Nationalist perspective on Unionism

Greagoir D laigh has an interesting historical response to A Long Peace?, our pamphlet on the future of Unionism, and finishes with a number of questions about Unionism he has never been able to unravel.

104 thoughts on “Nationalist perspective on Unionism”

  1. Alan

    Let us take it as read that bad things happened during the Civil War and the War of Independence. Let us accept that bad things happened to Protestants though I doubt anything as bad as the mass expulsion of Roman Catholics (and Protestants, mainly socialists, who wouldnᖒt go along with the attempted pogrom) from Harland and Wolf and other events in the North at that time. Be that as it may few could doubt that fear and trepidation and the reasonable expectation of attack were common.

    Let us accept that DeValeras statement on the Mayo Librarianship issue was a disgrace. Let us also accept that the ban on divorce in 1927 and the ban on contraception in 1935 were as well.

    It is my contention that a conservative southern state attempted an ideological control over the primarily Roman Catholic population. It is not the case, as Bury alleges, that Protestants had to batten down the hatches. If anything Protestants did well out of the economic policy pursued by Fianna Fail governments from the 1930s to the 1960s. Laws requiring Irish companies to be in beneficial Irish ownership meant that British companies setting up subsidiaries had to find Irish people to sit on Boards of directors. The offer was taken up in the main by the Protestant business class (class is probably the wrong word), who had family and other links to Britain. The policy on import substitution, requiring high tariffs on imported goods, had the effect of preserving many Protestant owned business that might otherwise have gone to the wall or been bought up by larger foreign competitors. Of course, this policy had the effective creating a small business (and inefficient business) economy by the late 1950s.

    Some bitter unionists declaim these persons saying they were bought off. But then figuring out where your next slice of bread is going to come from has a lot to do with a persons outlook. Isnt much of the basis for unionist support for the Empire and heavy industry and latterly for the welfare state and employment in the public sector given as a reason (by unionists) for unionist support for the union? Mr Bury just has a sectarian idea that Protestants should be unionists. Where can he have gotten that idea?

    Many Protestants joined Fianna Fail (many were already in Fine Gael). Some became TDs and some were appointed to the Senate. Preserving three senate seats for Trinity graduates had the effect of strengthening a Protestant ethos and indeed liberalism (Mary Robinson) in the Irish parliament. Protestants did not have a hang up about the Irish state and were enthusiastic promoters of the Irish language and other aspect of Irish culture. I am sure they found the oppressive RC atmosphere a trial, but then so did increasingly the majority of their fellow citizens. Since the RC atmosphere was not aimed at Protestants (a clear distinction from the paranoid attitude toward Roman Catholics in the North) there was never a major problem of them and us.

    Mr Robin Bury, the guy you quote is in fact in a minority among southern Protestants. He wants Ireland to rejoin the commonwealth and (as far as I am aware) is a member of the Orange Order he certainly did his best to organise an Orange march in Dublin a few years ago (the OO pulled out at the last minute after the CofI told them No they could not use the CofI church and it appeared that there would be protests). He does his best to popularise the cause of sectarianising southern politics, but so far it has been a failure.

    Burys argument is typical: in effect, no one has said they agree with me, which means they are too afraid to. In fact many Protestants have spoken out, but to disagree vociferously with Mr Burys movement. Mr Burys argument has the virtue of becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you tell people that you will be attacked for saying certain things, then those who might believe it will be too terrified to open their mouths. In addition, the vast but silent and imaginary ranks of supporters of Mr Bury will swell, subject tot no verifiable empirical test. It is a neat trick. I have come across, and have heard speak, prominent individuals who espouse the cause of unionism in the South. Their big problem is that it is not a very popular cause (in the sense of few people support it), so they tend to sublimate it (maybe this is what Mr Bury means) and to promote (for example) visits by members of the British Royal Family (and on the occasion of which there is never any shortage of fawning natives ready tug the forelock of old, like a habit that had never gone out of fashion).

