A Republican 'Catch 22'?

One Tim Hames, writing in today’s London Times, looks ahead to a ‘win-win’ scenario for Sinn Fein in which it will (he believes) “decommission the SDLP even faster than General John de Chastelain and his team can dismantle the IRA’s arsenal”. But the rub, for those fundamentalists still within modern Sinn Fein may be the shift away from the headline terms of the war (severing the link Britain), to a new imperative under conditions of peace and democracy:

The more effective that Sinn Fein is as an electoral force, the more impotent it becomes as an ideological one. Every deal it strikes with Tony Blair legitimises the British presence in Northern Ireland. Every concession it secures that advances the economic and social standing of ordinary Roman Catholics in Ulster weakens the argument that it is only through Irish unification that those material interests can be realised. With every step that Ulster takes towards becoming a “normal society”, so what Sinn Fein officially regards as an “interim settlement” becomes more deeply entrenched.

This is the outlook for republicanism. A larger and larger number of nationalists in both the North and the South will vote for Sinn Fein — but more because they regard it as the best vehicle for representing them in a divided Ireland than out of support for a united one. Nor will it make much difference if Catholics finally outbreed Protestants in Ulster. Even at the height of the Troubles a substantial percentage of nationalists preferred the status quo to the upheaval of unification.

That sentiment will only swell if politics is perceived to be working in Northern Ireland.

  • levee

    This is a different take on a theory I may have written about on theLeveeBreaks.

    Basically, the longer ‘peace’ and normality reign, the less stock future generations will place on Irish Unity or British Union for that matter.

    Can you teach bitterness, prejudice and resentment to children who have no experience of the old days? Can you segregate neighrbourhoods when people no longer fear their neighbours?

    If the terorists disband, will all of this start to happen? Hope so.

  • the convincer

    You have a point about peace making northern irelands status quo seem more acceptable to nationalists, but when people have a taste of peace and unionists have a chance to do business with the republic plus cross boarder bodies, the boarder won’t be long vanishing. The majority of the people on the island want unity, peace and cross boarder bodies will pave the way for trust and business to develop accross both communities and to the republic. People will for the first time be able to see, not through orange or green tinted glasses but a normal view on our ireland as it is a geographical unit. Everyone will see the benifits of unity, then the boarder will be removed by popular opinion. More and more (middle of the road) protestants are begining to realise that protestantism has never been healthier in the republic. Ireland as a whole will have an economic sense of itself this will be the undoing of partinion and british involvement in ireland.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”More and more (middle of the road) protestants are begining to realise that protestantism has never been healthier in the republic.”

    Interesting you should say that — a cousin of mine who lives near Monaghan paid a visit yesterday and outlined some of the ways that ‘Protestantism has never been healthier.’
    All three of his children have had to move north to find a protestant marriage partner — his local church now has 16 families (formerly 300+), both his neighbouring properties have been recently bought by ardent republicans who subject him to the Wolfe Tones at full volume and offered to ‘burn him out’ when he asked them to turn it down — he subsequently had several windows broken. He summed up the experience of the last 50 years in the Republic as ‘keep your head down and say nothing.’
    The fact that the southern Protestant population has dwindled below 3% while the ‘downtrodden’ northern Nationalists have increased steadily to 48% says it all.

  • circles

    “The fact that the southern Protestant population has dwindled below 3% while the ‘downtrodden’ northern Nationalists have increased steadily to 48% says it all.”
    Don’t get your point there at all. Are you trying to say that nationalists should count themselves lucky that they’re not protestants in the Free State? I really don’t see what you’re getting at. One interesting thing though – that nobody in your example would consider taking a catholic partner, preferring to move north to look for a protestant one.

    Of course taking one single example and holding it up as the general case doesn’t make any sense.
    Anybody have any other data on the state of protestantism in the Free State?

  • Ricardo

    ‘One interesting thing though – that nobody in your example would consider taking a catholic partner, preferring to move north to look for a protestant one.’

    Religion is important to a lot of people on this island. Currently, if a protestant wants to marry a catholic, the catholic partner will have to promise that the children are brought up in the catholic faith. That is, if they want a priest to officiate at the wedding, which most catholics will. It used to be the case that both partners, protestant and catholic had to promise to bring the children up catholic but this was amended 20 or 30 years ago.

    It’s still a big deal to a lot of people though. And I imagine it would be an even bigger deal if you lived in a country where your religious grouping amounted to 3% of the population.

