In the wake of the United Kingdom’s stuttering final exit from the European Union it seems that the veteran newspaper columnist Alex Kane is having very similar thoughts to my own on where the political and economic priorities of the United Kingdom lie in relation to its colonial legacy on the island of Ireland. Writing in the News Letter the former spin-doctor for the Ulster Unionist Party notes that:
What Johnson did wasn’t unique. Like so many prime ministers before him – most of whom claimed to be supporters of the geographical/constitutional integrity of the UK – he prioritised other interests over the interests of NI unionism. So, bearing in mind that he is merely the latest in a long line to follow the same course, what conclusion should unionists here reach? The immediate one, obviously, is that prime ministers and their parties don’t give a stuff about NI: because they have no emotional attachment to it.
…why would successive UK governments, particularly during the years when the IRA was armed and active (1969-1997), seem so determined to find a way of placating SF rather than crushing armed republicanism?
Why did successive UK governments invest more time and energy in building a working relationship with successive Irish governments? Why did successive UK governments – after the 1998 referendum – conclude so many below-the-radar, nod-and-wink side deals and arrangements which would have required IRA Army Council approval (and we know that the council still acts in an overarching capacity)? Why did the May/Johnson governments – both propped up by the DUP – seem to think it of greater necessity to reassure the Irish government than the DUP or broader unionism?
Why is the DUP now reduced to the absurdity of pretending – and it really is a pretence – Johnson’s betrayal doesn’t actually amount to a hill of beans? Why does it continue with the pretence it can find ways to mitigate the impact of an arrangement which has the imprimatur of the EU, Johnson’s government and a whopping parliamentary majority?
The answer may be obvious to you and me but like many other leading figures in the country’s pro-union minority Kane is unable – or unwilling – to see it, comforting himself instead with the notion that he is,
…not overwhelmingly convinced successive UK governments have been actively determined to disengage from Northern Ireland. That said, nor am I convinced they would shed any tears if a majority voted to leave in a border poll.
The task for unionism, in NI’s centenary year, is to bear that in mind and find a strategy and narrative which understands and accommodates the UK’s long term priorities for here.
A task which modern unionism has repeatedly and arguably quite deliberately failed at. And there is no reason to believe that this is going to change. On the contrary, the self-destructive Brexit strategy of the Democratic Unionist Party, its counter-productive backdoor coalition with the Conservative Party government in London, disdained even by Tory supporters, proves that there is no rapprochement possible between the long term priorities of the pro-UK minority in the north-east of Ireland and the UK itself. Which leaves that community with only one realistic option in the years ahead. The one that Alex Kane can never quite bring himself to recognise no matter how many times his own logic and reason brings him close to doing so. Which of course is its own metaphor for the current plight of political unionism.
When will he (they) ever wake up? He’s wrong about the IRA being armed and active. The UVF started killing people again in 1966. Tomorrow, 6th January, is the 50th anniversary of the first killing of a British soldier in the ‘recent phase’ or second War of Independence (or whatever it is to be called). Far from loyalist terror groups acting to counter Republican aggression, the reality was the diametric opposite. There’s a very interesting article about the (almost only) southern unionist MP elected in 1918, sir Morris Dockrell.
“Why does it continue with the pretence it can find ways to mitigate the impact of an arrangement which has the imprimatur of the EU, Johnson’s government and a whopping parliamentary majority?”
The question that should be asked is:
What or who gives the DUP, Loyal Unionists as they are, the right to search for ways to mitigate the impact of an arrangement which has the imprimatur of Johnson’s government and a whopping parliamentary majority?
I know we we have a friendly disagreement on the level of interest of the UK’s ruling class and its determination to hang on to its 6-County but I hope you did not think that Kane was accurately describing things when he wrote “…why would successive UK governments, particularly during the years when the IRA was armed and active (1969-1997), seem so determined to find a way of placating SF rather than crushing armed republicanism?”
The UK ruling class fought an intensive struggle against the IRA in three decades of the most intensive armed conflict in Europe up until the breakup of the USSR. It violated and crushed civil liberties, radically changed its judicial and penal procedures, deployed its infantry and set up sectarian terror gangs and developed the most sophisticated electronic surveillance of communities, spy services and agent penetration operations.
As to what Kane and other Unionists think about the UK ruling class “invest(ing) more time and energy in building a working relationship with successive Irish governments”, they obviously perceive the Gombeen class here as some kind of independent entity (apart from the days when they thought it had a real interest in national reunification). The Gombeen class has not once in its life been truly independent (unlike its predecessor in the United Irishmen) which is why it has allowed the language to wither and why nearly every industry and infrastructure is foreign-owned. The French Government under Mitterand did put up with the Spanish GAL terror squads for a while but they were operating in the Basque provinces within the French state, not bombing Paris. Our Gombeen class put up with the British terror gangs planting bombs in Dublin (with the highest death toll of any single day during the conflict) and British governments refusing to hand over relevant information — without even a diplomatic incident, never mind a rupture or taking the case to the international arena.
