Independent Ireland Problem of Northern Ireland

Bobby Storey: First Among Equals

The funeral of Volunteer Bobby Storey has created something of a palaver. Palavers, of course, are not unusual in the weird political construct of ‘Northern Ireland’. They are the very stuff of the communal grind and they gain extra purchase when they occur within one of the two communal blocs rather than between the two. Condemnations of a Republican show of force at a funeral are nothing new from Unionism. The interesting thing is the reaction within the Catholic community.

The view that has been expressed within the media by some ordinary, decent, right-thinking Catholics, and given extensive publicity, is that some people are more equal than others. For months relatives have had to put up with harsh restrictions in burying their loved ones, due to the Covid restrictions, and been instructed by the Executive, including the Sinn Fein leader of the North, to desist from normal practice associated with grieving. Seeing Sinn Fein flouting the directives given to the masses and doing its own thing with its own has angered a section of the community and this anger has been extensively aired in the media and latched on to by those who wish to do Sinn Fein ill, for various reasons.

The anger is understandable at a personal level. But surely, at the political level it is a case of first among equals rather than some being more equal than others. The sending off of Bobby Storey had every appearance of a State Funeral, a special event that had a status above the temporary circumstances which now regulate ordinary behaviour for individuals. If H.M. the Queen or another important Royal were to die would the restrictions imposed on the masses be applied? I very much doubt it. And there is little doubt that Bobby Storey was very special indeed in relation to the achievement of the current position of the Catholic community and the resurgence which brought it to a position of equality within ‘Northern Ireland’.

Bobby Storey was the most vigorous of spirits within that resurgence – ordinary in so many ways but special all the same. He was the embodiment of the struggle in most of its forms. From when he joined the IRA, during the high point of the Republican offensive, between Internment and the fall of Stormont, he was in the thick of the action – fighting gun battles with Crown forces, attempting to spring comrades from gaol in helicopters, serving nearly 20 years in gaol himself, organising the Great Escape of 1983, directing large and flamboyant operations like the taking over of Belfast docks by volunteers, when fleets of lorries were brought from South Armagh, to offload the captured goods to be taken south, and directing intelligence operations in the crucial period after 1998.

Could anyone within the demoralised and beaten community of the early 1960s imagine such things? Their occurrence helped demoralise the Unionist political class and their ascendancy over the Catholic community and forced the real Power in the Land to exact structural change that equalised relations between the two communities.

I have seen Bobby Storey compared to a number of figures by the political adversaries of Gerry Adams. Ed Moloney of Boston Project infamy called him “Gerry Adams’ Beria” and “Luca Brasi with brains” after the character from The Godfather. All very predictable from Moloney. Former comrade, Anthony McIntyre, compared him to Richard Mulcahy “an IRB and subsequent IRA leader who became a key player in the violent enforcement of the Treaty against those who maintained fidelity to a republican project.”

McIntyre described Storey as “an immensely courageous and determined IRA volunteer who invariably led from the front… A man of immense practical intelligence coupled with a tactical verve and… remarkably bereft of all political and strategic acumen… It is not that Bobby Storey abandoned everything he ever believed in. Politically, there was extraordinarily little he did believe in other than the IRA… His politics were those of armed resistance to the British state. When that ceased he was left with no politics… he became an enforcer for the Adams political career project.”

McIntyre rejected comparisons with Michael Collins made by some, founded on Storey’s role as Head of IRA Intelligence. Actually comparisons with Collins are very instructive. Certainly Storey was more of a fighter/soldier than Collins and spent much more time in British gaols. An argument could be made that he was an even more effective director of intelligence than Collins within the situation he operated. But his great attribute was actually the fact that he left the politics to others and then implemented agreed decisions to great effect. If Collins had left the politics to DeValera in 1921, and not engaged in statesmanship himself, on a unilateral basis, would the movement have been split by the British in the way it was? And if Collins had left the fighting to his men in the countryside and not indulged in reckless bravado in West Cork he would have preserved himself as the indispensable element for his stepping stones to freedom.

Bobby Storey had an immense task entrusted to him when he was released from prison in 1998 after the Good Friday Peace settlement. It was to organise the Republican Army’s retreat from the battlefield in the transition from war to politics. Retreating from the battlefield whilst maintaining your forces in good order and discipline is one of the most difficult of military manoeuvres. Britain, which is the most martial state in history, is well aware of how armies have been destroyed, whilst being formerly undefeated, in such a manoeuvre. Micheline Kerney Walsh described it well in her masterpiece, ‘Destruction by Peace: Hugh O’Neill after Kinsale’ and Cardinal O’Fiaich, who wrote the preface, surely communicated its lessons to Charles Haughey and Fr. Reid and Gerry Adams, who were at that time developing a new peace with the British State. Germany in 1918 was also a good case in point, for a more recent British achievement.

There were two problems in successfully performing such a manoeuvre. Firstly, the British State and its various and myriad agencies naturally wished to destroy the force that it had failed to defeat in war and which now confronted it politically. Secondly, there was always the problem of the Republican forces fragmenting and being torn apart by Republican diehards who wished to maintain the traditional position and found it impossible to accept the prospect of a political transition to the final objective, for which the war had been fought. This element was bolstered by the fact that Republicans had maintained a hostile disposition to many of the things Sinn Fein began to embrace to secure the secondary objective of the war – the equalising agenda – in the transition to the final objective. And there was a long experience of “sell-outs” through participation in the systems that were pointed to in order to preserve the core of the movement from the virus of the political process.

If the British State had got the better of the Republican movement in this process the resurgence would have been rolled back and the community position of equality squandered. And there were certainly some within the ranks, and outside, who would have been happy at this and to have said: “I told youse so!” 

There was therefore a shadow war which had to be organised by Bobby Storey against the British in the IRA’s fighting retreat. Storey established a meticulous intelligence gathering operation with assets in many important places, and he ran sleepers in significant positions within key institutions. This shadow war comprised obscure events like the Castlereagh break-in, the Northern Bank Robbery, the Stormontgate spy ring etc. It was never quite clear who was involved in these mysterious events but they were probably combinations of British/Republican activities: British Intelligence attacks on the Republican position which were warded off by very competent responses directed largely by Bobby Storey. What was proved was that the IRA remained a fighting force, not to be taken lightly by its former foe, as it metamorphosed “from a caterpillar to a butterfly, and flew away”, in Bobby Storey’s imaginative phrase.

It would have given Bobby Storey great pleasure to have seen the Republican movement take control of an area of East Belfast, in alien and hostile territory, to complete his passing. It was an operation that he would have organised himself if he had remained at the helm, and he surely would have smiled at what was accomplished in his absence.

Irish Political Review August 2020

Britain's Great War Geopolitics Independent Ireland Russia Turkey and Ottoman Empire United States

The Events of 1915 in Eastern Anatolia in the Context of Britain’s Great War on the Ottoman Empire.


A Talk given by Dr. Patrick Walsh at the London School of Economics on February 15th 2013

The events that occurred in Eastern Anatolia in 1915 should be located in a broader context than simply that of Turk against Armenian. Both Turks and Armenians were, after all, actors in a much wider drama that was unfolding in the world and any judgement about their actions can only be made with the knowledge that they were caught up in circumstances that were not of their choosing and were largely beyond their control.

Even Atatürk was an actor in this great drama imposed from outside by the Imperialist Powers – although he succeeded in assuming a leading role in it and writing a different ending to the script that was intended for the Turks by its authors.

The context of what happened to the Armenians in 1915 is left out of consideration in most discussions. An event can only be understood in relation to other events in history within the context of cause and effect. If other events are extracted then historical understanding is impossible. But it seems that this is the objective of people who wish to replace historical understanding with legal argument in deciding about such events.

Geoffrey Robertson QC wishes for historians to stop discussing the Armenian tragedy altogether. He recently declared in Yerevan that: “The historians have completed their mission, now it is the time for judges, who will demand proper punishment for guilt and compensation for the Genocide victims. It is no longer a subject of historians but judges.”  And in the ‘New Statesman’ of 10th December 2009 Robertson made it clear that the case, for him, is already closed: “… genocide is a matter for legal judgment, not a matter for historians, and there is no dispute about the Armenian genocide among legal scholars.” 

Robertson is an advocate of ‘International Law.’ At the end of the day law is policy. It is, in effect, the foreign policy of the big states in the world. By reducing the event of ‘genocide’ to law one is making it into a subjective judgement of the big states and a weapon of foreign policy to gain leverage on other states. The nature of an event and whether or not it constitutes ‘genocide’ is therefore rendered incapable of being measured in any objective way. In such circumstances it is reduced to a mere slogan.

I do not share Robertson’s faith in International Law. It seems to me to be applied only when it suits the Western Powers and forgotten about when it does not. It is overwhelmingly used to keep the ‘lesser states’ of Africa and Asia in order and to subvert their sovereignty and independence when the West sees it in its interest to do so.

International Law is applied to the ‘lesser states’ by the ‘superior’ states who appear to be above it themselves. In many ways it is the old ‘civilizing’ mission of Imperialism in a new guise of ‘ethical foreign policy’.

Something that is so partially and inconsistently applied cannot be taken seriously as having moral credibility. And if you take this kind of law seriously at all it is surely debased through its arbitrary application. So I prefer to trust in the historians.

What constitutes ‘genocide’ has, therefore, become a subjective matter – indeed, a matter for policy about whether it would be in the interests of the dominant states in the world whether some event should be termed ‘genocide’ or not for political advantage. And it is being ruled out as a matter of historical fact or a subject for historical investigation.

Reorientation of British Foreign Policy

First of all, let us make no mistake about the single most important event that made what happened in Eastern Anatolia a possibility – the 1907 agreement between England and Russia that prepared the way for the Great War of destruction on Germany and the Ottoman Empire.

For England the war on Ottoman Turkey, which resulted in the Armenian massacres, came about from a revolutionary change of policy at the start of the 20th century. England had acted as an ally of the Ottoman Empire for most of the century before the Great War when Britain was determined to preserve the Ottoman State as a giant buffer zone between its Indian Empire and the expanding Russian Empire. It was part of what was known as the ‘Great Game’ in England that ‘the Russians should not have Constantinople’ and the warm water port and access to the Mediterranean that this would have given them.

What completely changed British relations with Ottoman Turkey was the emergence of Germany as a serious commercial rival around the end of the 19th century. Britain had since 1688 practiced a ‘Balance of Power’ policy with regard to Europe. For centuries it had built its empire by keeping Europe divided and by giving military assistance to the lesser powers against any power that might be emerging on the continent. Then, whilst Europe was preoccupied with war England was able to get on with its business of conquering the rest of the world. It had the great advantage of being an island and therefore it could meddle with Europe and then retire from the continental battlefield and let others continue the fighting when enough had been gained. Its chief weapon of war, its Senior Service, was the Royal Navy, which established and controlled the world market for it. When the continent of Europe was at war the Royal Navy took over markets established elsewhere by the other European powers and in this way the British Empire went from strength to strength, both economically and in terms of expansion.

During the 19th century Britain’s traditional enemy in Europe had been France and her traditional rival in Asia was Russia. However, in the early years of the 20th century England gradually came to the conclusion that Germany was the coming power to be opposed. Therefore, it was decided to overturn the foreign policy of a century and to establish alliances with England’s traditional enemies, France and Russia, so that Germany could be encircled and then when war came about Britain would join the conflict and destroy Germany as a commercial rival. The alliance that Britain entered into with Russia in 1907, therefore, was the single most important event that made a British war on Ottoman Turkey inevitable.

This is where Russia came into the equation. As I have said, Britain was an island nation and it was primarily a sea power. It did not have a large army and it had been opposed to military conscription. It would have been impossible for Britain to have defeated Germany by itself. Therefore, it needed the large French army and the even larger Russian Army to do most of the fighting on the continent for it. The Russian Army was particularly important and it was described in England as a ‘steamroller’ that would roll all the way to Berlin, crushing German resistance by its sheer weight of numbers.

The problem for Britain was that the Russians (unlike the French who wanted to recapture Alsace/Lorraine after their loss to the Germans in 1871) had little real reason to fight Germany. Therefore, something had to be promised to the Czar for his help in destroying Germany. That something was his heart’s desire, Constantinople.

That fact should always be borne in mind when people suggest that Turkey brought the war on itself. The fact of the matter was that in order to defeat Germany Britain had to promise Constantinople to Russia and in order for the Russians to get Constantinople there had to be a war on Turkey.

Turkish historians are not alone in having overlooked the role of the famous British statesman, Maurice Hankey in these events. Hankey conducted extensive spying operations on behalf of Royal Naval Intelligence in the summer of 1907 based on the contingency that Britain would soon be at war with Germany and Turkey.

Hankey and his colleagues scrutinized the harbours and naval defences of the Ottoman Empire from Syria, through to Smyrna and Istanbul, up to Trabzon on the Black Sea. He surveyed, in particular, the coastal defences of the Dardanelles with an amphibious landing at Gallipoli in mind, to follow up a report of the Committee of Imperial Defence entitled ‘The Possibility of a Joint Naval and Military Attack upon the Dardanelles’ which had been produced in December 1906. And it was Hankey as Secretary to the CID who first proposed to the British War Cabinet in December 1914 that the pre-war plans should be put into operation as soon as possible.

The alliance with Russia was obviously the main factor that spelled trouble for the Ottoman Empire. But it was not the only factor that encouraged Britain to overturn her traditional foreign policy.

Britain began to show an increasingly aggressive attitude in relation to Istanbul as Germany showed interest in the Ottoman Empire. What worried Britain about the German involvement with the Ottoman Empire was that it was not the parasitic relationship of the other Imperialist powers. The German objective seems to have been to rejuvenate and modernize the Ottoman Empire, partly through the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, in exchange for commercial rights there. England and Russia had seen the Ottoman Empire as the ‘sick man of Europe’ and they had been waiting around for his death but now they looked on as Germany threatened to revive the ‘sick man’, and dash their dreams of conquest.