  • circles

    I agree that for many people it is a big deal – but I also think that it is a huge problem too.

    However I do have a hope that the falling church attendance rates in the south will help remove the catholic stamp that a most protestant see when they look at the free state. Although I still don’t see any real tolerance of mixed couples in the north (even the the catholic population of the north are for the most part so lapsed that it wouldn’t make a difference).

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”Don’t get your point there at all.”

    I would have thought the point was glaringly obvious. The Protestant population in the south has slumped from 10% to less than 3% in a couple of generations, while the Northern RC population has climbed from 33% to 48% in the same period.
    The obvious conclusion is that the south has been at best ‘a cold house’ for protestants.
    I agree that my personal example cannot be extrapolated to the population as a whole, but on a recent Slugger thread (a few months ago), there were a sizeable number of posts from southern protestants, many of which more than concurred with my example.
    Your scenario of hordes of lapsed catholics hardly chimes with the most recent census in the republic, where approx 91% classed themselves Roman Catholic. The only major group of lapsed Catholics appear to be Sinn Fein.

  • circles

    But using that logic – in the north the protestant population has dropped from 67% to 52% so it must be getting extremely cold there too – and I don’t think anybody could fairly claim that to be the truth.
    And don’t be foooled by the fact that people are still ready to label themselves as catholics into believing that 91% actually are practicing catholics – it is unfortunately engrained into the identity, but doesn’t mean that 91% of the population of the the south actually attend mass on a regular basis.

    Another point that I would put forward here is the fact that protestants (at least in the north) are normally less tolerant of sharing a housing estate / living area with catholics and beginning jumping ship as soon as the catholic population reaches a relatively low %age. Catholics have been seen not to be quite as reactionary and have been seen to be mopre willing to live in a mixed religion environment. So a decreasing percenage of protestants may in fact be a result of their unwillingness to share an area with anohter faith.

  • Henry94

    circles

    but doesn’t mean that 91% of the population of the the south actually attend mass on a regular basis.

    It is a stretch and an insult to suggest that sectarianism is linked with Mass attenders. The kind of person who would resort to sectarian violence is for more likely to be an attender at Old Firm matches in a pub on a Sunday than at either Catholic or Protestant services.

    They are unlikely to have the remotest clue about what the theological differences between Catholicism and Protestantism actually are.

  • circles

    Henry:
    Calm yer jets fella – I was absolutely in no way even remotely attempting to imply that sectarianism is linked with Mass attenders.
    I have no idea where you got that from and can only ask myself if you had read the thread so far on simply jumped in with both feet in your mouth.

    My point was simply that even if 91% of the population in the south class themselves as catholics it does not mean that 91% of them are practicing catholics.

  • Ringo

    Gerry Castro,

    sizeable number of posts from southern protestants, many of which more than concurred with my example.

    Can you provide a link to the thread? Try the archive. I’m pretty sure you will have great difficulty backing this up.

    The obvious conclusion is that the south has been at best ‘a cold house’ for protestants.

    Indeed. The absense of flames licking out the front windows from neighbourly petrol bombs down through the years would back up this assertion.

    I think you’ll also have difficulty backing up the idea that the number of protestants in the republic is slumping. Try the census. Does the fact that they are black protestants make my point irrelevant?

    Care to go through the figures on Protestant involvement in the Orieachtas or the Judiciary?

    Or perhaps trawl through all the >equality authority reports to try and find anything to stiffen your flaccid arguments?

    I understand your unshakable belief that what you’ve heard regarding the Republic or Catholics is factual, but maybe a little less gulliblilty wouldn’t go astray. Its all out there if you’re prepared to suspend your prejudices for a little while and do a bit of reading before drawing ‘obvious conclusions’.

  • circles

    thanks for the links Ringo – just can’t manage to get either of them to work :o(

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Perhaps Circles & Ringo might care to enlighten us as to why the Protestant numbers in the south have dwindled so dramatically, and while you’re at it — how about a few reasons for Protestants to join a united Ireland which has so demonstrably failed to nurture the Protestant population thus far.

  • Ringo

    Perhaps Circles & Ringo might care to enlighten us as to why the Protestant numbers in the south have dwindled so dramatically, and while you’re at it

    Well maybe, just maybe a lot of Catholics and a lot of Protestants got on so well together that they got married? And had babies and brought them up as neither catholic or protestant, or worse, catholic? Seeing as the protestant’s chances of marrying a catholic are much greater than marrying a protestant in an well integrated society, it would obviously affect the numbers of protestants more than catholics. So maybe, the ‘collapse’ is all due to the absence of two sectarian communities.

    how about a few reasons for Protestants to join a united Ireland which has so demonstrably failed to nurture the Protestant population thus far.

