David Trimble and Michael McDowell on the Ulster Covenant

IMG_9368The Institute for British-Irish Studies (IBIS) at UCD and the Irish Association hosted a conference Saturday on ‘The Ulster Covenant and Contemporary Ireland’ at the Linenhall Library in Belfast. Addressed by a range of academics, former politicians, and journalists, the conference included historical and contemporary perspectives.

Former UUP leader David Trimble (or Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvey, as he is known these days) and Michael McDowell, former Tanaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, were asked to provide a ‘political perspective’ on one of the panel discussions.

Trimble and McDowell’s contributions focused on historical rather than contemporary politics. I was struck by how both of their presentations in some way seemed to present in the best possible light any responsibility for violence that might be associated with their ‘side.’

For example, when discussing the Protestant churches’ involvement in promoting and facilitating Covenant Day, Trimble presented their role as largely benign, arguing that the churches came on board in an effort to avoid a repeat of the violent riots that accompanied the first Home Rule bill of 1886. Trimble added that the formation of the Ulster Volunteers, which became the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913, was also an improvement on communal violence as it gave a potentially unruly populace better scope for ‘disciplined action.’

McDowell, on the other hand, presented the Ulster Covenant and the formation of the UVF as the spark that reignited a relatively dormant Irish republicanism, creating the conditions for the ‘emergence of a counterforce’ of physical force republicanism. This, he said, contributed to the downfall of John Redmond’s more limited vision of home rule inside the British Empire. McDowell added – tongue somewhat in cheek – that:

‘The Ulster Covenant therefore numbers among the founding documents of what I call Irish freedom.’

Neither presentation therefore left much space for debate about the morality of the Protestant churches’ close links with the politics of political violence; or debate about the morality of physical force republicanism.

Having said that, hearing Trimble’s and McDowell’s perspectives can help us understand how people of the time may have acted the way they did. Perhaps they chose what they saw as the lesser of evils in a context which was messy, fraught, and more complicated than we can appreciate 100 years on.

Whether seeking to understand the others’ perspectives can eliminate ‘what-aboutery’ or questions like ‘how could they?’ of course remains open for debate.

Trimble and McDowell agreed definitively on one aspect of the historical period, and that was that in 1912, people weren’t entirely sure what Home Rule would mean. They also agreed that each of the Home Rule bills got less and less ambitious. Looking back today we may see home rule simply as a form of limited devolution, but in a period when the British North America Act had granted dominion and limited autonomy to Canada, people could have imagined Home Rule as something more expansive. This also helps to explain the tension and anxiety of the time.

It was left to McDowell to say, at the culmination of his presentation, that today:

‘promoting reconciliation takes precedence over any constitutional priorities any of us might have.’

McDowell added that he sees the ‘decade of commemorations’ as an opportunity  for ‘progress on mutual understanding.’

Unfortunately, the discussion remained somewhat detached from current anxieties about the Orange Order’s Ulster Covenant parade, planned for this coming Saturday. There’s still a risk that events on the streets in 2012 could undermine efforts for mutual understanding, let alone reconciliation.

  • between the bridges

    Gladys not everyone is caught up in the hype of ”current anxieties” regarding a small section of the parade. following on from the highly successful (and not much hyped) ‘Carson trail’ reenactment in enniskillen,

    http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/local/in-pictures-ulster-covenant-celebrations-begin-1-4243299

    i expect more of the same but on a much larger scale.

    i and thousands of others eagerly await Ulster day 29th September 2012. The parade of the century will be a pageant of colour, culture and music, an estimated 200+ bands 9-10k musicians showcasing the vibrant Ulster bands scene will be joined by 20-30k participants many in period dress. The parade will include bands and representatives from all 9 Ulster counties, Scotland, England and further afield. A number of feeder parades converge on City Hall forming the main parade out to Stormont. There in the shadow of lord Carson’s iconic statue, it will pass a review stand where members of the Loyal Orders who participated in the Ulster Covenant 50th anniversary commemorations in 1962 will be seated. When the entire parade has congregated, an open air service of thanksgiving will be held.