This great reorientation of British foreign policy had serious consequences for not only the Ottoman Turks but also for the Armenians. Prior to 1907 it was the Russians alone who wished to exploit the Armenians for political ends and the Armenians always had to consider the likelihood that if they rose in revolt Britain would restrain the Russians from taking advantage of the situation – and any uprising would be crushed without foreign help. The Russians complained that they were stopped in assisting the Armenians because of the Cyprus Convention of 1878 between Britain and the Ottoman Sultan. This guaranteed a British war on Russia if the Czar moved into Ottoman territory in return for Cyprus being occupied by Britain.

But this all changed in 1907. Under the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907 England and Russia agreed an immediate partition of Persia between them and envisaged a future partition of the Ottoman Empire in which the eastern provinces would go to Russia and Mesopotamia would go to Great Britain. Later, once Russia had shown its commitment to the war on Germany, in the secret Constantinople agreement of March 1915, the Ottoman capital which the British described as ‘the greatest prize of the war’ was awarded formally to the Czar.

Russian annexation of the eastern Ottoman provinces became the common program of Great Britain and Russia alike. (The fact must be emphasized that there has never been any Russian population in these provinces and that the Armenians constituted Russia’s only ground for intervention and eventual annexation.)

The pre-War Armenian revolts illustrate this point very well. In 1894-6 The Armenian nationalists believed they had got signals that the intervention of the Great Powers would take place if they could provoke the Ottomans into a harsh reaction. They attempted to do this but found that Britain had not changed its position at this point and Russia, therefore, could not act. In 1909 in Adana there were further raised expectations of foreign intervention amongst Armenian groups. However, Britain needed the preservation of the Ottoman Empire until Russia was prepared to advance against Germany in a European war. The result was disaster for the Armenians after they had initiated killings in the hope of foreign intervention only to be left to face the consequences of their actions from their neighbours, alone.

By 1914-5 England was in alliance with the Czar and all restraint was removed from Russia and the Armenian nationalists. Mayhem and mutual killings were instigated in the Ottoman Empire by the Entente Powers to bring about its collapse and to facilitate the absorption of its parts into the empires of Britain, France and Russia. In a general war situation which threatened the very existence of the State in which the Armenians lived and which forced them to choose between it and their deliverance by the Great Powers catastrophe for either them or for local Moslems was always going to be the most likely outcome.

Position of the Armenians

As I have said, the context is all-important.  The Russians and the other Entente Powers had every interest in stirring up Armenian rebellion to further their war effort while the Ottomans had every interest in preserving good relations with the Armenians.  Sean McMeekin’s book ‘The Russian origins of the First World War’ describes a 1908 Russian General Staff memorandum expressly specifying that ‘agents from the Christian population’ would cut off rail lines to Constantinople… whereupon native Christians would ‘burn down all the wooden bridges spanning the Golden Horn and set fire to Stamboul’. McMeekin comments: “A more explicit blueprint for using Armenians (and other Ottoman Christians) as a fifth column for an invading Russian army could scarcely be imagined.” (p.146)

Intention is a very important element in judging the nature of an event. The Ottomans had no objective interest in creating an Armenian ‘genocide’.  Their interest lay in maintaining the Armenians as a loyal and functional community within the Ottoman State and the C.U.P. would undoubtedly have preferred it if the Armenians had remained that way.

The breakdown in Ottoman State infrastructure and authority caused by the British blockade and by the invading Allied armies was the major factor in turning the position of Armenians and other Christian groups from one of mainstays of the commercial infrastructure of the Ottoman Empire and “the loyal community” into a problematic element within it. And since the objective of the Allies was the destruction of the commercial life of the Ottoman State through invasion and blockade what future, indeed, had the Armenians in it?

Lately I came across a speech by T.P. O’Connor made in the House of Commons during the debate on the Treaty of Lausanne. O’Connor was one of the last remaining pro-Imperialist Irish MPs left in the British Parliament after the Irish Party had been smashed by Sinn Fein in the 1918 General Election. He made an impassioned plea on behalf of the establishment of an Armenian state in Anatolia, which, he said, had been abandoned in the Treaty signed by the British Empire with the resurgent Turks.

The bulk of O’Connor’s speech is taken up with quotations expressing British support for the Armenians during the war and detailing the betrayal of the Armenians by the Entente after it. However O’Connor also credits the Armenians with having played a vital role in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, despite attempts by the Turks to gain their loyalty. It is interesting in relation to the matter of context. O’Connor said:

 “Let us trace what happened to the Armenians during the War. Turkey was in a tight place. She made every effort to obtain the support, or at least the quiescence, of the Armenians. She offered them autonomy when assembled at a National Congress in 1914. She applied the condition that the Armenians should join Turkey in carrying on the War against the Allies. The offer of autonomy was, of course, very attractive, but the Armenians declined to accept it… Not only did the Armenians refuse this insidious offer, but they actually sent 200,000 Armenian soldiers to fight the battle of Russia, then one of our Allies, and it was their splendid resistance, when The Russian army broke down, to the Turks in the Caucasus which helped us finally to win the War. I believe I am right in saying that nearly 200,000 Armenian soldiers lost their lives fighting for the Allies during the War. If it makes no appeal to our humanity, I think that enormous sacrifice in face of immense temptations gives the Armenians a supreme right to our gratitude…” (House of Commons Debates, 28 March 1923)

 As O’Connor states whilst the Ottomans attempted to retain the loyalty and service of the Armenians with concessions the Entente Powers sought to use them in their destruction of the Ottoman State. And when the Armenians were no longer useful and Atatürk had established Turkey as a power to be reckoned with, the Entente just left them high and dry.

Unfortunately for the Armenians, they, like other peoples in strategically important areas during 1914-18 found themselves being used as pawns in a new ‘Great Game.’ After being encouraged to insurgency and to try to form themselves into a national entity (that was never a practicality given their dispersion across Ottoman territories) they were quickly discarded and forgotten when their interests no longer coincided with those of their Great Power sponsors.

Edward Frederick Knight, the famous journalist from ‘The Times’ of London wrote in 1910: “Armenia is now but a geographical expression, and ancient Armenia has been partitioned between Turkey, Russia, and Persia. The Armenians in Turkish Armenia are vastly outnumbered by the Moslem population; and the creation of an independent Armenian principality, desired by a section of the revolutionists, was obviously an impracticable scheme. The more sensible Armenians realised that the only alternative for the rule of Turkey was that of Russia, and the experience of their brethren across the border had proved to them that, of the two, the rule of Turkey was to be preferred; for under it they enjoyed a measure of racial autonomy and various privileges — much restricted… which the Russian Government, ever bent on the Russianisation of the nationalities subject to it, would certainly have denied to them.” (‘The Awakening of Turkey’, p.80)

The Armenian nationalists relied upon external forces as the only means of creating an Armenian state within Ottoman territories. This was because they were a relatively small minority in Eastern Anatolia, constituting only about 1 in 6 of the population of the Ottoman lands they claimed. Only through outside help from a Great Power and extensive ethnic cleansing of their Moslem neighbours could they achieve their nationalist objective.

The two main uses that Britain had for the Armenians were: firstly, to encourage American participation in the war and secondly, to cultivate and construct a case against the Ottomans in order to justify the incorporation of Moslem lands into the British Empire after the war.

These were the primary interests of Britain in them and not their well-being or that they should be governed well. That can be seen in the way Britain failed to press the Armenian case after they had acquired Mesopotamia and Palestine and how they put the Blue Book (Lord Bryce and Arnold Toynbee’s account of the ‘Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire’) back on the shelf, perhaps for use on a future day.

After the Great War Britain had it in her power to bring about an Armenian state and to try those it had accused and detained in connection with the deaths of Armenians. But, despite attempting many things in the world that were immensely more difficult at the time it decided not to follow through with these two measures, as if it did not take the claims it made against the Turks as seriously as it pretended to, during the war.

Genocide and extermination

The Armenians did not possess land or resources required by the Ottoman Turks for any colonial programme. The major area in which they lived was mainly of interest to the Ottomans because it contained substantial numbers of Turkish and Kurdish Moslems. This can be compared with cases in other places in the world where natives were in possession of territory which Britain and the other Imperial powers required for their empires.  I am thinking of North America and Australia, particularly.

The policy of extermination of ‘inferior’ races that Britain carried out in the name of progress was openly proclaimed by Charles Dilke and many other important Imperial writers in the 19th Century. Dilke stated frankly and proudly in his immensely popular book ‘Greater Britain’ that the Anglo-Saxon race was the most effective genocidal force in world history: “The English everywhere attempt to introduce civilisation, or to modify that which exists, in a rough-and-ready manner which invariably ends in failure or ends in the destruction of the native race… A gradual extinction of the inferior races is not only a law of nature, but a blessing to mankind… The Anglo-Saxon is the only extirpating race on earth. Up to the commencement of the now inevitable destruction of the Red Indians of Central North America, of the Maoris, and of the Australians by the English Colonists, no numerous race had ever been blotted out by an invader.” (p.223.)

The word ‘extirpation’ is a much stronger word than the word ‘genocide.’ ‘Extirpation’ means the intentional and planned, total and utter destruction of a race. ‘Genocide,’ according to Article II of the 1948 Convention is a much wider legal concept under which practically all of the European nations could be charged for their activities between 1941 and 1946, when various peoples settled accounts with each other and vast amounts of ethnic cleansing and killing were done. But there does not seem to be any will to engage in such a process.

In effect, the word ‘genocide’ has meant the partial destruction of a people since ‘extirpated’ people no longer exist to commemorate their destruction.

Nothing like the ‘extirpation’ practiced by European colonialism is applicable to the Ottoman State in relation to the Armenians or any other minority within the territory of the Empire. In fact, the Ottomans were criticized by British writers for their easy-going tolerance of races which, it was suggested, was leading to the demise of their empire. The British Social Darwinists were, in particular, appalled at the way the Ottomans had inter-married and incorporated other races into the governing of their empire and had blended aspects of their cultures into the Ottoman mix. In those days of Empire the British believed in a distinct racial hierarchy and saw ‘race-mixing’ as an abomination and fatal to the ‘racial stock.’

Nationalism and War in the Near East’  by George Young, ‘A Diplomatist,’ edited by Lord Courtney of Penwith, and published by Oxford University Press in 1915 (at the time of the Armenian relocations) is a good example of this argument. The British and Ottoman Empires were seen as having entirely different notions of race and governing. It was argued that the British Empire was successful because it was founded on the principle of racial and religious distinction and hierarchy whereas the Ottomans played ‘fast and loose’ with these categories to the extent that, in the English biological view, they contravened the ‘laws of nature’, leading to an inevitable Ottoman extinction.

Arnold Toynbee in his famous work ‘Study of History’ argued that the Anglo-Saxon inclination toward ruthless extermination of other races was due to the inspiration that the savage Old Testament of the Christian Bible had on Protestant powers like England and America. He noted that Catholic Imperial powers, like Spain and Portugal, tended to try to convert subject races to Catholicism before inter-breeding with them. England rejected such a policy in the name of racial superiority and the preservation of a master race of Empire.

Such ideas, that were prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon notion of ‘progress,’ would have been seen as inexplicable to the Ottoman Turk.

A few years ago the British historian, A.J.P. Taylor reviewing a book about the Irish Famine of 1847/8 for the New Statesman (12.11.62), under the title ‘Genocide’ compared Ireland under British rule to one giant concentration camp, like Belsen. This analogy provoked a hostile reaction in England. However, the Liberal Government were simply doing in their policy what Dilke later praised by allowing the potato blight to get rid of the ‘human waste’ through famine. And in the same century Britain took to clearing an awful lot of territory in the world of its ‘human waste’ to create great waste spaces that the superior form of humanity – the Anglo-Saxon could colonize.

The long-term tendency of British policy in Ireland was genocidal from Elizabethan times. Of course, it was a failed genocide because it could not be sustained long enough to be fully effective. But there was nothing of this type of activity evident in Ottoman policy toward their minorities.

The point I am making is that if there was a racially genocidal spirit at hand in 1915 it was to be found on the opposing side to the Turks – amongst the Anglo-Saxons who had obliterated races across the world in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘civilisation’ and the creation of new great white settler nations, in the continents of America and Australasia.

Hitler may or may not have uttered the notorious question; “Who remembers the Armenians?” But the Armenians are remembered today to a much greater degree than the many races that perished as a result of the expansion of England across the globe. These races are now footnotes in history while the Armenians have had hundreds of books dedicated to them.

It was not those who killed the Armenians who inspired Hitler. The race he admired most and who he tried to emulate in the world was the Anglo-Saxon (The evidence for this is laid out most comprehensively in a book by the Armenian born Manuel Sarkisyanz entitled ‘Hitler’s English Inspirers’.)

After the war, when Atatürk had triumphed over the British, he was very generous to the enemy. But let us speak plainly here. Those who sailed into Gallipoli were representatives of the great genocidal nations of the world. The Turks surely would have seen what these ‘extirpating’ nations had done across the world to native peoples they had conquered and could have expected the same to be done to them. Those who invaded from the East had been responsible for the clearing of more than a million Caucasian Moslems within living memory. And I have read many British accounts from the period that speculated about what would happen if the Turks ‘disappeared’ without any concern for what would happen to the inhabitants of the State in such an event.

So who knows what might have happened to the Turks if the Czarist State had not collapsed in 1917 and Atatürk had not seen off the British and their allies in 1922.

The use of the word ‘genocide’ with regard to what happened to the Armenians during the Great War is an attempt to connect Turkey with Nazi Germany and what it did to the Jews. However, a much better analogy would be what happened on the Eastern Front during the Second World War when different groups of people became destabilized by the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Here terrible things were done as state authority began to collapse, society began to return to its elements and people struggled for mere survival in the circumstances.

In 1915 the Russian and British invasions of the Ottoman Empire had a similar effect. The Russians and British invasions raised expectations so that some were willing to exact retribution on people they had grievances against and, in turn, those people exacted revenge on them. No one quite knew under whose authority they would exist when the war was over and therefore all restraint was removed on behaviour. It was under these circumstances and in this context that the relocation of Armenians took place and the mass killings of both Christian and Moslem peoples.

The problem of Nationalism

Attributing intention – as opposed to discovering actual intention – seems to take a large part in deciding what constitutes a ‘genocide’ these days and this seems to count more than actual deeds in determining what is ‘genocide’.

