its marches with 'Scotland the Brave'.
The greater part of the rest of the Unionist community is of English stock, but there are also those of Welsh and Huguenot descent, as well as those descending from the original Irish population of Ulster but who have lost contact with Gaelic culture, perhaps on conversion to Protestantism.
To some extent the Irish nationalist thesis of one nation but two traditions is true. For example, before Partition many Unionists, particularly in the South did consider themselves Irish - but British-Irish rather than Gaelic-Irish - perhaps because of centuries-long residence on the island and empathy with its beautiful geographical surroundings and lifestyle.
Today there are two ways of ascertaining what a Unionist is. One is in terms of perceived cultural identity - that people really are what they perceive themselves to be; the other is in terms of relationship to the state.
No matter whether one's antecedents are English, Scots, Welsh or Irish, the umbrella culture of the Unionist community is British. In terms of cultural identity the members of the Unionist community are brought up to be British, to speak English, to learn British history and cultural (ie literature, theatre and music) traditions; to honour and obey British institutions. Few speak Irish or have any knowledge of or participate in Irish traditions.
The other view is that unionism has little to do with the idea of the nation and everything to do with the idea of the state.
According to Arthur Aughey the United Kingdom is a state which, being multi-national and multi-ethnic, can be understood in terms of citizenship and not substantive identity ... the imperial notion of 'civis Britannicus sum' has transformed itself into the democratic ideal of different nations, different religions, and different colours, all equal citizens under one government. It is to this notion that intelligent unionism, which embraces both Protestants and Catholics, owes allegiance. It was from this concept that the Irish Republic seceded, in order to construct a state on the principle of Irish national (ie cultural) unity.
The Unionist is therefore not just someone of Protestant persuasion; he is not a British nationalist in the sense of an Irish nationalist. He is someone with a contractarian view of society, who believes that there is a reciprocal relationship of rights and duties between the state and its citizens, and an equality of rights and duties between the citizens of the state, whoever they are, Catholic or Protestant, Black or White.
Under these circumstances a right is a right and not the gift of a particular government. Usually when one looks at the Unionist community from the British mainland one defines loyalty in terms of loyalty to the nation and sees Unionist behaviour as anti-British, anti-national. But if one looks at loyalty in terms of loyalty to the state, then loyalty is about loyalty to the idea of the Union, which is defined as that of people united not by race, language or religion, but by recognition of the authority of that union.
Unionism must, of course, admit the prevailing political values of the state, but that does not mean acceptance of the right of any particular government to weaken or dissolve the Union, unless this is agreed by those directly affected. Internal reform is not necessarily a weakening of the Union, but instruments like the 1920 and 1949 Government of Ireland Acts, the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which either convey conditionality or involve the Irish Republic in the affairs of the Union certainly do weaken that union. Unionists have never considered the Union to be the sole gift of Westminster to be granted or withheld at the pleasure of Britain. Aughey quotes the Ulster historian A. T. Q. Stewart: 'Nothing irritates an Ulsterman more than the assumption that the United Kingdom exists simply for the comfort and security of England and the English'. 
Thus to Unionists it is Westminster, not Belfast, that is seen as conditional in its loyalty to the Union. Treating Northern Ireland as a place apart violates the integrity of the Union. As we shall see, after 1972, instead of removing practices anomalous by Westminster standards, successive British governments introduced new anomalies, which further stressed the conditionality of constitutional commitment to the Union.
This explains why it is that Unionists see themselves as honourable people, trying to play the game by the rules, frustrated and entitled to do more than dissent politely when the partner departs from those rules and when double standards are applied. And in this regard one should remember that so much of the Unionist community is Scots-Presbyterian, and the Presbyterian tradition is one of resistance to an authority which has betrayed its trust. The words of a Fermanagh newspaper in 1915: 'Today, in Ireland, treason to the government is almost synonymous with loyalty to the Crown, is as valid for Unionists now as it was then, the crown being the symbolic link between them and the people of Britain.
It also explains why Unionists distrust the nationalist slogan 'Brits out'. The so-called 'constitutional' nationalists (of which more anon) have held that it merely means the withdrawal of British institutions ('breaking the link'). That is all very well as long as Unionists are indeed Irish. Since most of them maintain that they are not Irish the threat by extreme nationalists that those unwilling to accept an all-Ireland state should be expelled is very real.
Unionists may wish to see themselves as British citizens with equal rights, defending British interests against an enemy. But if the British do not want them they must be made to feel unwanted. Curiously enough for those who accuse Unionists of being confused about their identity and are swift to label them as Irish vilification of Unionists also takes the form of disparaging them as (presumably English or British!) colonists.
On the right, Unionists are considered as ignorant boors, social inferiors, with uncouth accents. They might be doing a good or bad job keeping down natives or preserving the empire, but that did not mean that a Unionist was necessarily 'clubable' and 'one of us'. Those surprised at such a notion might be even more surprised to learn that the history of Anglo-Irish relations is full of such attitudes.
In medieval Ireland those who went from England to Ireland, even if they were of the ruling Norman establishment, were viewed with contempt as colonists by their fellow Normans and Englishmen back home.
The bitter complaint, 'Just as we are English to the Irish, so we are Irish to the English' was voiced not in 1970, 1770, 1670 or even 1570, but no less than 400 years before that, by Maurice Fitzgerald in 1l70. In his chapter in The People of Ireland, Aidan Clarke points out that in the sixteenth century, contempt for the 'English of Irish birth' by the 'English of English birth' sent out to Ireland to govern the country, usually for a short period of time, was not concealed. The 'Irish' English were considered a 'middle nation' between the Irish and the English, distrusted and resented by the officials from England. In the 1550s a Protestant reformer referred to the Irish as the 'Wild Irish' and the colonial community as the 'Tame Irish'. 'The former could hardly be held responsible for their barbarism; the latter had embraced it by choice.'
Later, when Ireland needed to be made secure for strategic reasons, and the English government intervened to confiscate land for plantation purposes, it was the land of the 'English' Irish that was confiscated, not the land of the 'Irish' Irish. As Clarke commented, 'the old unsatisfactory colony was to be replaced by a new one.