    At Stormont itself a culture village and entertainment will be provided from 10am. Performers include Lambeg drummers, the Grallagh Unionist Flute Band, County Antrim Fife and Drum, Bright Light Highland Dancers, Ulster-Scots Folk Orchestra and The Thompson Brothers,and historical memorabilia etc on display. various kids entertainment face-painting, balloon modelling, etc will also be available.

    The Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice has been chosen by the Orange Order as its charity partner for the day and should receive a substantial donation after the event.

  • weidm7

    I’ll never understand the likes of McDowell, he goes to this academic conference and speaks highly of concepts like ‘Irish Freedom’ but he did absolutely nothing to promote that same cause while he was in a very high position of power in the south. How can people praise the war of the 20s and condemn the war of the 60s-90s, they were both for the same motives and both spurred by the same reasons. Disgraceful.

  • weidm7 Mystifying why they’re celebrating a colossal failure which that of Carson’s failure to avoid the partition of Ireland and end up with an entity, [NI], Carson never wanted to see exist. You’d think unioinists would want to keep it quiet as the gunrunning and threat to their own government showed them up as treasonous to their own King George V. As Bonar Law rightly said, loyal only to themselves.

  • JoeBryce

    At least Carson and Redmond are on speaking terms once more.

  • babyface finlayson

    betweenthebridges
    Thats a fair old dander. I wouldn’t want to be a lambeg drummer!

  • weidm7,

    There are many differences between the 1920s IRA and the 1970s PIRA. One obvious one is that the original IRA had the support of a majority of the people it claimed to represent.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Another reason was that what the Old IRA were fighting for was achievable by violence. Violence can rarely be justified, but if it can, the pre-requisite is that it must be capable of achieving something. You can argue one way or the other as to whether there was a better way back then but The Provisional movement was futile and any supportive argument falls at the first hurdle.

  • Alias

    A third difference is that the IRA acted to obtain national self-determination. Since there is only one right to self-determination per nation and since the Irish nation had already obtained self-determination, PIRA were not acting to obtain national self-determination but to deny the right of the Irish nation to execise its right to self-determination. In that regard, they have more in common with Carson than with Pearse.

  • New Yorker

    Lionel,

    Exactly right. A just war must have a reasonable expectation of winning. That was never the case with the Provos in their ‘war’ against the British who were clear that the unionist people had a democratic right not to be forced into a polity they did not choose to enter into. Anyone who thought, or still thinks, the Provos had any chance of winning against the British military and security forces cannot be taken seriously. The question is what were the real reasons they went to ‘war’. Follow the money: some came out of the conflict much richer.

    McDowell is right about the introduction of armed resistance by the Covenant into the era of the 1910s. Not facing it down with force by London was an early indication of the end of the Empire.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, the Hansard record of the third reading of the Government of Ireland Bill is well worth a read if folks a better understanding of the issues and of the thinking of that time.

  • Alias

    To extract a part of Carson’s speech from Hansard:

    “A great many hon. Members talk very loosely of self-determination, but I would ask them to consider this short proposition. Could there be any proposal nearer to self-determination than what is proposed in this Bill? I do not believe that even the House has realised it, let alone the country.

    The Bill sets up a Parliament for the North of Ireland and a Parliament for the South of Ireland. It says these two Parliaments can select representatives to meet together on a council, and it says that that council can self-determine whether there shall be a Parliament for the whole of Ireland. Where will you get a better method of self-determination than that? Do you think it would be a better self-determination to say to the Irish people, “You go by a majority, and set up something that the people of the North of Ireland loathe and detest, and then, if they do not accept it, go and shoot them down?” Is that self-determination? No, Sir, this Bill sets up a procedure for a union and unity of the whole of Ireland, but it will be a real unity and not a sham unity. In my belief, no other scheme so statesmanlike, or so near to self-determination, which is so loosely defined, has ever yet been brought before this Parliament.”