The cultivation of nationalism was a British Liberal tactic used to break up multi-national Empires of rival powers in the nineteenth century. It worked by sowing the seeds and cultivating the harvest of nationalism in them – whilst denying and repressing it closer to home. In this way Britain sought to undermine enemies or states it saw as rivals by destabilizing them through their ‘national’ minorities – whilst doing everything to repress and subdue minorities within their own Empire, of course – as they did in Ireland.

So the clearance of Armenians from Eastern Anatolia should have been seen, from the British perspective, as a ‘progressive’ development, since it was the culmination of the general process that England encouraged with regard to the Ottoman territories and elsewhere in the world. The responsibility for what happened to the Armenians and the other minorities that existed relatively peacefully within the Ottoman Empire for centuries must be placed, therefore, primarily at the hands of those who attempted to destabilize and ultimately destroy the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.

The importation of nationalism into the Ottoman Empire for the purposes of weakening it and gaining leverage for the Great Powers there is very much at the root of what happened to the Armenians.

Nationalism was a most unsuitable thing to promote in the region covered by the Ottoman Empire where a great patch-work of peoples were inter-mingled and were inter-dependent. Its promotion in the region by the Entente powers was as disastrous for the many Moslem communities of the Balkans and the Caucasus, who were driven from their homes of centuries, as it was for Christians caught up in the inevitable consequences of the simplifying process it ultimately encouraged.

The catastrophic effect of the Balkan Wars on the Ottoman Empire are often absent from Western accounts of this period. These, beginning in the time of Gladstone, sought to focus on Ottoman ‘atrocities’ against subject peoples, particularly Christians, and ignored the widespread ethnic cleansing and genocide that was practised on Moslems by the Balkan Christians and against each other once the Ottoman State began to disintegrate and after when the Turks had gone.

The Ottoman Empire had been a tolerant multi-ethnic Empire for hundreds of years, in which different races and religions had lived side-by-side in comparative peace and harmony. For instance, alone out of all the states in Europe at the time, the Ottomans accepted the entry and settlement of Jewish refugees fleeing from persecution so that these people could contribute their talents to the commercial life of the Empire.

As a result, the Ottoman Empire became the most successful example of collaboration between different peoples in history. This collaboration was sometimes accomplished through bribery, corruption, dealing, trade-offs and the occasional massacre (that encouraged the settlement of disputes between the various peoples before they became full scale wars). But from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries peoples of diverse races and religions intermingled contentedly and successfully under Ottoman administrations and even the Balkans became a relatively peaceful area.

If there was antagonism between Christian and Moslem in the region it was primarily the result of the Russian Imperial expansionism of the previous three centuries which had seen Tatars, Circassians and Abazians driven from their lands into the Ottoman territories. Armenians took the place of Moslems in the Erivan Khanate in what is modern day Armenia. During the 19th Century the vast ethnic cleansing of Moslems in the Caucuses by Russia and in the Balkan Wars (1912/13) by the emerging Christian nations set off a wave of inter-ethnic violence and population movements that set a pattern for the history of these regions during the 20th Century.

Raphael Lemkin, who Geoffrey Robertson describes as ‘the legal architect’ of the UN Genocide Convention, interestingly attempted to categorize the phases of Genocide: “Genocide has two phases: one, the destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor.” (‘Axis Rule’, p.78)

The Ottomans never attempted anything like this in relation to the subject races of the Empire. The Millet system did not even encourage assimilation and provided for the maximum expression of each community’s ‘national pattern’ – in great contrast to British Imperialism. It would not be going too far to suggest that there is a connection between what happened to the Armenian community in Anatolia in 1915 and what was done to the Moslems of the former regions of Ottoman Empire that were conquered by Christian powers in the years before and during the Great War.

If the Balkan Wars had one great effect on the Ottoman Empire and its Moslem inhabitants it was to begin to shatter the long-held faith in multi-ethnic communities existing together in mutual benefit that had characterised of the Empire for centuries. And the influx of large numbers of Moslem refugees amongst the Christian communities within the Ottoman Empire must surely have had serious consequences for public order as soon as Anatolia itself was threatened by the Western powers and state authority removed. They would have feared the worse for themselves and their families and be determined it would not happen again.

There would inevitably have been a gradual loss of faith in the multi-ethnic principles of the Ottoman Empire after the experience of the Balkan Wars. We know that some deputies in Istanbul called for a clean break with the Empire’s Imperial past advocating a withdrawal from territories that were not predominantly Turkish and a future reliance on the Moslem people of the Anatolian heartland as the one and only trusted basis of the nation. Such sentiment began to be expressed in publications that took the Western view that the Ottoman Empire, not being based on national principles, would collapse like a house of cards. This development is sometimes called ‘Turkification’ by those wishing to attach the label of ‘genocide’ to what happened in Eastern Anatolia.

In the course of thinking about this issue I read the QC Geoffrey Robinson’s Opinion; ‘Was there an Armenian Genocide?’ Robinson knows that intent is very important in legal matters and tries to suggest that the Young Turks “developed the kind of race supremacy theories that are particularly associated with a build-up to genocide. For example, the racist idea that Turanian nationality was a badge of superiority… public sub-humanising of minority groups… extreme nationalist fervour, demanding a ‘warrior nation’ to prevent the decay of the Turkish race…” (p.15)

Robinson is more accurately describing the characteristics and ideology of British Imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth century than he is the attitudes of the Ottomans to the peoples they governed. For instance, Karl Pearson, a Professor of Mathematics at this (London) University gave a famous lecture in 1907 about the ‘superiority of the Aryan race’ and the only ‘healthy’ option facing it: “that he should go and completely drive out the inferior race. That is what the white man has done in North America… The Australian nation is another case of a great civilisation supplanting a lower race.” (National Eugenics, Robert Boyle Lecture, 1907)

Robinson can present no evidence of a significant racialist body of writings that inspired and justified a programme of genocide like that of the English Social Darwinists in the late 19th Century. It is also clear that the Ottoman State did not actively pursue a policy of religious homogeneity in 1915. Events from then to 1923 certainly resulted in the heterogeneous Ottoman State giving way to the largely homogeneous Turkish Republic. But this was due to circumstance more than anything else.

In 1915 the Ottoman Empire was collapsing under the weight of problems that came to it from Europe and the C.U.P. looked for solutions to its predicament in that direction too. It had been a multi-ethnic state based on a healthy disregard for any notions of racial hierarchy. But what was being imposed upon it from the West, in the name of ‘progress’, was the requirement that society should be based on the nation state rather than a multiethnic/religious combination, with as much racial homogeneity as possible.

If some Ottomans began to lose faith in the multi-ethnic character of their Empire this was a consequence of a process instigated by Liberal Britain and Tsarist Russia in order to destabilize the Ottoman Empire. If a small minority of writers succumbed to British Social Darwinist ideas of ‘progress and civilisation’ then were they not merely coming up to the benchmark set and propagated successfully by British Imperialism? However, the continuation of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire did not require a genocidal policy on the part of the Ottomans but the establishment of a nationalist Armenian state in Anatolia did.

This was because, unlike the Greeks and Bulgarians in the old Balkan provinces of Ottoman Europe who possessed majorities and many of the elements of nationhood, in none of the eastern provinces did the Armenians constitute a majority of the population. So whilst it was comparatively easy for Greeks and Bulgarians, once Western ideas of nationalism had reached them, to enlarge the autonomy of their own community institutions into territorial independence, any attempt to transfer Armenian autonomy from a religious to a territorial basis was quite another matter. The population of the modern eastern provinces was such that a restoration of the old Armenian Kingdom was impossible without overcoming six centuries of history through the construction of a homogeneous Armenian State. That would, of necessity, have involved the ethnic cleansing of large numbers of Turks and Kurds and almost certainly have required a policy of genocide against them to achieve a functional and stable Armenia (At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference the area claimed for an Armenian State was gigantic and included territory as far west as Sivas and Adana).

The Ottoman State was an established functional entity built upon the peace and stability of six centuries whereas an Armenian State in the region would have been inevitably a violent revolutionary affair. These types of constructions are rarely good for any minorities that might find them obstructing the necessary process of ‘nation building’. Turks, Kurds and other non-Armenian groups in the new state would have more than likely been exterminated or been driven out.

The question of intention is also relevant. There are instances in which population movements involving slaughter were planned and done intentionally.  For instance, the area bombing of Germany during WWII by the RAF had the intention of killing the German workforce. It was planned and refined with the intention of maximising working class casualties within dense population areas. Nagasaki & Hiroshima also come to mind.

There were also huge population movements conducted by the British in Malaya and Kenya during uprisings, about which little was known until recently. The Harvard professor, Caroline Elkins reveals in her book, ‘Britain’s Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, that the British detained almost the entire population of Kikuyu, one and a half million people, in camps and fortified villages. Thousands were beaten to death or died from malnutrition, typhoid, tuberculosis and dysentery. In many of the concentration camps, which were authorised at the highest level, almost all the children died. In the camps the inmates were tortured or used as slave labour and above the gates were slogans reminiscent of Auschwitz, such as “Labour and freedom.” The British did not bother with body counts, most victims were buried in unmarked graves and files were destroyed to cover up official direction. But tens of thousands died in the camps and during the relocations. Undoubtedly, the intention was to teach the support populations a lesson they would not forget in a hurry. And this was in the last half century, after the crimes of the Nazis had been exposed and people hung at Nuremburg.

It is not at all a convincing argument to suggest that the Ottomans had any intention or plan to wipe out the Armenians. There was a complete absence of such an ideal in Ottoman literature and the appliance of the basic historical principle of cause and effect suggests that the relocations were a practical response to an emergency situation, however badly they might have arguably been handled.

The Ottoman Response in Context

In the spring of 1915 three events precipitated and provoked the Armenian relocations: the Gallipoli landings by the British, a large ambush in Zeytun by Armenian insurgents which resulted in the deaths of 500 Ottoman soldiers on the main supply route into Syria and the Armenian rebellion at Van, which resulted in a massacre of Moslems. In April, Lord Bryce (of Blue Book fame) and the ‘Friends of Armenia’ in London made a widely publicised appeal for funds to equip Armenian volunteers fighting behind Turkish lines.

Any State will protect itself, if attacked, and these three events, which took place right across Ottoman Turkey, with the Russians on the advance into Anatolia, placed the State on an emergency footing of the highest order. Population movement was the primary defensive measure taken by the Ottoman State in relation to these events and the position of the Armenians. And most of the deaths occurred incidentally to this emergency measure.

The Russian reform campaign of 1913-14 had left little doubt at Istanbul that Russia aimed to annex Turkey’s six eastern provinces over which she had declared a proprietary interest – which was the usual preliminary to an Imperial power declaring a formal protectorate and annexing a region.

In the period between the outbreak of war in Europe and before the declarations of war on the Ottoman Empire the Russians had began arming the Armenians in preparation for invasion. The invading Russian armies brought with them Armenian groups armed with Allied weapons whose main purpose was to kill Turks and Kurds – which they proceeded to do. British and Russian agents circulated amongst the Armenians behind Turkish lines and provided them with weapons and money to enable them to create general disorder. In the Armenian capture of the city of Van and the general massacre of Moslems that followed Ottoman soldiers were diverted and prevented from reaching the front to fight the invading Russian forces. All these factors influenced the Ottomans to relocate the Armenian population from the area.

And along with the Armenian relocation there was also a relocation of up to 800,000 Moslems from the war-zone. But when the Ottoman authorities moved various peoples out of the war zones they became prey to other groups with scores to settle, such as the Kurds on the Armenians. Moslem civilians faced similar problems as they fled the attacking Russian armies only to be harassed by armed Armenian bands. And I have seen figures of up to 500,000 Moslems killed by Armenians, with extensive lists of names and modes of death recorded by the Ottoman authorities.

Even before 1915 Eastern Anatolia resembled a powder-keg. The Kurdish tribes were exceedingly well armed and virtually sovereign in the areas they roamed. They and the Christian townsmen, bought arms from the Russians and frequent skirmishes occurred between different groups. The Russians flirted with using the Kurds as well as the Armenians as instigators of chaos in the region prior to the war. Order was only maintained by an Ottoman presence between the various elements. If that presence were removed, as it inevitably would in war-time, it was predictable as to what would occur.

‘Relocations’ were the standard military response to guerrilla warfare waged behind the lines at the time. A decade and a half before the Turks relocated the Armenians the British ‘relocated’ Boer and African civilians away from the war-zone in the Transvaal – into concentration camps. This was not a defensive act conducted in response to encirclement, invasion and rebellion – as was the case in Anatolia in 1915 – but was done in the course of an aggressive expansionism aimed at neutralising a population resisting conquest.

The United States also conducted ‘relocations’ with regard to the native Americans putting them into reservations. And this was after multiple genocides were carried out over centuries on the American continent to establish the United States.

Britain conducted its ‘relocations’ and confinements in stable conditions, controlling the seas around Africa, under no pressure of blockade, with plentiful availability of food supplies, in a localised conflict fought in a gentlemanly way by their opponents. And yet they still managed to kill tens of thousands of Boer and African women and children in the process. It was called “methods of barbarism” at the time but I have never seen it called ‘genocide.’

The Armenians were not imprisoned by the Ottomans but resettled away from the war-zone. It is probable that the majority survived the forced migration into Syria and Armenians away from the war-zone in Istanbul, Izmir and Edirne were largely left alone. Therefore, the character of the Ottoman actions suggests they were more of a defensive emergency war measure than an aggressive colonial or extirpating campaign, practiced by the Imperial Powers.

The difference between what the British did in South Africa and what the Ottomans attempted to do in eastern Anatolia in 1915 was that the Ottomans were confronted by a much stronger enemy and assault on their state. The Armenian relocations were conducted in a situation of external invasion, blockade, starvation, inter-community killing and the general lawlessness of a collapsing state apparatus.

There was also a more recent example of relocations for the Ottomans to consider. In January 1915 the Russians and Armenians responded to an Ottoman offensive by massacring upwards of 50,000 Moslems in Kars and Ardahan. This was followed by extensive relocations of Moslems who were behind the Russian lines and in the potential war-zone.

