The exclusion of Ulster, Mark II?

In the shadow of brexit, uncertainty and rancour reign. Whether or not Remain was Project Fear, the brexit lobby is definitely Project Unclear. We’re still in Europe but with a stay of execution of two years, to use a Carsonism (except we don’t know the terms or extent of severance).

All sorts of figures and predictions were made, few have come true. But nobody could have envisaged the savage mortality rate of leading politicians.

One thing was certain and predicted, and it came to pass – Brexit would be a boon for the SNP and other nationalists.

David McWilliams, Andy Pollak, Fintan O’Toole and Diarmaid Ferriter, and many more, all asked this question – Why would unionists vote for an EU secession that would embolden Scottish and Irish separatists, and emasculate the unionist argument? O’Toole, perhaps the most eloquent and compelling commentator on the brexit debacle, wrote:

“It beggars belief that the Democratic Unionist Party made common cause with a movement whose logical outcome is the end of the union.”

Even brexiteer and unionist Alex Kane said that leaving Europe would have a “deeper, broader impact” in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK. Perhaps this is why senior DUP figures, including Stormont ministers as businessman Tom Kelly said, privately backed a Remain vote in the EU Referendum.

Richard Haass and Alan Greenspan have both said #indyref2 is inevitable, with a YES vote as foreseeable. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon seized the moment and stood alone in a no man’s land of leadership, saying that a second Scottish independence referendum is on the table* – a “statement of the obvious.”

Gove made a statement of the deluded on the Marr Show, saying “there’s no appetite for #indyref2.”

Sturgeon’s stand for Scotland’s 64% has been rousing and has been quite irresistibly delivered, even for her detractors such as myself. In contrast Foster has been muted and opaque. Those unionists who have come out to articulate life after brexit for Northern Ireland’s 44% have seemed disingenuous, it’s certainly disorientating to see brexit-unionists from Ulster, who’re usually so keen to distance themselves from “liberal” England and Wales, now so rapturously follow the expressed will of the people of E&W.

The case for special treatment or dispensation for Scotland and Northern Ireland may seem repugnant to Unionists, but there is a precedent for exclusion, and its unionists who enshrined it.

William Ewart Gladstone said in his speech on the first Home Rule Bill 1886:

“I cannot conceal the conviction that the voice of Ireland, as a whole, is at this moment clearly and constitutionally spoken. I cannot say it is otherwise when five-sixths of its lawfully-chosen Representatives are of one mind in this matter. There is a counter voice; and I wish to know what is the claim of those by whom that counter voice is spoken, and how much is the scope and allowance we can give them. Certainly, Sir, I cannot allow it to be said that a Protestant minority in Ulster, or elsewhere, is to rule the question at large for Ireland. I am aware of no constitutional doctrine tolerable on which such a conclusion could be adopted or justified. But I think that the Protestant minority should have its wishes considered to the utmost practicable extent in any form which they can assume.”

Yes the voice of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as a whole, has spoken, with a majority of 51.9% seeking secession from Brussels. But, to use Gladstone’s term, there is a counter-voice – Scotland and Northern Ireland who at 64% and 56% respectively voted not to secede.

The whole vocabulary of Unionist resistance during the Home Rule crisis railed against “coercion” and later clamoured for “exclusion”  by grace of the “self-determination” of Ulster. The unionist Spectator Magazine wrote in 1920:

“If self-determination within an existing political unit belongs to any community, it certainly belongs to the people of North-East Ulster. It is theirs by tradition, by blood, by religion, by political aspirations, and by geographical position.”

Should Ulster’s majority be coerced again?

The Home Rule crisis of the late 1800s and early 1900s prompted men to devise projects to get around the coercion of Ulster. William Ewart Gladstone also said in his 1886 speech:

“Various schemes, short of refusing the demand of Ireland at large, have been proposed on behalf of Ulster. One scheme is, that Ulster itself, or, perhaps with more appearance of reason, a portion of Ulster, should be excluded from the operation of the bill we are about to introduce… 

What we think is that such suggestions deserve careful and unprejudiced consideration. It may be that that free discussion, which I have no doubt will largely take place after a Bill such as we propose shall have been laid on the Table of the House, may give to one of these proposals, or to some other proposals, a practicable form, and that some such plan may be found to be recommended by a general or predominating approval. If it should be so, it will, at our hands, have the most favourable consideration, with every disposition to do what equity may appear to recommend. That is what I have to say on the subject of Ulster.”

Doesn’t the very existence of Northern Ireland as established in 1921 by the Government of Ireland Act makes the argument for special consideration of Scotland and Northern Ireland in the face of brexit?
Sturgeon and Irish nationalists want exclusion from an independent UK, just as Ulster unionists wanted and got exclusion from an independent Ireland. John Redmond said in July 1914 on the first day of Buckingham Palace conference

“It was generally understood that there was no possibility, with any advantage, of discussing any settlement except on the lines of exclusion of some sort… Sir Edward Carson said he would consider no settlement of any kind unless based on exclusion.”