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Oh lordy, none so blind as those who will not see…..
….’ The task for unionism, in NI’s centenary year, is to bear that in mind and find a strategy and narrative which understands and accommodates the UK’s long term priorities for here.’
The UK would like to shed itself of the irksome responsibilities of the North. As soon as possible. It’s nice thought that Unionists will understanding and accommodating about that.
It seems to me that if they decided to partition Ireland in the first place, and later on were willing to go to the lengths they did during The Troubles, that this is a shift in British politics rather than some predictable pre-determined outcome. What has changed?
Some of it could well be generational attitudes over time. There is a profound difference in an English person between nostalgia for the Britain of the 1960’s when the UK was still an industrial player and before Margaret Thatcher and nostalgia for the British Empire. While the UK still had colonies at that point (still does) it was mostly a “game over” for Britain having most colonies for long once India became independent. Sure some people are just sloppy in their thinking and one always have to be careful about any “rose colored glasses”. However, it strikes me as very, very misguided to conflate wishing for the British Empire back, and versus wishing for the Britain that existed between WWII and Thatcher.
To me it looks a lot like a situation where The DUP is now less valuable to the Tory Party than the voters they are hoping to court in England. Indeed, if Brexit was driven even partially by some form of English nationalism it stands to reasons that the Tories may even want their base to look, well, more English!!! If they really want the optics of former former Labour voting Englishmen, than the might see the DUP as a group that could alienate those voters.
The truth is that most English people know little and care even less about the North. The strong emotions that the North used to evoke are long consigned to history and the Conservatives know this and on top ot that, the North is almost worthless to them in terms of voters. The same can be said for Labour and the others.
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If it’s true that holding on to Ireland has little to do with what most English people want or have wanted for a long time-perhaps ever or at least as long as there was widespread suffrage for the working classes, than that implies the DUP had some kind of leverage over the Tories for a certain period of time- and the Tories have decided they can extract themselves from that influence.
If it wasn’t electoral some of the other possibilities I can think of would be not wanting certain records in Northern Ireland to fall into the hands of Dublin. It could be that they didn’t want the conduct of certain British soldiers, officials, agents, or even MPs or Lords to be in the hands of a foreign government that they can’t control. Since, the British Govt has a reputation for being rather secretive and it also has a hereditary element and “public” school ties, that some people are afraid that revealing stuff could embarrass their families, their schoolmates, friends, or members of their military unit or that of a family member. This could run for the HRH to a lot of lower level military and civil service families who would probably be considered working class in the UK. I believed a very important mentor to Prince Charles was not just killed in 1979, but has faced some accusations of, er, moral turpitude, in a bunch of places from a bunch of parties and some damning info might be hiding in a number of places in Ulster.
If that’s the case some of these folks might be willing to think “time elapsed” since the GFA and much of The Troubles could make people less concerned that any records Dublin gets is going to cause much of a stir. It could also be that as Britain has liberalized in terms of free access to information while the ROI has not done so to the same degree, that the damage control benefits of keeping certain stuff in British hands is less than it was- In a United Ireland it’s possible that the Irish govt, would guard such things for years for the sake of reunification.
A third possibility I could think of is that there might be something “psychohistorical” going on. By this I DO NOT mean any of Wilhelm Reich’s candy ass theories or any of the other people who posit Adolf Hitler just needed a nicer Daddy or acceptance to art school and he’d have been a perfectly nice guy. (I don’t like such simplistic formulas.) Since it seems true that the average Englishman doesn’t care much about controlling Ireland either way, I’m wondering if something about the public school system has made it so older fears associated with Ireland have a stronger grip on that group (even if they are Welsh, Scottish, or even have some Irish origins of their own) those English who were educated at comprehensives and/or grammar schools so were their relatives for generation back-as long as they were literate at all.
After all, much of the initial motive to control Ireland came down to fear that it could be an asset to Britain’s enemies. Of course, after 1798 and the Napoleonic War it became increasingly questionable that controlling Ireland was to Britain’s benefit at all, and an excellent case for seeing more security in a friendly neighbor to the west than a resentful colony. It could be that the old “public school” system is good at instilling older fears in the pupils. It could be that even some elements of the old “Norman” mentality that saw a free Ireland as a threat to their control over the Saxons has persisted in some form-even if it’s insanely outdated. Of course, this is speculation but some things look extremely odd to me about all this.