Prof. Cicek’s book, ‘The Great War And The Forced Migration Of Armenians’ shows that the Ottomans did not have the intention of destroying the Armenian population in the course of moving those out of the front-line fighting areas and military security zones:  he shows that there were attempts to care for them in various ways. The Decree for the locations issued by the Ottoman Government insisted that those who were being moved should be cared for, protected and adequately fed and preparations were made to this effect. However, the war conditions imposed on the region by the Entente invasions and blockade ensured that such conditions could not be adequately met.

The whole relocation exercise was conducted under the watchful gaze of missionaries and diplomats sympathetic to the Armenians. The atrocity stories employed by the British propaganda departments are largely based on their (mainly) hearsay reports. To compare this with the Holocaust, where defenceless, peaceable Jews were relocated into Labour and Extermination Camps, with no foreign diplomats or missionaries to intercede for them, is quite unjustified.

The Christian Missions themselves have some responsibility for what happened to the Armenians. The Ottoman State was subject to a growing tide of missionary activity, particularly from the Anglo-sphere, before the Great War.  The mainly Protestant missionaries offered educational opportunities to Christians and a support base for emigrants. Moslems were impervious to conversion: it was the Christians that were susceptible.  This missionary work, which the tolerant Ottomans unwisely permitted, broke up the homogenous Armenian community (and other Christian traditions too).  In this situation, Nationalism gradually replaced Religion as a cohesive force in the Armenian communities. The missionaries also engendered dissatisfaction with the existing Ottoman arrangements.  The Christian missions had extra-territorial status and they acted in conjunction with their own governments and under their protection, outside the normal Ottoman governing system. All these factors tended toward the development of Armenian communities that were antagonistic toward their neighbours and undermined the existing social relationships that had preserved the peace for centuries.

There is a great double-standard at work here. Britain always wants to judge what happens elsewhere in the world in moral terms, quite apart from context. It judges what other countries do on grounds of high moral principle, but takes a very pragmatic view of its own conduct in the world.

That is why Turkey finds itself in the dock for the Armenian ‘genocide’ but Britain never seems to face any charges about its conduct in the world.

Hunger Wars and Starvation Blockades

The British blockade of the Ottoman Empire, which began even before the formal declaration of war, was carried out with the intention of starving Ottoman citizens to force them into surrender and encouraging a general collapse of Ottoman society into anarchy. A similar blockade was organised against neutral Greece to encourage regime change and her enlistment in the Allied ranks.

A significant component in the large numbers of deaths in Anatolia was the conditions brought about by the general lack of food in the region. This was largely caused by the military encirclement of the Ottoman Empire and the Royal Navy blockade organised in the seas around it.

It is difficult to ascertain exact statistics on the modes of deaths of victims in the Armenian tragedy. However, the effects of malnutrition and associated diseases are bound to have played a very large part. We are fairly certain that hundreds of thousands died in Syria and Lebanon during this period as British forces prevented food from being supplied from Egypt and Entente warships blockaded the coasts. Turkish soldiers in Mesopotamia and Palestine starved to death in their tens of thousands and the death toll from Typhus reached fifty per cent of the population at times. According to a recent study by Edward Erickson seven times as many Turkish soldiers died from illness than from wounds received in battle. In Eastern Anatolia where there was an absence of roads and railways transportation of food and medical supplies would have been very difficult, even if they were available.

Thousands of people moving around as refugees from the invading armies of Britain and Russia and the Royal Navy blockade, in chaotic conditions, with the transportation system collapsing, with bandits preying on them under the collapse of order, with the general shortage of food and with primitive sanitation conditions leading to famine, hunger and disease, inevitably resulted in a general reverse to a state of nature in much of the outlying areas of the Empire, particularly in Eastern Anatolia, the war zone between Russia and the Turks.

I have seen it argued that it was the neglect and incompetence of Ottoman authorities that were responsible for such high levels of deaths amongst its own soldiers, prisoners of war and the civilian populations within the blockaded area. However, it must be remembered that Germany suffered nearly a million deaths in some estimates from the starvation blockade organised against it by the Royal Navy. Germany was a highly organised society with great skills of improvisation that helped it to hold out against blockade for four years. However, it too failed and was ground down by the irresistible force of the Royal Navy.

Hunger and famine have been significant methods of British warfare for centuries. In the seventeenth century they were used by Crown forces to suppress Irish resistance in Ulster. In the nineteenth century during the Irish famine (which the Ottoman Sultan tried to alleviate with aid) at least a million of the population were left to die and more than a million forced out as a useful policy for weakening Ireland for conquest. The same was true of the famines in India presided over by Lord Curzon and others, not to mention what happened in Persia under the British occupation of 1917-19 (Dr. Mohammad Gholi Majd in ‘The Great Famine and Genocide in Persia, 1917-1919’ estimates that as much as 40% or 10 million of the population of Persia was wiped out because of starvation and the associated diseases when the British seized the country’s food supplies for its armies of occupation.)

Taking these considerations into account I cannot see how the Ottomans can be held wholly responsible for what happened in Eastern Anatolia. Those organising the invasions and blockade must surely have been aware of the effects of their war policy on the general population within the encircled area. It was designed to kill large numbers, regardless of race or religion, encourage the spread of disease, weaken the population and produce general disorder and conflict within the Ottoman State. And it accomplished all of these objectives.

Before the war considerable effort had been put into calculating the effects of blockading Germany on its civilian population. It had been openly speculated in the British press that not only would it lead to mass starvation, disease and social revolution but, in true Social Darwinist fashion, it would also weaken the German racial stock. It would be foolish to believe that any other eventuality would have been entertained in relation to the appliance of blockade to the much less developed state apparatus in the Ottoman lands.


The logical implication of all this is that if what happened to the Armenians in 1915 is to be described as ‘genocide’ we must look much wider for those responsible than just within the C.U.P. and Ottoman authorities directly responsible for relocating the Armenians. Firstly, there was the responsibility of the Anglo-French and Russian invasion forces whose arrival in May 1915 signalled that the destruction of the Ottoman Empire was a distinct probability. Secondly, there was the exportation from Europe of Social Darwinist ideas of race homogeneity as the ideal type for societies. This undermined the old heterogeneous Ottoman attitude toward race that had promoted ‘live and let live’ in the Empire. Thirdly, there was the promotion of nationalism from Europe in order to destabilise the Ottoman State and make multi-ethnic units impossible.

If the deaths of Armenians are seen as ‘genocide’ the powers that were most responsible for it were Britain and Russia (and to a lesser degree France). In the interests of destroying Germany and conquering the Ottoman territories they made the Ottoman State an impossible place for Armenians to live in the space of a few months after they had lived in it peacefully for centuries. If we are to talk of an Armenian ‘genocide’ and insist on an official apology we must put these countries in the dock first because without their actions it would never have happened.


Some Athol Books publications:

  • The Great War And The Forced Migration Of Armenians

by Prof. Dr. Kemal Çiçek

  • Forgotten Aspects Of Britain’s Great War On Turkey. 1914-24

by Dr. Pat Walsh

  • Remembering Gallipoli, President McAleese’s Great War Crusade

by Dr. Pat Walsh

  • Britain’s Great War, Pope Benedict’s Lost Peace: How Britain Blocked The Pope’s Peace Efforts Between 1915 And 1918 by Dr. Pat Walsh
  • The Rise And Fall Of Imperial Ireland. Redmondism In The Context Of Britain’s War Of Conquest Of South Africa And Its Great War On Germany, 1899-1916 by Dr. Pat Walsh
  • The Politics Of Pre-War Europe: The Catholic Bulletin on Peace, War And Neutrality, 1937-1939. Introduction: by Dr. Pat Walsh
  • Preposterous Paradoxes of Ambassador Morgenthau by Şükrü Server Aya
Independent Ireland Problem of Northern Ireland

Meanwhile in Ireland…

Irish Political Review Editorial of April 2020 

Sinn Fein And The Fog Of Party Politics

The Treaty parties have run out of steam.  They were rejected individually by the electorate, and they were rejected even as a pair.  They were rejected because they became a pair.  And they became a pair when Fianna Fail rejected its heritage as the anti-Treaty party and became a Treaty party.

Martin Mansergh, one-time adviser to Fianna Fail Taoiseachs, made the going in this development.  Now, reviewing the outcome in his column in the Irish Catholic, he remembers that Fianna Fail came out of Sinn Fein and he envisages reunification.  That would be entirely against the grain of the development which he helped to set in motion, and it is hard to see where in Fianna Fail the political capacity survives to attempt such a thing.

Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin has given a firm understanding not to collaborate with Sinn Fein under any circumstances.  Irish Times columnist Pat Leahy says “there is no way that Martin can or will change his mind on this”, and that his position has been bolstered by the statement “from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris agreeing with the assessments of the PSNI and the British government that the Provisional IRA’s army council still oversees Sinn Fein” (Feb. 22).  Harris is, of course, a British political policeman, drawn from the PSNI, who was put in control of the police force of the Irish state.  But Martin’s intransigent stand had nothing to do with British influence.  It was all his own idea.

Conor Brady, a former Editor of the Irish Times, writes in the British Sunday Times that “Sinn Fein Can’t Shrug Off Security Risk Fears, and that

“Embedded links to the IRA and its violent past will continue to haunt the party’s ambition to enter government in the Republic”  (March 1st).  And the Irish Times of March 7th has an editorial entitled, “Sinn Fein:  Getting Used To Scrutiny”.

Sinn Fein is the most scrutinised party there has ever been in Ireland.  Its whole life has been lived under close police scrutiny, accompanied by a continuous propaganda barrage directed against it by all other parties and by the established media.  That it was the war party in the North was known to everybody who voted for it and made it the most popular party in the South.  And the fact that it is part of the combination Sinn Fein/IRA has been rammed home every day for fifty years.  There is no secret past to haunt it.

What must be haunting the Treaty parties is the mess they have made of the business of governing the country by undermining themselves as a viable party system.

If they persist in their present stance of refusing to phase Sinn Fein into the business of governing the South—or, as Leahy puts it in his hysterical way, if they “will not crawl away leaving the stage to MacDonald”—the outcome is likely to be another Election with a significant increase of Sinn Fein seats.  And, if it wins a majority of the Dail seats, what then?  It has been widely described as Fascist by members of the Establishment.  Can a Fascist party be admitted to power in the state just because it wins an Election?  Is that not said to be the great mistake made in Germany in 1933?

Conor Brady is an Appeaser.  He assumes that Sinn Fein will be allowed to govern.  But—

“The night before Sinn Fein ministers are given their seals of office… the night skies over the garda depot in the Phoenix Park would not glow with burning files—but only because the data systems are now computerised.  It is certain that great volumes of sensitive data would be dumped, wiped or hidden away.  By definition, the relationship between the government and the state’s security agencies would be altered.  Garda and military chiefs would have more than a little difficulty relating to new masters who insist on referring to the Republic of Ireland as ‘the Free State’ or ‘the south’ and to Northern Ireland as ‘the six counties’.”

This is with relation to 1932, when Fianna Fail—the Anti-Treaty Party—won the election against the Free State governing party, which had been directing a draconian “law and order” policy against it.

Fianna Fail was then regarded by Free Staters as being little more than a front for the IRA. And the IRA was seen as being Communist.  It would have been a serious matter indeed if the Free State party had refused to concede state office to the Dail majority.  The IRA had revived strongly since the defeat of 1922-3 and the electorate had freed itself from the spell of the Free State terror of that period.  So, rather than revive the Civil War on unfavourable terms, the Free State party gave way to the Dail majority and relinquished office to Fianna Fail.  But, before doing so, they destroyed the documentary evidence of what they had been up to for ten years.

Fianna Fail governed with the support of the Labour Party for a year.  In 1933 it went to the country again and gained an outright majority.  The Free State Party (called Cumann na nGaedheal) then remade itself as a Fascist Party (Fine Gael), under the leadership of General O’Duffy, for the purpose of saving Ireland from Communism.  Leading academics supported it with learned books about the imminent danger of Communism under Fianna Fail.  But Fianna Fail stabilised the situation by winning every General Election until 1948.

Fintan O’Toole is made of sterner stuff than Conor Brady:

“What Sinn Fein has to confront, sooner rather than later, is that it can’t continue to legitimise the ‘armed struggle’ of the Provisional IRA without giving exactly the same legitimacy to every other gang that puts a different adjective before those three sacred letters:  continuity, real and new.  Shouting ‘Up the ‘Ra’ is not a performance by historical re-enactors—it is a live device, primed to explode into contemporary reality”  (Sinn Fein Has To Stop Legitimising Terror.  Irish Times, Feb 25).

To admit Sinn Fein to the legitimate politics of the South before it has somehow de-legitimised the means by which it brought about a functional settlement in the North confers a general right to make war on any group which cares to assert it.  Is that not the meaning of O’Toole’s tortuous paragraph?  And does it not follow that preservation of the legitimate order of the State requires that Sinn Fein be kept out of Office by whatever means are necessary?

Sinn Fein is in the Northern Government—insofar as there is Northern Government.  It got there by making war on the State.  That war was legitimised by the peace settlement which ended it.  Northern Ireland is more settled under that settlement than it ever was before.

What is now demanded of Sinn Fein by the Irish Times is that it should de-legitimise itself as a successful war party in order to fit itself for admission to government in the South.  How might it do this?

And there is another difficulty.  The State on which the IRA made war, and with which it made an advantageous peace settlement, having established its credentials in a long war, was not a legitimate State in the view of the Constitution of the Irish state in which Sinn Fein has now become a major party.

We know that very well because we picketed the Department of External Affairs in Dublin, early in the Northern war, with a demand that the sovereignty claim over the Six Counties in the Irish Constitution should be repealed as a contribution to peacemaking in the North.  No party in the Dail supported that demand, nor did any TD except Jim Kemmy, nor did any newspaper (including the Irish Times).

The only State the Provisional IRA has made war on is the British State in the Six Counties, which was illegitimate according to the Constitution of the Irish state.