James Craig, July 11 1921, speaking with Mark Sturgis in the Carlton Club with a message for Dublin Castle said:

“Tell Cope [the Prime Minister’s intermediary] I’m going to sit on Ulster like a rock, we are content with what we have got – let the Prime Minister and Sinn Fein settle this and if possible leave us out.”

“The Ulster question in its modern form appears to begin in that year when Gladstone introduced the first Home Rule Bill for Ireland in the House of Commons…

The subsequent course of Irish history was clearly indicated in the results of the 1886 election. What they indicated was partition, the exclusion of at least eastern ulster from an independent, nationalist Ireland. The electoral map has hardly changed since, despite the myriad hopes wasted upon it. From 1886 until 1920 ulster protestants were again a minority under threat, and the history of Ireland in that period is shaped by their absolute determination not to become a minority in an independent, or even semi-dependent, Catholic state.”

If we follow the unionist argument as articulated by ATQ Stewart, the June 23 referendum vote indicates the partition of Scotland and Northern Ireland from an independent, pro-brexit England and Wales.

For Carson, partition was Ulster self-determination. For republican belligerents, partition was an Orange veto.

Now consent is universally agreed (save for dissidents), it is for the people of Northern Ireland alone to determine their place in the Union. Peter Robinson said in 2012:

“We should remember that today, the right of self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland is a fundamental cornerstone of the political process. Perhaps if the right to self determination, which is so widely accepted today had been accepted in 1912, the history of the last century might have been very different.”

As a matter of consistency, shouldn’t Northern Ireland’s place in the European Union be decided as its place in the Union of Great Britain and NI was secured and is now maintained?

But precedence is as problematic for nationalists as it is for unionists.

The traditional view of Irish nationalists on exclusion is one of repugnance because it partitions the island unit and also opens the door to an ever-shrinking partition, as James Connolly wrote in 1914:

“The reader will also see that with a perfectly Mephistophelian subtlety the question of exclusion is not suggested to be voted upon by any large area where the chances for or against might be fairly equal, where exclusion might be defeated as it might be if all Ulster were the venue of the poll, and all Ulster had to stay out or come in as a result of the verdict of the ballot box. No, the counties to be voted on the question are the counties where the Unionists are in an overwhelming majority, and where therefore the vote is a mere farce – a subterfuge to hide the grossness of the betrayal of the Home Rule electors. Then again each county or borough enters or remains outside according to its own vote, and quite independent of the vote of its neighbours in Ulster. Thus the Home Rule question as far as Ulster is concerned, may be indefinitely prolonged and kept alive as an issue to divide and disrupt the Labour vote in Great Britain…”

Brian is a writer, artist, political cartoonist and legal blogger.

Actively tweeting from @brianjohnspencr. More information here:

  • OneNI

    Hi Ciaran can you point to me the bit in the GFA in which the UK Govt committed to introducing an Irish Language Act as opposed to consulting about it?
    UK Govt haven’t done anything to undermined the GFA and the Dublin Govt aren’t about to reinstate Art 2 and 3

  • OneNI

    Mmmm of course GFA doesnt state that Uk or the Republic has to be a member of the EU. Mrs May is not fan of the ECHR but the New Government hasn’t made an threat to ECHR. Indeed the Conservative manifesto is to remain faithful to rights signed up to in the ECHR. Moreover its not a pillar of the Agreement
    Sure no Irish Language Act at present but hey a minor thing to the vast majority of people in NI compared to say -dragging feet on Decommisioning for 5 years. Or making a deal at Storomont House and then reneging and paralysising government in NI until Fresh Start.
    You seem to be implying SF will renege on consent and recognition of Uk sovereignty and on Art 2 and 3 – THEY might but Dublin wont. You go on to talk about consequences but all SF can do is crash the institutions

  • OneNI

    From the BBC:
    The latest official trade figures for Northern Ireland show an increase in manufacturing exports being driven by sales outside the European Union.

    The figures, from HM Revenue and Customs, compared the 12 months to March 2016 with the same spell in 2015.

    Non-EU exports were up by 27.5%, while EU exports were down by 3.6%.

    However, the majority of exports, 52%, still went to the EU. The total value of goods exported in the period was £6.6bn, up by 9% on 2015.

    The largest value increases were to the USA, up £604m or 81%, followed by South Korea, up £78m, a four-fold increase.


    Exports decreased the most with the Republic of Ireland, down £151m or 6.7%.

    However, the Republic of Ireland continues to dominate Northern Ireland’s export market with a 32% share.

    On a quarterly basis, export sales to the EU in the first quarter of this year were worth an estimated £852m.