Then came the crisis of the 1590s, the rising of the Ulster Irish earls. Inside the Pale the 'English' Irish Catholics, supported the crown. Outside the Pale some supported the crown, others supported the earls. When the war ended in English victory the government interpreted its success as a Protestant triumph and embarked on a programme of religious discrimination. The 'English' Irish Catholics that had supported the crown protested, affirming their Englishness and their loyalty. But the government continued to distrust them, and took the line that more 'English' English were required to balance the 'English' Irish.
The Opportunity came with the flight of the earls. Ulster and parts of Ireland were planted at the expense not only of the 'Irish' Irish but also the 'English' Irish. The latter were threatened with loss of land for being Catholic. Some converted but, according to Clarke, there was no convincing evidence that conversion brought advantage. The 'English' Irish, Catholic and Protestant alike, remained, like their predecessors, 'a middle-nation, repudiated by their fellow Englishmen, and repudiating their fellow Irish Catholics.'
Unsurprisingly, in the Ulster rebellion of 1641 many 'English' Irish supported the 'Irish' Irish. Cromwell's victory and the subsequent land settlement resulted in the 'English' Irish being tumbled down the social scale to be submerged in the peasantry, and become what they had never wished to be, Irish to both English and Irish alike.
But equally, even those Scots going to plant Ulster were looked down on with contempt by their brethren back home. A Calvinist divine commented, 'Going to Ireland was looked on as a miserable mark of a deplorable person'. Apparently many were 'riotous and profane obliged to leave their native land in disgrace under pressure of debt or dread of prosecution.
But if Unionists are regarded merely as socially inferior, colonial boors by the right, no less as colonists are they viewed by the left, but with all the hatred of the morally righteous attached as well. This has political implications of another kind, namely, that the colonists should not be there, but since they are, any political solutions about the land in which they live should take as little account of their views as possible, presumably in expiation of the guilt they and Britain should show for their ruling of the colony for so many centuries.
Views of what is a colonist, indeed, when does one stop being a colonist and become part of the landscape brought this author personally into contact with what Unionists have to face from the British academic establishment.
In 1986 he wrote two chapters for Minority Rights Group's publication No. 72, Co-existence in some plural European societies. He drew some comparisons between Northern Ireland, South Tyrol and the Swedes in Finland. The chapters were sent to be referred to a professor who commented that 'Alcock ... quite fails to make the point that the Swedes are ex-settlers, comparable to the British in Kenya and Zimbabwe, but still more so to the Protestants of Northern Ireland.'
This author could scarce forbear to point out that whereas White settlers may have gone to Kenya and Zimbabwe only a century or so ago, Protestants had been in Northern Ireland since before the Mayflower sailed for America, the Swedes had gone to Finland only a century after the Norman Conquest of Britain. He could have added that the Bajuvaren, the ancestors of the present-day South Tyrolese, entered South Tyrol about AD 600. Even the left did not refer to the White population of the United States as settlers'. He concluded, '...after all, everyone, whoever or whatever he is, is descended from a "settler".' And as was pointed out in Section A of the Collective Memory, the Celts too were incomers, settlers, who conquered the native population. Nevertheless, one is left with the impression that for the left population movements before the era of the voyages of discovery which unleashed European colonialism were rooted in a dim historical past and were thus either normal, or acceptable, or understandable or irrelevant but those that occurred afterwards were reprehensible and unacceptable.
Since the colonists are clearly in the wrong, and since the left by its nature is a force for intervention to right wrongs, then it is obviously attractive for those on the left to intervene to bring about the correct 'neat', 'natural' solution. Except that in the case of Northern Ireland the answer is not to intervene but to withdraw, as one withdrew from India, or Africa, or Cyprus. To withdraw in order to bring about the 'natural' solution of a united Ireland is, of course, to the left, based on the belief that the unity of Ireland is, in some way natural, therefore the division is artificial, therefore it is a distortion to be removed, a distortion for which the British are responsible and for which they must now make amends.
But, as Tom Wilson has pointed out, these guilt feelings are an incentive to terrorism.
This disregard and contempt is further seen in disparaging comments about the poor quality of Northern Ireland's Unionist leaders and representatives - MPs who are judged not even fit to be local councillors in England. But then MPs in England do not live in an area under siege with the frequent melancholy task of escorting their constituents in the security forces to their last resting place. Nor do they have to grapple with governmental appeasement of a foreign power. The other side of the coin is the lament in Northern Ireland about the quality of those sent out to enforce the whims of the London government, particularly when these, who have no commitment to Northern Ireland as part of Britain, are required to make statements to placate Unionists that are patently not in accordance with the facts, such as those to the effect that the IRA has been/is being beaten or that its terrorism is 'mindless'.
Undoubtedly the whole English attitude can be summed up by the reported comment of the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling on the plane after his first visit to the province - 'what a bloody awful country'. As Roy Jenkins tartly remarked, the 'bloody awful country' was, after all, Britain's creation and was created in a way opposed by most of that 'bloody awful' country's inhabitants.
Along with disparagement comes, of course, vilification. There has been little let-up in the charge of anti-Roman Catholic discrimination in employment.
The government introduced Fair Employment legislation in 1976, making it illegal to discriminate in employment on religious or political grounds. At present the legislation applies to all firms, but for registration and monitoring purposes only those firms employing more than eleven persons and persons working for at least sixteen hours per week are involved. The government also set up the same year the Fair Employment Agency, and in 1993 its successor, the Fair Employment Commission produced a report on employment in the province in relation to the 1991 census.
The report highlighted the fact that despite Fair Employment legislation, in 1991 28.4 per cent of Roman Catholic men were unemployed in comparison with 12.7 per cent Protestant men, and that among women the percentages were 14.5 and 8.0 respectively. Amongst men Roman Catholics were 2.2 times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants (a slight improvement on the 2.6 times noted in 1985-7), and amongst women Roman Catholics were 1.8 times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants. Under-representation of Roman Catholics in monitored employment had fallen from 7 per cent to 5.6 per cent, and overall under-representation had fallen from 4.1 to 2.9 per cent.
