by Ken Keable
First designed, typeset and published by Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8JR
First edition 2003. Second edition (revised) 2004. Third edition (slightly amended) 2007. © Ken Keable, 2007.
*The views expressed in this pamphlet are the personal views of the author, and not necessarily those of the Connolly Association
“Whatever Ulster’s right may be, she cannot stand in the way of the whole of the rest of Ireland. Half a province cannot impose a permanent veto on the nation. Half a province cannot obstruct forever the reconciliation between the British and Irish democracies.” Winston Churchill – proposing the second reading of the 1912 Home Rule Bill.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD by Tony Benn
THE ROUTE TO IRISH UNITY AND INDEPENDENCE
This pamphlet by Ken Keable is the best and clearest account of the relations between Britain and Ireland over many years and it argues, most persuasively that the next step must be the termination of British jurisdiction over the six counties to make Irish unity possible.
There is little to add to his account but some of the points he makes need to be understood more clearly in Britain, not least the impact that the British occupation has had upon our democracy here which has led to the introduction of repressive legislation infringing our freedom too.
We ought also to remind ourselves that every policy imposed by force of British arms has failed to resolve the situation or pave the way to a permanent solution.
Partition itself failed along with the Stormont government set up to administer the six counties as did the ‘Direct Rule’ that replaced it.
Detention without trial, strip-searching, plastic bullets, Diplock Courts and super-grass trials succeeded only in worsening intercommunal relations and deepening the bitterness on both sides.
The broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein, the anti-terrorism laws and internal deportation in what is supposed to be a United Kingdom denied us the opportunity to hear the arguments or encourage the dialogue we all knew had to take place.
One of the most puzzling aspects internationally was the failure of successive American governments to bring pressure to bear on London and the reason was that during the Cold War the White House did not want to see a united neutral Ireland that might weaken its grip on Europe. It was only when the Cold War ended that Clinton was able to exert the necessary influence.
Throughout the whole period of the emergency, informal indirect and highly secret contacts were maintained by London and the IRA while official declarations of policy routinely denounced those who openly worked with Sinn Fein for real discussions to begin as they did in 1997.
The Belfast Agreement marked an important stage in the process and the benefits have been widely enjoyed along with the growing prosperity that has followed accompanied by the booming of the Irish economy and the improved prospects for investment.
But, as this pamphlet makes clear the one missing element was the absence of that necessary acceptance in Britain that Irish unity should be the declared goal and that legislation to end the British occupation was a necessary part of that project.
Draft Bills were introduced into the House of Commons to effect the abandonment of the British claim to rule the six counties but these never acquired sufficient support even for a proper debate in the House of Commons and break through the crippling bi-partisanship across the front benches on Irish policy.
I attach one of those Bills for the record and profoundly believe that this will have to form the basis of the next stage, but what follows that must be for the Irish and not the British to determine, so that the issue of consent will have to be determined on the island itself and this could lead to many possible solutions, including full organic unity, some form of devolution or even to the inclusion of a united Ireland into the Commonwealth if it so wished.
Mr Keable has drawn up a list of proposals that deserve close attention and if this pamphlet is widely read – as it should be – I believe it could play a seminal role in advancing us to the next and final stage of British decolonisation of a nation against whom it has perpetrated the most terrible crimes, but with which the possibility of future friendship and co-operation is unlimited.
This pamphlet is addressed to British readers, especially English ones, and its purpose is to explain the Northern Ireland problem, how it arose, and how we can help to solve it.
I am English, and lived in the London area all my life until 1992, when for personal reasons I moved to the Republic of Ireland.
In the late 1980s I acknowledged to myself the uncomfortable fact that I really didn’t understand the question of Northern Ireland; that, despite having had opinions on the subject for a long time, having been involved with the Irish community in London, and having been a (rather inactive) member of the Connolly Association for many years (partly through my interest in Irish traditional music) and having read numerous articles on the subject, I couldn’t explain how the problem arose.
I also decided that I had no excuse for my ignorance, and that since my country had been at war over this matter for nearly 20 years, I really ought to know exactly what this war was all about. It became clear to me that my own ignorance was part of a general ignorance among English people on the subject. My investigations led to the writing of this pamphlet.
For the Left, Ireland has been a blind spot, and in the trade union movement it is often avoided because it is felt to be divisive. Many on the Left know more about Eastern Europe, South Africa or Central America than about Ireland.
Since the Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement of 1998, the only valid moral argument against British withdrawal is the unwillingness of the Republic of Ireland (expressed in a referendum) to unite with Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of the people there. I aim to show that withdrawal is in the interests of the people of Britain, that British rule over Northern Ireland is wrong, and that the decision by Britain to partition Ireland in the first place was wrong and was imposed by violence.
I hardly need add that partition is a policy that has failed.
We, the people of Britain, have our own right to national self- determination, which can be exercised by dissolving the union with Northern Ireland. I shall argue that we should campaign for our government to make this its policy, to be achieved by persuasion and inducement, combined with pressure on the unionists whenever necessary to make them implement the Agreement.
In short, I want to show that the problem in Northern Ireland results from unfinished decolonisation and that the solution is to complete that decolonisation.
We English like to think of ourselves as very fair-minded, with a strong commitment to justice, freedom of speech, fair play, religious tolerance, trial by jury and parliamentary democracy; as a humane and certainly not a bloodthirsty people. Yet the history of our relationship with Ireland flatly contradicts this self-image. This is why the question of Northern Ireland is such a difficult one for us. We don’t know its history, partly because it has been deliberately hidden from us by successive governments and their supporters in the media, but partly because we don’t want to know – it’s all too uncomfortable. As Professor Terry Eagleton said, “The Irish can’t forget their history because the English refuse to remember it”.
We also believe the problem is incomprehensible. If you accept that, then of course there is no point in reading this or anything else on the subject.
A big mistake, in my view, is to see the Republican military campaign as the problem – so that when it stops, there is no problem. British governments and the media have fostered this mistake. But the military campaign is the smoke, not the fire. Smoke warns us of a fire, but it can also obstruct our vision. The fire is the basic injustice of the partition of Ireland by Britain, and the forcible inclusion of a part of Ireland in the British state. Too many writings on the Northern Ireland problem are only about the smoke, but this one is about the fire. On the question of Northern Ireland, Britain is entirely in the wrong, and nothing the IRA (or the Real IRA) has done alters that, though it has for too long been used to obscure it.
In my experience the nature of the IRA’s campaign made it almost impossible for British people to have a discussion on the subject of partition. But although the IRA’s actions are not a good reason for demanding British withdrawal, neither are they a good reason for opposing it.
British politicians are at their most smug, and least challenged, when condemning IRA violence and calling for Republicans to follow the democratic path. Yet Northern Ireland as a political entity was founded by violence and the rejection of democracy. In 1912-1914 the Ulster Unionists formed an illegal paramilitary force to defy the will of Parliament, and the Tory Party urged them to do it, supported them and funded them – with impunity and with success. In 1918 the Irish people as a whole voted overwhelmingly for independence, yet Britain’s reply was to send in the notorious Black and Tans, official British terrorists who broke every rule in the book including the one about killing innocent civilians. In 1921 Irish ‘agreement’ to the partition of Ireland (after the event) was obtained by Prime Minister Lloyd George’s threat of “immediate and terrible war”.
Since then (or until 1998 at least), Northern Ireland has never been ruled democratically and the killing of innocent people by the unionist and British authorities has continued. When, in 1968, people marched to demand ‘one man one vote’, they were attacked by the police; when, in 1972, they protested at imprisonment without trial, they were fired upon by paratroopers on Bloody Sunday. In 1974 the Sunningdale Agreement and its power-sharing Executive were brought down because the Wilson government caved in to unionist violence, connived at by the Army. So the IRA can justly say “we learnt it all from you”.
This doesn’t make the IRA’s actions right, or wise, but it makes them understandable. We should turn our attention to the crimes committed by our own government – that is where our responsibility lies.
Those who will accuse me, falsely, of supporting the IRA and justifying its actions have always tried to avoid discussing the underlying problem with this ruse. The problem is the injustice of partition, not the various responses to this injustice by its victims.
This pamphlet is a plea to the people of Britain to take responsibility for what our government is doing and has done. British governments created this Frankenstein monster called Northern Ireland. The sectarian hatred is British-made. The tendency to political violence is British-made. The problem is British-made, and we must make Britain solve it.
It is a curious fact that, whilst many Irish people feel guilty about the IRA’s actions, with a consequent need to disown them, any equivalent feelings on the British side are largely absent. Whilst there are many who decline to support British withdrawal because of their disdain for the IRA, there are few who decline to support the Union because of their disdain for the actions of the loyalist paramilitaries or British forces, even though these have included torture, indiscriminate killings, and collaboration between those two forces, the legal with the illegal. This is because we accept the view that everything is the fault of the Irish, that Britain is a referee or peacekeeping force between irrational warring tribes. This is partly due to misinformation from politicians and the media, but it is also part of a long-standing prejudice about Ireland in the British mind, which affects even those on the Left who are otherwise anti-colonialist.
There is very little campaigning in Britain for withdrawal. The IRA campaign (now happily ended) is partly the reason for this, but also partly the excuse. Surely every killing should spur us on to greater efforts to solve the problem, not sicken us into inaction and hand-wringing. The missing piece in the peace process is a strong campaign in Britain, demanding withdrawal. The possibility of building such a campaign is better now than it has been for a long time, and we must seize the time. There is already a majority for withdrawal, including many who privately acknowledge the injustice of partition and of Britain’s treatment of the nationalist people. There is also an underlying awareness that Britain has treated the Irish people very badly down the centuries.
I am urging British people to campaign for British withdrawal, not just as an act of solidarity but because it is in our interests. The inclusion of this colonial remnant within the British state poisons our parliamentary democracy, poisons our system of justice, undermines our freedom of speech and threatens the civil rights of every British citizen. It impedes the forward march of democracy in Britain as well as Ireland.
Implementation of the Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement of 1998 has lurched from one crisis to the next. This Agreement created a new political battleground that is favourable to the campaign for a united Ireland, but its weakness (necessary to make it possible at all) is that it incorporates the unionist veto. This weakness is made worse by the vacillating attitude of the government, which frequently panders to unionist intransigence. Yet the Agreement was only possible because the government told the unionists they could not have what they wanted, and progress on implementing it will only be possible on that basis.
Even if the Agreement fails, it is a turning point. If it brings a lasting peace, that will not only be infinitely better in obvious ways, but also because it will create more favourable conditions for the truth to emerge, for the injustice of partition itself to be made the issue, and for British people to discuss these matters with Irish people and with each other. If successful, it will create the conditions for the withering away of the sectarianism that is the basis, both of unionism and of Northern Ireland itself. It is not a permanent solution, but a transitional stage.
Does the Agreement make this pamphlet irrelevant and a campaign for withdrawal unnecessary? That would be a dangerously complacent view. As long as Northern Ireland remains in the UK, it will pose a threat to the peace and stability of this state, to our democracy and our civil rights. It will be a hotbed of reaction and a means by which a crisis can be manufactured at any time when it suits the opponents of progress. The danger of an alliance between unionism and right-wing forces in the British establishment is ever-present. The unionist population remains armed with legally held weapons. Many complex problems lie ahead, to which I hope this pamphlet will help to bring clarity.