    It’s interesting that there were so many different concepts of self-determination put forward by the different speakers, with even the Prime Minister not sure what it meant insisting that an essential component of it was foreign affairs (something not granted to Ireland in the Bill).

    It wasn’t codified in international law until decades later, and the version used is a virtual copy in meaning of De Valera’s definition as it appeared in his 1937 Constitution.

    Carson didn’t hold that the Irish nation had any right to self-determination. He held that this right belonged only to the British nation and to him as a British nationalist. While he was pro-unity, he, like Redmond, did not believe that the Irish nation had any right to determine its own affairs independently of British supervision. That is a view he shared with the British Prime Minister, who expresses it in the most patronising manner of Ireland needing British supervision for its own good – to save the Irish from themselves.

    At any rate, those claiming the mantel of Carson (Nesbitt cited his speech at his party conference) overlook that such a mantel if properly assumed would compel them to seek the reunification of Ireland within the UK, and would forbid their longstanding and perverse separatist stance.

    So that’s really the outcome of the Covenant: two nations with two separate claims to self-determination and two separate jurisdictions in which to exercise them.

    In reality, as Carson would have known and has was his design, unity could not have occurred without the formal cancellation of the Irish nation’s right to self-determination since it would have been subject to the veto of a foreign nation.

    That botched understanding of self-determination appears again in Gladys Ganiel’s other recent post on this topic:

    Charles Frederick D’Arcy, later Archbishop of Armagh, stated his Church’s reason for supporting the Covenant: “We hold that no power, not even the British Parliament, has the right to deprive us of our heritage of British citizenship”.

    Here it is held that a minority may veto the will of the majority and thereby held that the British nation has no right to self-determine its territory. Again, self-determination wasn’t formalised as a collective right until much later so claims that it was an individual right (and inalienable) would not have been automatically identified as self-contradicting.

    Now that it is formally conceeded that there are two separate nations on the island and therefore two elgitimate claims to self-determination, as opposed to two separate traditions but one nation, ending partition can only only come by ending self-determination.

    So here’s to another 100 years…

  • The unionist desire to cling on despite the fact that, via Home Rule, they were dumped by their colonial masters as suitors and failed to take the hint. They are now celebrating the centenary of their humiliation without shame. It’s like the film ‘Fatal Attraction’, they were the Brits bit on the side who couldn’t handle being dumped and threatened civil ar unless accepted. Now celebratng being dumped by their masters, they have nowhere else to go

  • GEF

    “How can people praise the war of the 20s and condemn the war of the 60s-90s, they were both for the same motives and both spurred by the same reasons. Disgraceful.”

    weidm7, the situations in the 20’s & 60’s -90’s were totally different. The success of the 20’s came about because the majority of the population of Eire who were Catholic wanted to break away from the UK and become a Republic.

    Whereas, the failure of the 60s-90s was because the majority of the population of Northern Ireland did not want to break away from the UK and become a republic.

  • Reader

    danielsmoran: The unionist desire to cling on despite the fact that, via Home Rule, they were dumped by their colonial masters as suitors and failed to take the hint. They are now celebrating the centenary of their humiliation without shame.
    Instead of trying to undermine our deluded happiness, why not celebrate your own perpetually delayed triumph? Wouldn’t that leave everyone more cheerful?

  • tacapall

    I cant find the cartoon graphics from the 1800s but nevertheless never a truer word spoken.

    Independence not Separation

    John Bull – “I swear by the Eternal Jingo, much as I hate you, I will never consent to our ‘Separation’.”

    Pat. – “Look here, Bull, you’re only making an ass of yourself; don’t you see that unfortunately we can never be separated, our premises are built too close for that, but that’s no reason you should meddle in my domestic affairs, and for the future, myself
    and Biddy here, will manage our own little house, and you and Sawney [Scotland] can look after look your own place”

    Biddy – “O! Pat, jewel, will you try to keep that noisy, nasty man quiet – he quite upsets me.”