    The quarterly average over the last three years is £883m.

    There were particularly strong first-quarter sales to North America, worth an estimated £583m.

  • OneNI


    The value of UK exports to the EU grew by 28% between 2004 and 2014, while the value of exports to non-EU countries grew by 40%. In the same period, the value of Northern Ireland’s exports grew by 28%, while the value of non-EU exports grew by 25%.

    From 2014 to 2016 the above discrepance has narrowed (see below)

  • OneNI

    “he has no authority to pronounce on what arrangements will be made between the jurisdictions on this island. Decisions on that are above his pay grade”
    Eh actually he has. He is a Minister in the UK Govt which has a mandate from the General election. For last couple of years he has been THE Minister responsible for the Common Travel Area.
    As part of the UK people in NI have right to vote Conservative and hopefully will get the right to vote for Labour candidates in the near future. You may reject that but GFA accepts that reality. Dislike it if you wish. Vote nationalist if you wish but it is democratic and not a ‘viceroy’ If you want respect for nationalism you should show respect for the UK.
    There will be no difference between the pro Brexit approach taken by Brokenshire and that which would have been taken by Villiers had she stayed

  • jonno99

    Really? That is a very optimistic conjecture. Brexit was a UK vote. For Scotland or NI to be excluded independence is required and that is unlikely. Scotland’s vote to Bremain was as part of the UK. It’s a whole different story if the price for Scotland’s Bremain is secede from the UK then negotiate EU membership. In other words Brexit is not an independence mandate for constituent parts of the UK

  • jonno99

    I wish it were so but it’s pure fantasy to translate Brexit into a united Ireland and independent Scotland. Disillusionment with the ‘EU is widespread across many member states. It’s poorly managed, corrupt and a gravy train for those in its two city parliaments. A bankrupt Euro imposed on such disparate economies has to date shown very little chance of long term success with many basket economies driven into penury. Schengen agreement in tatters and uncontrollable immigration. Will there even be an EU to join within a few years?

  • OneNI

    Yes read it and you will find nothing concrete about ECHR nothing nailed and legally binding. Alot of wooly words and warm sentiment.

    Of course there are agreements and there are Agreements. Only the GFA is a legally binding treaty (though how you would Enforce it is a moot point )
    St Andrews in just a gentleman’s agreement between parties as is the Stormont House agreement

    I’m not destroying anything matey I’m just pointing out the intrinsic weakness of the nationalist position and how in particular how SF have been overtaken by events and outmanoeuvred

    Come the next Assembly elections will voters care most about the failure of the brits to deliver an Irish language act or the fact that SF have delivered welfare reform and austerity and directly presided over a local health service with rocketing waiting lists – despite having thrown more money per head at it than Eng, Scotland or Wales?

    Democracy you can’t beat it hi!

  • Declan Doyle

    So we are both optimists !

  • OneNI

    Let’s be very clear Ciaran. Waiting lists have rocketed in NI PURELY and SOLELY because SF blocked the use of the private sector for over a year. Thankfully that idiocy was stopped by Simon Hamilton and Michelle O’Neill has meekly accepted that. So SF is contemptible?

  • OneNI

    ‘how have SF been overtaken by events and outmanoeuvred’ Have you seen the two new polls from the South. We will have an election next year and right now SF are going nowhere. Clearly outmanoeuvred by FF.
    And in NI they have been overtaken by events – the return of a Conservative Govt in 2015 and the implosion of Labour

  • OneNI

    So if the DUP had adopted a different stance Brexit wouldn’t have had a majority?

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Just skipped over this. Surely people understand that it is a national decision? Why come up with regional stories??

  • AntrimGael

    Sadly I have to agree with this. Sinn Fein are up a creek without a paddle and don’t know where to go. Arlene and the DUP control them on a leash and tell them what to do in Stormont while the South is, and always will be, a gombeen, corrupt, brown envelope state dominated by two Thatcherite parties who will always be in government thanks to the most stupid, self loathing, lemming like electorate in Western Europe.

  • Roger

    to recap: you were, as I understand your response, for some reason rejecting “northern ireland people”. You were asserting “Irish” was ok. Plainly it’s not. You’ve now referenced a census where only a smallish minority picked “irish”. There’s a world of difference in meaning between irish and northern Irish. The latter is a UK construct. It flows from the act of 1920. A very British statute I think even you’d agree. How many people in the census of ireland described themselves as southern Irish-?Have you ever met anyone who was happy to describe himself or herself as southern Irish? There must be 1 or 2. But not many more than that. Do you disagree. If so, why?

  • OneNI

    Loving how Guardian and Gerry Adams are clutching and Michael Martin’s (of alll people Ciaran) comments about a unitied Ireland! which when you read them closely are actually a reaffirmation of the principle of consent massaged by a bit of wishful thinking!