During the War the Courts of the Irish State, in accordance with the Constitution that bound them, rejected extradition warrants from the illegitimate British regime in the North.  And, when the Dublin Government, in 1973, signed an agreement with Britain which seemed to recognise the legitimacy of the British State in the Six Counties, it was taken to Court for acting in breach of the Constitution.  The responsible Ministers were Garret FitzGerald and Conor Cruise O’Brien.  Their defence pleading in Court early in 1974 was that they had only made a de facto agreement with Britain which left the sovereignty claim over the Six Counties intact for any future Government to implement.  The Court accepted this defence, but made it clear that recognition of the Northern regime as legitimate would have been unconstitutional.  And that was what undermined the first power-sharing arrangement in the North, the Sunningdale Agreement, which Ulster Unionists had entered into on the understanding that Dublin had withdrawn its sovereignty claim over them.

When a State de-legitimises another State that is a subversive act against the other state, to put it mildly.  When the British State declared that it did not regard the Syrian regime as legitimate, that was a deliberate act of subversion.

The Treaty regime recognised British sovereignty in the Six Counties, but it did so with a bade grace, and only because the British Government would not otherwise have established it in power in the 26 Counties.  When the Anti-Treaty movement came to power ten years later it revoked that sullen submission to British sovereignty in the North and the Treatyites did not challenge it on that ground.  The new Constitution, adopted by referendum a few years later, specifically asserted de jure sovereignty over the Six Counties.  When Fine Gael eventually came to power in 1948 it launched a great propaganda offensive against the illegitimate British regime in the North.

The legitimacy of the State on which the new IRA declared war in 1970 was not recognised by the Irish State until the IRA had fought its way to a basic and orderly restructuring of the British system in the North in 1998.  It was only then, and with the permission of the IRA, that the subversive sovereignty claim by the Irish State on the British State in the Six Counties was repealed.

Britain recognised as being legitimate in fact—as having been necessary—the party that had made war on it.  It would have gone further in that direction if Dublin had entered into the spirit of the 1998 Agreement.  But Dublin was more concerned with fig leaves than with political facts, and its Establishment has now suffered accordingly.

Sinn Fein was a war-party in the war against the British State in the Six Counties.  The Constitution of the 26 County State declared that the British State in the Six Counties on which the IRA made war was illegitimate, and was a usurpation of Irish sovereignty.  It held that position throughout the Northern War.

The IRA did not declare war on the 26 County State, and the 26 County Courts interpreted the Constitution as entitling IRA members who had been active in the North to take refuge in the South from the British justice system in the North.

The Provisional IRA did not make war on the Southern State.  The Official IRA did so to some extent, and it contemplated revolution against the Southern State, and it condemned the Provisional IRA for being purely national in its outlook and basing itself on the nationalist community in the North in its efforts to free itself from the stifling conditions the British State had imposed on it.

Official Sinn Fein never became a serious electoral force in the South but it was given major influence against the Provos in the Dublin propaganda apparatus.

There are no clear Constitutional grounds for the decision of the Dublin Government to treat the Provisional IRA as being in rebellion against it when it made war on the Constitutionally illegitimate British regime in the North.

It might be that its reasoning was that the assertion of de jure sovereignty over the Six Counties by Article 2 of the Constitution, though its implementation was suspended by Article 3, still gave it the authority to decide whether there should be war on the illegitimate British regime, and that the decision did not lie with the actual nationalist community in the North, which suffered from the illegitimate British rule.

No Dublin Government ever explained what it thought the combination of Articles 2 and 3 meant in practice.  But the Courts decided that it meant something, and interpreted it in favour of the IRA.

The IRA was not in any ordinary sense a war party against the Southern State.  It looked to the Southern State, in the light of its Constitution, to be a place of safe retreat, and the Courts upheld it in that view (until very recently when it extradited a republican to Northern Ireland in respect of action taken a generation ago).

But Sinn Fein is now being treated as having been a war party against the Southern State, and therefore being ineligible for taking part in Government.  That is the current position of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

And that position seems intelligible to us only if the assumption is that the nationalist community in the North owed allegiance to Dublin and that the Northern decision to make war on the British regime, which the Constitution of the Southern State said was illegitimate, was an act of treason against Irish sovereignty, because Dublin Governments did not authorise it.

But we doubt that there was any reasoning at all on this question.  Dublin Governments, in anything seriously involving Britain, have been afraid of their shadows.

And there is at any rate no serious comparison to be made between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail in 1932.  Fianna Fail had made war on the Free State and not at all on Britain.  And the Free State Government had committed war crimes against the anti-Treaty movement if that term had any meaning at all.  And nothing of that kind exists between FG/FF and Sinn Fein today.  FG/FF are just lost in the ideological fog in which they concealed themselves during the Northern War.

Fintan O’Toole lives in a world of sensationalist journalist abstraction.  So he writes about a newly-elected Sinn Fein TD, who won against all the odds:  “Shouting ‘Up the Ra!’… Is a live device, primed to explode into contemporary reality”?

How can that be?  Because the Provos—a hastily-formed group—asserted in 1970 the right to fight a war in the North, and they fought it to a negotiated settlement, and they took Government Office in the negotiated settlement, and they refuse in retrospect to brand themselves as murderers.

Therefore anybody who utters the magic slogan :  “Up the Ra!” can do in the South what the Provos did in the North, make war?

This is the world of Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves.  The slogan there, as far as we recall, was Alka Shazam!, which caused the rock to move.

This ‘Up The Ra’ magic is a “toxic tradition” O’Toole says.

Ferghal Keane (the one who is “a senior foreign correspondent with the BBC”) describes it as “the most toxic political word in the state” (Irish Times, March 17).  He says “the IRA past is not history, at least not in the sense of something that has vanished into an unmarked grave”.

How could it be when the state itself is a product of it, as Keane acknowledges.  And he looks hopefully to Mary Lou to exorcise the magic, to purge the poison:  “Her performance… has been surefooted, and she is surely in a strong position to set in motion a critical examination of the past.”

There was a moment when Mary Lou seemed very willing to disown the past and treat the state brought about by IRA action as worthless, and open the way for a comprehensively bland and nondescript future, such as would meet with the approval of a Foreign Correspondent of the BBC.  But that moment seems to have passed.

In case it hasn’t, here is Keane’s helpful advice to her: 

“She could become the first republican leader in Irish history to say that we must speak all the truths of war and not just those that damn our enemies.  This period of centenaries reminds us well of the absence of honesty in the wake of the War of Independence and the Civil War.  Our new state groaned under the weight of suppressed trauma and buried lies…”

It seems to us that “our new state” dealt with its conflicts (most of which were imposed by Keane’s State) openly and vigorously, first in war and later in politics, and, instead of being weighed down with an overstuffed unconscious filled with traumas, appears almost to have no unconscious but to exist entirely on the surface.  Freud is reported as saying that the Irish could not be analysed for lack of a problematic Unconscious.

They could now do with a bit of history.  And what history is there is the past half-millennium if resistance to British subjugation by the “Ra” is left out of it?

Keane’s ideal of Irish normality is of course West Britain.  He hails from Kerry but is by profession a British propagandist.  The BBC is a British State institution.  The issue was put to the test in the North when Vincent Hanna, then the presenter of Newsnight, got the notion that the BBC was an independent Guild of broadcasters and broadcast an interview with Martin McGuinness and Gregory Campbell, contrary to Government instruction, and was sacked—and the Board that authorised it was purged.

The rule that the BBC was obliged to be “impartial” but was forbidden to be “independent” was enforced on the dissident propagandists.  The meaning of “impartial” was that it had to act within the parameters set by the Government and the Official Opposition, giving expression to their views but not going beyond them.

With a bizarre debating point, Keane OBE has aligned himself against the IRA that brought its war to an orderly conclusion, by citing the fragment of it that resigned in order to continue the war to a bitter end.

David Cullinane, on winning the Waterford seat, reminded us that a Northern Hunger Striker, Kevin Lynch, had contested it in 1981 and lost.  Cullinane’s victory demonstrated how opinion in the South had moved towards the IRA which had fought the war in the North to an orderly conclusion.  He reflected that this may be of some consolation to Lynch’s family.  So, Up the Ra!

Not at all!,  says Keane OBE.  The Hunger Strikers rejected the settlement made in 1998.  The Provo leaders sold the Hunger Strikers down the river:

“Recalling the hunger strikes of 1981 and the memory of Bobby Sands, he [Cullinane] spoke of Sinn Fein’s electoral triumph as a “fantastic moment” for Sands’s family if they were watching.  Not quite.  The Sands family’s most prominent voice is Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, who has publicly denounced Sinn Fein’s pursuit of electoral politics.  At Bobby Sands’s mother’s funeral in 2018 Sands-McKevitt turned on the Sinn Fein IRA leadership, accusing them of breaching the family’s trust.  To the bitter enders of the dissident movement, the sight of David Cullinane shouting ‘Up the Ra’ will have been obnoxious, for very different reasons than those felt by the victims of the IRA…”

In wars there are victims on all sides, and war is the most permanent and universal feature of all public human activities.  And the State which Keane OBE serves as a propagandist has made more wars than any other in the last few hundred years.  But the relevant matter is not the victims but the participants.  The non-belligerent victims of Hiroshima were killed in order to exert pressure on the Japanese Government to make an unconditional surrender and save some American military lives.  Their killers have never bothered their heads about them, but the killing at least had an identifiable purpose—unlike that of the Dresden fire-bombing when the War was all but over.

The opinion of participants are what are relevant to the matter under discussion.  Adams and McGuinness persuaded most of the leaders of the IRA that a functional settlement could be made which would transfer the momentum of the War to politics, and this was carried through.  A minority regarded this as treason.  Many of them were induced by Official IRA member Lord Bew, and by journalist Ed Moloney, to take part in an exercise intended to discredit Adams and damage the Agreement.  They were interviewed on record at Boston College.  The tapes were supposed to remain secret until they became politically irrelevant, but Moloney could not contain himself and drew attention to them.  The State prosecution then demanded access to them and got it.  And the witnesses against Adams found themselves being prosecuted on the basis of what they said about themselves on the tapes.

What they said against Adams was dismissed by the Courts, because it was said in response to leading questions by the interviewers and there was no devil’s advocate.

Lord Bew’s Boston College escapade at least had the merit of demonstrating the political acumen of the opposition.

O’Toole reflects sententiously:

“The most awesome acts—the irreversible annihilation of human beings—require a much lower standard of authority than the mundane day-to-day business of governmental administration.  The mandate for murder is much more cheaply purchased than the mandate for fixing potholes.”

And he gets paid good money for that!

There is no standard of authority for making wars.  War is a lawless activity.  Laws of war were supposedly established by the United Nations but they have only ever been applied by victors against vanquished.

On O’Toole’s view the Provos were a murder gang.  The nominal authority for killing in the Six Counties was the British Government.  It did not commission the Provos to kill.  It reserved the right of killing to itself.  The Dublin Government, which asserted de jure authority, did not commission them either.  The Provos did it on their own authority.  And if they had the right to do that, then everybody has the right to do it, and therefore everybody can do it.  And therefore things will fall apart in the world if Sinn Fein does not recant, and does not condemn the IRA as a murder gang, and thus repeal the anarchic right of everybody to make war, which they asserted fifty years ago!

*The regime under which the British State has been governed for a little over 300 years was founded by an act of war in breach of law.  Edmund Burke, the most constitutional of British political philosophers, admitted that this was so, but he thought it was not a fact to be dwelt upon and extrapolated into a precedent.  Revolutions do not result from precedents.  And wars by a people against a regime are not caused by principles, good or bad.  And if a people rebels against a powerful State, and the war is carried through to a successful outcome, that fact is of itself proof that there was sufficient reason for it.  The  particulars of situations are what matter.

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Sir Roger Casement on the Ottomans and Armenians in Britain’s Great War

pdf from Studi irlandesi. A Journal of Irish Studies, n. 8 (2018), pp. 135-151 DOI:


StIr 23373-50853-1-PB

EU Independent Ireland Problem of Northern Ireland

Brexit And Northern Ireland

Editorial, Irish Political Review, March 18

The strange British device called Northern Ireland was based on an antagonism of two stable populations with fixed ideas, which we described fifty years ago as two nations. One of those populations ruled the other in local Six County affairs then, while the basic services of state were laid on by the Westminster Government, in which neither of them was ever represented.

That arrangement led to a war, and it had to be scrapped as a means of ending the War. It was replaced by a local system of government in which there was no central body of the kind that is usually meant by the word Government. Departments of government were shared out between the two populations to be conducted independently. They were not Departments of a general Government conducted by a Prime Minister. Each population had its own Prime Minister, called a First Minister. There were two First Minister—formally a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister, but the Deputy was in fact a Second First Minister, and was in no way subordinate to the First First Minister.

That 1998 Agreement abolished the pretence that there was a general Six County body politic on which a general Six County Government could be based.

We supported it in 1998 as a means by which the antagonism of the two stable populations could be transferred from war to peace. What we supported was the letter of the Agreement. There were others who supported it for what they said was its spirit, which was a spirit of reconciliation.

Twenty years later it is being said that the Agreement failed because it clearly has not reconciled. If there was anything in the letter of the Agreement that could be reasonably understood as having the purpose of reconciling, it might be said that it has failed But there isn’t.

The Agreement worked because its actual arrangements were based on acceptance of the fact of irreconcilable antagonism. Devolution got a second innings on that basis. It failed when a couple of parties to it became discontented with its successful operation in accordance with its letter and opposed it on the ground that it was not achieving what was not achievable.

The devolved system has now been out of operation for a year. The BBC story is that Sinn Fein brought it down. In fact it was the SDLP that brought it down.

The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, had mismanaged her Department very badly in an administrative matter, some years earlier.

The Second First Minister, Martin McGuinness, did not want to make a great issue of this. He wanted to fudge a way through it—which could be said to be in the spirit of the Agreement. It was the SDLP that made a great issue of it. The SDLP had lost out to Sinn Fein in the Nationalist sector of the electorate because John Hume’s successor, Seamus Mallon, did not seem to know just what the Agreement was that John Hume had played a large part in negotiating. He lost his way in a private republican fantasy of his own. Sinn Fein, whose military wing was the main force that compelled changes to be made, then displaced the SDLP as the major Nationalist Party and it made a working arrangement in accordance with the letter of the Agreement with Paisley’s DUP.