In a study undertaken by the Policy Studies Institute in 1987, and cheerfully and uncritically accepted by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, and his opposite number Kevin McNamara, religious discrimination was given as the 'major determinant of the difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant unemployment'.
For Unionists this was a typical example of the smear tactics of the 1970s. Legislation had been in place over a decade; Stormont and the powerful local councils had long been abolished, yet the employment situation of Roman Catholics had hardly improved dramatically. For Unionists there were four reasons for the continued disparity in employment. First, there was the educational factor: Protestants were more inclined to take science and technology courses, whereas Roman Catholics tended to prefer the Humanities and Social Sciences. Second, there was geography. Roman Catholics tended to live in the peripheral and less well-developed areas of the province and if, as Nationalists charged, it was government policy not to develop these areas under Direct Rule, this was hardly a matter for Unionists, and if a Protestant firm was reluctant to set up in these areas this was perfectly understandable in view of the security situation. In any case a claim that government aid had not been fairly distributed to those areas was investigated by a team from Queen's University, Belfast, and found to be false. The FEC did not publish it. Third, there was the poverty trap: that above four children in a family it was better to take social security than work, and very few Protestant families had over four children. Fourth, one whole sector of employment, namely the security forces, had more or less been abandoned by Roman Catholics, voluntarily or involuntarily. In any case despite legislation, firms tended to reflect the immediate area in which they were situated, rather than the greater urban area which the FEC demanded. And all this was quite apart from the 'chill' factor, under which persons of one community might simply wish not to work in an area dominated by the other community. Unionists particularly disliked the FEA/FEC (it was dubbed the Fenian Employment Agency). Ulster Unionist Party and DUP conferences regularly denounced it for alleged reluctance to investigate firms where the workforce was largely Roman Catholic.
The other side of the coin of vilification has been what, to Unionists, is considered a disproportionate amount of governmental assistance being given to Nationalists. Although it was quite right for poverty in Nationalist areas to be tackled, the way it has been carried out, and particularly the perception that little was being done to halt the growing deprivation in Unionist areas, has led to belief in more sinister motives.
For example, with regard to the pattern of urban renewal programmes in Belfast, it was believed that two-thirds of public funds for the regeneration of the city went to Nationalist areas in order to halt the economic decline that was held to be responsible for paramilitary activity. Yet PIRA activities had hardly diminished. It was further believed that while in mixed North Belfast hundreds of houses had been bulldozed in Unionist areas and replaced by 'green belts', thus having the effect of obliging the occupants to move out of the city, large housing estates were being built in West Belfast thus ensuring that Republicanism remained strong there. The Secretariat set up by the Anglo-Irish Agreement was blamed for these developments, seen as aiming at the 'republicanisation' of Belfast.
In the city of Londonderry population movements of the last two decades had resulted in the larger west side of the River Foyle that divides the city being, with the exception of a tiny enclosure, Roman Catholic, while the east side was overwhelmingly Protestant. It has been claimed that the SDLP-dominated council had spent sixteen times as much money in projects on the west side than on the east; that 99 per cent of the £8 million donated from American sources and 91 per cent of the British government's allocation to the city had gone to the west side.
But if disparagement and vilification were not enough to discourage Unionists, then perhaps they should be made to feel the chill of disinterest.
British disinterest in Northern Ireland is often explicit. For example, the Conservative secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew stated in a speech in Coleraine in December 1992 that although the British government would respect the wishes of the majority the aspiration to a united Ireland was 'no less legitimate' than that of Unionists to be part of Britain. Later on he said that Britain had no economic or strategic interest in Northern Ireland, repeating this a few months later in an interview with Die Zeit when he actually declared that Britain would leave the province 'with pleasure' - although he later took back the 'pleasure'. One can imagine Unionist feelings at this defence - by a cabinet minister - of the territorial integrity of his state in a town whose centre had been devastated by a PIRA bomb the previous month. Thus it was simply pathetic when the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church Dr John Dunlop compared the long-term ideological commitment of the Irish government to the minority community in the North which was not matched on the British side towards the Unionist community and was causing that community to be demoralised. He wrote as if he expected the British government to realise it and take the appropriate steps. He did not seem to realise that demoralisation of the Unionist community was a vital ingredient in the process of ensuring Irish unification.
An important part of the demoralisation process is - and still is -the reaction of successive British governments to the Republic's claim to the North in Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution. The only negative comment by an official British spokesman heard by this author was that they were 'unhelpful'. For Unionists, the significance of the articles, taken with the attitude of the British government, are two. First, they legitimise and encourage terrorism. But second, they force the balance of the political debate to focus on the terms under which the loyalist community would live in a united Ireland rather than those under which the nationalist community would live in Northern Ireland. Crucially they took away any need to accept the Northern Ireland state and thus have a legitimate claim to share in its running. The articles thus hindered inter-community reconciliation in the North - as indeed they were meant to do.
Because of the policy of eventual Irish unification Unionists have had their views continually ignored. The classic example was the decision to ignore Carson's advice not to set up a separate Northern Ireland parliament. Whereas Unionists naturally want Northern Ireland to be treated equally as an integral part of the United Kingdom that is precisely what the British government has refused to do in order to appease Irish nationalism. Thus, as Arthur Aughey put it, the establishment of the Northern Ireland state was a victory for Unionists, but not for unionism. The Unionists had won - and lost. They had kept Irish nationalism at bay but had not asserted the right of equal treatment within the United Kingdom.
Later, their representations about the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement were ignored, and British and Irish governments and the nationalist community could alike be pleased that ignoring the Unionists provoked the mini-election in Northern Ireland that led to the loss of a Unionist Westminster seat.
Establishing Stormont did, however, have two consequences. One has already been examined - its use as an instrument for the defence of the Unionist population. The second one was that since Stormont did last for fifty years the Unionist Party got into the habit of thinking in terms of local parliamentary political power. This led to a division in Unionist ranks as to whether the province should have its separate parliament or not.