The only lasting, just solution is British withdrawal. Unionist intransigence will continue in some degree, encouraged by British government backsliding and by overt and covert support from powerful forces in the British establishment. A strong British withdrawal campaign will be necessary, to change government policy, to stiffen the government’s resolve in implementing the Agreement and facing down unionist intransigence, to encourage the nationalists, and to further isolate the remaining militarist wing of Irish republicanism by showing that there is a real prospect of progress without war.
Such a campaign should be based on the proposition that withdrawal is in the interests of the British people, and that it is just. The campaign should not tie itself to any organisation in Ireland, but should involve Britain’s Irish community. It must nail the lie that ‘there is no solution’ – which is really an acknowledgement that the opponents of the only solution – British withdrawal – have no solution.
Most British politicians pride themselves on their pragmatism. Yet, although this thing called Northern Ireland is clearly a project that has failed, politicians continue to support it artificially with enormous subsidies and great sacrifice, and by making it the exception to every rule. The arrangements made under the Belfast Agreement for governing the territory are bizarre, being designed to prevent majority rule, in tacit recognition of the arguments contained in this pamphlet.
The 800-year old ‘Irish problem’ is the old Vesuvius of British politics, erupting sporadically over the centuries. Our generation can solve it once and for all, and start to build a new, peaceful relationship with the people of our neighbouring island, to our mutual benefit.
ADDITIONAL REMARKS FOR THE THIRD EDITION, JAN 2007
As a result of the Agreement of 1998, unionism is in disarray. Britain has suspended devolved government four times in order to placate unionist politicians and has cancelled elections. Shadowy elements in the police and intelligence services have manufactured crises to halt progress. The IRA has decommissioned all its weapons and declared its armed struggle at an end, resolving to use purely peaceful methods. At the time of writing, one quarter of the recommendations of the Patten Commission, including devolution of policing control, remain unimplemented. The Stevens Report into state collusion in murders has still not been published, other promised enquiries into collusion have not been held and the state continues to cover up its crimes. The reason: the state that is engaged in a “war on terror” has itself engaged in terrorism. We need to free Ireland in order to free ourselves.
1. WHAT IS NORTHERN IRELAND?
It is not the Province of Ulster. It is not a province, nor is it Ulster.
Since the Middle Ages, Ireland has been divided into four provinces, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught. The Irish province of Ulster has nine counties. Three of these Ulster counties (Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal) are in the Republic of Ireland, and the other six (Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry, known to unionists as Londonderry) are in Northern Ireland. So although Northern Ireland is part of Ulster, it is not Ulster.
Neither is Northern Ireland ‘an integral part of the United Kingdom’, as has so often been asserted (though less frequently since 1998). Indeed the main reason why it was so often asserted is that it was so obviously not true.
Northern Ireland is a colonial remnant – i.e. what remains from the time when the whole of Ireland was a colony. It sends MPs to the House of Commons, and this makes it unique among British colonies. But an understanding of the fact that Northern Ireland is essentially a colonial remnant is the key to understanding the whole sordid story and the way to end it.
The laws and administrative practices in Northern Ireland are quite different in all sorts of ways from those found in the rest of the UK. For almost all of its existence it has been in a state of emergency, so that a state of emergency is its normal condition.
From 1972 it was under direct rule from Westminster, as the Stormont regime of 1920-72 was utterly discredited as well as unworkable. The Northern Ireland Executive, established under the Agreement, is unlike anything found elsewhere in the UK, or probably in the world.
There are special ‘Diplock Courts’ with no juries and more relaxed rules of evidence.
The political parties are different from those found in the rest of the UK and the political issues are viewed in relation to only one issue – the union with Britain.
Ireland was England’s first colony. The first English invasion took place in the 12th century, but the full conquest was not completed until the early 17th century. It was precisely in order to colonise and pacify Ireland that settlers from Scotland and England were ‘planted’ in parts of Ulster in the 17th century. The Act of Union of 1800 united the two kingdoms of Britain and Ireland (both of which already had the same king) to form the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and gave us the Union Flag or ‘Union Jack’.
This Act (which took effect on 1st of January 1801) was described by the poet Byron as “the union of a boa constrictor with its prey”. Prime Minister Gladstone later said of it that there was “no blacker or fouler transaction in the history of man”. It was achieved by such shameful means, and is such a failure, that the Blair government quietly decided not to commemorate the bicentenary of the Union Jack on 1st January 2001.
During the whole period between the Act of Union and the partition of Ireland, i.e. 1801-1920, Britain continued to treat Ireland as its colony, discriminating against its people, suppressing any and every development of its industry or commerce (except linen and shipbuilding in the Belfast area) which offered competition to British industry or commerce, and keeping Irish people on the land supplying food so that British workers could leave the land to work in the factories. Whitehall simply disregarded the entirely peaceful, scrupulously law-abiding campaign for the repeal of the Act of Union, (led from 1823 to 1847 by Daniel O’Connell), which had overwhelming popular support in Ireland. There were risings in 1803, 1848, 1867, 1916 and 1919-21.
The attitude of the British ruling circles to Ireland and the Irish during this period is best shown by the Great Famine of 1845-48, when Whitehall let a million Irish people die whilst a vast amount of Irish food was shipped to Britain. The potato blight was a natural disaster, but the famine was caused by Whitehall’s policy. Although Ireland was then in the UK, entirely ruled by Britain (and in that sense British), our schoolbooks call it “the Irish potato famine”, hiding Britain’s responsibility.
The Times expressed its delight at the depopulation of Ireland, and a leading British government economic advisor, Nassau Senior, expressed his fear that not enough Irish would die.
Many Irish-Americans are descended from people who were forced to leave Ireland as a result of the Great Famine, and they have inherited an echo of the deep anger of those famine emigrants towards England. This is the main reason why so many Irish-Americans have helped fund the IRA. In a sense we are still paying for the enormous crime committed by our government at that time.
2. HOW NORTHERN IRELAND WAS FOUNDED BY VIOLENCE AND THE REJECTION OF DEMOCRACY.
If Northern Ireland really is ‘an integral part of the United Kingdom’ then the people there ought to submit to decisions of the UK parliament. But it is precisely on the rejection of this principle that Northern Ireland was founded.
In the period preceding the First World War the House of Commons voted for Home Rule (i.e. devolution) for the whole of Ireland. A majority in Ireland wanted it; the UK parliament had voted for it; yet the unionists of Ulster not only refused to accept it, but also formed a paramilitary force to oppose it.
With the help and encouragement of the Tory Party (who were in opposition at the time) they formed an illegal paramilitary force, the Ulster Volunteers, and illegally imported guns from Germany. This 100,000-strong paramilitary force was publicly endorsed and encouraged by the Tory leader, Andrew Bonar Law, and was assisted by a collection taken up for the purpose by the Tories in Britain. Lord Milner organised the collection, and prominent public figures such as the composer Elgar and the poet Rudyard Kipling subscribed, as well as Lord Iveagh, Lord Rothschild and the Duke of Bedford.
At Blenheim Palace in July 1912, Bonar Law said:
“We regard the government as a revolutionary committee which has seized upon despotic power by fraud. In our opposition to them we shall not be guided by the considerations or bound by the restraints that would influence us in a normal constitutional struggle. We shall take the means, whatever means seem to us most effective, to deprive them of the despotic power which they have usurped and compel them to appeal to the people whom they have deceived. They may, perhaps they will, carry their Home Rule Bill through the House of Commons but what then? I said the other day in the House of Commons, and I repeat here that there are things stronger than parliamentary majorities…. Before I occupied the position I now fill in the party I said that, in my belief, if an attempt were made to deprive these men of their birthright – as part of a corrupt political bargain – they would be justified in resisting such an attempt by all means in their power, including force. I said it then, and I repeat now with a full sense of the responsibility which attaches to my position, that, in my opinion, if such an attempt is made, I can imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster can go in which I should not be prepared to support them…”
In September 1913 the Ulster Unionist Council, with Lord Londonderry in the chair, set up a provisional government that would take power if Home Rule became law. Sir Edward Carson (a Dublin man, who had famously cross-examined Oscar Wilde as barrister for the Marquis of Queensbury) was appointed chairman of the central authority, and a military council and various sub-committees were set up.
Carson was later appointed Attorney General in the Asquith wartime coalition government and later First Lord of the Admiralty. A statue of Carson stands outside the Stormont building – the building that housed the Northern Ireland parliament until Edward Heath abolished it in 1972.
This statue, and the veneration which unionists have for Carson – the law-breaker, paramilitary leader and gun-runner, who threatened Parliament with armed insurrection – exposes the deep hypocrisy of the unionist position.
Another leading supporter of the Ulster Volunteers was F E Smith, a Liverpool Tory MP; he also later became Attorney General (when he had the satisfaction of prosecuting Sir Roger Casement for treason) and later still became Lord Birkenhead. The Tory MP for Hammersmith, Mr William Bull, was personally involved in gunrunning.
The Ulster Volunteers were not demanding partition, but trying to frighten the Liberal government into abandoning Home Rule.
This episode reminds us that there was a time in the 20th century when the Tory Party had its military wing and openly sponsored armed resistance to the will of parliament.
Knowing that certain arms depots in Ulster were inadequately guarded, and expecting the Ulster Volunteers to seize the arms, the government ordered the Army to secure the depots. The Tories urged their officer friends in the Army, many of whom were of Anglo-Irish stock, to disobey, and this they effectively did. Because many of the officers involved were based at the Curragh military camp in Kildare, this incident, which happened in March 1914, is known as the ‘Curragh mutiny’.
Thus the unionists appeared all-powerful because they had the backing of sections of the British establishment, including Army officers, and because the government failed to face them down. This proved to be a recurring phenomenon, which I therefore call ‘the Curragh mutiny syndrome’.
Parliament, with its Liberal majority, proceeded to pass the Home Rule Bill but, before it had received Royal Assent, the First World War broke out. Parliament passed an Amending Bill, postponing implementation of Home Rule until after the war. They had failed, however, to confront the paramilitary threat and indicated that they would cave in to the demand for some form of partition.
The full implementation of Home Rule for the whole of Ireland was a test case for Britain’s commitment to constitutional politics where the Irish were concerned; and Britain failed that test – a case of ‘Britannia waives the rules’.
In May 1915, as a result of the military disaster at Gallipoli, a Liberal-Tory coalition was formed. This brought into the cabinet the very Tories who had threatened insurrection – including Bonar Law and Carson. Carson the insurrectionist was made Attorney General – the highest law officer in the UK. Therefore it was obvious that the Home Rule Bill would never be implemented and Britain’s bad faith was made crystal clear.
It was probably this fact that made the Easter Rising of 1916 inevitable, and certainly this that ensured that, after the Rising, Irish public opinion swung behind the demand for full independence. It also exposed the miserable failure of a whole generation of Irish politicians who had put their faith in constitutional methods, only to be betrayed by Westminster. It destroyed their credibility and their party.