The SDLP, relegated to secondary status in the Nationalist electorate under the Agreement, rejected the letter of the Agreement by forming itself into an Opposition within the Agreement system. The Ulster Unionist Party, which had similarly lost out to the DUP, did likewise. The two losing parties then combined against the Agreement system as an Opposition and refused to take up the Departments under it which their vote entitled them to and which the spirit of the Agreement required them to do. And the tiny Alliance party followed suit.

The implication of the SDLP stance was that the Agreement should be scrapped and replaced with a voluntary Coalition under a general system of Government. It therefore made a great constitutional issue of Arlene Foster’s mishandling of the wood-burning affair, making it inadvisable to Sinn Fein to fudge a way through the crisis.

The SDLP knew fine well that, if the Foster/McGuinness co-operation was brought down, setting up a replacement after an election would be problematical. So it was. And so it is. And the SDLP itself has not profited at all from what it did.

An Irish Language Act is now the issue. The London and Dublin Governments thought that, by coming to Belfast, they could overawe the locals and hustle them into agreement. They had not learned from half a century of experience that hustling just doesn’t work in the Six Counties.

It seem to have just clicked with Unionists that the Irish language issue is not a piece of nonsense on a par with Ulster Scots.

Forty years ago we were conducting a vigorous campaign to bring the Six Counties within the democracy of the state of which they are a part. What that meant in practice was getting the parties that govern the state to organise and contest elections in the Six County region of the state. One meeting at which this was discussed was attended by Ken Maginnis, the personification of bluff Fermanagh Unionism. He said that if he agreed to this project he just could not return to Fermanagh and face his Catholic constituents after he blighted their hopes.

He was not the only one who took it that, if the democratic politics of the state came to the Six County region of it, that would kill off Nationalism. We couldn’t see that at all. But it was enlightening to hear from a solid Ulster Unionist that he was concerned that the Catholic population in the North should continue in the rut established for it in 1921.

Dublin Governments were intended to provide back-ups for the Nationalist community under the Agreement, while the Government of the Union state reassured the Unionist community.

But Dublin refused to play its part. The basic reason for this that it refused to admit to a special relationship with the Nationalist community and insisted that its concern was with the entire population of the North. This was its official stance, even though everyone knew that the Unionist community refused any association with Dublin.

Until 1998 the Southern Constitution asserted that there was a single national community in the whole of Ireland, and it could be said that Dublin Governments were therefore prohibited from being guarantors of one of the national communities in the North against the other. But in 1998 that provision of the Constitution was repealed. Its repeal was a condition of the Agreement. That left Dublin free to take up what was in fact its natural alignment in the internal affairs of the North.

Its failure to do so was connected with the rise of Sinn Fein as an effective political party in the South as well as the North, and Sinn Fein was a painful reminder to both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail of where they had come from. In 1998 they had both been working on a denial of their origins for about a quarter of a century. That was their way of coping with the War in the North. They were in denial about social realities in the North. And they could not admit that what led to the War in the North was the communal structure of subordinate government outside the democracy of the state, that the British Parliament imposed in 1921.

Shrinking minds could not bear the weight of the thought that Britain itself, the Mother of Parliaments, was responsible for the War in its Irish region. Britain had to be excused, except perhaps of some secondary negligence. So what was the cause? History was the cause. And history was the movement for national independence. History had to be re-written, and the North kept out of mind as far as possible.

The concern about the North that has sprouted up during the past year is spurious. It is only displacement activity connected with Brexit.

NB: The brief Haughey period is an exception to what is said above.

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New publication from Manzara Verlag


Independent Ireland Problem of Northern Ireland

Brexit and the war of the worlds

Editorial from The Irish Political Review December 2018:

The 26 County Government says it will not tolerate the restoration of a Border between the part of the island which it governs and the Six Counties in the North which are part of the British state. It means that it will not tolerate a Customs barrier.

In a bygone era it denied the legitimacy of the Irish region of the British state. Its Constitution asserted de jure sovereignty over the whole island. It repealed that assertion of sovereignty in 1998, after the IRA ended the War that it declared on Britain, on condition that the system of British government in the Six Counties was altered substantially in the interests of the large nationalist minority in the North.

The Dublin Governments had not in any sense been a party to the War between the IRA and Britain. This war was not in any sense a resumption of the Anglo/Irish War of 1919-21. It was a war declared by a new IRA, born out of the undemocratic, sectarian system of British government in the Six County region of the British state. Every Dublin Government during those 28 years condemned the War that the IRA declared and waged on its own authority.

The legitimacy of that authority as stated can be disputed, but the reality of support for the War by the undemocratically-governed nationalist populace is a fact beyond reasonable dispute. And the terms on which the War was settled were a substantial alteration in the British system of undemocratic government in the Six County region.

Dublin Governments throughout the War were disapproving onlookers, except for Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds, who acted as intermediaries towards a settlement.

The Northern War of 1970-1998 owed nothing to Dublin Governments. They had no part in it. The terms on which it was ended demonstrated that it was—as this journal had maintained throughout—a British affair caused by the undemocratic mode of government that Britain chose to impose on the Six Counties as a means of enacting Partition.

Dublin Governments, while condemning the IRA for waging war on Britain on the issue of Northern Ireland, kept the clause in the Constitution which denied the legitimacy of British government in the Six Counties. And then they repealed that assertion of de jure Irish sovereignty in the North after the IRA agreed terms with Britain for ending the War—just as if they had been a party to the War.

Repeal of the sovereignty clause in 1971, when we demonstrated at the Department of External Affairs building to demand it, might have made a difference to the course of events in the North. Repeal in 1998 was at best an empty gesture.

There were grounds in the pre-1998 Constitution for action against a British border within Ireland. Article Three suspended action to give effect t to the sovereignty assertion of Article 2. Enforcement of sovereignty was left to the discretion of Governments.

In 1974, when the Government was charged with breaking the Constitution by signing the Sunningdale Agreement, its legal defence was that it did no more than recognise the fact that there was a British government in the Six Counties. Doctors C.C. O’Brien and Garret FitzGerald, the Coalition spokesmen on the North, said that their merely factual acknowledgement that there was British government in the Six Counties did not prejudice the right of any future Government to act to enforce Irish sovereignty.

The Constitutional assertion of sovereignty over the North was repealed, to no useful purpose in 1998. British government was recognised as legitimate. So what Constitutional grounds would there be for action by a Dublin Government to prevent Britain from establishing Customs posts along its Border?

The Border did not cease to be a Customs barrier because of any Dublin pressure on London, or any Anglo-Irish Agreement. It happened as a by-product of Ireland joining the EU following Britain in a British Isles sort of way. The sense of national purpose in the state was at a low ebb when it happened. The Establishment middle class of the nation had trivialised itself. It was shamed by the War in the North and it sought refuge from itself in Europe. And, apart from the fiercely resented Haughey period, it was cannon-fodder for Britain in its long, largely successful, campaign to divert the EU from its original purpose.

. . . And Now!

In its negotiations on Brexit, Britain has found itself in a novel position: in the past it has negotiated ‘unequal treaties’ with other countries—treaties in which its own force and might are brought to bear on the other party to secure arrangements to its own advantage and the disadvantage of the junior party. On this occasion the balance of power lies with the opposing party, and Britain must rely on its wits and statecraft to extract the best deal it can.

Ireland is, for the first time, on the stronger side in the negotiations. However, that advantage can be dissipated if it handles Unionist susceptibilities in its usual uncomprehending manner.

After Brexit there must be a comprehensive political, legal and economic barrier between Britain and Europe. The question is whether this division will occur between mainland Britain and the island of Ireland or run across the UK Border with the EU—the old Irish Border with Northern Ireland.

Tory MEP Charles Tannock has called for a referendum to be held in Northern Ireland, to allow for continued membership of the Customs Union and the Single Market after the UK leaves the European Union. At first sight this seems an attractive option: to seek democratic endorsement for the Special Status for Northern Ireland, which the EU negotiators—including Ireland—are seeking to extract from Westminster. The EU is demanding this Special Status, as one of the ‘Red Lines’ upon which agreement must be agreed before negotiations proceed to the next stage, the trade relationship between the UK and Europe.

Given that Prime Minister Theresa May is constrained by reliance on DUP votes to maintain her party in power, this is a way that Special Status for Northern Ireland could occur. Unionists are opposed to Special Status as creating a barrier between themselves and the UK, while it is universally advocated on the Nationalist side. But they could hardly withdraw from the ‘Confidence and Supply’ agreement with the Conservatives on the issue of giving the Northern Ireland democracy a say on a matter of such crucial importance—particularly as Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in the UK referendum of June 2016.

However, is such a referendum on Special Status desirable?

In a Special Issue in January 2017, this magazine took the view that, rather than relying on constitutional novelties, people in Northern Ireland should be allowed to experience the reality of separation from the EU—the ‘hard border’ in Ireland—before being asked to vote on Irish unity.

However, that is a cumbersome approach in the sense that Ireland—as the EU country with a land frontier with the UK—would be required to erect an expensive Border apparatus on the island, an infrastructure that would not be required if a majority in Northern Ireland decided to remain in Europe.

That said, however, Ireland will undoubtedly have to regulate an EU external Border with Britain, regardless of whether it falls across the island or in the middle of the Irish sea.

Some years ago Athol Books published The Economics Of Partition, which showed that Northern Ireland formed part of the British capitalist market and concluded that there was a corresponding political expression of that interest. Things have changed a lot since then: the heavy industry which characterised the North, an industry for which the British market was an essential, has been decimated. The Northern Ireland economy is now tailored to the larger European market: agriculture springs to mind here, but there are also other areas. Undoubtedly any new edition of that book would see a very different picture.

The essential point remains that the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to vote on whether to remain in the EU—and thus leave the British polity. Such a vote may overlap the national division in the North but it also transcends it. Many European nationals have made their homes in Northern Ireland and there may be sections of the Protestant nationality which see their interests better served in Europe.

A Border Poll—as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement—should be held not long after the UK has formally left the EU.

While there may be diehard Unionist satisfaction at new barriers being erected against the Republic of Ireland, that emotion is matched by Nationalist anger—low-key at present, but bound to rise.

If an arrangement for this division to be measured by objective voting is not made now, there is likely to be civil unrest in connection with Brexit. Chris Hazzard, the Westminster Sinn Fein MP, has predicted that any attempt to impose a ‘Hard Border’ across the island of Ireland will be met by civil disobedience. In response, Unionists point out that such a movement in 1969-70 led to armed struggle.

While a full-scale war about the EU/UK Border looks unlikely at this stage, there is no doubt that things could get messy if no avenue of political remedy is provided to those who are being subjected to the constitutional injustice—as they see it—of eight DUP MPs creating a Hard Border in Ireland.

EU Independent Ireland Problem of Northern Ireland

‘Northern Ireland’ and Democracy

Editorial from Irish Political Review November 2017:

Brexit seems to be going ahead, but there is no Northern Ireland Government to tend to Northern Ireland interests in the process of it. The two Governments are worried by this and they are urging Northern Ireland to get a Government so that it can tend to the interests of Northern Ireland. What does Northern Ireland have an interest which could be tended to if it had Government?

Northern Ireland is an empty formula: a Constitutional abstraction which does not reflect a political or social reality. It is transcendent. It exists beyond reality. In the reality of things, Northern Ireland today, as ever, exists in two incompatible parts. Until 1972 one part held free dominance over the other. Since 1998, because of a War that was fought in the interim, the two parts became independent of each other. Its new form of government, established under the 1998 Agreement between Whitehall and the IRA, and a subsequent agreement between Ian Paisley—”Ulster Says No!—and Martin McGuinness—the Republican war leader—consists of two groups of autonomous Ministries, each representing one of the parts, which pull in opposite directions.

It is perhaps fortunate for Northern Ireland, as a transcendentent constitutional abstraction, that it does not have a Government at this historic juncture. It would aggravate the antagonism of the parts without having any power of decision.

The parts decide in the light of their own particular interests whether to form the subordinate Government of discordant parts or not. That right of decision Is all that exists in the way of democracy in the Six Counties.

Those in Dublin and London who berate Sinn Fein and the DUP for not agreeing to form that unusual form of government just now do so for concerns of their own. Neither Dublin nor London has any representative in connection with the North.
The Irish Times—the Southern Unionist paper chosen by Fianna Fail to be the national paper of record—Editorialises (October 19) that—

“the people of Northern Ireland are being denied the benefits of a properly functioning government. Tribal politics and sectarian-style considerations are threatening to overwhelm the commitments to peace, diversity and compromise that formed a basis of the Belfast Agreement. It does not have to be like this. Northern Ireland’s leading parties have more to gain from compromise than they have to lose… Last week, it seemed that agreement might be reached… Michelle O’Neill appeared willing to fudge…”

There is no evidence that Michelle O’Neill was willing to trample on her electoral commitments. And the “sectarian-style tribal politics”—what we described as a national difference forty years ago—was what the Good Friday Agreement was based on and gave official structure to.

The Irish Times then proceeds to hold the Northern parties—but essentially Sinn Fein—responsible for the—”recent cuts… A functioning Executive would be in a position to disburse the additional funding secured by the DUP” in return for giving its handful of votes at Westminster to the Tories so that they could form a Government.

Northern Ireland is never without a Government. And the Government is always Whitehall, regardless of whether a subordinate façade exists at Stormont. Westminster has absolute power of government in the North. “Recent cuts” were brought in by Whitehall against the wishes of the subordinate Government, overriding the authority devolved to the subordinate.

Whitehall has always had the authority to govern the North in any way it pleased. The main services of the state have always been run by the appropriate Whitehall Departments. And, since 1998, there has been specific provision for a Whitehall Department that can function as the devolved Northern Ireland Government when the Northern Ireland parties—which exist only because the British governing parties have always boycotted their Northern Ireland concoction—cannot be got to form a subordinate government and take the blame.

There have been calls for the Six County parties to live up to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. When this cry was first raised in 1999, we pointed out that it had no spirit. To have a spirit it would have had to be negotiated between the two national communities in the North. It was never that. It was negotiated between Whitehall and the IRA after a 28 year War that Whitehall despaired of winning. John Hume of the SDLP (but not the SDLP) and Charles Haughey of Fianna Fail (but not Fianna Fail) acted as influential intermediaries. Hume was hated in the SDLP and Haughey was hated in Fianna Fail. And David Trimble of the Unionist Party let himself be intimidated by Tony Blair into letting it be thought that he had signed (though we were assured that he didn’t), and then, advised by Lord Bew and Eoghan Harris from the Official IRA, he prevented it from functioning for a couple of years.