On the one hand, there is the attractive view of regional parliaments within a federalist framework - if Britain should become a federal state, for example, or if European federalism leads to a European Union united on the basis of its so-called Hundred Regions rather than its member states. The great advantage of the federal structure is that power is closer to the people. It is claimed that the majority of Unionists are now devolutionists.
On the other hand, there is the view of all those involved in the Campaign for Equal Citizenship, that devolved government would maintain Northern Ireland as different, and that what is needed to ensure equality of rights and treatment is full integration, with Northern Ireland being divided up into one or more metropolitan or county councils, with powers roughly equivalent to those presently enjoyed by councils in Britain. Thus the members of the CEC see themselves as the representatives of the true Carson tradition. Indeed, as Aughey points out, the roots of the CEC stem from the Irish-Catholic-nationalist Civil Rights protests of the late 1960s, with their slogan, 'British Rights for British Citizens'. Just why the campaign has now faded away, why, indeed, it never had any chance of success will be given in the next chapter.
Inevitably, if one perceived a united Ireland to be the end goal, the Unionist community needed to be isolated. In general that meant the withdrawal of national political parties campaigning in Northern Ireland simply because of the implication that such would mean the province was an integral part of Britain and thus an obstacle would be placed to unification. In particular - and deeply wounding - was the unilateral withdrawal of the Conservative whip from the Ulster Unionist MPs by Edward Heath immediately after he was defeated in the February 1974 general election.
But the consequences of the refusal of the main political parties to campaign in the province were severe.
On the one hand, the political arena was abandoned to local political parties whose raison d'etre is either to maintain or break the Union. Since, following the fall of Stormont, local councils have few and meaningless powers, every election, whether at local, national, or European level, has turned merely into a plebiscite on the Union. On the other hand, the people of the province were prevented from influencing policies through participation in a party able to form the national government - a denial of direct democracy.
For many years all shades of public opinion in Northern Ireland beseeched the main political parties to set up in the province, so that 'left-right' politics could take over from what was condemned as 'sectarian' politics. The results have not been successful.
Socialist-oriented Unionists, especially trade unionists working in the Belfast shipyards, applying to the Labour Party to set up in Northern Ireland, were told to join the nationalist SDLP, which takes the Labour whip at Westminster. The Labour Party as a whole has continually favoured unification by consent, and its Northern Ireland spokesman in 1992-93, Kevin McNamara, has openly declared his wish to be the last secretary of state for Northern Ireland and advocated, in tandem with the Irish foreign minister in 1993, Dick Spring, the idea of joint sovereignty over the province. This has angered those pro-Union in the party who see such an attitude as abandoning impartiality in any negotiations on the future of the province with the Irish Republic.
It is precisely because of the desire to be impartial in such negotiations that the Conservative Party leadership refused for many years after the fall of Stormont to countenance campaigning in the province. Then in October 1988, while nothing but glum faces were seen on the leadership platform at the party conference in Blackpool the party's rank and file voted overwhelmingly to support the efforts of Conservatives in Northern Ireland constituencies to become officially affiliated. The nation saw on television the party faithful at Blackpool baying at the thought of cleansing sectarianism in Northern Ireland, enthusiastically reenacting, although one can be sure no one was aware of it, the old sixteenth- and seventeenth-century attitudes that the present unsatisfactory colony needed to be replaced by a new one.
The results were not happy. The party never polled more than 5.7 per cent (in the 1992 general election), and its dismal performance can be attributed to three things. First, it was tied to official Conservative policy and that meant being saddled not only with highly unpopular economic and social policies but also with weakness on the Union. Second, votes for Conservative candidates were seen as dividing the Unionist vote and the party therefore did not contest seats where such division risked the election of a nationalist. Third, ministers (and particularly the Conservative secretary of state) campaigned pathetically, finding it impossible to reconcile the implication of integration with the need for impartiality on the issue of Irish unification.
And finally the Unionist community has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign of physical violence, murder, and economic sabotage.
The campaign of the PIRA in Northern Ireland has taken three forms. The first is to target for killing not only members of the security forces (RUC, UDR-RIR, British army units) and prison and judiciary services but also all those who work for them, in particular construction firms and workers who might be rebuilding security forces premises such as barracks, police stations or forensic science buildings destroyed by bombs, but also those who might provide them with services such as food. The second has been to adopt a policy of ethnic cleansing, particularly in border areas. This has meant in particular singling out Protestant farmers part-time members of the UDR-RIR who were either unmarried or only children so that upon their murder the farm would have to be sold (perhaps to a Catholic) and the rest of the Protestant family would move away. Other victims have been Protestant farmers seeking to purchase land in what the PIRA consider to be 'nationalist' territory, particularly in certain areas west of the River Bann like Coalisland. The third form, of recent origin, is to carry out a kind of 'Baedeker Raids' series of bombing the heart out of the province's small towns. Among those hit have been Armagh, Bangor, Coleraine, Portadown, Newtownards, and Magherafelt. All but the latter are 'Unionist' in population. The aim of the PIRA is two-fold. One is to break the spirit of the Unionist population. The other is to make the financial cost of compensation and insurance payments, quite apart from that of security as a whole, prohibitive to the British government.
It has been estimated that to date nearly £1 billion has been spent on criminal injury and property damage compensation in Northern Ireland since the Troubles began in 1969; policing costs of £1 million per day, as does the cost of the army, navy and air force operations.
To carry out their activities the PIRA have about 50-70 active service front line operatives - bomb makers, gunmen, etc. These are backed by some 400-500 'reservists', who may be used as scouts and who would fill the front line if necessary.
Facing them - and from time to time motley splinter groups like the INLA - are 12,500 RUC (8,250 full-time, 4,250 reservists), 5,500 RIR (3,000 full-time, 2,500 part-time), and anything from 14,000 to 19,000 regular British troops depending on the security situation of the moment. Mainly because of intimidation, as in 1920-22, the number of Roman Catholics in the RUC amounts to not more than 8 per cent, and in the RIR 6 per cent.
