I state my particular thoughts on Northern Ireland,
I would caution that you will be guilty of utter foolishness
or outright deceit if you disagree with me.
does such a statement say about an author? Is not
the righteousness of an argument itself key? Could
an authors supposed threat of intellectual ignominy
for dissenters somehow render true a proposition that
otherwise seems false?
questions crossed my mind while reading the first
sentence of the following paragraph from It
is time we saw the beam in our own eye (Sunday
Independent (Dublin), 22 December 2002) by Ruth
only fools and knaves can now dispute is that as
Garret FitzGerald pointed out yesterday a majority
for Irish unity is too remote to be of any relevance.
This is the moment for the Irish Government to tell
the Shinners the census was a reality check and
its time to shut up about a United Ireland.
The good news is that the nationalists own
goal has had positive results: while unionists will
henceforward more confidently resist unreasonable
nationalist demands, they are in a mood to be more
constructive. In the midst of rejoicing on the Shankill
Road, one Ivan Johnston spoke for many when he told
Suzanne Breen that Catholics should now accept
they would not comprise a majority in the North
for the foreseeable future and acclimatise to life
within the UK. Then we could forget all this silly
squabbling and start addressing the stuff that matters.
We all have to live in this wee place in the end.
someone who has publicly opined that the reunion of
Ireland, if it ever occurs, is indeed probably one,
two, or more generations away, I would nonetheless
disagree with the assertion that a majority
for Irish unity is too remote to be of any relevance.
I would accept that Northern Nationalists might, in
theory, decide en masse both (a) that the war
has been lost - there will be no reunion in 2016,
2026, or perhaps ever - and (b) that, since those
in favor of union were the winners and
those against it the losers, the if
you cant beat em, join em
approach should be vigorously adopted. After reaching
such conclusions, Northern Catholics could throw their
political support to whichever Unionist party offered
to support most strongly social projects or programs
important to those former Nationalists. Conversely,
persisting, in the long term, with a loser
political party solely because it is composed
mainly of Catholics would seem an unenlightened and
ultimately unprofitable position.
while such political transformations are not impossible,
the chances of them actually occurring nonetheless
seem rather low.
Precisely because a majority for Irish unity
is [not] too remote to be of any relevance.
Dr. Richard Bourkes The Good Friday agreements
built-in flaw (Financial Times, 18 December
2002) ended with the following thoughts on this point:
is the sheer burden of expectation that
a problem: the mere anticipation of an Irish union
provokes consternation on one side, while it fuels
revolutionary ardour on the other. This is hardly
a recipe for long-term moderation in the political
life of Northern Ireland. Indeed, it makes a nonsense
of the idea that the Good Friday agreement should
be greeted as a durable settlement.
would not be unprecedented in Irish history for a
group to decide that they could accept, if need be,
remaining out of political power, even for generations
more, as the price of their continuing to oppose the
political union with Britain. That eventuality would
seem more likely than the other scenarios theorized
in his Census results: a blow to republican
strategy? (Irish Echo, 25 December 2002),
Jack Holland reminds us that the now demonstrably
long span to reunion via the ballot box may itself
create immediate pressures on militant Republicans:
1991 census results were used to argue that the
Provisionals could concede on consent because within
a short time Catholics would be in a majority in
Northern Ireland. The 2001 census was supposed to
be a prelude to the population breakthrough, and
was eagerly anticipated.
The IRA, now more than five years into its latest
cease-fire, are part of a settlement that involves
the republican movements recognition of a
Northern Ireland parliament, with no commitment
from the British to leave absent a constitutional
referendum, the outcome of which, if it is held
within the next 20 years, would almost certainly
leave Northern Ireland where it is. Meanwhile, the
Provisional leadership will come under pressure
next year to disband the IRA (though not in those
terms). Will Adams and his supporters now be
able to deliver the dismantling of the IRA with
little or no prospect of a United Ireland happening
within their predicted time-frame? [Emphasis
Though [author Ed] Moloney agrees that the census
results totally destroys the leadership strategy,
he believes that for the Provisionals it is too
late to turn back.
[However,] most observers also feel that,
revolt or not, the new head count will present real
problems, especially for senior IRA members who
thought theyd live see a united Ireland in
that discussion suggests, the recent census results
effectively pose a pretty tough dilemma for those
senior IRA members: in light of current conditions,
which course of action today would show their political
strategy to have been less of a bad joke?
The IRAs standing down, thus establishing
their post-Sunningdale violence to have been entirely
for naught. Cf. Anthony McIntyre, Victory
2016 Plus 40 - Remember To Read The Small Print,
The Blanket, 19 December 2002:
unpalatable intellectual morsel to be chewed upon
and digested by those who think about the matter
is that the very purpose of the IRAs armed
struggle and its stated goal of a British declaration
of intent to withdraw was to bypass and repudiate
the demographic argument - the latter being a
British term for withdrawal. From long war to
long wait, we may be excused for musing that with
better leadership the war may have been bypassed
as far back as 1974.