This episode is a major reason why Irish republicans today have such suspicion of ‘constitutional’ politics played by British rules. The promotion of Carson from paramilitary insurgent to Attorney General calls to mind the old saying
Treason never prospers – what’s the reason?
When it prospers, none dare call it treason.
The same applies to Andrew Bonar Law, who became Prime Minister briefly in 1922-3.
A month after the end of the First World War, in December 1918, a general election was held, for the whole of the UK (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as it then was). The Sinn Féin party, which wanted full independence, won 73 out of the 105 Irish seats (or out of 100 if we exclude the five university seats). The UK parliament rejected this clear democratically-expressed will of the Irish people. Small wonder, then, that what followed was the Irish War of Independence, which Britain called ‘the troubles’ to avoid admitting that it was a war.
It must be stressed that the Irish electorate had demanded secession from the UK in the most democratic way that was then open to them. They had voted overwhelmingly for candidates who made their support for independence crystal clear. They had done it in the first election in which women were allowed to vote. They had done it in an election organised by the British authorities, under British rules. But still their demand was refused out of hand. The British government saw that the granting of independence to Ireland would encourage independence movements in India, Egypt and other parts of the British Empire, and would also make possible the emergence of a progressive, anti-imperialist, English-speaking republic, close to Britain, that could set an example to the British people.
The successful Sinn Féin candidates (now MPs), declining to take their seats at Westminster, met in Dublin and declared themselves to be the Parliament of the Irish Republic – i.e. the First Dáil, (pronounced ‘doyle’). They established a government of the Irish Republic, led by Eamon de Valera, and an army, called the Irish Republican Army, which came to be led by Michael Collins. One of these Sinn Féin MPs was Constance Markiewicz, who thus became the first woman MP, though she declined to take her seat at Westminster.
The British government created and sent to Ireland a new force, nicknamed the Black and Tans, and another called the Auxiliary Division, RIC, who were former military officers. They were called police, not soldiers, in order to hide the scale of the problem and avoid acknowledging a colonial war.
These forces burned down the commercial centre of Cork City, fired on a football crowd killing 14 and wounding about 60, fired on other people indiscriminately, tortured suspects, murdered people in their beds and homes, sacked and looted whole towns, killed prisoners without trial, and punished jurymen who returned the ‘wrong’ verdicts. They taught the Irish all they ever needed to know about terrorism.
Despite the reign of terror, the British coalition government, of Tories and ‘National Liberals’ under David Lloyd George, was unable to defeat the Irish and in 1921 opened negotiations.
In 1920 the Westminster parliament, in the absence of three quarters of the Irish MPs, had passed the Government of Ireland Act. This partitioned Ireland into two parts, each with a devolved parliament: these were to be called Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Not a single Irish vote, unionist or nationalist, was cast in favour of partition. The Unionists abstained – even those who were members of the government. In 1921 the Irish negotiating team was forced to accept partition, after the fact, under threat of “immediate and terrible war” if they refused. To call this a ‘treaty’ (implying that it was freely agreed) is surely misleading.
‘Southern Ireland’, as envisaged in the Act, was stillborn; as a result of the negotiations it immediately became the Irish Free State (with dominion status, equivalent to that of Canada). Consequently the UK (eventually) changed its name from ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’ to ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, while keeping the same flag, which symbolises England, Scotland and Ireland and ignores Wales.
So it was that this political monstrosity called Northern Ireland was established by treason, violence, threats, and the rejection of democracy by the British government and the Ulster unionists.
Why? To save the Empire, thwart Irish democracy and get the Tory Party back into government. For the six-county Protestants, it was to preserve their sectarian privileges and their ‘cock of the walk’ mentality.
3. WHY NORTHERN IRELAND IS A GERRYMANDERED TERRITORY.
Gerrymandering is a system of manipulating electoral boundaries so that the result depends not on the number of the votes but upon how they are arranged. It is cheating. (The word is derived from an episode in US history.)
Why does ‘Northern Ireland’ (or the ‘Six Counties’ as Irish republicans call it) have only six counties? And why these particular six? Simply because in 1920, when Britain could hold back the anti-colonial tide no longer, it chose to thwart Irish democracy by partitioning Ireland, creating one part with a secure majority of unionist voters; and this just happened to be the six north-eastern counties but not the whole province of Ulster. (The whole nine-county Ulster had a unionist majority, but it was a very slender one.)
Thus Northern Ireland is an artificial, gerrymandered entity. Its border was designed purely to create a territory that would be permanently dominated by unionists. Irish Protestants could be relied upon to vote for the Union because of their sectarian ideology and because their privileges depended on it; and the tailor-made six-county colonial remnant transformed them from a minority into a majority so that they could, with Britain’s support, continue ‘democratically’ to enforce the centuries-old discrimination in their favour.
It is rather as if Scotland were to vote overwhelmingly for the Scottish National Party and Westminster were to respond by creating two ‘Scotlands’, with the border between them designed precisely to ensure that in one of them the opponents of independence were in a majority.
We need to understand the gerrymandered, tailor-made, artificial character of this thing called Northern Ireland because it explains why the idea of ‘self-determination’ for Northern Ireland is a fraud. Northern Ireland was created precisely to thwart Irish self-determination.
The idea that the views of the unionist ‘majority’ ought to prevail has no moral validity. If this principle were accepted it would logically lead to the return of the discredited Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont, which unashamedly called itself “a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people”. The Good Friday Agreement partially accepts this, having complicated safeguards to prevent the unionists imposing their will on any issue except the question of the union itself.
Some people claim that many Northern Catholics would like to remain in the UK. This may be so, but it is not indicated by their actual voting. The SDLP is committed to a united Ireland, as is Sinn Fein. The Alliance Party, which was designed to pick up the votes of unionist Catholics, actually picks up very few.
4. BRITAIN’S APARTHEID POLICY IN IRELAND
Irish sectarianism, which seems so strange to most people in Britain, is Britain’s creation. It is a direct result of the divide-and-rule policy pursued by Ireland’s rulers in London down the centuries.
Discrimination against Catholics in Ireland (as in England) began in the reign of Henry VIII; in Cromwell’s time it took the form of genocide; and the Penal Laws introduced in the reign of William and Mary severely penalised Irish people who remained Catholics, penalised to a lesser extent those who were known as ‘Dissenters’ (i.e. non-Anglican Protestants, mainly Presbyterians), and rewarded those who remained, or became, Anglicans.
The Penal Laws (or Code) banned Catholics from practicing their religion, from having their children educated at all, from teaching, from voting, from owning property above a very limited level, from passing on land to the eldest son only, from holding public office, and from practicing in most of the professions. Simply by becoming an Anglican, a son could become the owner of his father’s property, and a wife the owner of her husband’s. So Anglicanism was not just a religion but also a badge of allegiance to the Crown and to English rule, and a passport to privilege. Catholicism was a sign of Irishness and of resistance to English rule, and it was a bond of solidarity among the poor and oppressed and a source of comfort to them.
This was a kind of apartheid system. Indeed the British Empire has always treated Irish Catholics in the way that it treated black people, and Irish Protestants in the way that it treated white people (except that until the nineteenth century it treated Dissenters like ‘coloured’ people in the apartheid analogy – they suffered discrimination and many emigrated to America for this reason, playing a major role in founding the USA).
In the 18th century the Penal Code was described by Edmund Burke (a deeply conservative politician, loyal to the Crown) as ‘a machine as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man’.
Those Catholics who emigrated to the Continent because of the Penal Laws, and their descendants, are known as ‘the wild geese’. Hundreds of thousands became soldiers in continental armies. One became President of France, while some founded companies like Lynch (wines) or Hennessy (brandy).
Although the worst features of the Penal Code fell into disuse by 1760 (because determined resistance made them unworkable), some elements of the code, in particular the exclusion of Catholics from formal political life and from public office, lasted until 1829. Other forms of discrimination (especially in jobs) continued, and were practiced as official policy in Northern Ireland under the Stormont regime, rather as racism continues long after the abolition of slavery.
Just as race discrimination causes race hatred, sectarian discrimination inevitably causes sectarian hatred.
So Irish sectarian hatred is British-made. It should not be forgotten that anti-Catholicism is still part of UK law, as the monarch may not marry a Catholic. How can we expect Irish people to “put all that nonsense behind them” if we can’t do so ourselves?
5. THE ‘TWO IRISH NATIONS’ THEORY.
Some people have tried to argue that the Protestants of Northern Ireland constitute a nation. This ‘two Irish nations’ theory was first put forward only in 1912 (by W F Moneypenny, the Times correspondent in Ireland) as a response to the demand for Home Rule. Yet even Carson (who was a Dublin man, not an Ulsterman) only wanted to defeat Home Rule, not to partition Ireland. He only agreed not to oppose the partition of Ireland very reluctantly and very late, when he saw that this was the only way to thwart Irish democracy. If the northern Protestants are a nation, then it follows that they can change their nationality by changing their religion. This concept also ignores the rights of the Catholics of Northern Ireland. Many six-county Protestant churches and organisations, including the Orange order, are all-Ireland bodies.
Some modern proponents of the “two Irish nations” theory advocate the re-partition of Ireland. This would only create a smaller territory, founded on a sectarian basis and having all the same problems and injustices as the present set-up. Although some of these proponents are ultra-leftists, they are in fact pandering to sectarianism, and their non-solution would prolong British colonial rule in Ireland. Re-partition is in any case excluded by the Good Friday Agreement.
Among Protestants, a sense of Irish nationhood was formed at the end of the 18th century, influenced by the American Revolution (1776) and the French Revolution (1789), and for similar reasons as caused the formation of a sense of US nationhood among American colonists. The national cause of separation from England was led at that time by Irish Protestants. Landowners and businessmen, mainly Anglicans of course, had the same complaints against Britain as their US counterparts. In the (all-Protestant) Irish parliament led by Henry Grattan they obtained a certain degree of independence from London.
Outside the Irish parliament, other Anglicans and Dissenters, led by Wolfe Tone (who was of Anglican background), made common cause with their Catholic compatriots by forming the Society of United Irishmen. They led the rising of 1798, which was democratic in its aims. Many Ulster Presbyterians, especially from Antrim and Down, took part in this rising.
In the 19th century many leading nationalists were Protestants, including Robert Emmett, Thomas Davis, William Smith O’Brien, John Mitchell and Charles Stewart Parnell.
It is however true that Protestants were settled or ‘planted’ in Ulster in the reign of James I (1603-25) as colonial settlers to help England to hold Ireland against Catholic resistance, and that most six-county Protestants retain a ‘colonial settler’ mentality. But this does not make them a nation. Most nations have ethnic and religious minorities, without this fact invalidating their right to be called nations. Most colonial and post-colonial countries have citizens who are descended from settlers, though in few cases does the settlement go so far back as in this case. How long does it take for settlers to settle?
A more fundamental question is: if unionism were to lose its sectarianism, would there be anything left? Is all the talk about ‘a sense of British identity’ just a code for sectarianism?