Some indication of the task the RUC has faced may be gleaned from the fact that in the twenty years 1972-92, more than 15,400 terrorist suspects from both communities have been brought before the courts.
An important consequence of this situation is that the security forces have become a source of employment for the Protestant community for which the Catholic community has been reluctant to make itself available. The large numbers, over the years, of Protestants employed in the indigenous security forces means that a considerable proportion of the Protestant population has or has had members of the family in the indigenous security forces at one time or another. When the PIRA carries out attacks on the security forces it denies a sectarian motive, but claims it is merely involved in operations against 'crown forces'. And intimidation and murder of Catholic members would support that contention. But, on the other hand, the Protestant community cannot help but see itself precisely as a victim of sectarianism.
Through intimidation of the Catholic community the PIRA controls certain areas such as the ghettos of West Belfast. Understandably the RUC are reluctant to police them, fearing ambush. As crime (usually in the form of car-theft and joy-riding, and drug abuse) has mounted, the Unionist community has viewed with contempt the hypocrisy of nationalists, particularly the SDLP, who call for 'law and order', yet have consistently refused to support the police view, let alone urge their community to enlist in it Unionists further view with contempt the plea for protection by the RUC against Protestant terrorists (of which more anon) by those politicians in PSF whose party has systematically refused to condemn the PIRA's attacks on those very same police. In the meantime the PIRA presents itself as the police in these ghettos, taking action such as knee-capping 'undesirables', particularly drug dealers. Unionists are particularly outraged at the large crowds that attend the funerals of PIRA members killed, seeing in them support for the PIRA. This is understandable in that the motive for Protestant funerals is thanksgiving for the life of the deceased, whereas the motive for Catholic funerals is rather one of support for the family of the deceased in its hour of grief rather than a judgment on the deceased's life. On the other hand, funerals of members of the security forces killed by the PIRA reinforces the suggestion to the other community that the person being buried was 'one of ours'.
From the general security situation, four consequences flow.
The first of these pertains to employment. It is not mere sectarian discrimination by Protestant-controlled firms to be reluctant to employ Catholics. It is also a matter of distrust: the reluctance to employ persons who may voluntarily, or even be intimidated involuntarily into carrying out activities for the PIRA, such as obtaining the personal records (ie addresses, car numbers) of the firm's personnel and reporting on their movements, (particularly if they are part-time members of the security forces), or actually carrying bombs onto premises.
The second, arising particularly out of the continued failure of the security forces to defeat the PIRA, is the perception by the Unionist community that for fear of antagonising Dublin, the British government has deliberately adopted a policy of containment of PIRA terrorism rather than taking the ruthless measures necessary for its destruction. There are two results of this perception. One is the disastrous but inevitable rise of community self-defence forces, Protestant paramilitary groups, most notably the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) taking its name from the pre-First World War organisation, and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and its off-shoots the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Red Hand Commandos.
The shadow of Protestant action groups has always hung over Northern Ireland society. It surfaced in the 1960s in opposition to O'Neill and to the Civil Rights marchers, and has not hesitated to attack even the RUC. O'Neill, in fact, proscribed the UVF in 1966 after the shooting of four Catholics, one of whom died, in a pub in Malvern Street, the so-called 'Malvern Street Shootings'. They had been attacked simply because they were Catholics rather than being allegedly members of the IRA.
The first policeman to die in the present round of the troubles was shot by loyalist paramilitaries in the Shankill Road in October 1969. During the 1970s and 1980s these organisations may have posed as defenders of the Protestant community, murdering stray Catholics on the streets and afterwards claiming they were in the PIRA, but all too often their activities were nothing more than racketeering. Indeed sometimes territory would be divided up with the PIRA.
But by the beginning of the 1990s the situation changed. The 'old guard' of the UDA was replaced by a more ruthless group. Intelligence on members of nationalist paramilitary groups had improved (for which nationalists blamed collusion with the security forces). If the PIRA was targeting crown forces and their associates, the Protestant paramilitaries declared war on 'Republican forces' and their associates. Primary targets were PSF councillors and election agents, but when the SDLP began to hold talks with PSF all members of this 'pan-nationalist front' were declared legitimate targets. Action has even been threatened south of the border where, with the exception of the car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan on 17 May 1974 when 33 people were killed and 200 were injured, loyalist paramilitaries have rarely strayed. In 1992-93 loyalist paramilitary murders had overtaken nationalist paramilitary murders. And it is clear that the UVF has now also started a programme of ethnic cleansing of Catholics east of the Bann.
Just as disturbing, however, was the reaction of the loyalist community to these developments.
It was only too aware of the 'physical force' tradition of Irish nationalism; the analysis that only by violence could Britain be forced out of Ireland. As the leader of PSF, Gerry Adams, stated:
There are those who tell us that the British government will not be moved by armed struggle. As has been said before, the history of Ireland and of British colonial involvement throughout the world tell us that they will not be moved by anything else.The loyalist community had seen nationalist violence pay off -the end of Stormont, the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. It had been exasperated by the disruption of their collective life, and continual British appeasement of Irish nationalism and the failure of successive governments to destroy Irish terrorism.
In a telephone poll of some 4,000 held by the Newsletter, a Unionist newspaper in the spring of 1993, 42 per cent declared their support for loyalist paramilitary violence, 50.2 per cent answered 'yes' to the question as to whether there were current circumstances in which loyalist paramilitary violence was justified, and 81 per cent stated that loyalist violence was a reaction to PIRA violence and would cease if the PIRA called off its campaign.
Although it may be said that telephone polls are not conducted on a scientific basis, that a poll where persons are invited to ring in will not be an accurate reflection of the community as a whole and in any case loyalist paramilitary adherents may themselves have called in order to swell the numbers, this author believes that the poll does indeed provide a reliable barometer of the views of the loyalist community if only because it reflects a general exasperation all over Britain at rising crime, and a lack of confidence in the government, police and courts to deal with it. In a Gallup poll in August 1993 on law and order no less than 76 per cent thought that taking the law into their own hands was justified. To nationalists, however, the truth was the other way round: PIRA violence was a reaction to loyalist violence. And less than a year later, emboldened by the number of their murders, loyalist paramilitaries were declaring that far from merely reacting to PIRA violence, stopping when PIRA violence stopped, they would only cease their attacks on perceived Republicans when an internal solution in the North had been accepted.