It’s seems odd that an English Parliament is seen as the craziest item of the English nationalist menu, when that might be legitimate. (Why not if Wales, Scotland, and NI all have one?), while something as destructive as Brexit ended up as the “permissible” item. Is something “in plain sight” odd about this picture?
Nah…The average English person (without Irish heritage) hardly knows where Ireland is, let alone the long shared history of centuries or even the events of the last century.
The sociopathic Conservatives currently in charge care not a jot about Ireland, North or South, except for how tedious it is to have to waste any time thinking about it. After all, Ireland is of no particular use to Britain and they obviously do not consider it to be a threat in any way either As for any secrets held in ‘classified’ files? This lot is so without conscience, I can’t believe they would care about any possible consequences of disclosure but rest assured, when files are not meant to be seen, Britain’s Freedom of Information wheels get mightily jammed.
BTW, the DUP ceased to be of any interest whatsoever to the Conservatives on December 13th 2019 but the Unionists are very slow on the uptake it seems…..
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I thought it was apparent that I was talking about people who ARE pretty remote socially from the average English person. Obviously those who in the past DID wish to control Ireland, even if they seem OK to kick the DUP to the curb now, must have had some motivations for it back in the day. Ireland was NOT easy to hold on to, and the costs and consequences were often not trivial.
Logically they must have wanted to control Ireland pretty badly in the past, but somewhere since Partition that’s changed. Why? I suppose some of it could be generational attitudes. However, when these winds shift, there usually is a reason.
As for those who have Irish origins themselves or not…..It seems that a good sized minority do.
As for some of these people lacking a conscience? There is a difference between a conscience and “avoiding embarrassment” or “in-group loyalty”.
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The possible motives you ascribe Grace are all possible but I the psycho-historical one is one I favour and have laid out previously (here as well as elsewhere). And not so much to do with public school but with the Union, its symbolism as well as content.
I also think the question of the Union, both psychologically and in real terms (areas for bases, ports, recruitment, industries) is an important one as viewed by other world-class powers and that the loss of the Six Counties and Scotland would diminish the status of what remained of the UK considerably, probably even losing its Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council as a result.
Your point about the separation of the UK ruling class from the ordinary people of Britain is well made. Even though at times they may seem as one their basic interests are not the same and there have been plenty historical events when those differences surfaced.
I am unsure what “shift” in the dominant attitude you have detected — I see none. Occasional words from this or that person do not to my mind represent a real shift.
I cannot concur with you that Ireland’s position is of no strategic importance today — and not just in relation to Britain. Its proximity clearly makes it so in relation to the land mass of Britain but also as the last large landmass to the West before the American continent (and vice versa, vide the US Military use of Shannon airport). All that without the natural deepwater ports too. Such strategies considerations can be viewed as potential threats or advantages.
OK. What I meant by “shift” (sorry if that was unclear) was whatever has changed to account for the fact that Britain squashed Irish Independence movements more than once, Partitioned the Country when they no longer could, and were willing to do their part in “The Troubles” (particularly with Thathcer’s govt), versus now when Johnson and Co. seem quite willing to kick the DUP to the curb.
I can’t believe any such change-whether it was slow or recent- happened for no reason whatsoever. Even if it were just ideological or generational changes.
As for the status of England (possibly even a Federal Republic of England) if the UK broke up? The USSR’s seat in the UN Security Council was transferred from the USSR to the Russian Federation and France was never a United/Union of anything but a unitary single country like Poland, Italy, Spain, and Ireland-like a standalone England would be. So there’s no major reason to think a country consisting only of England wouldn’t get to keep their seat-if only to avoid a massive shake-up on the UN’s part.
As for England’s perceived status if it were to become a standalone country (maybe even a Federal Republic)? I don’t see it losing that much in that regard. England can claim a very large percentage of the UK’s economy, industry, Universities, and more. Sure a fair bit exists in Scotland (a nation that REALLY “punches above its weight” relative to its size!!!!) and in NI and Wales. However, England is a large protion of the UK and London would probably still be a major world city even if the City of London lost its unique status even on top of a United Ireland plus Welsh and Scottish independence.
England is not in much danger of being viewed around the world as a quaint little mud hole of no major importance either way.
As for Ireland unique geographic location? Well psychologically it can promote real paranoia in an Island nation I agree. However, by the Napoleonic War it became a relevant question “Is is better to have a friendly neighbor to the West or a resentful colony?” To answer the latter was not necessarily driven by pure reason!!!
Even so since the Irish Republic has been established for decades it’s hard to see what glorious strategic boon The North actually is. If anything it has the potential to complicate relations with the ROI.
As to the difference between the British elite and most of the English? To me it was always clear that the two groups were very, very different. Of course, for the latter there is a limit and expiry date on what can be fully excused by ignorance. I’m not letting every English person who voted for reactionaries or worse off the hook!!!