Working-class Protestants have paid a high price for their sectarianism. Their over-riding desire to avoid splitting the unionist camp has made them docile voting fodder for right-wing politicians and prevented them from raising independent working-class demands in the political arena. Their unwillingness to unite with poor Catholics, who have similar problems of unemployment, poor housing, sex discrimination etc, weakens any attempt to raise such issues. As a result the needs of poorer Protestants have been ignored, their votes taken for granted. Many of them feel alienated, neglected and desperate, which contributes to their paramilitary inclinations. Now they feel cheated that Britain no longer rewards their ‘loyalty’ with job discrimination, and they are bewildered at being expected to treat Catholics as equals. They find it hard to adjust to the loss of their superior status and are terrified at having to compete with Catholics, on equal terms, for jobs and in the political arena.
6. THE STORMONT REGIME.
This new thing called ‘Northern Ireland’ was tailor-made to give those unionists who were in it a permanent and overwhelming majority over the nationalists. Because ‘Ulster must not be coerced’, the nationalist population of the six counties was coerced. In addition, the whole of Ireland was coerced into accepting partition; and we, the British people, got lumbered with a time bomb.
From 1920 to 1972, this six-county colonial remnant was ruled, under British protection and neglect, by the Northern Ireland parliament, housed (from 1932) in a pretentious building at Stormont outside Belfast. It was a police state, and religious discrimination was its official policy. Its parliament, civil service, and security forces were dominated by the Orange Order. It never had a day when ‘emergency’ legislation was not in force. There was a ratio of one armed Protestant policeman for every two Catholic families.
Before the Tory Government of Edward Heath abolished Stormont in 1972, Northern Ireland was somewhat comparable to the Southern States of the USA before the civil rights legislation of the 1960s – Catholics being the victims in place of black Americans, and Protestants being the privileged in place of white Americans. The whole state machine was dedicated to maintaining sectarian discrimination; voting rights for Catholics were severely restricted; and, in this analogy, the role of the Ku Klux Klan was played by the Orange Order and similar organisations. The role of the Orange Order was, and is, to maintain sectarian discrimination, to discipline Protestants, and to maintain cohesion amongst Protestants by, for example, engaging in cultural, welfare and charitable activities on a sectarian basis. It is named after King William of Orange (usually known in Britain as one half of ‘William and Mary’).
The Northern Ireland parliament was set up under the Government of Ireland Act (1920), the all-important Act which partitioned Ireland. This transferred control of the police and local government to the new parliament, but denied it the power to raise or maintain armed forces. Once again (as with the Black and Tans) the solution was to raise a special constabulary and arm them to the teeth, but not to call them soldiers. In 1920, in preparation for partition, the Ulster Volunteers, Carson’s illegal paramilitary force that had defied parliament in 1912-14, was recognised, re-organised and re-equipped. They became the ‘A’ and ‘B’ Specials of the Ulster Special Constabulary, under the NI Minister for Home Affairs, Dawson Bates, who had helped organise the Ulster Volunteers and had been honorary secretary to Carson’s Ulster Unionist Council. These Specials were described by the Manchester Guardian newspaper as “the instruments of a religious tyranny”. In 1969 the Labour Government of Harold Wilson, in the guise of disbanding the ‘B’ Specials because of their terrible reputation, reorganised them as the Ulster Defence Regiment.
The Stormont regime gerrymandered ward boundaries for local authorities throughout the six counties. In the city of Derry, for example, in the 1960s there were two Catholics to every Protestant; yet the regime divided the city into three wards, putting all the Catholics in one ward and the Protestants in the other two. The Catholic ward was given eight council seats and the two Protestant wards six each, making twelve. The Protestants always controlled this Catholic city by twelve seats to eight.
There was also the ‘business vote’ and the ‘property qualification’. The 1945 Labour government abolished these iniquities in Britain, but retained them in the “integral part of the UK”. A person owning several businesses had several votes. An adult married couple who lived in the home of the parents of one of them (which was more common among the less privileged Catholics) had no votes, not being householders. The unionists routinely used their control over public housing allocation to keep all the voters and non-voters in the ‘right’ places. Their local authorities practised discrimination in jobs and in the allocation of council housing.
In 1922 the new Northern Ireland parliament passed the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act. This was renewed annually at first, being ‘emergency’ legislation, but in 1933 the Special Powers Act was made permanent. Section 4 stated:
“If any person does any act of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the preservation of peace or the maintenance of order in Northern Ireland, and not specifically provided for in the regulations, he shall be deemed guilty of an offence against the regulations.”
The above catch-all section hardly seems necessary in view of the powers given to the authorities by the other sections. These gave them power to arrest without a warrant; to imprison without charge or trial; to enter and search homes at any time, without a warrant and with force; to declare a curfew and prohibit meetings, assemblies and processions; to punish by flogging; to deny the right of trial by jury; to prevent access of relatives or legal advisers to a person imprisoned without trial; to prohibit the holding of an inquest; to arrest a person who by word of mouth spreads false reports or makes false statements; to prohibit the circulation of any newspaper; and to prohibit the possession of any film or gramophone record. The power of internment (imprisonment without charge or trial) was used in 1922-4, 1939, 1956 and 1971-75, and has seldom been used against unionists. When the people of Derry called a march and rally in 1972 to protest against internment, their protest was declared to be illegal. They went ahead anyway – who wouldn’t? Paratroopers fired on their rally and the result was Bloody Sunday. This notorious event caused Prime Minister Heath to abolish Stormont.
The Special Powers Act over-rode fundamental principles of justice and liberty. Where was the British liberal conscience all that time?
Another feature of the Stormont regime, one that was still in evidence quite recently, was pogroms. Armed mobs of unionists, often actively or tacitly supported by the police, would drive nationalists from their homes, looting and burning. This was a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’, and was practised extensively. The current President of Ireland, Mary McAleese (who was born in the North and is thus a UK citizen) was burned out of her home in this way when a child.
In the years of the Stormont regime there were attempts to raise these injustices in the Westminster Parliament. All such attempts were met with the Speaker’s ruling that these were matters for Stormont, in which Westminster could not ‘interfere’. Yet this was a lie. The 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which set up the Northern Ireland Parliament, says (Article 75):
“Notwithstanding the establishment of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, or anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons matters and things in Northern Ireland and every part thereof.”
The above account explains why, when the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, formed in 1967, raised the question of civil rights and the slogan ‘one man – one vote’ it was met with official violence and led to the fall of the Stormont regime, simply because the reality of it was exposed. The Connolly Association played an influential part in developing this strategy of demanding civil rights, a non-sectarian idea which captured the imagination of the younger generation and exposed the skeleton in Britain’s cupboard.
Although the privileges enjoyed by Protestants are now much reduced compared to the past, most Protestants, like most people anywhere, will use their vote to defend whatever privileges they have. What are these privileges? In the heyday of Stormont these included access to local political power, privileged access to council housing, and privileged access to jobs. For the ordinary Protestant worker all that remains of these is the privileged access to jobs. In 1996, 24 years after the abolition of Stormont and the imposition of direct rule by Westminster, the rate of male unemployment for Catholics was double the rate for Protestants. The new equality laws are whittling this away, but since the Protestants have most of the jobs, especially the more senior ones, they can still mount a stiff resistance. However, many employers, especially the larger and foreign-owned ones, now oppose sectarianism in employment.
Besides their privileges, unionists also feel the need to defend their sense of being superior to nationalists and to claim the six counties as ‘their’ patch. This ‘topdoggery’ explains the extraordinary importance they attach to marching through nationalist areas on symbolic dates. It is derived from their ‘settler’ mentality and history, which breeds a permanent sense of insecurity, based upon their awareness that they owe their superior position to violence alone. For many of them, an Orange march that does not pass through a nationalist ghetto loses its whole point.
The above is by no means a comprehensive account of the terrible injustice of the Stormont regime that Britain imposed, permitted and protected. However, it is enough to explain why nationalists will have no truck with an ‘internal solution’ based upon ‘majority rule’. The unionists have already shown what they would do with it if they had the chance again. As far as I know, their leaders have not yet admitted that the Stormont regime (in which David Trimble served) was discriminatory or that it was wrong. Neither has Britain acknowledged that it did wrong by creating and protecting it.
All these injustices occurred under British rule, inside the United Kingdom. How did we, the British public, allow this to go on without massive protests? The answer lies partly in the conspiracy of silence by the British media and successive governments. But that alone is not enough to explain it. There is a problem of attitude, a problem that continues even today. We don’t take responsibility for what our government does in Northern Ireland. We have a blind spot about it. We blame the Irish. We let our government, of whatever party, get away with the claim that it is just an innocent and helpless bystander, or an honest broker trying to hold the ring between warring tribes who are crazy, violent and incomprehensible. But Britain is the sovereign government, Britain created the problem and continued it, and only Britain has the power and the responsibility to solve it. And we, the people of Britain, should take responsibility for what is done in our name.
7. THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND AND ITS CONSTITUTION
The twenty-six county area became ‘The Irish Free State’ in 1922, after which there was a civil war between those republicans who accepted the imposed ‘Treaty’ and those who refused to do so. Britain ordered the Free State Government to fight the anti-Treaty forces, saying that the UK would consider it a breach of the “Treaty” if they did not do so. Britain also supplied the Free State forces with the necessary weapons with which to defeat their compatriots.
The main issue was dominion status, with an oath of allegiance to the British monarch, as against an independent republic. The acceptance or rejection of partition was not a major issue. Both sides thought that Northern Ireland was non-viable. (Some contemptuously dubbed it ‘Carsonia’). Both sides also thought that the Boundary Commission, set up under the ‘Treaty’ to make adjustments to the border in the light of local opinion, would inevitably reduce its territory, making it even less viable. (They were unaware that Britain had secretly assured the unionists that the Border would not change). They were mistaken, however, on both counts.
Firstly, the Boundary Commission broke up without making any decisions, basically because the new Northern Ireland Government refused to send a representative and the UK Government reneged on this part of the ‘Treaty’. Secondly, as we taxpayers now know to our cost, almost no price was too high for Britain to pay to keep Northern Ireland.
Later, some of the defeated faction in the Free State, led by Eamon de Valera, decided to take the oath of allegiance to the British monarch so that they could enter the Dáil. They formed the party called Fianna Fáil (pronounced ‘fiana foil’ and meaning ‘Soldiers of Destiny’) and won the 1932 election. In 1936, the de Valera government took advantage of the opportunity created by the abdication of King Edward VIII to abolish the oath of allegiance and then, in 1937, the Irish Free State renamed itself ‘Ireland’ (which in Irish is ‘Eire’). This was proclaimed in a new constitution, approved by a referendum, which is still in force today, as amended by subsequent referenda. In 1949 the young state declared itself a republic and left the Commonwealth.
Within this constitution, de Valera maintained the ideal of seeking the re-unification of Ireland, but without doing much to bring this about. In Articles 2 and 3 the Free State laid formal claim to the territory of Northern Ireland. This constitutional claim was undermined by various agreements, made by Irish governments, which gave a form of de facto recognition to partition. Under the Good Friday Agreement, these Articles have now been amended – see Chapter 10.