  • babyface finlayson

    Lionel/New Yorker
    I agree.
    A further criteria for a just war is proportionality. The casual disregard for life shown by PIRA led to far more harm than the outcome could ever hope to justify.
    I do not know if the same could be said of the old IRA.
    A thread on the subject would be of interest.

  • HeinzGuderian

    100 years,and we haven’t gone away ya know…..:-)

  • Greenflag

    @ Alias ,

    ‘That is a view he (Carson ) shared with the British Prime Minister, who expresses it in the most patronising manner of Ireland needing British supervision for its own good – to save the Irish from themselves.’

    Carson was following the path laid down by Lord Castlereagh -the architect of the Act of Union 1800 and according to a new ‘rehabilitation ‘ biography on the Irish Machiavelli ‘Castlereagh a life ‘ by Paul Bew this patronising view that the ‘Irish ‘ needed to be saved from themselves ‘ is not a new one in the long history of nations and has provided ‘just cause’ /’excuse ‘ for intervention in the internal affairs of smaller nations by every Empire from Rome to the current American version.

    A review of ‘Castlereagh’s Life ‘ by an American historian in last weekend’s WSJ (Wall Street Journal Review section) ) is worth a read for anyone interested in the historical ‘justifications ‘ for the Act of Union ‘ The attempt to resurrect Lord Castlereagh from being the second most hated man in Irish history (after Oliver Cromwell ) to a more nuanced and progressive international statesman type figure is perhaps only of interest to political historians but Paul Bew does his best to overcome the bad press that Castlereagh has accumulated not just from Irish historians .

    English Poet Lord Byron even wrote a notorious mock epitaph on him.

    ‘Posterity will ne’er survey.
    A nobler grave than this .
    Here lie the bones of Castlereagh .
    Stop traveller and piss .

    In a poem titled ‘The Mask of Anarchy ‘ (1819 )
    Shelley depicted Castlereagh as the grim reaper feeding his dogs with human hearts .

    Paul Bew’s attempt to resurrect Castlereagh runs to 722 pages and will probably only appeal to serious history buffs or ‘intellectual ‘ unionists but I may even be attempted to have a scan through it . Castlereagh had a sense of humour and even fought a duel and shot George Canning the Foreign Secretary in the thigh .

    When unexpectedly cheered by an Irish crowd in 1821 Castlereagh joked that ‘compared with popularity -unpopularity is the more convenient and gentlemanlike condition ‘

    I guess US Presidential candidate Romney would add that maybe so but it doesn’t win elections !

  • Greenflag

    @ HG

    100 years,and we haven’t gone away ya know…..:-)

    To which the instant response would be there is nowhere to go to 🙂 (for the vast majority of people anyway )

    @ Alias ‘

    So here’s to another 100 years…

    Thats what they were saying in the USSR , East Germany , South Africa , Yugoslavia , Czechoslovakia , Romania etc etc etc etc etc .

    And then almost overnight these ‘eternal ‘ regimes were gone . Despite the armies and secret police forces and apartheid policies etc . Gone.

  • Greenflag

    Cromwell , Castlereagh , Carson and Craig

    The four most hated /misunderstood / and ultimate ‘losers ‘ in Irish history ? Discuss and rate their political performance on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the most popularly reviled and 1 being almost but not quite a decent chap who thought it was all for the best in the long term when everybody would be dead anyway 😉 ?

    The four C’s .

    And then there was Brian Cowan ye gods there may be something to this C business after all 🙁

    But then a ‘unionist ‘voice in whataboutery guise shouts up from the back of the room ‘

    ‘Churchill ‘

    Well quite !

  • Alias

    Greenflag, which is why the British Prime Minister and the other speakers linked above from 1920 were expressing some difficulty with the concept of self-determination: there wasn’t an accepted definition of it, mainly because there wasn’t a definition that was acceptable to those colonial powers who were denying self-determination to nations by foreign occupation of their territories and thereby determining their affairs for them. How could the UK laud any concept of self-determination when the principle existed in opposition to colonial interference?