That said, British is an amazingly class divided society. While most countries have class issues, few seem to bring it to a fine art like the UK.
What I don’t get is why The English Parliament idea never got the political momentum of Brexit. If I were English, I would be furious that my country was the largest nation in Europe with no Parliament.
When will they ever learn?
When it comes to the DUP I can’t help thinking slap it up ya fellas you deserve it.
Paisley Óg crying to the Tories in the House of Commons like a spurned lover was bizarre.
Grace, sorry I’ve been caught up with other stuff and just getting back to you now. There are some questions on which I suspect we will never agree but it is still perhaps worth responding to a couple of your points.
Dissing the Unionists is not the same as a shift towards agreeing to remove them from the Union. It has happened before and may happen again. The Unionists can be pissed off but what can they do about it? Leae the UK and join the irish State? To say that is highly unlikely is to understate the situation.
Re. strategic location,an independent Ireland is not something England has had on its eastern side since 1169 and the post-1921 state is neither independent nor anywhere near its full potential due to its current status. The English ruling class may or may not paranoid but I would suggest that the status of ANY state on or near the borders of another will be of great interest to the other and many conflicts have been and are currently being played out over that kind of issue.
Economically, Irish industries have been destroyed by England in the past when they were in competition with the English ones. An Ireland with its potential developed might well be unwelcome to the English economy. ireland currently has most of its industry and natural resources, parts of its agriculture, most of its finance houses and much of its electronic and transport infrastructure foreign owned.
As to the likely status of the UK or England in a post-Scotland and post-reunified scenario we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
Sure. No country is every totally indifferent to the going-ons of its neighbors, even under good circumstances. Being an island country can also predispose a culture to some degree of paranoia. Expecting total English indifference to Ireland was never reasonable. However there are 56 million people in England, 1.9 million in Northern Ireland, 5.6 million in Scotland and 3.3 million in Wales. England is decidedly not going to be reduced to a “tiny little hole in the wall” as a stand alone country. It very likely would keep the UK’s Security Council seat if only to avoid too much of a shake-up in the UN-as Russia got to keep the USSR’s.
There is no reason to believe English industry couldn’t just survive but thrive with a fully united, independent, and economically successful Ireland. England has similar land and climate to Ireland and is a larger area-more than enough to make up for higher urbanization. England still has some of the world’s most respected Universities-indeed almost every major Covid-19 innovation in the UK was located in England, both in terms of vaccines and other innovations such as prophylactic nasal sprays, Covid-19 sniffing dogs, and disinfectant lighting research took place in England. And then you have The City of London.
Of course, a major reason for this is simply size of England versus the others. Scotland, arguably is the country that “punches above its weight” like none other in history when size is truly considered. That said a standalone England will hardly like Iceland-it will be a significant country.
The same logic applies to British colonies. India was called “The Crown Jewel” of The British Empire for a reason.
Thanks. I don’t think I suggested that England without the UK would not be a significant state in the world — there are many that are not part of the big powers, that small circle whose members’ opinions must be taken into account in dividing the world between them. I leave the debate at this point and thank you for an interesting and respectful discussion.
Just wait until the DUP supporting farmers don’t receive anything off the British Government to replace the EU subsidies then young Ian will have something to cry about.
Q. Northern Ireland celebrates its centenary in 2021. Do you think NI will be part of the UK in 30 years?
January 22-25, 2021
Sample – 2,295
Poll carried out when and where please and what was the sample number?
Lucid Talk/Belfast Telegraph opinion poll.
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Grma. See, the BT is a Unionist organ and shockingly biased at times. Now, if they commissioned a survey company, most likely they set up in the city centre, which is still mostly a unionist area in my recollection of fairly recent visits there and interviewed passers-by. So a real cross-section of opinion would be difficult to obtain in that way. If this is what they did, the results are even more surprising (unless the BT is trying to whip up unionist fears).
Taken from the Lucid Talk Website:
The polls are regular ‘Tracker’ polls of the established LT Northern Ireland Opinion Panel (now over 13,000+ members). The LucidTalk Opinion Panel consists of Northern Ireland residents (age 18+) and is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland. For this January 2021 NI Tracker poll-project our NI-Wide and representative Opinion Panel was targeted, and invited to participate, and 2,427 full responses were received. Then after data auditing to ensure: (a) ‘one person-one vote’ responses, and (b) the collation of a robust, accurate, and balanced representative NI sample, – 2,390 full responses were recorded and used for the final representative NI sample. All results presented are accurate in terms of representing NI opinion to within an error of +/-2.3% at 95% confidence.
Grma. Looks like an on-line opinion poll then. 2,000 + would be considered a statistically-significant sample.