The Free State adopted as its flag the tricolour, which the Republic of Ireland still retains. The original Irish tricolour was made by revolutionary women of Paris in 1848, and was used in the Young Ireland rising of that year. The tricolour format symbolises the ideals of the French revolution from which Irish republicanism took its inspiration. The colours – orange, white and green – symbolise peace between the Protestant and Catholic communities. White is also the colour of Jacobinism, as republicanism was at first called.
Many British people are unclear about the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. Both are members of the European Union, both are members of the UN and they exchange ambassadors. The expression “British Isles”, so often used by weather forecasters on TV and radio, is quite misleading and inappropriate, and is not popular in the Republic. It perpetuates the confusion. “These islands” is an acceptable substitute that is often heard in the Republic. The continued use of “British Isles”, by the BBC and others, reflects the fact that, at the official level in Britain, as well as in popular consciousness, there is a failure to adjust to the independence of the Republic of Ireland and to respect the nationhood of the Irish people. Like Northern Ireland itself, this attitude is a legacy of the Empire.
8. THE EFFECTS OF PARTITION ON BRITAIN
The partition of Ireland didn’t only put shackles on Irish democracy, but on British democracy as well.
The inclusion of a colony with a perpetual state of emergency within the British state poisons our Parliamentary democracy, poisons our system of justice, undermines freedom of speech and threatens the civil rights of every British citizen. It obstructs progress towards a more open society, inflates military spending, and enhances the power of the military establishment and the secret services in our society. It constantly threatens our stability, costs billions of pounds, and costs lives. It also preserves, within our state, a hotbed of militarism, religious fundamentalism, sectarian hatred and discrimination, and political backwardness. It was in connection with Ireland’s position within the UK that Karl Marx wrote his famous remark, “Any nation which oppresses another forges its own chains”.
John Major, in the last months of his government, modified his policies to suit the Ulster Unionists in order to maintain enough votes to cling to power – a case of the tail wagging the dog. But there is nothing new in this. In the 1880s, when the Irish MPs held the balance of power at Westminster, their leader Parnell dictated which party would govern, although in this case he did it in pursuit of Home Rule. James Callaghan, the last Labour Prime Minister before Tony Blair, held on to power by increasing the number of Irish seats at Westminster, thereby buying Unionist support.
A major threat to UK democracy is what I have called ‘the Curragh mutiny syndrome’. As already described, in 1912-14 the unionists were able to defy the UK government because they had the support of the Army and other powerful sections of the British establishment.
In May 1974 the syndrome appeared again. The power-sharing Executive of Northern Ireland, set up by the Heath government under the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973, was brought down by the anti-agreement unionists. They were able to use illegal violence because they had the support of the Army, the RUC, BBC Northern Ireland and other sections of the media, and because the new government of Harold Wilson failed to stand up to this pressure. A new body calling itself the Ulster Workers’ Council (not a trade union body in any sense) called a political ‘strike’ which was actually a lockout. There was no ballot or vote of any kind, and those wishing to work were prevented by armed paramilitaries whilst the Army looked on. Whole sections of the state machine either actively supported this illegal defiance of the elected government, or failed in their duty to oppose it, and the Wilson government caved in by disbanding the power-sharing Executive. These events were described in a Connolly Association pamphlet Fourteen Days of Fascist Terror by Jack Bennett.
The syndrome appeared again – at Drumcree in 1996 and the Garvaghy Road in 1997 – on the question of Orange marches through nationalist ghettoes. The Orangemen threatened violence, the ‘security forces’ pretended they couldn’t deal with it, and the government caved in, using state violence against nationalists to enforce its decision.
In all these cases, from 1914 to 1997, Whitehall rewarded unionist violence, thereby justifying political violence in minds on both sides.
These events create the illusion that the unionists have immense power – but they only have it when the Army and other sections of the state machine support them, and when the government fails to face them down.
Despite the waning power and influence of the unionists and their growing disunity, the ‘Curragh mutiny syndrome’ remains a threat to our democracy as long as partition remains. It is another powerful reason why we, the British, must end partition in our own interests.
As long as there is political violence there is a war mentality that affects politicians, senior civil servants, the secret services, the military, the judiciary, the police, prison officers etc. Just as in the days of the Black and Tans, we are at war, but the government can’t admit it, so we have had another of the syndromes which our colonialist policy engenders – the ‘not at war’ syndrome. The full effects of this on our civil liberties may never be known, but it certainly helped to cause the imprisonment of many innocent people (the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, Judith Ward and others).
After the release of the Guildford Four (wrongly imprisoned for IRA bombings in Guildford), Lord Denning said, “British justice is in ruins”. The British state has not punished anyone for fitting up these victims of injustice, thus emphasising the comment of our then most senior judge.
The ‘not at war’ syndrome led to episodes like the thwarting of the Stalker Enquiry into the RUC’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, and the illegal shooting of three IRA suspects in Gibraltar. The exposure of the Gibraltar murders by Thames TV is widely believed to be the reason why the station’s franchise was not renewed – an act of revenge by a government that didn’t want its illegal and deceitful actions exposed. That is how partition undermines our freedoms.
Northern Ireland has been a laboratory and practice-ground for methods of repression, many of which have later appeared in Britain itself. CS gas was used first in Northern Ireland, then in English cities. The removal of the accused’s right to silence began there, and was later extended to Britain. Police in British cities are armed with plastic bullets that were developed for use in Northern Ireland. This trend is not new. In the 1860s the police ‘Special Irish Branch’ was formed to deal with the Fenians. It later became the Special Branch.
9. BRITISH ATTITUDES TO IRELAND AND THE IRISH PEOPLE
Some people in Britain, even on the Left, argue that the Republic of Ireland is a Catholic, priest-ridden, fundamentally-backward state that the Northern Protestants should not be urged to join until it has reformed.
This argument is wrong on a number of counts. It reflects the prejudice against Roman Catholicism that is quite widespread and deep-seated in Britain. This prejudice is a result of the fact that anti-Catholicism played a large part in the formation of the English nation, and then of the British state. In the days of Henry VIII’s reformation, and for centuries afterwards, Catholics were the ‘enemy within’ and the external enemies were the Catholic states of Spain and France. Catholics were banned from entering parliament until 1829, and even then still remained excluded from the ancient universities and the highest legal offices. Even now the monarch must be an Anglican and cannot marry a Catholic.
The argument ignores recent changes in the Republic, where the influence of the clergy is in sharp decline. It is the UK, not the Republic of Ireland, which has an official state church, and Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde, was a Protestant.
The argument is wrong for another reason as well. Fundamentally, the Republic of Ireland is a much more progressive state than the UK. Unlike the UK, it has a written constitution. It has an elected head of state instead of a hereditary monarch, and its Upper House is more democratic than the House of Lords. The Republic has no nuclear weapons, and is not a member of NATO.
Unlike the UK, the Republic has a history and culture that are based on national-liberation struggle rather than on imperialism, and the different resulting attitudes are still evident. It also lacks the snobbery, deference and class discrimination that are so endemic in the UK, and the remaining aristocrats have no official status or special influence.
The argument is also wrong in seeing the re-unification of Ireland merely as the absorption of the six counties into the existing Republic. A united Ireland would be an entirely new state, in which the six-county Protestants would be nearly 20 per cent of the population. With their economic power, numbers, cohesion and territorial concentration, they would be well able to defend their legitimate interests and concerns. Nor would they have to lose their British culture – all Irish people have British culture in some degree, e.g. the English language.
Among English socialists, there is a belief that nationalism is a form of political immaturity and a ‘diversion from class politics’. This attitude results partly from the fact that we English haven’t had a national problem of our own for a long time (although we are building one for ourselves, by handing over more and more political and economic sovereignty to the EU). When our right to rule ourselves was clearly under threat from Hitler, we soon saw the importance of the national question and few saw it as any sort of diversion. The English Left were keen enough then to unite with the Right against the threat to our national sovereignty. We must understand the equivalent attitude in the Irish people. Besides, the patriotism of a colonised people cannot be equated with the imperialist, monarchist mind-set which is passed off as patriotism in England and which socialists rightly reject.
Another prejudice among British people concerns Irish neutrality during the Second World War.
In 1939 the Irish Free State was a new country. Its civil war was only 16 years behind it, and party politics was still dominated by the civil-war divisions. Most of its people had bitter memories of personal suffering at the hands of Britain in the War of Independence and earlier, and could not contemplate being in alliance with Britain and fighting alongside British troops. Irish territory, as now, was occupied by Britain. If Ireland had entered the war, it might have been occupied by British troops, and Irish troops might, for reasons of military logic, have come effectively under the command of British officers. A decision to enter the war would have been deeply divisive and might even have provoked a new civil war. Still, about 50,000 citizens of the Free State volunteered for service in the British armed forces during World War 2, and many were decorated. We should avoid smugly overlooking Britain’s role at that time as a colonial power, enslaving millions of people whilst fighting for its own freedom.
Anti-Irish racism is an issue which is given far too little attention even by those who campaign against other forms of racism, because it is often assumed, wrongly, that racism must involve skin colour. But fundamentally racism is not about biology; it is a product of colonialism. It put the colonised peoples into a sub-human category, enabling British people to treat them in ways that they wouldn’t treat each other. British racism against the Irish goes very deep and is very old precisely because Ireland is England’s oldest colony. For this reason also, anti-Irish racism is different from other kinds of racism found among British people. When an Irish person achieves something, or does something praiseworthy, the British media hail them as “one of us” and either their Irishness is ignored or it is presented in a favourable light. The attitude of the British media to the Republic of Ireland and its citizens has been described as a ‘phantom limb syndrome’ – like someone who has lost a limb but can still feel it. Yet Paul Hill (one of the Guildford Four), from ‘British’ Belfast, records bitterly in his book ‘Stolen Years’ how the judge addressed him as though he were a foreigner.
Irish-American writer Thomas Flanagan, writing in the New York Times (13 October 1996), said of the British, “Their inability to understand the Irish has for centuries been one of the wonders of the world, like the hanging gardens of Babylon”. He was echoing the remark of Sydney Smith, who said, when campaigning for Catholic emancipation in the early 19th century, “The very moment the name of Ireland is mentioned, the English seem to bid adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense, and to act with the barbarity of tyrants and the fatuity of idiots”.
Donald Woods, the South African journalist who exposed the murder of Steve Biko by the apartheid regime, explained it best:
“Having lived in Britain for twelve years in exile from South Africa, I considered that in terms of tolerance, humour and political maturity the British are among the most civilised people in the world. They have, however, one major flaw – an apparent inability to come to terms with the question of Ireland and the Irish.
“Let any element of the Irish equation enter national debate, and this otherwise kindly old country bares its mediaeval teeth and reverts to the darkest ages of its past, its national elders and officials striking attitudes more appropriate to Cromwellian times than to the eve of the 21st century.