    While there is accepted definition of self-determination today (Article 1 of the UN’s ICCPR), it is still one that is twisted by colonial power to serve its own ends. For example, the British Prime Minister said that the UK could not withdraw from occupation of the Falklands Islands because that decision was subject to an act of self-determination by the Falkland Islanders. Again, this botched understanding gives a veto to a minority, thereby violating the core principle of self-determination as a collective right by denying its exercise to the whole nation or to the government appointed to determine affairs on its behalf. In short, the Falkland Islanders cannot properly veto the decision of the British people over whether or not they want to hold sovereignty over the Falklands Islands, so that is how even accepted definitions do not prevent expedient political obfuscation.

    As with the definition of self-determination back then, there is no accepted definition of terrorism now as the UN cannot agree on one. That is because Arabic and Islamic Conventions veto the debate since they cannot have a definition that excludes their brand of terrorism from the definition. Admittedly, it’s pretty much the same reason why the US State Department doesn’t have (or didn’t have) a working definition of terrorism either.

    And as the British Prime Minister asked of De Valera, “What is the Irish word for self-determination?” De Valera had to admit that there wasn’t one. New toys for the boys, and all that…

  • Greenflag

    @ Alias ,

    ‘even accepted definitions do not prevent expedient political obfuscation..

    There would have been no GFA without as you put it expedient political obfuscation -ditto for Sunningdale . Prior to WW1 the ‘expedient political obfuscator ‘ was Lloyd George. Had WWI not intervened the great obfuscator might have left us with a ‘different’ temporary solution.

    Had there been no WW1 there would have been no NI at least not in it’s current format and probably no Republic . Also would have been no Israel . There would have been no nazi takeover in Germany and even Russia might have avoided a communist revolution and developed a modern social democracy . Which is of course another way of saying that once ‘war ‘ breaks out for whatever reason unintended consequences or the unknown -unknowns can deliver much worse outcomes for all concerned .

    The current GFA would never have been agreed without ‘obfuscation ‘ or as we prefer to call it ‘fudging ‘ or even circumlocution .

    Words are important and their definitions and accepted meanings and usage but at the end of the day it’s what the words represent to people on the ground that will matter most . And if there is a mismatch between actual legal definitions and the political , economic, military power realities -the latter will triumph .

    As to Dev not knowing the Irish for self determination -he did’nt have to . He knew what it meant in the 1918 election to voters and thats why he was sitting in the same room as the British PM .

    As to definitions of terrorism ? Menachim Begin ? George Washington , Jomo Kenyatta , Eamon De Valera , Michael Collins , Nelson Mandela etc etc were all at one time or another ‘terrorists ‘ until they won that is . Had any been caught or arrested earlier in their ‘rebellious ‘ /’terrorist/freedom fighter , lives they’d have been hanged or taken out and summarily executed.

    When a government turns it’s guns on it’s own people such as today in Syria does that make them terrorists ? Many people think so -the Russians don’t .

    Could it be that it’s just a trace of that old imperial expedient political obfuscation remains or perhaps it’s never really gone away .

    I’d opt for the latter and it’s not confined to the Russians but you’ll find everywhere from the Falklands to those tiny islands between China and Japan /Taiwan and in NI .

    The ‘Union ‘ between NI and the UK will continue to exist until such time as a majority in NI prefer to opt for a UI . That is unlikely to happen until such time as there is a voting majority of nationalists/republicans in NI . And even that may be insufficient particularly if the future nationalist majority in NI consider they are better off within the UK and can have the best of both ‘irish ‘ worlds by remaining under Westminster supervision. .

    Of course if Scotland opts for independence in 2014 that would muddy the waters in NI . We’ll just have to wait and see.

  • Alias

    True enough, and there would have been much less profits for snake oil salesmen if their product wasn’t claimed to cure every ill. Claims that would land you with a large fine today if you were selling a product are freely used by the political class to sell policies to the people. Most folks are still waiting for those jobs the government promised them if they voted for the Lisbon Treaty…

    So, constitutions have an exact legal meaning that the obfuscating amendment, hmmm, obfuscates to those who are asked to approve it. Both Sunningdale and the GFA are re-affirmations of the salient provisions of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Folks may have been led by obfuscatin to think that the constitutional situtation is different now, but those are the same folks formerly rubbing snake oil on their assorted ills.

