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Academics On Independence, Part 2

Paul A Fitzsimmons

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” - Albert Einstein

As accurately suggested in the title hereof, this article follows The Blanket’s publication of “Academics On Independence, Part I” in examining how academia has responded to the issue of possible Northern Ireland independence (all emphases herein are from the original).


October 8, 2000


Dr. Dennis Kennedy
The Institute of European Studies
The Queen’s University of Belfast

Prof. Brendan O’Leary
Political Science Department
London School of Economics

Re: Northern Ireland

Dear Brendan and Dennis:

Again, greetings. As you will have surmised, I hold out the hope that you might kindly accept another letter from me at this important juncture for Northern Ireland. [Personal discussion redacted.]

Particularly in light of the present condition of the Good Friday Agreement-and, thus, the condition of Ulster’s political society as currently constituted-I discuss below one fairly recent opinion article on that topic and several earlier minor writings, all in the hope that each of you might well bring your scholarship to bear on the question posed below. While you two may not see eye-to-eye on every issue concerning Northern Ireland, you share, obviously, a keen interest in that region as well as an apparently rare intellectual honesty in that regard.

My main question here is: can you and will you now adequately judge whether a “paradigm shift” ought to be intensively considered regarding the Northern Ireland question?


The above-referenced opinion article, by Conor Cruise O’Brien, was published on 30 September 2000 in the Irish Independent. As is typical of his writings, Dr. O’Brien offered therein some rather controversial views; however, the thrust of his view on joint authority as a “Plan B” for London, Dublin, Washington, and portions of Belfast seems close to the mark:

It is quite apparent that the pan-nationalist front - SDLP, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail - have now written off Mr Trimble, and all shades of Unionists. It seems that they would be quite happy for the two Governments to govern Northern Ireland on their own, in accord with the SDLP and Sinn Fein, and with backing from the United States. Signs from the United States are propitious for such a deal.

A similar and continuing concern of mine remains that joint authority will in fact turn out to be the British and Irish governments’ all-too-reflexive reaction to a Good Friday Agreement failure. Reports such as Mr. Mandelson’s “warn[ing] Ulster Unionists that they faced a regime of joint authority involving the Irish government if devolution failed again and there was another return to direct rule” (the Guardian, 6 October 2000) have, of course, not assuaged that concern.

Those thoughts lead me to reiterate here a portion of an August 1999 letter that I sent you, Brendan (with emphasis from the original):

In earlier correspondence with you, I argued that-when the Good Friday Agreement is finally put out of its misery-negotiated independence should be affirmatively considered before an option like possible joint sovereignty is further considered; in support for that position, I suggested that the former could be fully and finally vetted and voted upon within the course of about a year whereas the latter “might only engender and entail another decade or two or more of mild misery for most and not-so-mild misery for others.”
[Based on other considerations addressed in your published writings], I would raise an additional argument here for attempting independence before joint authority: it must make great and good sense to try an approach that would be founded, if at all, upon the agreement of Northern Irelanders before trying an approach that, for better or worse, would be imposed upon them by London and/or Dublin.

On the topic of independence more generally was the following tail-end of a message that I sent you, Dennis, in September 1999:

I fully accept that the approach I suggest might fail, at perhaps a dozen or more distinct points along the way.
However, while I-and some who, unlike me, are eminent in this area of study, such as Professor Rose, Dr. Moore, Dr. Crimmins, and others-think the concept of independence offers some chance of success (are you, by the way, aware that, in 1988 and while still at QUB, Mr. Trimble wrote of independence as an “inevitability”?), you state that independence does “not offer any conceivable hope of a settlement.”
What, though, if you are simply wrong about this?
Along the lines of what I wrote to Mr. Wilson, why not put this idea to a formal test?
Would it really be that difficult for you to say, in some public manner, “I’m personally against independence, I think it wouldn’t be feasible, and I believe it couldn’t prove acceptable to the Ulster people; but, nonetheless, the fact is it has never been formally examined, yet it might be so examined in rather short order and with little or no incremental risk”?
As a teacher at QUB, you are, by definition, among the most intelligent and learned people in your community, and your community could certainly now use the skills of intelligent and learned people in this respect. I hope very much that you’ll consider the last paragraph’s question and come to an answer which will serve as justifiable grounds for both praise and pride.

Although I received from you, respectively, no direct comment upon these two messages, I did receive substantive responses-stimulated by a letter to the still-quiescent Irish Times-from you, Brendan, included in part in my below-quoted reply:

From: Paul Fitzsimmons
Sent: Tuesday, February 08, 2000 9:03 AM
To: ‘O’Leary,B’
Cc: ‘dc.kennedy’; ‘mrmoore’;
‘M.Fitzduff’; []; ‘ddebreadun’
Subject: RE: Northern Ireland

Dear Brendan:
Thanks for the follow-up.
As in earlier correspondence with you, I’ve interlaced my responses with your questions below.
And, as I’ve said before, I appreciate very much your attacking this issue in an intellectually honest way.

-----Original Message-----
From: O’Leary,B
Sent: 08 February 2000 7:27 AM
To: ‘Paul Fitzsimmons’; O’Leary,B; ‘dc.kennedy’;
‘mrmoore@'; ‘M.Fitzduff’; []; ‘ddebreadun’
Subject: RE: Northern Ireland

Dear Paul
1. Decommissioning and demilitarisation will be major obstacles to any
resolution --- including independence.


