When the United Kingdom formally partitioned Ireland in May 1921, six loyalist or secessionist counties in the north-east of the island were separated from the rest of the country to create an autonomous or self-ruling territory of the UK known as “Northern Ireland”. With the political, military and economic support of London, this breakaway region was given its own government, parliament, civil service, judiciary, paramilitary forces and limited freedom in domestic laws and taxation. In this manner the statelet acted as a sort of template for the rebellious ethno-Russian enclaves which emerged from the fall of the old Soviet Union in post-Cold War Europe during the 1990s. Where Britain justified the establishment of “Northern Ireland” to accommodate the pro-British minority in Ireland, so Moscow justified the establishment of the “Autonomous Republic of Crimea”, the “Donetsk People’s Republic” or the “Republic of South Ossetia – the State of Alania” to accommodate pro-Russian minorities in Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere. And with much the same violent effect.
However, at no point in the first several decades of its existence was the self-styled “province” in the north-eastern corner of Ireland regarded as an “integral part” of the United Kingdom, as the leaders and agitators of the Brexit movement in the UK now claim. In political and legislative terms the contested region was always a “place apart”; a troublesome legacy of British colonialism among the Irish. At only one point in its constitutional history were the affairs of “Northern Ireland” intimately tied to those of London, when they became the direct responsibility of ministers, officials and legislators in Downing Street, Whitehall and Westminster. And that was during the fourteen years following the collapse of the one-party unionist regime at Stormont, just outside of Belfast. From 1972 until 1985 the governance of the Six Counties was under the sole authority of the UK state through the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Cabinet Office, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office, and effectively the chiefs of Britain’s local military, paramilitary and intelligence services in the overseas territory.
However, with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 the government of the United Kingdom granted part of its sovereign authority over the disputed area to the government of Ireland though international treaty, giving Dublin an input into the affairs of the Six Counties. A concession which limited and eventually killed off any attempts to fully integrate “Northern Ireland” into the UK, a position further developed in the regional and international strands of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (which the United Nations recognises as the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland). Since the late 1990s and until relatively recently “Northern Ireland” was again very much a “place apart” in UK politics, and enthusiastically so for administrations of all political hues and persuasions in London. That situation has only changed since early 2017 and the dissolution of the reformed power-sharing regional executive and assembly at Stormont.
All of which explains the frustration of the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, when confronted by the complete ignorance of British legislators and journalists on the complex and deliberately ambiguous constitutional position of “Northern Ireland” in the 21st century, as reported by The Journal in Dublin and by The Guardian in London.
“The Good Friday agreement resolved the constitutional issue in Northern Ireland on the basis of consent, that Northern Ireland as of now remains part of United Kingdom and until some day that changes by the will of the people.
We also have to be very clear on this and, chairman with the greatest of respect, sometimes when I hear people, including some distinguished members of parliament and I totally respect their views and others, talking loudly over the past few years of no basis existing for divergence of any kind between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, I look to wondering had I turned into Rip Van Winkle, that great man from the legend who fell asleep for 20 years and woke up finding everything changed.
The reality is when I changed the constitutional position of Articles 2 and 3, what that did was I said there was a difference between Dublin and Belfast. That’s what I said. But I also said that there was a difference between Belfast and Finchley [in London].
The argument that Northern Ireland is precisely the same as Finchley is incorrect, it’s constitutionally incorrect as per the Good Friday Agreement and I think people need to understand that.
What frustrates me and others is there’s a view that Northern Ireland is so intrinsically linked to the UK in a way that ignores the Good Friday Agreement, and that’s the bit that really upsets us, because it is not.”
I have to raise the fact that there were only four unionist majority counties in 1921. Fermanagh and Tyrone, both counties with Irish nationalist majorities were included in the opt-out area because of the real threat of immediate violence by loyalists. How long will we continue to bend the knee to violence and the threat of violence from these privileged laggards?
Very true. During the various partition debates in the UK the British vacillated back and forth between a nine county, six county or four county “Northern Ireland” and several variations thereof.
It is still commonplace for unionists to state with no sense of irony that violence would be entirely justified to overturn a united Ireland vote in the north. While most unionist leaders avoid giving a straight answer on the question, beyond Arlene Foster’s dubious claim that she would flee to Britain when partition ended.