“They reflect a national neurosis on the subject, one based on an unwillingness to confront the present in terms of the past, and it has astonished me as a foreigner travelling the length and breadth of Britain to discover the depths of ignorance of Irish history or Irish aspirations.
“It is less an aversion than a total lack of interest, an unwillingness to seek out or understand. It is a kind of subconscious disengagement – an avoidance of thinking the thing out – which may conceivably stem from feelings of guilt over their treatment of these troublesome cousins. Not one person in ten in Britain knows the details of the 1921 boundary dispute over north-eastern Ulster, though the consequences of it have cost the British taxpayer billions, and not one in ten knows, or cares, about details of the preceding centuries of British-Irish contention.
“From time to time there is outrage over a bombing or some other act of terrorism, and at such times there is an overwhelming tendency to lump together the issue of Irish reunification with the methods of the terrorists. This reaction also serves to keep British attitudes to the overall Irish question at the most superficial level. Then the issue fades away until the next outrage, mass interest in it sustained only occasionally by the funeral of yet another victim from one or the other side.
“It is a formula for perpetually unresolved deadlock and, sadly, the obduracy of the British establishment is matched by the obduracy of some of the extremists among the Irish, whose failure to understand what makes the British tick is matched only by the failure of their counterparts to understand what makes the Irish tick. For example, anyone who knows the British well could have told the IRA that the most counter-productive action imaginable would be to injure a horse called Sefton.
“But while I cannot imagine any national group in the world less susceptible to morale-damage by bombing or horse-injury than the British, so, too, can I not imagine any logical reason why the British should persist in their national imperviousness to Irish sensitivities.
“Do the British hate the Irish? Not at all, in my view. On the contrary, I think it is the very propinquity of the two countries, and the congruity of their national interests, that complicates the problem. The British perceive the Irish at different levels on different occasions. I have watched British rugby and soccer crowds warmly, one could say affectionately, applauding Irish deeds, and their boxing fans will back an Irishman against anyone not British; British television is studded with popular Irish stars, and the chauvinism of British reporting in any kind of international contest from athletics to Eurovision songs extends to and embraces the Republic of Ireland.
“Whatever the reason for this national neurosis, it is what causes the kind of injustices meted out to the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, leading to aberrational notions of judicial equity such as have been expressed from time to time by the likes of Lord Denning.”
(Donald Woods, in an anthology The Birmingham Six – an appalling vista, edited by Oscar Gilligan, Litereire Publishers, Dublin, 1990.)
Irish monks taught our forbears how to read, write and rhyme, and brought them Christianity. Irish people have made an enormous contribution to our drama, literature, music, sport, industry, commerce, science, politics and popular entertainment. Yet we still harbour the centuries-old ‘Irish joke’ to tell each other that they are stupid and that this explains the Northern Ireland problem.
But perhaps the worst feature of our attitude to Ireland is our lethal hypocrisy. With scarcely a murmur of protest we allowed our government to send our soldiers there to die and to kill, on the basis that it was ‘an integral part of the UK’; whilst we all knew that it wasn’t.
Let’s admit we have an attitude problem, shall we?
10. THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT AND THE WAY FORWARD
On Friday 10th April 1998 all parties taking part in multi-party talks at Stormont (including both governments) arrived at the Belfast (or Good Friday) Agreement. This was ratified in a referendum in Northern Ireland on 22 May, when 71 per cent voted for the Agreement, 29per cent against, in a high turnout of 81 per cent. It is estimated that, of those who voted, perhaps as many as 96 per cent of nationalists voted Yes and that between 51 and 53 per cent of unionists voted Yes. In the Republic, on the same day, a referendum was held to give the government the authority to amend clauses 2 and 3 of the Republic’s constitution, as required by the Agreement, when it judged that Britain had fulfilled its promises. (This has since been done). Voting in the Republic was: Yes 94.4 per cent, No 5.6 per cent, on a low turnout of 56 per cent.
The Agreement is well worth studying in detail. It can be obtained from HMSO or viewed on several websites, notably http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/index.html.
The Agreement acknowledges the right of the people of Ireland, North and South, to self-determination and makes provision for that right to be exercised, without external impediment, but only by separate and concurrent referenda in the two jurisdictions. Thus it enshrines the principle of the unionist veto, so long as the unionists remain a majority in Northern Ireland. It legally underpins human rights including freedom from discrimination on sectarian and other grounds, as well of parity of esteem for the two traditions. It makes it legal for nationalists to campaign peacefully for a united Ireland, and for unionists to campaign for their position. It commits all parties and both governments to accept that Northern Ireland will remain in the UK until a majority in the territory vote otherwise. It commits all parties to use exclusively peaceful means.
In accordance with the Agreement, parliament has passed the Northern Ireland Act 1998 that repeals and replaces the Government of Ireland Act 1920.
Articles 2 and 3 of the Republic’s constitution have been changed in accordance with the Agreement, and the new version includes the following words:
“It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island.”
Thus the Republic’s territorial claim has been replaced by an aspiration to a united Ireland. The new Articles also grant Irish citizenship to all Northern Ireland citizens who request it (a right already granted in Irish law but not previously included in the constitution).
‘Strand One’ of the Agreement provides for a 108-member Northern Ireland Assembly –six members from each of the 18 parliamentary constituencies, elected by proportional representation. The reason for the large size of the Assembly was to try to bring in every small group, giving them a vested interest in the peace process, and to make them talk to each other. Members are required to register a ‘designation of identity’ – ‘nationalist’, ‘unionist’ or ‘other’. To ensure that key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis, voting on them must be by either parallel consent, i.e. a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting; or a weighted majority (60 per cent) of members present and voting, including at least 40 per cent of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting. The Assembly only has devolved powers. It elects an Executive, in which parties are allocated seats according to their strength in the Assembly. There are other complicated provisions to ensure that all parties have ministers and that matters can proceed only on a consensual, cross-community basis.
‘Strand Two’ provides for a North-South Ministerial Council with powers to promote all-Ireland co-operation on a wide range of matters including agriculture, education, transport, environment, waterways, health, tourism etc.
‘Strand Three’ provides for a British-Irish Council with representation from the two governments, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and from the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It has vague powers to develop common policies on a range of issues like those listed in Strand Two. Strand Three also provides for a standing British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. This will meet frequently at ministerial level at least, to review progress on the Agreement and discuss any relevant matters put before it by either government.
Because the parties recognised their inability to agree on the two most contentious issues, policing and the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, the Agreement ‘contracted out’ these matters to two independent international commissions, the Patten Commission and the de Chastelain Commission. (Decommissioning, as a demand, was first invented by the Major government as a means to avoid responding to the IRA ceasefire of 31 August 1994.)
The Agreement also provides for the conditional release of prisoners, a review of the criminal justice system, a Victims Commissioner, an Equality Commission, a Human Rights Commission, and other matters.
In addition, the two governments agreed that whichever was, or became in the future, the sovereign government as a result of the declared wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, that government would respect the same principles of equality, human rights and parity of esteem for both traditions, and would respect the right of individuals to identify themselves as British or Irish, or both, and that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.
The Agreement allows only two options for the future status of the territory – there is no third option, such as repartition.
This Agreement creates a new political terrain. Even if it fails, it is still a great step forward and will be a benchmark for whatever follows. It is only a transitional, not a final settlement. It is unique and bizarre – it has been said that only the Dayton Accord for Boznia-Herzogovina comes near it. It provides for the possibility of a united Ireland – indeed it provides a road map to it and establishes much of the basis of an agreement for such a transition – but it does not provide for anything like a normal liberal democracy in Northern Ireland while partition remains. It makes a return to the Stormont regime impossible, as it is designed to prevent majority rule within Northern Ireland. It gives very limited, devolved political power (and lots of jobs and salaries) to politicians of both traditions, but only if they work together on a cross-community basis. It makes a peaceful campaign for a united Ireland possible. To the extent that it convinces Irish republicans that it does offer a peaceful way towards a united Ireland, it will help the political, non-militarist wing of republicanism to defeat the militarist wing.
If the unionists were to pull out of the Assembly, or renounce the Agreement entirely, it is hard to imagine that the government would abolish the Equality Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the anti-discrimination laws, the police reforms or the criminal justice review, and certainly not the Intergovernmental Conference. Other bodies might also remain. So enormous irreversible strides would have been made which lay the basis for dismantling sectarian practices. It is difficult to see where the unionists could go from such a situation, (other than back in) and their politicians might lose their salaried positions. It would also cause more fragmentation in the unionist camp.
The most important thing the Agreement does is to offer a way to the gradual elimination of sectarian ideology, by eliminating its material basis, which is sectarian discrimination. The practical advantages of all-Ireland co-operation are so many and obvious that, if sectarianism diminishes significantly, unionism will seem increasingly irrelevant. This is the more so since, in the Agreement, if a united Ireland occurs, all Northern Ireland people will be able to retain their British citizenship if they so wish. In addition, the fact that both Britain and Ireland are members of the EU means that the practical significance of whether a person is in one state or the other is being gradually reduced.
The Patten Commission on policing comprised an international, independent panel of world-class experts on the relevant aspects of policing, which conducted extensive investigations and heard evidence from the public at meetings all over Northern Ireland. Since the Commission itself represented a compromise for both sides in Northern Ireland, the sensible and obvious course for the government would have been to implement the Commission’s recommendations in full. Changes could still have been made later in the light of experience. Instead, the government conceded to unionist pressure and watered down these proposals when drafting the legislation. This decision has created huge problems for the Sinn Féin leadership in trying to persuade their followers to accept decommissioning and to bring an end to IRA punishment beatings (a form of unofficial policing of nationalist ghettoes). It was a fatal error.
The referenda that followed the Agreement have been presented as an expression of national self-determination. The falsity of this idea was exposed when, in February 2000, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, suspended the main institutions set up under the Agreement, against the wishes of the nationalist parties and of the Irish government. In addition, the referenda were not free of outside interference, because Britain was in the negotiations from a position of overwhelming power. By guaranteeing the position of the unionists, who are a minority in Ireland, Britain made itself responsible for the situation, as it has always been. This Agreement therefore does not, in my view, make NI a legitimate political entity. It merely confirms that it has been a failure up to now and that it cannot function normally.
The ‘principle’ of unionist consent has already been breached. The multi-party talks only reached agreement because Britain and the USA told the unionists in no uncertain terms that they could not have what they wanted if that meant a return to simple ‘majority’ rule or a continuation of direct rule. Pressure on the Blair government by the USA was also a factor. So pressure from outside the territory was vital to the Agreement, and hence will be vital to its implementation. Until the unionists get new leaders who want to eliminate sectarianism, progress will only be possible if Britain faces down unionist intransigence and imposes its will on them. It did this when it imposed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement in face of the “Ulster Says No!” campaign. It did it again during the multi-party talks leading to the Agreement. As long as it remains, by its own will, the sovereign power, it retains the responsibility to do so again.
Do the two referenda mean that British people who want British withdrawal should accept the unionist veto? Not as a matter of principle. Partition is against the interests of the British people. The unionist veto still means that less than 2 per cent of the UK population can over-rule the rest, whatever the cost or consequences. The quotation by Winston Churchill at the front of this pamphlet is still relevant. The people of Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) have the right to national self-determination, and we can exercise it by making the dissolution of the union with Northern Ireland our government’s policy objective.