Who can blame Protestants if they feel that if violence is the only thing the British understand maybe it is also the only thing the Irish will understand. Yet when Lord Tebbit, a victim of the Brighton bombing, whose wife was permanently injured in the same incident, hinted at just such a development on Sky Television and that perhaps Articles 2 and 3 would only be changed when bombs exploded in Dublin, he was roundly - and typically - condemned by the British and Irish media for encouraging it.
But the second result of the perception of the British government's policy as one of containing terrorism rather than defeating it has been the creation of a very real fear amongst the Unionist community about the situation that would arise should Britain withdraw from Northern Ireland. If Britain withdrew without previously disarming the RUC and RIR and defeating loyalist terrorists then an attempt by Dublin to take over the area might well lead to civil war. However, if it withdrew having disarmed the RUC and RIR and defeated loyalist terrorists, then in view of the inadequate capacities of the Irish army and police to control a resentful population, would there not be the temptation to use the PIRA to terrorise a Protestant community - as happened in the South in 1922 - perhaps physically eliminating its leadership?
Third, the violence has led to a re-drawing of the map of Northern Ireland in community terms. Ethnic cleansing, or simply a desire for a more secure environment has led to accelerated movements of people and increasing polarisation of the two communities. According to the 1991 census the division of the Protestant east from the Catholic west, generally along the lines of the River Bann, has been exacerbated by the troubles. Despite a much faster growth of the Catholic population, their numbers in the east have fallen or remained static while in border areas Protestant numbers have fallen substantially. Half the population lives in areas more than 90 per cent Protestant or Catholic, and only 7 per cent live in areas with roughly equal proportions of both.
Fourth, the IRA campaign reinforces Protestant-Unionist views, held since the days of Parnell, that there are no meaningful differences between the various forms of Irish nationalism. In areas such as East Tyrone, where Protestants and Unionists are in a minority, murder and intimidation by the PIRA to get them to move is seen as resulting in the purchase of their homes, farms or business premises by nationalists of the SDLP persuasion. Although the SDLP denounces PIRA violence Unionists note that moderate nationalists are often the beneficiaries, and to the extent that they gain on the backs of the IRA, there really is a 'pannationalist' front.
One final insult the Unionist community has to bear arising out of the terrorist situation. Provisional Sinn Fein, the PIRA's political wing is dominated by persons who have served prison sentences or are wanted for terrorist offences. Allegedly 61 of the party's 115 most influential figures in the past seven years have served jail terms, including 7 of 51 local councillors and 9 of 14 parliamentary candidates at the 1992 general elections. Because of the British government's refusal to ban PSF (on the fatuous grounds that the party represents a sizeable percentage of the vote, as indeed, with 12.5 per cent in the 1993 local elections, it does) Unionists have to sit in local councils with persons and a party that 'understands' the IRA's policy of ethnic cleansing of Protestants and loyalists. By contrast the Unionist parties have unequivocally condemned the UVF and the UDA (and its off-shoot organisations) and the British government has banned them.
For twenty-five years now the Unionist community has been subject to vilification and terrorism, yet it has not flinched. It has slightly lost strength in population terms, but it has not lost much in voting strength, and the number of Unionists who have changed their minds (Lundies) is infinitesimal.
Why is this so? Why do they continue to refuse to be part of a united Ireland? The short answer is: because the Irish Republic is bankrupt, Catholic, gaelic and neutral.
The Irish Republic has few natural resources, and the way the state is managed holds no cheer for the future, and certainly no inducement to Unionists.
In 1990 the state was in debt for a sum of some 25,700 million Irish punts, equivalent to about £23,400 million sterling. This amounts to some £6,650 per head of the population, compared to £3,350 for Britain. The gross debt of general government at the end of the I 980s amounted to some 100 per cent of GDP, compared to some 25 per cent for Britain. Since 1983 unemployment has averaged between 15.2 and 18.2 per cent of the workforce, hardly an improvement on Northern Ireland's 14.0 to 18.5 per cent. Throughout the I 980s net emigration amounted to an outflow of 18,000 per year, with a peak of 46,000 in 1989, hardly an inducement to Northern Ireland with an average net annual emigration of 5,300 persons during the same period.
Following the 1994 Irish Budget tax rates have moved closer, but the advantage is still with the North. The standard rate of income tax is 27 per cent, compared with a standard rate of 25 per cent in Britain. But over one third of Irish taxpayers pay the top rate at 48 per cent and above whereas the figures are 9 per cent and 40 per cent for Britain. The standard rate of value-added tax (VAT) is 21 per cent, compared with the standard British rate of 17.5 per cent and there is a lower rate of 12.5 per cent as well. The future is thus very gloomy. These colossal debts will have to be serviced, absorbing a large slice of revenue. The only area where the Republic does well is from transfers from the European Community. According to European Commissioner Henning Christopherson, no less than 9 per cent of Irish GDP comes from EC transfers, mostly from the Common Agricultural Policy. Yet the EC, alarmed at serious overproduction, has introduced reforms and penalties to curb it, particularly in those sectors of the greatest importance to the Republic, milk and beef.
This would be roughly in line with more recent figures suggesting that the Irish Republic receives £549 per head from the Community budget (Britain £41), and such receipts are 11.4 per cent of GNP, (Britain 0.5 per cent). No other country in the Community has such a large percentage of its GNP thus provided.
But not only would future generations of Unionists have to help pay off these debts, they would almost certainly suffer a severe drop in living standards for the doubtful privilege of doing so.
Already in 1983 the New Ireland Forum was reporting that because of the parity principle, ie the efforts to maintain in Northern Ireland standards of public services equivalent to those in the United Kingdom as a whole, the British subvention to Northern Ireland ensured that in regard to living standards on the basis of such indicators as per capita income, per capita energy supplies, cars, etc, in every simple case except infant mortality the North was better off than the South.
