The dysfunctionality of the perverse political entity known as ‘Northern Ireland’ is quite evident at the moment. But it is not evident to all. The current leader of Fianna Fail seems to be of the belief that a normal society is possible in ‘Northern Ireland’ and normality has been disturbed by the main problem within it – the Provos. For Mr. Martin the Provos are the main problem of ‘Northern Ireland’ when in fact they are – or were – a mere symptom of the problem.
In fact, it is grossly unfair on the Provos to describe them as a symptom of the problem of ‘Northern Ireland’ since they have tried their hardest to cure the problem itself, in one way. And having run up against a stone wall in doing so – the British State – they are now trying something different, to their credit.
The elements that make up ‘Northern Ireland’- the UUP,the DUP, the SDLP etc. keep looking to the Provos as the problem, even after more than a decade of lack of existence. They know that there is a problem and want to find it. They want to find it and have it dealt with. But in the end they will find the real problem is that which never went away y’know – ‘Northern Ireland’ itself.
But let us not hold our breath on that one.
Britain is, of course, content to see the elements it created through ‘Northern Ireland’ look for the problem in the defunct Provos. It prevents, after all, any thinking about what the problem actually is and any focus being placed on it. Britain, the most successful State in world history, did not get where it did in the world by not getting others chasing rainbows or moonbeams, whilst it got on with the business of pursuing power and influence in the world.
Britain knows that the only serious political force in Ireland is Sinn Fein. Everything else is pygmy. So it is happy to see the pygmies harass the growing Gulliver.
That brings us to Martin Mansergh’s interesting review in The Irish Catholic (27 August 2015) of ‘The British and Peace in Northern Ireland’ (edited by Graham Spence).According to Mansergh the book “contains the reflections of some leading British and Northern Ireland civil servants involved in peace negotiations”. When I read it I will hopefully publish a review.
“The price of Irish independence or limited self-government nearly a century ago was partition. While undesirable in any circumstances, partition would have been more tolerable, if there had been only small minorities either side of the border. Instead, Ulster unionists were allowed to incorporate a substantial Catholic and nationalist minority in order to maximise the number of Protestants and unionists within Northern Ireland without destabilising it.”
Mansergh is correct in stating that the price of Home Rule was Partition. In recent years it has begun to be asserted that Republicans were responsible for it (ignoring the actual architect, of course).But he is correct in saying that it was Redmondism which provoked Ulster Unionist resistance not the independence movement.
But the size of the Catholic minority is only half the issue. Mansergh makes no comment about the perverse political entity that was established by Britain on top of Partition. After all, Partition could have taken place without ‘Northern Ireland’ by simply maintaining the Six Counties as part of the UK, but chose not to.
By establishing an Ulster Unionist Government to govern a pseudo-state Britain quite deliberately ensured that Catholics would be a substantial and eternal minority alienated and antagonised by the political entity that had to live their lives within.
There is a partial acknowledgement of this by Mansergh:
“Kenneth Bloomfield, later head of the NI Civil Service, worked in the cabinet office at Stormont, and acknowledges his role in drafting Captain Terence O’Neill’s prime ministerial broadcast in April 1969, known as ‘Ulster at the crossroads’, a last-minute plea for restraint amidst rapidly rising tensions. Bloomfield comments on its weaknesses: ‘It offered no specific further reform within the existing majoritarian system, and no better deal than greater fairness within a state in which unionism would hold all ultimate power.'”
So the system was dysfunctional from the beginning, for all concerned, and it led to war.
Unionism was charged with governing that which was created in 1921 and which it never demanded – the pseudo-state. It would have been content with mere Partition but it was strong-armed into operating the governing of a large and growing and hostile minority for some peculiar reason of State. It made the “Supreme Sacrifice” of being semi-detached from the UK to fulfill an Imperial purpose as the price of remaining part of the British State.
As for the Catholics, the construction of the Unionist pseudo-state, made them impossible to lie-down.
Mansergh in commenting on Britain’s lack of a financial interest in maintaining its creation says:
“Self-evidently, given large financial transfers to Northern Ireland, which continue today, Britain has no selfish economic interest in remaining. However, as David Hill, a senior NIO official in the 1990s points out, there has been no economic incentive for unionists to consider Irish unity, and the incapacity of the Irish State to replace British transfers remains a substantial disincentive. A reduction in NI’s transfer and social welfare dependency and the establishment of a more dynamic social market economy would make for real constitutional choice, but short-term electoral rivalry and social democratic orientation pull nationalist parties in the opposite direction. This is one of many instances, where those who will the end baulk at the means. Making a stand for the welfare state and the National Health Service comes well ahead of the distant goal of unity.”
