Editorial from Irish Political Review, September 2006
Garret FitzGerald told the John Hewitt Summer School that "the dichotomy between Gael and Planter reflects a cultural myth rather than a genetic reality" (Irish News 25 Aug).
That's what we were told back in 1969 when we suggested that the Ulster Protestant community should be negotiated with as a distinct nationality. We recall that Official Sinn Fein leader, Tomás Mac Giolla, was particularly eloquent on the subject: there was no racial difference, therefore the differences which appeared to exist were unreal and might be conjured away.
Is there such a thing as "a genetic reality" in political affairs? We thought the idea that there was had died with Hitler—until we came across the fact that, ten years after the death of Hitler, Hubert Butler, a Protestant gentleman of Kilkenny, had contested a local election on a programme which asserted the social and political superiority of "Protestant blood". And now Dr. FitzGerald recycles the notion, though in a different way. He does no assert superiority on the basis of genes, but he denies that a political difference is actual because it it is not based on genetic difference. Because the difference is not genetic, it can only be a myth, a delusion.
The reasoning is primeval.
He then went on to assert that the "self-identification" of Northern Protestants as British has been brought about by Provisional Republicanism. He says that the proportion of them describing themselves as British rose from a third to two-thirds as a consequence of the Republican campaign. So, what was all the fuss about in 1912-14?
"Dr Fitzgerald argued that the two biggest threats 'ever posed' to the sovereignty of Westminster were by Ulster Unionism—'first in 1914—undertaken with the connivance of the British Conservative Party which sought to deny Parliament's right to give Home Rule to Ireland—and the second in 1974 with the Ulster Workers' Strike'."
But, if it was the Tories who stirred up a cultural myth which had no basis in genetic reality, who did it in 1974? The Sunningdale legislation was Tory. And no party outside Protestant Ulster supported the "Constitutional stoppage" that broke the Sunningdale system, of which Dr. FitzGerald was one of the main architects. The Prods did it all on their own, as if they were a reality and not just a myth.
As to the "self-identification", it has always seemed to us that the Protestants don't bother their heads about it. They do not constitute a problem for themselves. They just carry on regardless, being what they are, without existential angst. They are satisfied with themselves, and they have little secular concern with anybody else, so what is there for them to think about at Summer Schools?
Brian Feeney at least observes this as a fact (IN 26 July): "unionists don't organise any summer schools to examine unionism or anything else". And he asks, "Is the phrase 'unionist intellectual' an oxymoron?"
There is, of course the John Hewitt School, formally Unionist, but finding it difficult "to include unionists". This year it had FitzGerald. And of course Professor Bew. But Bew, though advisor to Trimble, is "shy of admitting to being a unionist. So far he hasn't 'come out' so to speak".
Jim Gibney, who does his best to engage with Protestants on behalf of the Provos, complains that Unionists Still Refuse To Have Open Minds (IN 27 July). And that "unionists remain obsessed with an IRA in peaceful mode, ignoring on-going loyalist violence".
How can you have an open mind about yourself if you're satisfied to be what you are?
FitzGerald's statistics about Protestant "self-identification" have to do with spur-of-the-moment answers given in public opinion surveys. (He says that in 1968 one-third described itself as 'British', while by 1978 two-thirds were doing so.) Professor Richard Rose made much of this sort of thing back around 1970. As far as we recall, the Welsh were all over the place. The answers seemed to depend on how the question was asked and on the mood of the moment. But the Welsh carried on being British in the only way that counts in politics—they carried on taking part in electing the Government of the State. It was never possible for Northern Ireland to be British in that way.
Dr. FitzGerald finds "much confusion and some instability in the sense of identity of Northern Protestants" and he blames what he sees as a shift towards Britishness on the Provo campaign. We would lay the blame somewhere else for this meaningless shift in superficial opinion on which nothing political can be based.
Carson opposed the establishment of Northern Ireland, as did Craigavon. This does not mean that they opposed Partition. They wanted the 6 Counties to be governed as part of Britain, through the operations of British politics. But Britain insisted that it should be governed as a place apart. Craigavon, who had served in a British Government and had a sense of reality, secured the de facto welfare integration of the North into the system of the British state, and then set about minimising political activity in the North. That was how an essentially undemocratic and unstable set-up survived for forty years.
'Politics' consisted of the Unionist community voting itself into office at every election in order to remain attached to Britain. The Catholic community played no part. There was no part for it to play. Its role was to be kept down. But it was far too large a minority to be kept down without a sense of unease.