For many years now, opinion polls have shown that the majority of people in Britain want withdrawal from Northern Ireland. (In March 1988 The Sun invited its readers to vote, by telephone, for or against the British presence in Northern Ireland. Embarrassed news managers were forced to bury the news of the result on an inside page – it was 45,453 for pulling out, 10,450 for staying put.)
A Guardian/ICM opinion poll, published on 21st August 2001, confirmed the position. It showed that only 26 per cent of people in Britain think that Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK, while 41 per cent think that there should be a united Ireland. It is difficult to see why support for the Union should increase in the coming years, and it seems more likely to decrease, especially if ‘loyalists’ are seen to be the cause of any continuing violence, and if those who favour British withdrawal make full use of the opportunity created by the IRA ceasefire to put their case in a calmer atmosphere.
The people of the Republic have said in a referendum that they don’t want a united Ireland without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. So for Britain to attempt to foist it on them would be to inflict further suffering on the Irish people. The Agreement should be given every possible support, and progress by consent is obviously to be preferred. The Agreement does not prevent any present or future British government from declaring withdrawal its policy objective, by seeking to persuade the unionist people to see a united Ireland in a more positive light, nor from using its power, including economic inducement, to make it more attractive. Indeed to make the government a ‘persuader’ of the unionists was the policy of the Labour Party (in opposition) from 1988 for a number of years. Any such declaration would transform the atmosphere and make at least some unionists begin pragmatically to concentrate on securing the best deal possible for the transition. Such a change of government policy would stop the pandering to unionism which has always hindered progress, and which has dogged the implementation of the Agreement thus far.
If, over years, the implementation of the Agreement sufficiently erodes the sectarian culture that is at the root of unionism, then the ‘consent principle’ may become an ally of British withdrawal instead of its enemy. In addition, if current demographic trends continue to the point when nationalists constitute a numerical majority in Northern Ireland, this will present a wholly new situation and a challenge to everyone’s thinking.
In the new post-Agreement situation, many new opportunities should arise, in Britain, to discuss the problem and highlight the issues. Despite the ‘Real IRA’, the atmosphere is now much more peaceful than it was. However, a crisis in Northern Ireland could occur at any time, or the opponents of progress in Britain could manufacture one when it suits them. Any period of relative peace should be seen as an opportunity, not to be missed, for explaining the underlying problems, and for putting pressure on the government to honour its commitments and even to go beyond them without bowing to unionist pressure.
If the process envisaged in the Agreement breaks down, progress will only be possible by very firm government pressure on the unionists. Pandering to unionism, as in the past, will only take us back into the quagmire. But it seems likely that there will always be some unionists who want to make the Agreement work, because it is holds the best hope of peace and because that is the only way that they can have a devolved government, giving them more say in how they are governed and some jobs for their politicians.
October and November 2001 showed two contradictory trends. First, loyalists tried to prevent children from attending the Holy Cross Catholic primary school in north Belfast. The children were then escorted to school for weeks by the police and Army, but there were very few arrests, despite the fact that the loyalist residents were clearly violating the law daily and in full public view. For its part the government apparently held back from making the law-enforcers enforce the law. This was the old, Curragh-mutiny approach of failing to stand up to the unionists no matter what they did. The second event was the opposite. When the pro-Agreement unionists couldn’t muster quite enough unionist votes in the Assembly to re-elect David Trimble as First Minister, Tony Blair personally urged the leader of the Alliance Party to re-designate some of his members as unionists in order to secure the re-election at the second attempt. The assorted anti-Agreement unionists were defeated by a united front of all the pro-Agreement forces, upholding the will of the Irish people as expressed in the referenda. This approach – a united front of all pro-Agreement forces – points the way forward for progress, democracy and peace. (The tactic itself was bizarre, but that is because the whole set-up is bizarre as befits the bizarre political entity that Northern Ireland is).
The emergence, in 2003, of Dr Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party as the largest unionist party does not, in principle, alter anything. The DUP can only have political power if it shares it with nationalists, and a restoration of unionist rule is impossible.
Britain should be generous to all the people of Northern Ireland; the unionist population are also victims of British colonialism. They have been used by the British Empire, the Tory Party, the armed forces, six-county landowners and employers, and all the most reactionary elements of British society, and they have suffered greatly.
In the eventual British withdrawal, the method of withdrawal, including the timetable, should be a matter for negotiation, not unilateral imposition. The aim should be an orderly hand-over of power to a new all-Ireland government, with the safeguards that have already been agreed. Britain should offer a substantial subsidy over many years to ease the process, in recognition of its responsibility for clearing up the mess that it has created.
I suggest that a campaign for British withdrawal should include the following:
1. Support for the Good Friday Agreement and its implementation, especially campaigning for our government to fulfill its obligations.
2. Pressure on the government to face down the anti-agreement unionists and unionist intransigence.
3. Campaigning for the government to make withdrawal its policy objective, to be achieved by persuading and inducing the unionists to accept a united Ireland.
4. Explaining the benefits for Britain of withdrawal.
5. Support for anti-discrimination cases brought by individuals and groups. We can expect a great many of these, as people strive to turn their new legal rights into reality, against strong resistance. Trade unions could play a big part in this.
6. Promotion of the study of the history of English and British colonialism in Ireland. Much of this has been distorted and obscured. Irish history illuminates British history and is part of it.
7. A campaign for truth. There is a whole can of worms to be opened, especially about the activities of the secret services, collusion between British intelligence services and loyalist paramilitaries, Bloody Sunday, and the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and others. This campaign will help to make Britain’s armed forces, secret services and government more accountable in the future.
8. Internationalisation of the issue. Pressure on Britain from the USA, the EU and elsewhere have helped get us this far, and could help us further. This is quite a different matter from inviting outside interference in Britain’s internal affairs, as this is really an international problem.
9. Resistance to anti-Irish racism in Britain, and support for the growing self-confidence and cultural expression of Britain’s Irish community.
10. Promotion of more friendly and economic links between Britain and Ireland. The labour movement has a role to play in this, as well as the British-Irish Council.
Success for the campaign holds the prospect of a lasting peace, progress towards a more democratic Britain, and a strategic defeat for all the most reactionary forces in British society. A new, free and united Ireland may also exercise a beneficial influence on British politics, culture and ideas. The ending of partition is a great prize for the British people to campaign for. Such a campaign, in Britain, is the missing piece in the peace process.
THE CONNOLLY ASSOCIATION
Based upon James Connolly’s principle of Labour/Republican unity the Connolly Club [later Association] was founded in July 1938, at the Engineers Hall, Doughty Street, London WC1.
The Republican element was provided by the London Branch of the Republican Congress [founded in Athlone in 1934]. The Labour element came from the Irish section of the League against Imperialism established at the suggestion of James Larkin Junior at its conference in May 1932.
The present constitution of the Connolly Association was drawn up at the Birmingham Conference of 1955. Its objects are to defend the interests of the Irish in Britain and to campaign for the establishment of a united independent Irish Republic. The means proposed for achieving theses objects are organisation and the exercise of influence on the Labour movement including public opinion.
The Irish Democrat was first published in January 1939 and its front page carried a call for all Irish citizens in their own interests to join their appropriate trade unions.
During the war the Association ran the ‘Irish Exiles Advisory Service’ which dealt with problems of lodging allowances, conscription etc. An ‘occupation’ of a West End Hotel forced the government to attend to this matter. The Association supported the international war against Nazism but defended the right of citizens of a neutral country to return home if they were unwilling to undertake military service with the British forces. Ultimately Mr De Valera embodied this principle in an agreement with H.M. Government.
After the war the Association campaigned for the release of Republican prisoners, at one point holding a meeting, which was representative of 700,000 workers. The last prisoners were released in 1948. Among those supporting the campaign were the dramatist Sean O’Casey and the London Trades Council.
The Association sent legal observers to the three trials of the republicans Mallon and Talbot who were found not guilty of the murder of Sgt. Ovens but were arrested and interned as they left the court. This was in 1958. After the Republican cease-fire of 1961 the Association interested the trade union movement in the release of internees, which was ultimately secured.
Likewise the Association continued to campaign for the release of the innocent and the transfer of politically motivated prisoners to prisons in Ireland. This issue became a constant demand on our time and facilities.
It was as a result of a Connolly Association deputation to the leaders of the Belfast Trades Council that the civil rights movement was established at a conference on May 8th 1965. The leaders were anxious for an assurance that solidarity action would be forthcoming and this was given.
The Association originated the proposal for the Bill of Rights and in conjunction with parliamentary and legal friends drafted the Latham Bill for which two hundred Labour MPs voted. Throughout the period of the Civil Rights agitation the Association produced articles in the Irish Democrat, pamphlets and leaflets and organised demonstrations and meetings in Trafalgar Square, and delegations to Ireland.
The question of the treatment of Irish politically-motivated prisoners has been an issue that we have not avoided as our history will show.
From those early campaigns the Association has grown in numbers and influence and we can justifiably be proud of our record. In 1999 a special commemorative Connolly badge depicting the Starry Plough was commissioned. This is given to individuals who have demonstrated long commitment to the campaign for a united and independent Ireland.
The Irish Democrat, first published in 1939 is available in all the political libraries of this country e.g. the House of Commons library, London School of Economics library etc. For researchers it is also available on microfilm, from that first trailblazing issue in 1939 to January 2001 and free online at www.connollyassociation.org.uk/irishdemocrat
Funding the work of the Connolly Association comes from the membership. We like it that way. It guarantees our independence. No outside body can dictate what we do and when we do it. That independence carries a price. We are constantly seeking funds to continue our work. There is a role for everybody.
You are invited to join.
Membership £12.00 per year.
Membership includes a subscription to the Irish Democrat.
FURTHER READING, NEWS SOURCES, AND USEFUL WEBSITES
Books (Those out of print can be ordered through your public library).
The Cause of Ireland – from the United Irishmen to Partition, by Liz Curtis, Beyond the Pale Publications, Belfast 1994. One of the best books on Irish history currently available.
The Troubles – Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1995 and the Search for Peace, by Tim Pat Coogan, Hutchinson, London 1995. (Now published by Arrow)
Hope and History, by Gerry Adams, Brandon, London, 2003. Essential reading.
Ireland Her Own, by T A Jackson, Lawrence & Wishart, London. – (Not up to date, but still a classic on Irish history. With an epilogue by Desmond Greaves, it extends from ancient times up to 1970.)
British Brutality in Ireland, by Jack O’Brien, The Mercier Press, Cork & Dublin 1989. (Out of print).
The Black and Tans, by Richard Bennett, Barnes & Noble, New York 1995. (Out of print).
Orangeism – Myth and Reality, by Peter Beresford Ellis, published by the Connolly Association, 1998.