Joe Lee put it brilliantly in his history – 1912-1985, how the unionists in the three other counties of Ulster were bid farewell but by their own rhetoric the unionists in the six were consigning them to a living hell in the south.
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Most of you have misunderstood the nature of British rule in Ireland, even republicans. Northern Ireland was not made so large as a ‘mistake’ as is often suggested, British policy in Ireland has been to maintain the island in an unending strategy of tension, the better to ensure that it is weakened by being divided against itself without end. This goes for the unionists as much as nationalists – the British learned in the 18th century with the American secession and the 1798 Rising that sooner or later their colonies would diverge in their interests from London. This is why they abolished the Irish Parliament after 1798, a colonists’ parliament, and annexed the country, they couldn’t trust even the Protestants. The effect for the last 2 centuries has been to approach Ireland as a place where two sides are to be kept in eternal debilitating battle, to ensure that the island is kept weak in the interests of British control of it, that Britain has complete freedom of action in the Atlantic and that there is no competition or ‘threat’ on their left flank.
Britain could have wiped out the Irish and replaced the population with settlers but they did not do that. They could have developed the considerable resources of the country and built a booming second England, enriching them but they did not do that. They did not do that because they know that the interests of Ireland would diverge from London, evbentually and would go into competition with them. So they maintain the island in a state of eternal, debilitating tension and dysfunction instead.
These geostrategic realities are reawakening not lessening and we in Ireland are in fact in greater danger than we’ve been in a long time, the entire island. Because it is the entire island and its ‘threat’ to a force-projecting British imperialist mindset that has been in the sights of Whitehall all the time, hence partition and the imposition of a counter-revolutionary cabal in the south.
When the British defence secretary talks about Britain ensuring ‘greater lethality’ in its global force projection then it must be understood that its force projection begins first and foremost in its ability to maintain Ireland as a weak non-complicating factor in its access to the globe. It is remarkable that no Irish commentator has remarked on this statement by Williamson. Talking about Britain having ‘greater lethality’ should give great alarm in Ireland because it means what it says and it will work out predictably as it suggests, as it always has for us. It indicates a direct threat.
The yanks with their mighty military tried this in Vietnam. Didn’t work out according to plan. Got their Lilly white asses well kicked. The might of the British army couldn’t defeat a small number of volunteers in the north even with the support of half the population. Think Berty handled himself well although he could have went even further. Did a fair bit of ball licking as well.
The US sort of inherited a “used Civil War” from France is what happened with Vietnam. And nobody has ever been able to dominate Vietnam for centuries. French, Chinese, Japanese, Thais, and more all tried and failed a lot more extensively than the US.
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I’m not sure the British Empire ever has been as rational as that suggested.
As ridiculous as this sounds I suspect that many British Imperialists honestly believed they were doing a good thing. Some also believed that partitioning India and Ireland were for the best. Of course, it didn’t work out as planned at all.
I don’t believe that the British ever “planned” The Troubles as you described. I suspect the impulse was never to let a colony go entirely.
In short, as much as most of the colony never wanted to be part of the Empire, it’s a bit like the divorced husband who can never truly accept that “it’s over”, even if in this case we are talking about a pretty rampant polygamist to use that metaphor.
To me it looks like Mihir Bose is the one who kind of does “have their number” in terms of grocking the English.
With his whole “Lions and Lambs” metaphor.
To be clear about this if a lot of British Imperialists believed their actions were good, it was an undeniably mistaken view.
Sadly human beings are capable of that and more. I’ve actually met older people well into the 1980’s who say they had grandparents that were raised on a plantation in the antebellum US and honestly believed the peculiar institution was a good thing. One woman said her grandmother missed her own servant, a young girl about the same age, when their rice plantation finally was behind Union lines-when they were both 9. She said her grandmother only recognized late in life that it was not a benign thing.
I knew personally people who grew up under Jim Crowe who believed for years that system was best.
There was a time when I was shocked by such stories and even had a hard time believing it. People are have been known to buy into worse.
I would also add that the elevation of the DUP to hold the balance of power precisely at the moment that negotiations over Britain and Ireland and between Britain and Europe are taking place – high stakes negotiations – is highly coincidental. This could be considered serendipitous for certain British interests and is bordering on the unlikely and suspicious. We are supposed to believe that at just this moment by sheer chance the one party representing British interests in Ireland is elevated to power despite its tiny numbers, against statistical likelihood.