  • OneNI

    People Before Profit will hold you to account for your management of the health service over the next few years dont you worry!

  • Roger

    I already explained the difference. Northern Irish is a UK ( i.e. British) construct. It flows from a UK statue passed in 1920. Being Northern Irish is entirely consistent with being British. It is not consistent with being Irish. English don’t say they are Northern English or Southern English. I pointed to the fact that just about no one would describe himself or herself as Southern Irish. That was also a British construct. But it was never popular. You can call me a waffler if you like but that doesn’t engage with the topic or represent an argument. You might like to label Northern Ireland people as just Irish, but that’s not an argument either and very obviously represents make believe.

    A very great many English might describe themselves as English but that too is not inconsistent at all with British.

  • Roger

    There are around 1.8 million people in UKNI. Asking what nationality 2 of them are and inferring from that the nationality of the others does not seem logical to me.

    I like your idea of David Lloyd George Day though.

    People taking markers; drawing lines on maps and by that shaping nationalities and identities is indeed very real. Think of South Sudan as just one recent example. More and more people there will call themselves South Sudanese. A few years ago some of those same people might have just called themselves Sudanese.

  • Roger

    It’s your third time asking about two individuals who I’ve never met. Can’t you focus on the bigger picture. There are 1.8 million Northern Ireland people. They don’t share a single identity. It’s not right to insist they are Irish.

  • Roger

    You’re accusing me of generalisations and at the same time insist Northern Ireland people are Irish? No one has ever suggested there are no Irish in UKNI. But that’s very different to saying UKNI people are Irish. There are also Irish in England and USA too.

  • Roger

    Our interactions kicked off from your assertion that “the Irish” had voted remain. I pointed out that the Irish had no vote. Northern Ireland people did. You then insisted your labeling of Northern Ireland people as “Irish” was somehow ok. You even resorted to the census results even though only a minority described themselves as Irish in the census.

    Just as saying one is South Sudanese is not the same as saying one is Sudanese, Northern Irish is not Irish. You must be able to see that. You’ve dwelled on the census but its results do not support your assertion. You ask about individuals when you don’t need to when we have a census that counts everyone.

  • Roger

    Didn’t see this till now. While our discussion has moved along, I flag that I was very careful. Please check what you wrote. You did not write you were Irish. My “may feel Irish” was only right. Saying one was born in Belfast but is not British is not the same as saying one is Irish.

  • Roger

    Northern Irish is inherently a UK concept, i.e. a British one. It derives from the Act of 1920 and the line drawn through the former Ireland then. David Lloyd George et al created the jurisdiction and the Northern Irish tag. There is nothing contradictory in being British and just choosing Northern Irish and no other mix of options.

  • Roger

    100 years of partition hasn’t managed….yet only about a quarter of census respondents said they were Irish? Were they calling themselves Northern Irish a century ago? Of course not.

    You haven’t retracted your original choice to label Northern Ireland people “Irish”. I try to deal in reality and so call that out as wrongful and not accurate. You seem to be dealing in wishful thinking.

  • Roger

    So if I described myself as British Irish would your question be the same?
    Would you just ignore the qualifier and hear the Irish?

  • Roger

    I think that was a ‘read the tea leafs’ type answer. I’m for being clear. If you’ve got a good argument, why not be clear? I can speculate that your suggesting that while “Irish” and “British” are identities, for some reason you assert that “Northern” as in Northern Irish is not. If so please do give us some reasons as to why you reach that conclusion. I’d be intrigued. I’ve never met some one from Munster call himself Southern Irish or another from Dublin call herself Eastern Irish. Are South Sudanese just Sudanese? Are South Africans just Africans? We could go on. I’m all ears.

  • Roger

    I’ve already explained the differences. If you didn’t understand, do feel free to ask me what wasn’t clear. I just notice that you don’t engage with my questions.

  • Roger

    Well I was never bored. My previous answers even inspired you to come up with David Lloyd George Day. Yet now I’m told I provided no straight answers. It sounds like you will carry on pretending “Northern” means nothing. I do hope you’ll stop labeling Northern Ireland people Irish.

  • Roger

    I don’t get your point. We have a pretty recent census to go by. We know how many In UKNI call themselves British, Irish or Northern Irish. About a quarter say they’re Irish. Roughly the rest say they are other things.

  • Roger

    Awakened from our slumbers, we resume. But we ought not forget what went before. Despite your post above, the terminology I have all along described as appropriate is “Northern Ireland people”. We’ve gone over it all before. You know very well that a very sizable chunk of people describe themselves as Northern Irish. The biggest group as British. Another group as Irish.
    I’ve never heard people describe themselves as Irish Groupers. That reminds me of a fish species.
    Your discussion of DNA reminds me of Der Fuhrer. He went in for that sort of talk too. I don’t.