    Gerry – Yet another misplaced assumption – I’m not interested in a united Ireland. You’ve got problems we can’t fix, and until you can live with one another, I’ve no interest in moving into a two bedroom flat with two psycotic headcases who hate each other (and me) sharing the other room. Now if you think that a constant state of mayhem north of the border will keep a UI at bay – it probably will – but if you think that is a price worth paying, then that is insane and unionism is destined to fail before republicanism does.

    As for not nurturing the protestant population – funny that it is always the northern protestants complaining about the plight of the southern protestants. When my protestant neighbours and my mates start complaining about not feeling loved by the state I’ll get back to you on this.

  • Ringo

    Circles –

    just testing to see if Gerry tried to use them ; )

    here you go
    http://www.equality.ie

    http://www.cso.ie

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”Well maybe, just maybe a lot of Catholics and a lot of Protestants got on so well together that they got married?”

    And maybe just maybe they were forced for decades by the Roman Catholic Church decree to have the children of these marriages brought up as Roman Catholics.
    And maybe just maybe they were violently forced out in the years preceding and following partition.
    And maybe just maybe they were discriminated against in employment and denied jobs due to a lack of Irish language skills.
    And maybe just maybe they moved over the border due to the type of Republican ‘anti-social behaviour’ I outlined earlier.

    Regarding Ringo’s (working) links, no matter which way you slice it, the southern Protestant population remains sullenly on 3%.

    Ringo: ”I’m not interested in a united Ireland.”

    At least we agree on something.

  • S.O’Gallchoir

    Henry McDonald in the above excerpt seems to try to convey the idea that if the north became more prosperous or normalised, the increased votes for SF would be cancelled out by a lack of desire amongst catholics for reunification.
    However, McDonald appears to have overlooked one vital detail, the GAA. The GAA was formed at the end of the 19th century to promote Irish nationalism/republicanism at a time when these ancient Irish past times were in danger of dying out. The GAA’s role in promoting positive, non-violent republicanism cannot be overlooked or underestimated. The GAA in the 6 counties is in an unbelievable healthy state with the amount of membership on the rise constantly coupled with huge attendances at games, even at club level. As long as this continues, nationalism will only rise amongst catholics. At my club for example, the tricolour of Ireland flies proudly at all games from under-8’s to seniors and the national anthem is proudly sung before all championsip games and most clubs encourage members to learn the words.
    Although Henry McDonald makes quite a valid point about nationalism/republicanism somehow declining under a peaceful and prosperous society, he fails to take into account the buffering effect the GAA would have on any such change in attitudes amongst catholics.

  • Ringo

    And maybe just maybe they were forced for decades by the Roman Catholic Church decree to have the children of these marriages brought up as Roman Catholics.

    I thought it was the Republic you had a problem with? Didn’t the same laws apply to Catholics in the United Kingdom? Do you blame Her Majesties Government for this too? Take it up with the Romans – not Dubliners.

    And maybe just maybe they were violently forced out in the years preceding and following partition.

    Maybe. I’d really like to see some reputable data in this regard. Genuinely. I don’t think we were as snow white as some suggest, nor that we drove out protestants with anything like the
    enthusiasm of northerners. A major civil war did break out after partition – and while protestants did suffer a number of attacks by the republicans, catholics bore the brunt of the vast majority of casualties – and the Free State forces defended the protestants. Even at the lowest point, sectarianism wasn’t the defining division in this state. What mattered was your stance on the treaty, not your religion.

    And maybe just maybe they were discriminated against in employment and denied jobs due to a lack of Irish language skills.

    Shocking lack of knowledge of the way things operate. Are you suggesting that a) Protestants didn’t/don’t learn Irish the same as everyone else or b) that they were unable to learn it like the catholic kid in the next seat?

    Just to let you know – there is a trend of Protestant Gaelscoil’s opening up, particularly in Dublin. And the COI teacher training college has a very good reputation in terms of Irish.

    As a matter of interest what did you think was the story with Protestants and the Irish language?

    And maybe just maybe they moved over the border due to the type of Republican ‘anti-social behaviour’ I outlined earlier.