I may have already mentioned to you that Professor Rose made related comments in a May 1999 letter to me; here’s how I responded to him:
Although you are, of course, quite correct in observing that the IRA has not taken up guns to obtain an independent Northern Ireland, you go on to write: “While Protestants might accept an independent Northern Ireland, the Republican movement would settle for ‘Brits out’ plus a 32-county Ireland - whose unity would be far from complete.” (Emphasis in original.) Were such the case, it would seem to present an a fortiori case for the failure of the Good Friday Agreement, as Republicans would thereunder obtain neither “Brits out” nor a 32-county Ireland. However, and as reflected at pages 197-204, I have long felt that, if truly “fair and workable,” the new context of Northern independence would present a situation wherein the Republican movement would not be able to sustain its “armed struggle,” basically for two reasons. First, whom would Republicans bomb and to what end? Second, and perhaps more to the point, if indeed a plebiscite were ever developed such that a polling date was imminent, the public would vociferously ask whether that scheme would suffice; unless the “P. O’Neill” response was unequivocally affirmative, indicating too that decommissioning would timeously follow, it seems rather likely that Republicans could and would thereby indirectly “veto” independence by scaring away Unionists who might otherwise be inclined to vote in favor; yet, in this light and as suggested in the introduction to my enclosed letter ... to Dr. FitzGerald (with whom I corresponded substantively during the second half of 1997), I would urge[ the basketball philosophy]: “Never up, never in.”


2. Mandatory partnership government is not something that can be avoided
except through direct rule or joint sovereignty without devolution. Why
would nationalists accept majority rule, or some variation thereon, within
an independent NI?


This question forms the basis of my small work’s Chapter Nine: “Independence: A Constitutional Framework.”
Essentially, that argument states that a presidential-style democracy (advocated also by the late John McMichael and the late Dr. Stanley Worrell), as opposed to the parliamentary style traditional in the British Isles, would diffuse governmental power such that, for example, Northern Catholics would for the first time have a direct and important say in who constituted Northern Ireland’s “Executive Branch.”
Further discussed therein is, for example, how a temporary check (within that government’s Senate) against possible sectarian majoritarianism could be effected.
Very clear in this overall regard is that, even with an optimal proposal on offer, making this case adequately to Northern Catholics would be a quite difficult task. Even more clear, though, is that that effort could not possibly succeed if it were never attempted.
As with your first question, the bottom line would be that, if this constitutional proposal were unacceptable to Northern Catholics, that proposal would be “vetoed” by them at the polls. Thereafter, the situation would be pretty close to what will be a week from today.




Thanks again.


As to a potential “paradigm shift” towards possible negotiated independence, there yet remain two most fundamental questions.

First, could a fair and workable plan for independence be formulated and presented? If the answer thereto were definitively established to be “no”-which, assuredly, no one has yet done-that “long shot” endeavor would thereafter be viewed as just one more minor failure in addressing the Ulster question. Yet, if such a failure were “achieved” through sincere effort and after obtaining actual empirical evidence, it would-laudably and importantly-obviate the possibility of a merely defeatist failure resulting directly from perhaps incorrect speculation and conjecture about this political terra incognito.

Were, though, the answer to that first question established to be “yes, a fair and workable independence plan could be formulated and presented,” the second fundamental question would come into play: would that plan be accepted at the polls? My thoughts in this regard-perhaps not unlike your own-tend towards the negative, including as follows:

· More likely than not, the bulk of the Northern Ireland electorate would not put in the substantial effort it would take to understand the new proposed governmental system … but they might decide to do so (and they might even successfully encourage their political leaders to do the same);
· More likely than not, the bulk of Northern Ireland’s Protestant community would not vote to end their beloved though “Troublesome” union with Britain … but they might make that huge political sacrifice in a situation which did not also call for their political surrender;
· More likely than not, the bulk of the Province’s Catholic community would be unconvinced that their numbers in an independent Northern Ireland would adequately protect them politically … but they might instead come to understand, accurately, that “40 percent” in a proposed presidential system would be vastly different from “40 percent” in a traditional parliamentary system; and
· More likely than not, the bulk of the Ulster people, at the end of the day, would be too apprehensive to approve such a radical change … but they might apply the needed courage if a well-constructed “ready-to-wear” independence plan were in fact offered to them.

Admittedly, I think it more likely than not that, after a Good Friday Agreement failure, Northern Ireland will wind up, ultimately, with some decades-long form of London/Dublin rule. Getting to that result, however, without first attempting a governmentally-sponsored independence investigation/initiative would be another Ulster tragedy.

As Samuel Beckett wisely wrote: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Under the current circumstances, trying albeit unsuccessfully to implement a democratic initiative of negotiated independence would but constitute a noble failure.
Contrariwise, for the British and Irish Governments to move directly, by their own diktat, from a Good Friday Agreement failure to any variety of by-definition undemocratic direct rule would be ignoble, and perhaps even feckless and lazy or worse.

In light of the considerable intellectual weight each of you is able to bring to bear on the important and complex subject of Northern Ireland, I respectfully ask that you reexamine this issue and, à la Burke, lend in this regard a much-needed hand within the marketplace of ideas. “[N]ovelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation.” Thomas S. Kuhn.

Thank you once more.

Best regards,


Paul A. Fitzsimmons







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Index: Current Articles

11 Ocotber 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Just Desserts?
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'Robocop' Raid Seen as PSNI Reversion
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A Secret History of the IRA
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Immigrant Slave Labour
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Fighting the Sharks
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Academics on Independence, Part 2

Paul Fitzsimmons


Wake Up and Smell the Occupation
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From the Mouths of Babes
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6 October 2002


That Book
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"SOS - Save Our Stormont"

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Birds of Ireland
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The Right to Live
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Interview with Colombian Human Rights Worker



Willpower of Revolutionaries




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