This has echoes of Fianna Fail after August 1969. I read the Irish State papers from this period a few years ago and very interesting they are too. They reveal that the Fianna Fail of Mr. Lynch were unhappy at the Republican credentials of the Northern Catholics seeing them as having become too “British Socialist” to carry through an anti-Partition struggle. They were too concerned with improving their lot within the State they lived and having too great an attachment to the benefits of the British welfare state. They were basically Redmondites/Devlinites who had never produced a Fianna Fail of their own and were chasing civil rights that if conceded would make them settle down without freeing the Fourth Green Field!
How ironic in the light of what was about to happen!
This passage seems to be a criticism of Sinn Fein in obstructing Tory welfare reform in the North. However, Mansergh seems to be forgetting that Sinn Fein is not, at present, in control of a state. It has no ability to reform the economy of any part of Ireland. It has been merely asked to collaborate in cutting the welfare benefits of its constituents. It has said no. And Mansergh does not explain how welfare reform, or even a cut in corporation tax might transform the North’s economy. That is something only a state and a governing party of state could do.
Mansergh importantly notes:
“Twenty-one years later, after being furious at the exclusion of NI civil servants from discussions on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave the Irish Government an input into NI policy making, he (Bloomfield) drafted the statement in Peter Brooke’s speech in 1990, where he declared that ‘Britain had no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland’. This was to form a foundation stone of the peace process and be incorporated in the key paragraph of the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993. Interestingly, it followed a chance discussion between John Hume and Ken Bloomfield in a shared taxi. According to the late Fr Reid, such a statement had been contemplated earlier… The missing adjective between ‘strategic’ and ‘economic’ was ‘political’, and the British in the Downing Street Declaration declined to renounce any ‘selfish political interest’ in Northern Ireland.”
It is correct that Britain does indeed have a continuing political interest in ‘Northern Ireland’. But it is actually in Ireland that the political interest lies rather than specifically in ‘Northern Ireland’.
‘Northern Ireland’ was created to be a political lever on the part of the island that was slipping away from Britain. That is why Britain imposed a pseudo-state on the Six Counties rather than just Partition. It had to be suggested that Partition was only ‘temporary’ to give the South hope it would someday regain the Fourth Green Field. To do so it had to be on its best behaviour. Any movement in the independence direction would reduce the probability of ‘unity’. And so the North could obstruct the independence of the rest of the island, whilst ensuring British hegemony on the South.
That was the dilemma De Valera faced. Although he never declared himself a Partitionist Dev chose independence before unity within the dilemma that faced him.
The Brooke formula was very clever. Britain’s selfish economic and strategic interest in ‘Northern Ireland’ had diminished by 1990 but its political interest in retaining at least a degree of hegemony over Ireland remained.
Mansergh also wrote:
“John Holmes, who managed in No.10 the transition between John Major and Tony Blair, drafted much of Blair’s first Belfast speech as Prime Minister in May 2007, in which he stated that he did not expect to see Northern Ireland as anything but part of the UK in the lifetime of even the youngest person. Holmes comments that Blair ‘had absolutely no wish or intention to reduce the size of the UK, and what this meant for the country’s role and influence in the world – for example, he hated having to go to Hong Kong a few weeks later to witness the Chinese takeover.
“There has long been a fond illusion in many quarters here that the British would like to be rid of Northern Ireland or that they are neutral about its long-term future or could at least be prevailed on to be persuaders for unity. None of the 14 interviews give any comfort on those scores. Former NIO Political Director Bill Jeffrey felt that, while British policy was not the policy of the unionist parties, ‘the NIO owed it to those who profess a British identity to have as good an understanding as possible of where they are coming from’. It is fair to conclude that no British Government is going to do anything unnecessary to hasten Irish unity.”
The British position with regard to the Six Counties could be summed up in the phrase “Out, Out!” Union is Out and Unity is Out. The point of ‘Northern Ireland’ is to facilitate neither.
It seems to be Britain’s intention to keep the region as a dysfunctional and unstable annex of the UK whilst managing it to such an extent that it does not explode again. That should always be remembered when the Blame Game starts, or continues, or whatever.
That seems perverse on Britain’s part. But ‘Northern Ireland’ has been perverse since its creation. It was made perverse by some of the greatest statesmen the world has ever known, who knew all about how states function, or don’t. So they knew what they were doing and we can take it, due to the fact that the British State has never departed from its original policy of 1920, that such understanding persists.
And after nearly a century it hasn’t gone away y’know!