    Well they should have stayed where they were. More harm came to protestants north of the border than in the Republic.

  • circles

    Gerry – your argumental facade is seriously crumbling now. Your last few points smacked of severe desperation.
    I can just see it – protestants fleeing in droves the persecution in the south, for the green and peaceful valleys of the north. Aye right, that makes just so much sense. Unless of course that was the secret reason behind the pogroms – land clearing for the persecuted co-religionists.

    Another thing – the idea that somehow there are thousands of tragic protestants, forced by the catholic special branch to bring their kids up catholics “or else” is beyond surreal. You can’t serious with this point are you?

    Just come out of the closet and say that you don’t like irish people (even if abroad you might be accused of being one).

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    I thought it was the Republic you had a problem with? Didn’t the same laws apply to Catholics in the United Kingdom?

    I’m sure they did — they simply had a more dramatic effect in the south where Protestants were already heavily outnumbered and could ill afford to be further subsumed by draconian religious rules. Every study I have read on the subject lists this as one of the main reasons for the slump in the southern Protestant population.

    ”As a matter of interest what did you think was the story with Protestants and the Irish language?”

    At the risk of being labelled anecdotal, my own grandmother, who went into nursing shortly after partition, was denied a job in Cavan as she had no Irish. She moved to Liverpool.
    As a matter of interest, how exactly do you square Irish being compulsory for most jobs when the vast majority of the population and even the dail conduct their affairs in English?

    ”I can just see it – protestants fleeing in droves the persecution in the south, for the green and peaceful valleys of the north.”

    So you deny there has been any movement of Protestants from the south to the north? Where exactly did all those Protestants go in the last century? According to you their offspring being subsumed by the Catholic church is ‘beyond surreal’ and they didn’t cross the border, so where did they go? Do tell.

    ”Just come out of the closet and say that you don’t like irish people (even if abroad you might be accused of being one).”

    Exactly where did I suggest that I don’t like Irish people?

  • circles

    Gerry:
    OK – the last point of mine was very presumptious – apologies for that!

    However I would still dispute the fact that protestants were intimidated out of the south and into the north in droves as you suggest. I would agree with Ringo when he said:
    “I don’t think we were as snow white as some suggest, nor that we drove out protestants with anything like the enthusiasm of northerners. A major civil war did break out after partition – and while protestants did suffer a number of attacks by the republicans, catholics bore the brunt of the vast majority of casualties – and the Free State forces defended the protestants. Even at the lowest point, sectarianism wasn’t the defining division in this state. What mattered was your stance on the treaty, not your religion.”

    I am not denying a slump in the protestant population in the south during the 20th Century, I just don’t agree with your reasoning behind it. I’d be interested in reading those studies you refer to that point the finger at catholic draconian rules for the break down of the protestant population.
    Or perhaps they all just headed for the north around partition to put their feet up safely in the protestant land for the protestant people, with a built in permanent majority, safe in the apparent certainty that they wouldn’t lose their seat at the top of the table again.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro
  • Hyman Levy

    Maybe some ulster protestants just do not care enough about their “identity” to participate in preserving their tribes numerical levels…its all to do with caring enough about your “nationhood” ,and many protestants I knew at Uni in the UK, both male and female, and I was at a Briish Uni which attracted a LOT of middle classs unionists, who seemed perfectly happy to marry nice english middle class partners and blithely forget the joys of life in Ballymeena, Larne, or whatever unionist-dominated part they came from…for them becoming English (properly) was a real aspirational move, one that would be unthinkable for an Irish nationalist.I know of at least two Belfast born Doctors of unionist extraction who don’t even sound like ulstermen particularly anymore ,and generally refer to themselves as more or less English now , this was particularly clear when they insisted on sporting English cross of St Georges on their cars during the world cup.

  • DavidH

    ringo: Well maybe, just maybe a lot of Catholics and a lot of Protestants got on so well together that they got married? And had babies and brought them up as neither catholic or protestant, or worse, catholic? Seeing as the protestant’s chances of marrying a catholic are much greater than marrying a protestant in an well integrated society, it would obviously affect the numbers of protestants more than catholics. So maybe, the ‘collapse’ is all due to the absence of two sectarian communities.

    Nope. Mixed marriages, by definition, involve one partner of each faith. And – barring external influences – they should produce as many Protestant children as Catholic children. So why should there be a net loss of Protestant children?
    Of course, you can’t exclude external influences…like the expectations of the local community.