If it is true that this is not a coincidence then we are looking at a very different game and all those Irish trooping over to the British parliament to helpfully give their views and expertise are fools.
If there is a border poll Nationalism is in a win/win situation. If they win the border poll well its a United Ireland. If they lose but narrowly Unionists are going to have to wise up and try and accommodate Nationalism in the North otherwise there is going to be another border poll in seven years.
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Britain will cause a civil war and try to repartition. It is a pipe-dream to believe that Britain in a time of resurgent imperialism will leave Ireland alone given all that we have learned from history. It is much less costly to them to retain a foothold in Ireland than to attempt to invade across an open stretch of water on any other occasion. There is zero commitment to democracy amongst the British or the unionists in relation to Ireland, it is all entirely about facts on the ground, force and realpolitik.
Adams and McGuinness sold the usual constitutional quietism that has lasted the usual 20-40 years, followed by the usual abrupt change in circumstances and resurgence of threat and tension. Adams and McGuinness have trodden the O’Connell, Redmond, Collins road of quietism and reaction masquerading as victory. It is, as Claudius says on his deathbed in ‘I Claudius’, all so terribly familiar.
The MI6 officer who talked with Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness during the peace process said something interesting about a United Ireland being inevitable because of Europe. And that the Unionists would just have to accept it.
Absolutely, utterly believable, what an MI6 officer had to say during a time of negotiations. Are the Irish soft or what?
British aims during Brexit negotiations will be to ensure British political and military influence on the island of Ireland out to the next 50 years. This will be achieved either by joint authority, destabilisation/war or some other means. That is why Ireland is such a major issue in these negotiations, not as a block to Brexit but as leverage to the aims of the British ruling class. Especially so since after 4 centuries of policy to prevent it the Europeans are finally on Irish soil.
It could be said that the D’Hondt mechanism was instituted with precisely this in mind.
It would be interesting to observe what impact, if any, that the EU mutual defence pact, article 42(7) would play in the event of Eire being the victim of a resurgent, bellicose, post empire Britain.
What Unionists have said that violence would be justified in the event of a vote for a United Ireland? I can only think of crackpots of the Jamie Bryson variety. It’s very simple : British governments of both main parties have stated that they have no selfish, strategic interest in remaining in Northern Ireland, it’s in the hands of the people who live here. If a majority vote for a U.I. in a future referendum, then there’ll be a U.I.. Ireland, and the small amount of reciprocal trade across the border, has been a major issue in the Brexit negotitations because the E.U. wants to protect its single market, nothing to do do with completely bogus issues like a “hard border,” return to violence, protecting the G.F.A , etc
Historically Unionism has resorted to the threat of violence to secure concessions from the British regime and to intimidate the Irish. Theirs is militaristic, belligerent culture that habitually dresses up in pseudo-military uniforms to march.
Their marching bands and orders drill weekly.
This trait hasn’t tapered or mellowed and has a habit of romanticising war.
I fear that the Irish state (and the electorate in the south) is complacent, inward-looking and utterly unprepared for a very possible scenario of re-unification or the passing of a border poll followed by turmoil, intimidation and, worst case, OAS-style attacks.
If the Brits tried repartition they would be lucky to hold on to North Down and a chunk of Strangford. They would lose Belfast and Derry. Tyrone and Fermanagh most of Armagh would be gone as well. Twenty years ago they would have held two counties maybe three but demographics have changed all that.
NORTHERN IRELAND is still a democratic country for decades innocent individuals ha very been murdered because of their identity and democratic way of life 85 per cent of the working population were under threat from Republican murder gangs due to the simple fact they wanted to work and earn a living. IRELAND have mass killers political status after horrific tortures ,murder and mass bombings,in 1974and again in 1975 Irish law makers granted that the destruction and carnage in Northern Ireland was political and not criminal activity. CATHOLICS IN Northern Ireland were rejected by the Irish GOVERNMENT IN 1969 and again in 1970, this was after Irish intelligence officers infiltrated the civil rights movement and started to push hardliners through the rank and fi,e of the civil, rights movement this should be noted as beginning in 1966 in Maghera.Ireland has always viewed the Unionist community as being foreign
This goes back to the plantation period although some Unionists have longer Irish history than some Catholics, Martin McGuinness to name but one.