    Now to Noel Browne: he wrote that in 1984 (good year for it), a year after the referendum making abortion unconstitutional. There was a panic among liberals who thought that there was a resurgent Roman Catholic right ready to re-take back all the gains won in the 1970s. It didnt happen and the referendum had the effect in a few short years of making abortion constitutional (in certain circumstances). Public attitudes became totally transformed, with tolerance for the reasons why someone might want to avail of abortion winning the day (by a mile). The moral ‘coup’ (which is what it was) and immediate success represented by the 1983 abortion referendum has been turned into the biggest unmitigated disaster for the conservative religious right in Ireland for years. And, here is the rub, to win the referendum, the socalled pro-life proponents made liberal use of Protestant fundamentalist unionists in the North to bolster the case for winning the referendum. Rather foolishly in my view, those opposing the referendum attempted to suggest that people should vote No because a Yes would put off northern Protestants. Result, a deluge of northern Protestants descended to make common cause with the conservative Roman Catholic right (it was a real case of Protestant and Catholic unite). In many ways partition suits both conservative Roman Catholicism and Conservative Protestantism it creates zones of monopoly influence (except that both projects are in crisis).

    Noel Browne was wrong on that one.

    As for what the Pope said in 1977 about not changing any laws. Who listens to him? Laws have been changed wholesale.

    The Popes influence is diminishing because he says all the wrong things as afar s the majority of people are concerned when they survey their own lives. It does not mean that they are no longer Roman Catholics. It just means that they do not obey the rules and have no intention of doing so.

  2. Jeremy

    For information, what is the current law regarding divorce in the Republic? (How does it compare to UK, for example?)

    Also, I assume the contraception ban was not in the constitution. Was it an act of parliament – or some sort of regulation? When was it overturned and what is the law now?

    Regarding censorship, when did that go, and how?


  3. Willowfield

    Divorce is available after five years (including two years separation). It is ‘no-fault’. I would have to look up the exact details (and I will). There is a state funded mediation service and family courts that sit in camera there is criticism of the latter because it makes it difficult to asses the consistency of decisions and the development of precedent. This may change soon.

    Contraception was banned by an act of parliament in 1935. Divorce had been banned by law and was subsequently made unconstitutional (in 1937, now rescinded).

    Contraception became legal for private use as a result of a Supreme Court decision in 1973. A Mrs McGee argued that her doctor had told informed her that any future pregnancy would put her life in danger. The Court decided that the constitutional protection of marriage (this is separate from the ban on divorce) meant that Mrs McGee and Husband would be prevented form living a full married life (if you know what I mean, I think you do). Therefore she and her husband had a right to use of contraception. There then arose an anomaly contraception for use in married life was legal, but its sale was still illegal. You could import contraceptives for personal and private use (most of it is!) but not for sale (whether it was for public or private use).

    In 1974 the then Fine Gael/Labour government attempted to bring in a law allowing limited contraception use much to the disgust of the highly conservative Minister for Justice (Patrick Cooney) who had to pilot it through Leinster House, while metaphorically holding his nose. The bill was full of references to fornication and other archaic terminology. The bill fell because the Taoiseach (Liam Cosgrave) and the Minster for Education voted against it (to the astonishment of their colleagues).

    Meanwhile, thousands of women were getting the pill prescribed (as a period regulator there was a lot of irregularity during those years). Family planning clinics were set up and did a roaring trade. A campaigning group called the Contraception Action Programme (CAP!)opened a shop selling condoms (Condoms Unlimited) and sold them openly in markets, all in open defiance of the law. Bemused members of the Garda were occasionally dispatched to take names nothing happened.

    The cross border trade in contraception ended 햖 customs on the southern side was completely uninterested in the practice. It was just a giant exercise in hypocrisy and moral piety that fell apart.

    In the late 1970s Charles Haughey (yes him) as Minster for Health successfully brought in a bill that allowed the use of contraception and the sale of condoms for bona fide family planning purposes. No, this did not mean it was illegal to use them as balloons. It meant that they were only available by prescription to married couples (believe it or not?). Haughey originated the phrase in defence of his measure that it was an Irish solution to an Irish problem. By 1984 the law was changed again and condoms became available for sale in shops and thorough vending machines.

    Censorship was onerous up until the mid 1960s most Irish authors had the distinction of being banned in Ireland. The censorship acts (in film and literature) were liberalised in the 1960s by the late Brian Lenihan (a sort of Fianna Fail version of Jim Rodgers, or rather a combination of Jim Rodgers and the Rev William McCrea). They were further relaxed in the 1970s. Now the situation is more or less the same as in Britain, I would think. There was a ban on information with regard to contraception that lasted a bit longer and a short-lived ban on abortion information in the 1980s the later information ban was overturned by referendum (as part of the liberalisation of attitudes to abortion, alongside an unhindered right to travel outside the state for an abortion).

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