We now find our view of the Agreement—or at least some of it—being expressed by an Irish Times columnist in contradiction of the Editorial. Newton Emerson used to be a not funny or biting Loyalist satirist but he has evolved into a straight commentator who is worth reading.

On October 19th, in a column headed “Varadkar tears up the Belfast Agreement”, he ridiculed the notion that the Agreement had a spirit, and commented:

“Leo Varadkar has torn up the Good Friday Agreement in unionism’s favour and ended up doing nobody any favours.”

In 1920 Ulster Unionism did not want the Northern Ireland system. It wanted to be governed, without devolution, within the British system of state politics. That was its programme in the 1918 Election. Historians, in a remarkable instance of Gleichschaltung—as the Nazi system of ‘co-ordinating’ the expression of public opinion was called—have all agreed to delete that indisputable political fact from recorded history.

They were persuaded to have separate ‘Home Rule’ as a Whitehall device that would help to confuse the Sinn Fein movement of the time
But the Six County Partition was their own choice. That gave them the security of a two-thirds majority.

But political life in Unionist Ulster ceased with the establishment of the Northern Ireland system. This put the Unionists in the position of being able to be part of the British state in everything but its politics by bringing out the Protestant vote at every election. And it obliged them to bring out the Protestant vote at every election so that their communal majority would be clear.

Northern Ireland had no political life of its own into which the large Catholic minority might be drawn. That community would certainly have been drawn into British politics if British politics had not been excluded from the North. It was put in an intolerable political position, and that acted on it as a stimulus to find a remedy. It remained steadfastly Anti-Partitionist, not because it was fanatically nationalist, but because British Constitutional politics was closed to it. War was the only way of producing movement towards Irish unity and therefore a war was fought, and was persisted in even when the Southern Establishment—which asserted de jure sovereignty over the North—lost its nerve and tried to back away. The outcome of the War is that Republicanism has gained a secure, officially guaranteed, base within a restructured Northern Ireland system and Sinn Fein has grown into the second or third party in the Republic.

Social progress occurs in conjunction with wars. Britain has often told us so, and has blamed what it sees as Irish backwardness on the Irish refusal to support its wars. But there is a refusal to accept the fact that there was remarkable progress in the Northern Catholic community during its long war with Britain, and that the War to which it was driven was good for it.

The Protestant community opted for the routine of the status quo that was imposed upon it almost a century ago. It drifted along, without politics, as an annex of the British state, and atrophied. The majority-rule system at Stormont was struck down by Whitehall even before it lost its majority. The security of its two-thirds majority in its chosen Six Counties has now melted away. And a majority against it in a Partition referendum is now on the cards.

But the Taoiseach wants to change the goal-posts. He says he won’t accept the Six Counties into the Republic on the basis of a simple majority. He wants to ward off the evil day by requiring a 70 per cent Six County vote for unity before agreeing to accept the return of the Fourth Green Field. The Fianna Fail leader has long been saying things to that effect.

The way things are going it will soon be demanded by these Parties—whose only Northern policy for 60 uears was Anti-Partitionism—that there must be a majority within the Northern Protestant Community for Irish unity before the Dail can allow Partition to end.


The current issue of the Jesuit quarterly Studies is on the theme of Democracy In Peril? It begins with ancient Athens and comes down to Brexit, touching lightly on many things along the way. There is an article on The State Of Irish Democracy by Stephen Collins of the Irish Times. It does not touch at all on the Six Counties, though they are the only part of Ireland where there has been a real problem about democracy since the Treaty Oath ceased to be a condition of entry to the Dail about 90 years ago. In fact the North is not mentioned at all in this pretentious publication, except obliquely by Fianna Fail’s Northern expert, Martin Mansergh.

Democracy, in its minimum practical meaning established by Britain, is the government of a state by a political party which, in a contest with other political parties, gains a majority of seats in Parliament in an election in which the electorate is the adult population. On those terms Northern Ireland is an undemocratically-governed region of a democratic state. The parties which contend for the right to govern the state have always excluded it from their sphere of operation but they govern it when they win an election in the rest of the state.

If that description, which we have repeated over forty years, is inaccurate, we would welcome a refutation of it. Or, if it is held that undemocratic government has no effect on the governed, we would be interested to see a case made for that view.

Mansergh writes that in 1918 the Bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly in which they failed to gain a majority, but Sinn Fein won an “overwhelming electoral mandate that also covered retrospectively the Easter Rising, but made Dail Eireann the centre of their legitimacy”. Can democracy act retrospectively to cover an action which in its time was undemocratic? We have argued that (leaving aside the scale of the franchise) there was no democracy in 1916. The Westminster Parliament suspended it for the duration of the War in 1915 and continued without an electoral mandate. But there is little doubt that the Redmondites would have got a renewed mandate in 1915 if they had resigned and re-fought their seats, instead of supporting the suspension of democracy by the Liberals and Unionists.

The Rising was carried out in a democratic vacuum. There is no need to seek a mystical democratic validation for it by retrospective democratic action. When democracy was eventually restored in December 1918, Sinn Fein won the election because of the great change of popular opinion brought about by the Rising.

Mansergh continues:

“History is not a simple morality tale… it would, of course, have been preferable if peaceful constitutional evolution had not been so contested that it remained stalled for nearly half a century. It is possible to argue that an Independent Ireland in twenty-six counties would never have come into being without the resort to force in Easter 1916 or the subsequent War of Independence”. [In fact, the War of Independence was subsequent in the fullest sense, to the Election, as the Election was subsequent to the Rising.] “But it is also necessary to acknowledge the cost—not just at that time but with a long afterlife—of validating even for a short period, a conspiratorial militarist tradition that claimed a superiors legitimacy to any elected body, no matter how negligible its electoral support.” [What conspiratorial militarism claimed superior legitimacy to in 1916 was electoral politics which said that independence should be sought only through a Parliament which had repeatedly declared that it would never concede it to anything but force.] “Nearly twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement the process of exorcism is still far from complete, not just because of the residual activities of dissidents but also because of the persistent proselytism for the view that the Provisional IRA campaign has the same legitimacy as the earlier struggle for independence. The historical theorising behind this is highly contrived, indeed absurd, but what cannot be denied is that it took from 1922–98 and beyond to create a political settlement… that could win the consent of the people in Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

This is all over the place, with one thing spilling over into another. The War in Northern Ireland was not, after 1922, a phase in the Anglo-Irish War, although there was some attempt around 1998 in Dublin to claim it as such. It had its own specific causes in the undemocratic structure given to the North by Whitehall which could only result in the communal policing of Catholics by Protestants.

On the comparison of the 1919 War and the 1970 War, this journal has argued that the position of the Northern Catholics, under routine communal humiliation and without access to Constitutional politics, was more difficult and more intolerable than that of nationalist Ireland as a whole after the 1918 Election. There was going to be self-government of one degree or another for the greater part of Ireland, with the “self” of the self-government being the vast bulk of the populace. Independence, as warranted by the Election, could not be got without being fought for, but failing to fight for it would not have led to anything like the position in which a third of the Six County population was placed by the establishment of the Northern Ireland system.

War may not be pleasant. But Britain is a war-fighting state, as Tony Blair often reminded the Labour idealists. And it generates war around it. We were not advocates of war in the North—the Fianna Fail newspaper was. But we saw that there was sufficient reason for war if it could be fought with the possibility of some success. And we can see that it brought considerable success to the community that sustained it—while Fianna Fail remains in denial about the fact that it was a war.

PS The Irish Times of October 25th carried an article on the Catalan crisis and made complicated debating points about it that we could make no sense of, but which possibly make sense to the Ulster Unionist mind which is fiercely Unionist with regard to symbolism, and was once Unionist with regard to the political life of the Union state, but what it cals Unionism now is a “connection” with the Union state and excluion from its political life.

Thirty years ago it was as fiercely opposed toour campaign to bring British politics to the North as it was to the unification of Ireland.

Emerson, the author, is of the opinion that “the UK appears as a model of accommodation” when compared with “the Spanish state”. We cannot say that we have kept up to date with Spanish affairs since the Fascist regime arranged for an orderly transition to democracy. Now it might be that Catalonia was excluded fromn the democratic political life of the Spanish state, as the Six Counties were from the British state when Westminster invented Northern Ireland. But if that was the case, we are sure we would have heard of it. So we are reasonablysure that Catalonia was not excluded from Spanish state politics, and was not confined in a system of subordinated sub-government in which one conmunity dominated another, and in which the only remedy available to the dominated community was war.

Westminster, though its perverse statecraft, is solely responsibvle for the 1921 Northern Ireland system and all that it led to. As far as we know, Catalonia was democratically governed within Spanish democracy, but nevertheless very large numbers of Catalans came to conceive of themselves as a distinct nationality and they wish to se cede from Spain and cease to be Spanish, as England wishes to secede from the EU and cease to be European—not that it ever was European in earnest. But England is forcing Scotland and Wales to leave along with them, and we don’t know that the Catalan nationalists are forcing any other people to go with them.

Independent Ireland Problem of Northern Ireland

The Reformation

‘The Reformation In Ireland’ is the editorial in Church and State Autumn 2017:

On the 500th anniversary of Luther’s attack on mainstream European Christianity, the Irish Times asked: “at the risk of being parochial…: why did the Reformation fail in Ireland?” There is of course no risk of the Irish Times becoming parochial—not Irish parochial at any rate. It qualified its question:

“It must be said at the outset that the Reformation was not a complete failure on this island as it gained followers in Ulster and Dublin”.

Did the Reformation really gain followers in ‘Ulster? Or was it that Ulster was colonised by Reformationists? We never heard of the mass conversion of the Ulster Gaels to the theocratic rigours of Calvinism. We are sure that they had no more taste for it then than they have now.

Trinity College seems to have known more about Ireland 80 years ago than it does now. In the extensive history of the Church of Ireland that it produced (under the Editorship of Professor Alison Phillips) in response to Fianna Fail and the Eucharistic Congress, it has a chapter entitled Puritans and Planters.

The bogus English Reformation—which was only a Government institution—provoked authentic Reformationism beneath it in the form of Puritanism. And the Puritans, feeling oppressed by the Government religion in England bought freedom of religious development as Planters in territories conquered by the new English Empire that was established in conjunction with the breach with Rome. They were the people of God in the world and in their main sphere of action, North America, they laid waste all other forms of human life, and created the U. S. A.

The Reformation that came to Ulster in the form of a mass colonisation was conducted on the authority of the British Crown, but discontent with bogus English Government Reformation was not its driving force. That came from the authentic Reformation in Scotland, a few years after the British Crown was established by the succession of the Scottish Stuarts to the English (or Welsh) Tudor dynasty: the Union of Crowns in 1603.

The Plantation of Ulster—the main event in the Reformation in Ireland—began when the O’Dougherty lands were confiscated in 1608 and a large Protestant population was brought in from Scotland to fill the space that had been emptied. The Protestant presence in Ireland was increased greatly, and the new addition was soundly Protestant. It was fundamentalist, rather than merely opportunist—as so many of those who had changed their religion in the Ireland were.

Bishop Mant, in his impressive mid-19th century History Of The Church Of Ireland From The Reformation To The Revolution: With A Preliminary Survey, From the Papal Usurpation, In The 12th Century, To Its Legal Abolition In The 16th, praises James the First and Sixth for his care of the Church of Ireland, but he is in two minds about the Ulster Plantation:

“Notwithstanding… the regard… shown by the king for the well-being of the Church, and for the maintenance of the established religion, of this plantation there was one result deeply to be lamented, as disturbing to the Church’s peace, impeding her progress, and diminishing her power of promoting religious improvement. The emigrants from Scotland, who were a numerous division of the new settlers, brought with them their own peculiar prepossessions, and were attended or followed by ministers of their own, apparently sincere and zealous, though mistaken men, earnest in maintaining and disseminating their national opinions.

“These opinions for the most part consisted in hostility to the primitive and apostolical form of Church government by bishops, and a partial predilection for the Presbyterian model, recently invented by John Calvin at Geneva, and imported into Scotland by John Knox: in a rejection of that liturgical mode of worship, which has been transmitted from the earliest through all succeeding ages of Christianity, and was now continued in the British reformed churches; and in an attachment to the modern fashion of devotional aspirations, uttered under the supposed immediate dictation of the Holy Spirit; in a contempt¬uous repudiation of several decent and orderly, innocent and edifying and ancient, signs and accompaniments of divine worship, and a studied affectation of a bare, an abstract, and frigid simplicity in the service of God; in a condemnation of the aboriginal and hereditary sentiments, practice, and authority of Christ’s Catholick Church, as the interpreter of God’s holy word, and in the proposed reverence for that word alone as the guide to religious truth, not however independent of the freedom of private judgment, carried to an undue and dangerous extent, or of the system of some favourite reformer, who had acquired over their minds and opinions little less than a Papal control.

“Under the influence of such prejudices as these, congregations were formed by the new comers from Scotland in the northern counties of Ireland, opposed to the principles and provisions, and the estranged from the communion, of the Church.

“The settlement of the Scottish Presbyterians in Ireland was not agreeable to the former inhabitants, either to the earlier occupiers, or those of English extraction: and a special Act of Parliament was necessary to legalize it. For down to this period in the reign of King James, there was still in force a statute, enacted in the third and fourth years of King Phillip and Queen Mary, which prohibited the bringing in, retaining or marrying of Scots. This statute continuing part of the law of the land during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, adventurers of that nation were precluded from settling in Ireland. But, in the year 1614… this Act was repealed, and multitudes of Scots pass¬¬ed over into Ulster… At the same time there are came over three ministers from England, one a pupil of the celebrated Puritan, Cartwright, patronized by the Lord Chichester, then Lord Deputy, who had been a pupil of Cartwright also, and was a favourer and encourager of Puritans. These congregations were soon afterwards united into a system of mutual agreement and co-operation, and presbyteries formed in various districts.