Ten years later things had not changed. Liam Clarke, referring to a report by the Cadogan group of academics, reported that at present the British exchequer was subsidising each inhabitant of Northern Ireland to the tune of £1,600. Largely as a result of this massive inflow of funds, government spending in the North (not counting security or defence) was two-thirds higher than in the Republic and living standards were 40 per cent higher. As the New Ireland Forum made clear in 1983, the extent to which Northern standards would be maintained or fall would depend on the extent either to which Britain continued this subvention after unification or the extent to which the Irish government met any shortfall (or cessation) of the British subvention, perhaps through higher taxes. This aspect of Irish unification is examined further in the chapter on the British government's position in regard to the future of Northern Ireland. But it is clear from reading the New Ireland Forum's Report that the expectation is that living standards in the North would fall upon unification, certainly in the immediate and short-term, while the Cadogan group considered that the gap between Northern and Southern living standards would not be closed in the foreseeable future.
With regard to the Roman Catholic nature of the Irish state some changes have taken place since the 1937 Constitution. For one thing, Article 44, granting the Roman Catholic Church a special position, was removed in 1972 following a referendum, partly in response to the crisis in the North. For another, since 1966 it has no longer been obligatory for the Protestant partner in a mixed marriage to have to sign a document agreeing that any children of the marriage be brought up as Roman Catholics. And Roman Catholic students can go to Trinity - indeed, they are now in the majority there.
Nevertheless the influence of the Roman Catholic Church still permeates Irish society. The pressure to have children of mixed marriages brought up as Roman Catholics still exists, with the intensity varying according to area. Roman Catholic Church representatives are still powerful on school boards. And with the exception of the few Protestant ones, the Roman Catholic ethos still dominates hospitals. For example, whereas Protestants regard the doctor-patient relationship as sacrosanct, 'Catholic' hospitals have a Morals Committee with the power to take decisions. The alarm expressed when it was proposed in 1990 to move a Protestant hospital in Dublin, the Adelaide, to a new site and amalgamate with a Catholic one was therefore understandable. And in regard to a number of other issues Protestant-Unionists would find the influence of the Roman Catholic Church unacceptable.
The influence of the Roman Catholic Church lies behind the constitutional hostility to divorce. Indeed, in a submission to the New Ireland Forum the hierarchy stated it would oppose divorce, even in a united Ireland, and referred to Article 41 of the Constitution, with its guarantees to protect the family and guard the institution of marriage." So powerful was the Church that when in 1986 the Fine Gael government of Dr Garrett Fitzgerald introduced a move to allow divorce, the resulting referendum ended in a crushing two to one defeat for the government. The Church is still hostile to contraceptives. In 1935 the Criminal Law Amendment Act banned their sale and importation. Following the Magee decision on family privacy by the Supreme Court in 1977, legislation introduced in 1979 now allows for their use by married couples but only on prescription by the family doctor. Under a 1985 Act contraceptives can only be sold by family planning clinics and then only to those over eighteen years of age. Other outlets that have sold condoms have been fined. As for abortion, this has been constitutionally banned since 1983, again by a two-to-one majority in a referendum. Irish women seeking an abortion often travel to England. In 1991 the European Court of Justice had ruled that an Irish woman had the right to travel abroad to obtain an abortion, the issue, in European Community terms, being one of freedom of movement and right to obtain services, abortion being considered a 'service'. Accordingly, during the negotiations on the December 1991 Maastricht Treaty the Irish Republic obtained a special clause that had the effect of preventing Irish women from travelling abroad to obtain an abortion.
But is it really these specific issues that alarm Protestants? It can be argued that Ireland is fast becoming a more secular state as it moves towards the twenty-first century, with a sharp decline in the numbers of the priesthood, and the challenges from Women's Rights organisations. And there are many who believe that controversial clauses in Irish legislation would be repealed if unification depended on it, and are ready to accept that Ireland would, indeed should, become a pluralistic state.
The real fear is that the one million or so Protestants, a 20 per cent minority in a unified Roman Catholic land would sooner or later be assimilated. Dr Paisley makes much of the point that the Protestant population of the Irish Republic at the time of Partition was 11 per cent and is now 3 per cent. Although emigration for economic reasons or intimidation will have been a factor, a much more important reason for the decline is perceived to be the still illiberal attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to mixed marriages and the operation of 'Ne Temere'. It is therefore no surprise that Protestants in the Republic strongly support unification since their group would receive a powerful boost.
From the cultural point of view also there is no inducement for Unionists to join the Republic.
Since language plays so important a part in the promotion of national identity successive Irish governments have attempted to ensure that Irish recovered from the decline it suffered under British rule. The main techniques have been to teach it in schools and make an acceptable standard of Irish, as the state's first official language, mandatory for employment in the civil service and teaching profession. However it is generally accepted that the attempt has failed. Only some 30 per cent speak it, and considerably less than 1 per cent use it habitually in their daily lives, even after seventy years of independence and government support. In only 1 per cent of primary schools and 2.5 per cent of secondary schools is the entire curriculum taught in the language. Accepting that compulsion had failed to convert the vast majority to any practical desire to continue the Irish they learned at school, the government abolished the Irish requirement for most public sector appointments (but not the teaching profession) in 1974. This overall situation is, of course, a matter of concern to all Gaelic organisations, and successive Irish governments have been taken to task for not doing more about it. But efforts to do more about it raise questions as to its usefulness in the modern world and the proximity of the world's most powerful language - English. Most British radio and TV programmes can be picked up in the Republic; overwhelmingly most of the press and published books are in English; the most powerful source of foreign films is the United States.
The New Ireland Forum Report stated that in the event of Irish unification, mechanisms for ensuring full Northern participation in the civil service 'would have to be devised'. How would this affect Northern former Unionists - or indeed, the Republic itself?