The IRAs not standing down, with Direct
Rule Mark II as Northern Irelands novus
ordo seclorum and with a likely permanently stalled
for the various reasons described above, a
majority for Irish unity is [not] too remote
to be of any relevance.
Bourkes burden of expectation point
also warrants consideration of related dual
majority comments voiced before the recent announcement
of the census results on Northern Irelands current
religious composition. For example, the obviously
intelligent Jeffrey Donaldson made the following erroneous
statement, as reported in Bimpe Fatoguns A
united Ireland could be a reality (Irish
News, 16 December 2002):
at the weekend, UUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson
also stressed the need for majority consent from
within the unionist community for any change to
the status of Northern Ireland.
Nationalists cant have it both ways.
They cant claim the consent of the majority
isnt sufficient for a system of government
and on the other hand claim that massive constitutional
change would only require the consent of an overall
majority, he said.
over fifty years (see Westminsters Ireland
Act, 1949), the British policy on union
has been that the majority in Northern Ireland rules.
Indeed that policy was built directly and expressly
into the Good Friday Agreement, the very agreement
which mandated that - in order to establish, in the
meantime, devolved local government in Northern Ireland
- there would have to be specified levels of cross-community
consent in that devolved government. Thus, Mr. Donaldsons
assertion that Northern Nationalists cant
have it both ways in this respect is both utterly
unfounded and entirely contrary to objective facts.
If Unionists had wanted otherwise, they should have
voted against the Good Friday Agreement and tanked
the entire deal; quite obviously, with 71 percent
approval at the GFA poll, they did not do so in adequate
often insightful commentator Roy Garland similarly
erred in his Clouds on the horizon but spring
is near (Irish News, 23 December 2002).
Although I wouldnt doubt his basic sincerity,
I was nonetheless taken aback - in a historical sense
- by his assertion that
was people favouring Irish unity who first made
me aware of the inequity and undemocratic nature
of majoritarianism. The achievement of political
consensus for change was also essential.
typical forthrightness, Mr. Garland added regarding
reunion: Unionists perhaps need to be wooed
but they may never be won.
the late 1700s, Unionists were completely unconcerned
with the iniquitous and undemocratic annexation of
Ireland to Britain, effected to achieve their desired
ends, but it might fairly be noted that that was before
even trains, telegraphs, or photographs had been invented.
difficult to explain away is what happened, in more
enlightened times, less than a century ago. For generations
to that point, Unionists had fully and indeed gleefully
accepted the British Constitution (which, if anybody
had ever bothered to write it down, would have read
in full: Parliament rules). They supported
that constitution because it had long tended to protect
their position in favor of union, though they were
a political minority in Ireland. However, around 1910
or so, Unionists decided - in the face of the Westminster
Parliaments impending Home Rule order - to threaten
war against the British government in order to prove
their loyalty to that government and the English crown
and, perhaps more to the point, in order to skirt
the democratically manifested wishes of the majority
both in the United Kingdom and in Ireland itself.
as the concept of majoritarianism may be beginning,
for a second time, to favor the cause of Irish Nationalism,
scales are suddenly falling from the eyes
of some Northern Unionists. A majority in favor of
reunion is simply not enough, they say; there must
now be a political consensus.
in just this past week or so, many Unionists may be
seeing the demographic changes as less threatening
to their position, perhaps they will nonetheless come
to consider and understand (if not admit aloud) the
strident hypocrisy of beating their breasts for many
decades about how the majority rules on
the border issue only next to be heard bleating, when
their own long pro-union majority is diminishing,
that a new majority against union would not suffice
to break the political ties with Britain.
those Unionists who do not aspire to rend the prevailing
social contract entirely, as their forebears
did in the early 1900s, will instead take a
more honorable leaf from Dr. Paisleys political
philosophies: I would say that if the majority
of the people in Northern Ireland want to become part
of the Republic, well, as far as Im concerned,
thats it. (Quoted in P. OMalley,
The Uncivil Wars (1983), at 196.)
God help the people of Ireland if a majority in the
North ever chooses reunion and recalcitrant Unionists
then take up arms in violent opposition. In such circumstances
- and with Britain at that moment looking very much
like the proverbial bat flying out of hell - Ireland
will fight and Ireland will be right, but not before
far too many more lives there have been squandered.
- rather than planning surreptitious trips to Florida,
Eastern Europe, or elsewhere to gather weapons for
such a day - intelligent Unionists should decide that
now is an opportune moment in history to use best
their apparently diminishing demographic leverage
by trying to spark a first-ever effort to resolve
honestly and genuinely Northern Irelands long
and painful constitutional conflict. If they did so,
Nationalists and Republicans might muster the courage
to meet them squarely across a discussion table. If
such an effort failed, not only would Northern Ireland
be no worse off than it is today, but no political
party in Northern Ireland would be any worse off.
D.C. lawyer Paul
A. Fitzsimmons wrote Independence
for Northern Ireland: Why and How (1993),
available from Newshound.
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