“Schism was thus established among the Irish Protestants: a schism, opposed at the same time to all the principles and laws of the Church Catholick, and injurious to Christianity in general, but especially detrimental under the circumstances of Ireland, where a consentient, combined, and co-operating effort… by all the opponents of the papal errors, might have been a powerful instrument in God’s hand for correcting them; and where the want of such agreement and co-operation… served as a positive argument for confirming the Papist in his delusions” (Pages 365-368. Richard Mant was Anglican Bishop of Down & Connor. This book was not published by either Oxford University or Trinity College).

There were two Protestantism in Ireland. There was a Government one, which functioned as part of the apparatus of State and whose members live mainly by a monopoly of the professions and of land ownership and by exploitation of the dis-franchised Catholic population. And there was a religious one which was given confiscated Catholic land by the British State under its first Scottish king and which lived thereafter by its own resourcefulness.

Government Protestantism began to wither after the Act of Union as Westminster began to enact reform in the Catholic interest under pressure from the resurgent native population. The other Protestantism, not being an instrument of the State, continued.

The Anglican Church (Church of Ireland), claimed to be a continuation of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, minus the Pope. There appears to be some substance in that claim. The English conquest of Ireland by Henry the Second was authorised by the Pope for the purpose of bringing the Church of Gaelic Ireland more effectively under Roman discipline. (The Normans were the secular arm of the Papacy.) But the more Romanised Church in Ireland between the Conquest and the Reformation seems to have been confined to the Pale.

A major circumstance in the Government-directed English Reformation was the privatisation of the Monasteries. The Monasteries in England were major economic institutions. The King gained revenue by selling them off, and at the same time created a class of gentry with vested interests in the consolidation of the new anti-Roman political order. The privatisation of those monastic institutions of the feudal system was the beginning of the bourgeois revolution. But the Christianity of Gaelic Ireland was organised differently.

Independent Ireland Problem of Northern Ireland

The End Of An Era?

Irish Political Review Editorial October 2017

Northern Ireland is without a Government at the moment. It has been without a Government since before the last British General Election. Or, to put it another way, the Northern Ireland region of the British state is being governed by the Government of the state and that is not what the State wants.

What the State wants is to have a subordinate Government in its Six County region—a Government which has no power of its own, but whose flimsy existence at Stormont helps to conceal the fact that the British system of government in its Northern Ireland region is, and always has been, essentially undemocratic.

The Fianna Fail leader, Micheál Martin, is unhappy that Sinn Fein is not facilitating British policy by enabling the Northern Ireland false front of democracy to be restored. He says that Sinn Fein is falling down on its duty as a class party by giving priority to national considerations. He urges Sinn Fein to get back into harness with the DUP, restore the subordinate Government, and then undo the austerity regime imposed by Westminster.

We recall a time, not very long ago, when Sinn Fein, in the government at Stormont, was refusing to implement the austerity measures demanded by Westminster, and Mr. Martin condemned it for refusing to take the hard, unpopular decisions that Governments often have to take, and said that proved that Sinn Fein was unfit to take part in a Government of the Republic.

And Mr. Martin has forgotten—if he ever took enough interest in the North to have known it—that the austerity measures in question were imposed by Whitehall against the opposition of the subordinate Stormont Government, even though the authority in the matter lay with the devolved Government under the terms of the Agreement which was supposedly the Northern Ireland Constitution.

All the powers of state lie with Westminster. It set up a subordinate Six County Government to exercise some of them. But the Six County system has no sovereign authority at all, even within the sphere allocated to it. Whitehall can over-rule its decisions whenever it pleases. It has both legal power and the actual political influence to do so.

There is authentic devolution in Scotland. Whitehall would not dare to over-rule it in its exercise of powers devolved to it, as it did with the northern Ireland Government on the austerity issue. Devolution was conceded to Scotland in the hope that it would appease the Scottish Nationalist movement. It appears to have done so. But the measure of appeasement has conferred layer of actual authority to the Scottish devolution system that Whitehall would over- rule at its peril.

That is not the case with the Six Counties. The Northern Ireland system was imposed, in response to no demand for it, as British policy for handling the Irish situation as a whole.

The two national communities with conflicting interests that made up the Six County Area were bundled into the strange Northern Ireland adjunct of the British state. Neither of them wanted it, but Whitehall persuaded the Protestant Community to accept it, under the threat that otherwise they would come under an Irish Home Rule system. For half a century the Protestant majority ruled over the Catholic community, in exclusion from the political life of the British state, in the make-believe ‘Northern Ireland state’, with most of the services of State continuing to be provided by Whitehall.

Communal conflict—called “sectarian conflict” by superficial political commentators who did not trouble to see what the ground of it was—was what happened in the Northern Ireland political vacuum.

It was all that was there to happen.

The Protestant Community became addicted to the political system which it had not wanted but had agreed to rule. It called itself Unionist, but had agreed to operate a system outside the political life of the Union, and was damaged by that decision. It had no political purpose beyond turning out the Protestant vote at every election in order to keep itself ‘connected’ with Britain.

The Catholic community has been accused of refusing to participate in the Northern Ireland political system, but there was actually no internal political life within the system for it to participate in. It was routinely humiliated in the most casual manner by the rulers, and it was discriminated against routinely, but it was aware of itself as a politically detached segment of the Irish nation, which had formed a state through war with Britain, and so it had a political purpose beyond Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland it lived in its own life within its own culture and it grew despite discrimination and strong inducements to emigrate, and bided its time. After half a century it launched a War against the State and sustained it until the State re-ordered the devolved system in a way that abolished the majority of political status of the majority population. Throughout the War it grew in confidence as well as numbers.

A position has now been reached where Unionism is no longer a political majority. In the last Elections (Six County and state) the combined votes of the Unionist Parties was less than the combined votes of the other Parties. (The holding of Censuses was abolished sometime ago in order to conceal ‘Demographics’.)

Northern Ireland is without a Government (but the Six Counties isn’t) because of gross mismanagement by the DUP leader of the subsidised heating issue when she was a Minister. Sinn Fein under Martin McGuinness appeared willing to fudge a way through the crisis but the SDLP would have characterised it as a DUP stooge if it had persisted in the attempt, so it resigned from the Government when Arlene Foster would not stand aside while an investigation was being held.

The SDLP at the time was refusing to participate in Government in accordance with the spirit of the 1998 Agreement. It made an alliance with the Official Unionists in an attempt to break the Agreement and restore some kind of majority rule system. Sinn Fein, having been put under pressure to end collaboration with the DUP, was then criticised for not getting back into coalition quickly without any real change in the circumstances under which it was under pressure to resign.

The new SDLP leader, Colm Eastwood, having tried to restore SDLP fortunes by means of an anti-Republican pact with the Official Unionists, and come to grief in the Elections, has reverted to Republicanism. Sinn Fein has made a “stand-alone” Irish Language Act a condition of entering government again. The DUP insist that any Language Act must put on a par Gaelic and a variety of Scottish said to be spoken somewhere, but impossible to find.

Sinn Fein insists that there must be an Act that it is specifically directed for the revival of Irish, which has been seriously undertaken in the North ever since Partition. It points out that such an Act has already been accepted in two official agreements, which have never been implemented.

Official Unionist Reg Empey says that, if this is done, everyone will be forced to speak Irish, thus putting pressure on the DUP to maintain a hard-line stance. But the SDLP supports the Sinn Fein position—as does the Fine Gael-led Irish Government.

Fianna Fail says Sinn Fein should put nationality on the long finger and get back into government as a class party and reverse austerity.

When did Sinn Fein ever present itself as a class party? a Labour Party? It is a nationalist Party formed by the working class—the most working-class party in composition that there has ever been amongst the major Parties in Ireland or Britain, but a nationalist party. It treats social issues within the context of nationality—Just as Connolly did.

Fianna Fail seems to have lost itself under Martin’s leadership. He is going down the way prepared for Fianna Fail by Martin Mansergh who tried to obscure its origins in the War against Lloyd George’s one-sided ‘Treaty’. (And could it be that he is being advised by Ireland’s most blustering political commentator, Eoghan Harris?)

Fine Gael, however, seems to be changing in the other direction.

Fianna Fail has been ‘maturing’ towards the view that the Treaty State replaced the elected Republic in a democratic way in 1922-3, while Leo Varadkar has commented that the Treaty regime was established by means of war-crimes.

The crucial event leading to the crumbling of Republican morale in Fianna Fail was Jack Lynch’s prosecution in 1970 of members of his Government and Army for treasonable conspiracy when all they had been doing was carrying out his own Northern policy of 1969, and his prosecution of John Kelly, who had been his liaison with the Northern Catholic Defence Committees, which had been formed in response to the Unionist pogrom of August 1969. He did this under pressure from the British Ambassador, acting through the Fine Gael leader.

The court verdict in all cases was Not Guilty, and was strictly in accordance with the evidence presented. Respectable people in all three Irish parties, who had been routinely mouthing Anti-Partition slogans until then, were frightened out of their wits by the turn of events in the North, swallowed Lynch’s suggestion that either the jury had been packed by the IRA (which barely existed at the time) or had been intimidated.

Dermot Keogh, who was on the editorial staff of the Fianna Fail daily paper, The Irish Press, had a vision of Fascism while reporting the burning of the British Embassy in Dublin in 1972, in response to the administrative massacre enacted by the British Army in Derry on Bloody Sunday—not that the British regime in the North was Fascist but that the nationalist response to it in kind was Fascist.

It was arguable that the British regime in the Six Counties was Fascist. We never described it as such, but since it was obviously not democratic the idea that it was Fascist could not be dismissed out of hand. But Fascism is not the only kind of undemocratic government.

Keogh left the newspaper business for academia. He became an influential Professor in Cork University where he cultivated the notion that Northern Ireland was not an undemocratically governed region of the British state but was itself a state, and he wrote a hagiography of Jack Lynch.

No reasoning was ever brought to bear by Keogh on this matter. He did not review the institutions of state in the North and show that they were were not institutions of the British state, entirely under British sovereignty and administrative control. What he relied on was not reason but administrative academic control of commercial publishing in the circumstances where third level education was undergoing phenomenal expansion.

It was necessary for the frightened minds of the Free State Establishment in the Lynchite era that the plain fact that Northern Ireland was an undemocratically governed region of the British state should not be seen. If it was seen, then some thought would have to be given to the consequences of undemocratic government. And, judging by what was said with regard to other parts of the world, the conclusion must follow that war was a possible consequence.

In the era of general democracy, are the victims of undemocratic government in a region of a democratic state, who are deprived of the means of political remedy by Constitutional means, to be allowed to do nothing but suffer patiently?

War was the actual consequence of undemocratic government in the North. That seems to have been half-conceded in many quarters, which at the same time deny that it was a legitimate consequence. It is a nonsensical distinction which expresses nothing but an evasion of thought.

This state of mind of the Lynch era (which may now be approaching its end) was neatly summed up by Colm Toibin, in his function as a fiction-writer as distinct from a direct commentator. His early novel, The Heather Blazing, is one of the very few modern Irish novels that engages with politics and law. A Government advisor reflects:

“He had written a report for the government, which he presented early in 1972, on the ways in which the government should respond to a concerted campaign by the IRA… There were two chapters in his report…; no one, beyond those who were entitled to see the report, had ever read these chapters. He had been told several times that they had been influential and had helped shape government policy… He had warned never to allow public opinion to become inflamed… The north, he argued, must be presented as a different society, a place apart” (p177-8).

The Dublin Establishment sleepwalked through the war in the North, uttering phrases as a robot might do. Opinion surveys were arranged to show that public opinion had gone off the North and wouldn’t have it if it offered itself. And all the time the assertion of sovereign right over the north lay in the Constitution.

Keogh’s characterisation of the Provisional movement as Fascist was not seriously disputed by Important People. But the Fascists won—and they gave permission to the Dublin Establishment to repeal the sovereignty claim in the Constitution.

The 26 County State had no Northern policy between the time of the Arms Trials of 1970 and the Constitutional referendum of 1998. Its function under the Good Friday Agreement should have been to act as an advocate and guarantor of the northern nationalist community. But it could not do that coherently without recognising, at least de facto, that there were two distinct national bodies in the Northern situation and aligning itself with one of them. Under denial of the two nations reality that would be ‘sectarian’.

The Official IRA condemned the Provisionals as sectarian in 1970 because they acted within the social facts of the North. Micheál Martin has done the same with regard to Sinn Fein conduct of politics within the Agreement system. But what was the essential thing that this universally-applauded Agreement did? It gave Constitutional recognition to the fact that the population of the North was in fact two distinct populations which did not constitute a common body politic. We welcomed it at the time for what it was: an arrangement for the separate development as far as possible of the two communities, the two political bodies, the two nationalities—or whatever other name you prefer to call them, which amounts to the same thing.

The British Government had to concede a lot to get the Agreement. It then tried to get back what it conceded—that is what Britain normally does. Dublin Governments have, for the most part, been more British than the British on the matter. They have a degree of official standing under the Agreement but have not troubled to familiarise themselves with the mechanisms of the Agreement.

If, over the generations, they had tried to understand what Northern Ireland was, and to deal with it realistically, they would have had to understand what Britain was. The reality of Britain is not grasped by standard Anglophobia any more than by standard Anglophilia. Ping-pong between the two is all that there has been in nationalist intellectual or academic life. That is why Brexit was traumatic. The actuality of British political life lay beyond the understanding of both.

Political life within Northern Ireland under Brexit influence remains much as it was before Brexit: a process of attrition between two national communities. That is what it has been ever since 1921, whether in war or peace. Gerry Adams is hated no more on the Unionist side than John Hume was.

The British purpose in setting up the Northern Ireland system—unique in Constitutional history—can only have been to deter the independent development of nationalist Ireland by offering the illusory hope of unity if it conciliated the Ulster Unionists. Brexit, by raising the prospect of a land border in Ireland between Britain and the European Union, brings greater powers and complexities into play. The context of communal attrition within the North is changed, but we do not expect it to cease.

PS: What is said about the Dublin Establishment should be read as excluding Charles Haughey who, as Taoiseach, was very widely regarded in political circles as a dodgy intruder, and whose remarkable achievements during his few years as Taoiseach without a secure majority have never been consolidated in political literature into something that could be called a political heritage. His astonishing tour de force did not seem to be appreciated anywhere outside of Athol St.