Nothing but the Same Old Story: the Roots of Anti-Irish Racism, by Liz Curtis, Sasta
Paddy’s Lament – Ireland 1846-1847 – Prelude to Hatred, by Thomas Gallagher, Poolbeg Press, Ireland, 1994. (A very readable book on the famine and its effects on Irish-American opinion.)
The Great Hunger, by Cecil Woodham-Smith (first published in Britain by Hamish Hamilton, London, 1962 and recently re-issued in paperback. – still the best book on the politics of the famine.)
John Hume – Personal Views, by John Hume, Town House, Dublin 1996.
Irish Republicanism – Good Friday and After, by Daltún Ó Ceallaigh, Léirmheas, Dublin 2000. (Includes an interesting survey of British-Irish relations from an Irish nationalist viewpoint.)
Making Sense of the Troubles, by D McKittrick & D McVea, Blackstaff Press, Belfast 2000 (Not written from my viewpoint, but it fills in a lot of details that this pamphlet had to omit.)
Breaking the Bonds, by Fionnuala O Connor, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 2002. (Although not written from my viewpoint, this is well worth buying for an understanding of the present situation in Northern Ireland. An insight, very readable, witty, and informative.)
Holy Cross: the Untold Story, by Anne Cadwallader, Brehon Press, 2004. ISBN 0954486722. A revealing account of the vicious blockade of a Belfast Catholic primary school by unionists, and how the government let it go unstopped and unpunished.
www.nuzhound.com – Newshound is a catalogue of articles on the Northern Ireland problem from the web editions of newspapers, updated daily. Very useful. Also catalogues book reviews. Independent, financed by donations.
www.patfinucanecentre.org – The website of the Pat Finucane Centre, Derry. This is a very valuable source of information about collusion – not just concerning the murder of Pat Finucane but the whole issue of British state collusion in murders in Ireland, and the continuing cover-up. It also deals with the activities of M!5 in Ireland, the Orange Order and other matters usually hidden from the British public.
www.relativesforjustice.com – also a useful source on collusion.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/default.stm – interestingly, the website of BBC Northern Ireland News is a good source on collusion.
www.anfhirinne26.com – “An Fhirinne, Irish for The Truth, is a campaign group made up of the relatives and friends of the hundreds of Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans, who have been murdered by Unionist death squads over the past thirty years with the knowledge and active assistance of the British government” – Another useful source on collusion. (An Fhirinne is pronounced, approximately, “an iriner” but without sounding the final “r”.)
www.troopsoutmovement.com – Campaigns for British Withdrawal from Ireland, also a good source of information on collusion.
http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/index.html – an academic website which contains a chronicle of events since 1968, the Agreement, and lots of other documents, speeches, articles and information.
www.connollyassociation.org.uk – website of The Connolly Association
www.sinnfein.ie – the Sinn Fein Home Page, with a link to Republican News.
www.sdlp.ie – the SDLP homepage. Other NI parties also have websites.
www.caj.org.uk -The Committee on the Administration of Justice works for a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland where the rights of all are protected. Good source of authoritative reports on human rights and justice issues.
www.birw.org. – British Irish Rights Watch is an independent non-governmental organisation that has been monitoring the human rights dimension of the conflict, and latterly the peace process, in Northern Ireland since 1990. Website has reports on major human rights cases, eg Rosemary Nelson, Pat Finucane, Bloody Sunday Enquiry etc.
Try Irish state radio (RTE) on 567m MW and 252LW. It shows much more interest in the NI problem than the BBC, and bends over backwards not to show anti-unionist bias.
The Irish Democrat, bi-monthly newspaper of the Connolly Association, published continuously since 1939, is essential for anyone campaigning on this issue. Obtainable from Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray’s Inn Rd, London WC1X 8JR (currently £7.00 per year by post).
Friends of Ireland – Friends of the Good Friday Agreement – c/o John McDonnell MP at the House of Commons, London SW1A OAA. (No website at time of publication). A group that holds fairly regular meetings at the House of Commons with the pro-Agreement parties, and, for example, fringe meetings at the Labour Party Conference. Started by John McDonnell MP, Kevin McNamara MP and Alice Mahon MP. (The last two have since stood down from parliament).
Northern Ireland Termination of Jurisdiction Bill
Supplement to the 3rd Edition
On 8th May 2007 power-sharing was restored, on a new basis, in Britain’s Irish colonial remnant. When Ian Paisley took his ministerial oath of office he swore to do exactly the opposite of what he had done all his long political life (except opposing reunification). He promised, among other things, “to promote the interests of the whole community represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly towards the goal of a shared future”; “to participate fully in the Executive Committee, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council”; “to observe the joint nature of the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister”; “to serve all the people of Northern Ireland equally, and to act in accordance with the general obligations on government to promote equality and prevent discrimination”; and “to operate in a way conducive to promoting good community relations and equality of treatment.”
Only the previous summer Paisley had told a 12th July rally that the defence of the Union required “the shedding of Protestant blood” – which was such perfectly normal Paisley-talk that it passed without notice in the media. They would certainly notice if he said it now.
So what has brought this change in Paisley?
First, he had been under huge pressure from the Blair government, the EU and the Bush administration. For the trans-national corporations whose interests concern all three, the Irish border is an obstacle to trade, to economic efficiency and to the economic and political integration of the EU. For the Euro-federalists it is also an obstacle to the atmosphere of internal peace and harmony that is required for their political objectives. For all three, Ireland’s British problem, with its long history of war, sectarian hatred and bigotry and with its recent period of direct rule and political logjam, is an embarrassment. For the British state, especially, it is an acute embarrassment at home and abroad, as well as being a drain on the exchequer and on military resources needed elsewhere.
From Blair, with a deadline to meet and a box to tick before he left office, the behind-the-scenes pressure was intense. The ambitious Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, with the same deadline for his own career reasons, skilfully and blatantly used the “carrot and stick” approach. He imposed water charges which were deeply unpopular with all sections of society, with the proviso that they would be cancelled if power-sharing was restored; he convincingly threatened more Dublin involvement in direct rule as ‘Plan B’; and he offered investment which was conditional on power-sharing.
Paisley’s own ego must have played a part, along with his deep desire to humiliate the Ulster Unionist Party, led by “big-house” or “fur-coat” unionists, to whom he was always an outsider, and whom he loathes and who loathe him. But the decisive influence must have been the pressure from his party’s electorate. They wanted accountable government, which they certainly didn’t get from the direct rule team of British MPs. They also realised that a return to the blatant sectarian discrimination of the old Stormont regime (1920 -1972) was impossible, however much they might desire it (and Paisley expressed his desire for it only recently). Besides, the “carrot and stick” approach had worked on them too, to great effect, and they knew that economic improvement required power-sharing and the stability which it ought to bring.
Paisley was able to claim to have bettered what his rivals in the Ulster Unionist Party had achieved: a promise by Sinn Fein to recognise UK law and the police and to enter the Policing Board, the decommissioning of all IRA weapons and a convincing statement by the IRA Army Council that the war was definitively over. With the St Andrews talks he also secured more control over what Sinn Fein Ministers might do; there will now be very little that any Minister can do without cross-party support – which raises interesting questions about what can be done and how any left-right divisions can be expressed.
It is bizarre; but that’s because Northern Ireland is a failed entity, economically and politically – an entirely British invention that doesn’t work.
The British media has greatly distorted the matter, through a mixture of ignorance and prejudice. They speak as though the sectarianism came equally from both sides, which it never did. (This is like equating the reactive “racism” of some black people with the oppressive racism of white people and with institutional racism.) They speak as though Sinn Fein’s conversion to power-sharing was as surprising and as recent as that of Paisley’s DUP, which is very misleading. Sinn Fein accepted the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, whereas Paisley and the DUP still opposed and decried it only a few weeks before 8th May 2007. Of course, for the Sinn Fein rank-and-file, the acceptance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as legitimate was a bitter pill to swallow, and with good reason. The PSNI is still predominately unionist, and still includes many officers, especially in the Special Branch, who have committed human rights abuses including collusion in murder.
Peter Hain has called the set-up “a final settlement” and many others have spoken in similar vein. But there have been final settlements before: the Act of Union of 1800 which created the term “United Kingdom” and gave us the Union Jack; and the partition of Ireland, and of Ulster, on a sectarian basis, in 1920, ratified under extreme duress with the “Treaty” of 1921.
In my view it is by no means a final settlement, but it is a stepping stone to British withdrawal and the re-unification of Ireland. There are two main reasons.
First, there is now little opposition within unionism, or in the British government, to the building of an all-Ireland economic infrastructure; and economic reunification will lead to all-Ireland political thinking and the need for all-Ireland decision-making.
Second, the Good Friday Agreement is an attack on sectarianism. It outlaws much sectarian discrimination and provides legal means of redress for its victims. It sets up institutions for combating sectarianism, such as the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission, and a still-to-come Bill of Rights. The report of the Police Ombudsman into a very small part of the collusion can of worms was an example of the Good Friday Agreement beginning to bite; Paisley’s new persona is another. Sectarianism, though, is the essence of unionism. For unionist workers, the desire to continue benefiting from sectarian discrimination was the main reason for opposing all-Ireland Home Rule before partition and for voting unionist since then. Sectarian discrimination, imposed on the Irish people for centuries by Britain, is the material basis for sectarian ideology – those who blame sectarianism on religion are completely wrong. As discrimination is eliminated, sectarianism will disappear, and hence unionism, though no-one can say how soon.
The unmentioned background to all this is the dwindling British interest in, or need for, its Irish colony.
What does the restoration of power-sharing mean for us in Britain? I think it offers new opportunities. Many people who have refrained from saying anything critical of British colonial rule in Ireland, for fear of being accused of giving ideological ammunition to the IRA, will now feel more free to do so. People who have Irish roots will feel much more free to acknowledge and celebrate them. More truth about state collusion in murdering innocent people will gradually come out, and there should be less reticence than hitherto about discussing it – though the state will continue to cover it up and to deny it. This offers opportunities to put British colonialism onto the defensive and for British people to discuss the problem in a calmer atmosphere than has existed for a lifetime.
We must not waste this opportunity—it may not last long. If the power-sharing set-up proves incapable of making the decisions necessary to improve the lot of the nationalist working class then the legitimate demand for genuine all-Ireland democracy may be expressed with renewed vigour and there may be a new crisis. It is not a “normal” society and crisis is its normal condition.
Ken Keable, September 2007.
This tirade is dedicated to the old stalwarts of the Connolly Association in London who worked so hard and so long when other people only wrung their hands; including the late Desmond Greaves, the late Patrick Bond, Jane Tate, Stella Bond, Gloria Finlay, Pegeen O’Sullivan, Chris O’Sullivan, Jim Duggan and Nancy Duggan.
Heartfelt thanks to my wife, Pauline Humphreys, for her loving support, criticism, and encouragement; to my dear friend Laura Miller for help in editing the text, her valuable suggestions and encouragement; to my dear friend the late Peter O’Connor for his encouragement, comments, and the loan of books; to Sally Richardson and Gerard Curran for helpful comments; to David Granville for production work and the late Donald Woods for permission to quote from “The Birmingham Six – an appalling vista”; and to librarians everywhere.