To begin with it can hardly be imagined that any Northern former Unionist would want to learn Irish. If a second or third language is to be learnt at school Irish would come very low on the list. If he or she did not learn Irish the ability to enter the teaching profession would be impaired, and it is noteworthy that in a recent case before the European Court of Justice the Court upheld the right of a teaching institution to insist that a foreign teacher pass an examination in Irish even though she was teaching the subject in English and Irish was not necessary. So how would the question be handled? Would the Northerner be exempted from Irish either at school or in examinations for the teaching profession, or both? If he was so exempted a serious situation could develop. Parents might well ask why some pupils had to study Irish at school while others did not, and this could open the way to Irish being made voluntary, which in turn could precipitate a sharp decline in the language. If the Northerner was exempted from taking Irish as a requirement for the teaching profession this would mean double standards. If he or she was not exempted the risk would be that few would apply, and an important means of integrating the minority into the new state would not operate. Irish might perhaps be dropped as a requirement for the teaching profession without too much demur but if to accommodate Northerners it was made only voluntary in schools then one of the most fundamental characteristics separating Irish people from the other inhabitants of the British Isles would be in grave jeopardy. Would any Irish government - would the Irish people - really sacrifice their cultural heritage in order to obtain unification? Would not the incorporation of one million former Protestant-Unionists in the new Ireland not turn out to be a poisoned chalice that would change the whole nature of the Irish state?
And finally there is the sheer contempt of the Irish Republic as a political entity because of the issue of neutrality. This contempt goes back to the Second World War, highlighted by De Valera's notorious visit to the German embassy to express the condolences of the Irish government on the death of Hitler. For a time, because of the submarine war and the inability to use the Southern ports the fate of Britain, and thus of the entire anti-Axis front prior to the entry into the war of the United States was in the balance. Unionists note that the Irish Republic contributed nothing to the defence of the West both in the Second World War and the Cold War, leaving to other countries and their alliances the preservation of those values it holds most dear, and that even in the days of ever closer western European integration the Irish Republic, at the time of the 1986 Single European Act, refused to participate in the defence organisation Western European Union (WEU).
R. J. Raymond listed such issues as defence expenditure, the loss of foreign policy independence, and the possibility that establishment of NATO bases in Ireland would make the Republic liable to Soviet attack as the main reasons for not abandoning a neutrality that is not internationally agreed (like that of Switzerland and Austria) but merely 'ad hoc' on the basis of governmental say-so, like that of Sweden.
In a public opinion poll held at the end of April 1985, 64 per cent of those questioned were opposed to any military alliance at any time; by 1992 this had risen to 84 per cent, with 31 per cent believing EC membership was a threat to the state's position as a distinct and independent nation.
In conclusion, therefore, there is no incentive whatever for Unionists to go into a united Ireland. Economically they would be worse off; culturally they would be exchanging the sphere of the world's most powerful culture for not only one of the world's least powerful cultures but one over whose continuing viability many question marks exist. To say, as the New Ireland Forum does, that Unionist identity and cultural traditions would be respected in a united Ireland merely begs the question as to why one should be impressed by having guaranteed what one has already. To Unionists it is absurd to ask a player in a premier division football team to seek voluntarily a free transfer to a team at the bottom of the third division, and then assault him when he refuses to do so. Irish nationalists and republicans frequently denounce Northern Ireland as a 'failed political entity'. For Unionists the Irish Republic is a failed economic and cultural entity.
Indeed part of Unionist anger at the British media's anti-Unionist campaign was that until recently it had little to say to the British public on the type of society Unionists were being urged to join. For example, in so far as religion was concerned, to Unionists it is incomprehensible that the British should want them to join a society that is utterly alien, which the British themselves would be angered if they were forced to join, whether as Protestants, or Catholics or temporary Christians who go to church twice a year at Christmas and Easter, or simply left-wing atheists who see religion as the 'opium of the people'. They are infuriated that the British media continually condemns the religious fervour of Protestant-Unionists but do not seem to be able to raise even a second 'tut' for the society that crucified the idea of divorce by a two-thirds majority in the 1986 referendum; which is against contraception and abortion; whose Roman Catholic ethos permeates its state and its education and welfare systems; and whose clerical representatives in Northern Ireland have vigorously opposed British government attempts to foster mixed-religion education in institutions such as Lagan College, and even tried to intimidate those Catholic parents that do not send their children to Catholic schools, for example, by refusing them communion.
It is, of course, not only that there is no incentive to join the Irish Republic. The result of twenty-five years of concentrated terrorism and economic sabotage at home and the lack of understanding in the rest of Britain has made the Unionist community draw in even more upon itself and harden attitudes. To give in now would mean that all those murdered by Irish terrorists would have died in vain. To suggestions often made in the United States, that one way of solving the problem might be for the Unionist community to pack up and leave Northern Ireland and go whence they came, with or without compensation, Unionists point out that they have been in Ulster since before the sailing of the Mayflower. They therefore have really nowhere to go. 'Here we are, and here we stay' is the apt title of a winner of the 1986 Ulster Society Song Contest.
The outright failure of Irish nationalism, whether so-called constitutional or paramilitary, to have any effect whatsoever on the Unionist community has obliged it to turn away from trying to put pressure on the latter and instead to choose a much softer target, namely, the British government and people, playing on guilt feelings, the general ignorance of the issues involved, the anti-Unionist media, and on the high physical and financial costs of holding on to Northern Ireland.
So-called constitutional Irish nationalists, those accepting that Ireland can only be reunited by consent, have been trying to get successive British governments to declare formally and publicly that they favour - eventually - a united Ireland. And they want the British government to put pressure on the Unionists to negotiate the future form of a united Ireland by withdrawing the Sunningdale guarantee that the province would remain British as long as a majority of the population so wished. For their part Irish extremists, seeing that their campaign of violence had failed to intimidate the Unionist community into agreeing to Irish unification but still holding to the belief that violence was the only way to change British policy, reacted by extending their campaign to the British mainland and British targets in mainland Europe.
But here too Irish nationalism has not been as successful as it would have liked. Successive British governments have listened very sympathetically to what Irish nationalists have had to say, but they are not unaware that there are limits beyond which it would be imprudent to go.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within the University of Ulster.
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