It was a practical assumption that rebellious tendencies would be generated in this large, frustrated minority whose energy had no outlet into the democratic life of the state. It was therefore subjected to close, intimate supervision by the RUC, made to feel the weight of the Protestant militia, the B Specials, and reminded that the UVF, which had brought about their predicament, had not gone away. When the Specials were disbanded in 1969, the UDR (with links to paramilitary forces) took their place. The respectable Unionist middle class has always understood—in the unacknowledged way that such things are understood—that its security depended on some things that were not quite respectable.
In our experience the attitude was that it was unfortunate that there should be such a large body of Fenians within the Northern idyll, but Fenians will be Fenians, and must be dealt with. Of course Croppies should lie down, but it was no matter for great surprise or resentment when they didn't.
It was a different thing, however, when the danger that had been warded off in 1912-14 was reasserted in active form by Dublin—as it was by Jack Lynch in August 1969, by Dr. FitzGerald and Dr. O'Brien in 1974, and by Dr. FitzGerald in 1985.
Dr. FitzGerald is the greatest alienating influence there has been on the Ulster Protestants since John Redmond. And he is in very heavy denial if he denies that his 1985 Agreement was a watershed in the process of alienation. Didn't he see the Protestants packed like sardines around the City Hall and up Royal Avenue in a protest comparable with the Covenant affair back in 1912?
Fenians rebelling—that's something that happens as a matter of course within Northern Ireland. Tampering with (what is seen as) 'the Constitution' by outside forces—that is something else.
That is how we have understood the Protestant position for close on 40 years. Events have not yet proved us wrong.
The Unionists "remain obsessed with the IRA in peaceful mode" a year after it disarmed, and "are still refusing to open their minds to the place the peace process can take us". And Jim Gibney is surprised! The IRA has successfully transferred its dynamic from war to peace, in accordance with the project set out by Gerry Adams 20 years ago. Republicans have joined Dr. FitzGerald in the business of enacting constitutional change constitutionally, and have therefore become more dangerous than they ever were as rebels.
With the rebels having become a constitutional force, Protestant alienation is naturally greater than it has ever been—a fact documented by Susan McKay in the Irish News on July 27th (Brutal Attackers Have Again Dyed Ulster's Bloody Hand, an article documenting sectarian attacks).
We should say in connection with 1974, that the Unionist Party under Faulkner was committed to working a power sharing system in a way that it never was under Trimble, while the Unionist population at large was neither enthusiastic or hostile. It suspended judgment. What tipped it into outright hostility was the revelation made in the High Court in Dublin that Drs. FitzGerald and O'Brien had played a confidence trick in the Sunningdale negotiations. Unionist opinion was given to understand that the sovereignty claim in Articles 2 & 3 had been withdrawn. When challenged on the issue by Neil Blaney, the Coalition Government stated in the clearest possible terms that the 'claim' remained intact and was not prejudiced in any way by the Agreement. Its Court pleading was published in Loyalist adverts in the Unionist papers. A Loyalist demand was formulated, that the Council of Ireland aspect of the Agreement should be deferred until the sovereignty claim was withdrawn. But Drs. FitzGerald and O'Brien (Foreign Minister and Northern spokesman of the Coalition Government) insisted that the full implementation of the Council should go ahead regardless, and Dr. O'Brien in particular was insistent that a referendum to amend Articles 2 & 3 should not be held. Unionist opposition grew in the face of this intransigent refusal to negotiate a compromise, and the Sunningdale arrangement—the best chance there has ever been of making a functional internal settlement—fell after five months.
The Provos didn't do it. FitzGerald and his colleagues did. And they did it because they were in denial about basic political realities in the North—as Dr. FitzGerald with his "genetic" musings, still is.
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In Defence Of Patrick Pearse.
Quarter Loaf Of Palestine.
Iran And Genocide.
Remembering The Arms Trial.
Thoughts Occasioned By Harry Boland's Oration.
Processing Peace In Portcullis House.
Bush's 'in' Joke.
Shorts From The Long Fellow.
Loach Understands Our History.
Some Issues Of Class And Office (To
Be Or IRB, part two).
The Casement 'Black Diaries' (Part Two).
Casement: Another View.
Casement Foundation Calls For "Fake Diarie"
The Difficulties Of The Left Movement In A
Sectarian Society (Part Two).
Send Them Home.
International Affairs—The View From India.
The Fate Of The Volunteer.
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