    The Ireland Act 1949:

    It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of His Majesty’s dominions and of the United Kingdom and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of His Majesty’s dominions without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

    The Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973:

    It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty’s dominions and of the United Kingdom, and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty’s dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act.

    The Northern Ireland Act 1998:

    It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.

    “As to Dev not knowing the Irish for self determination – he did’nt have to.”

    I think the point being made to De Valera was that the Irish had no yearning for, or culture of, self-determination. It was a new concept imposed upon them by Republicans. That is as true today as it was then.

  • Alias,

    While there is accepted definition of self-determination today (Article 1 of the UN’s ICCPR), it is still one that is twisted by colonial power to serve its own ends.

    You say twisted, I say vague and unenforceable.

    From wiki:

    The principle does not state how the decision is to be made, or what the outcome should be, whether it be independence, federation, protection, some form of autonomy or even full assimilation. Neither does it state what the delimitation between nations should be — or even what constitutes a nation. In fact, there are conflicting definitions and legal criteria for determining which groups may legitimately claim the right to self-determination.

    For example, the British Prime Minister said that the UK could not withdraw from occupation of the Falklands Islands because that decision was subject to an act of self-determination by the Falkland Islanders. Again, this botched understanding gives a veto to a minority, thereby violating the core principle of self-determination as a collective right by denying its exercise to the whole nation or to the government appointed to determine affairs on its behalf.

    The UK has no right to hand over the Falklands to Argentina against the will of its inhabitants, as this would violate their right to self-determination. If the shoe were on the other foot, would you be arguing that the Malvinas have no right to declare independence from their Argentinian colonial masters? Equally, the UK has no right to unilaterally abandon them to independence, as this would amount to making them stateless, contrary to several documents such as the UDHR and the European Convention on Nationality.

    Yes, this means that the minority has a veto over the actions of the majority, but that is the case in all human rights law. I have a veto over being lynched by the majority, or having my property expropriated without due process. The tyranny of the majority is not democracy.

    That said, the concept of “dependent territories” is discriminatory, as it leaves some people with greater levels of democratic participation and legal protection than others. The French system of “overseas departments”, with full citizenship and equal status, is a far superior model.

  • Ah shit.

  • Alias

    “The UK has no right to hand over the Falklands to Argentina against the will of its inhabitants, as this would violate their right to self-determination.”

    They don’t have the sovereignty, so they cannot determine the matter. That is determined, self-evidently, by those who do hold the sovereignty, i.e. the UK. If they could determine it then they would be sovereign and the UK would have no say in the matter.

    Sovereignty is self-determination. So while it is self-evident that they are not sovereign, and therefore have no self-determination in the matter, it is perhaps less evident why the utterly bogus position of the UK state, were it actual and not bogus, would be a denial of the UK’s own sovereignty.

    That is because the UK via its self-determination can self-determine whether or not it wants to hold sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.

    It can, of course, exercise the same act of self-determination in regard to Northern Ireland by simply repealing the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and abrogating the British Irish Agreement.

  • Alias,

    Where did you get this batshit idea that sovereignty and self-determination were the same thing?

  • Greenflag

    @ Alias .

    ‘I think the point being made to De Valera was that the Irish had no yearning for, or culture of, self-determination. ‘

    Which De Valera wisely ignored . The same point was made and continued to be made up to 1949 in India /Pakistan in Vietnam by the French in the 1960’s and by the British in Kenya /Rhodesia /East Africa etc right up to the moment when the Emperor had to admit i.e McMillan admitted that the ‘winds of change ‘ could no longer be ignored .

    ‘It was a new concept imposed upon them by Republicans. ‘

    No it was’nt . It was based on a concept of devolved local parliamentary government going back to the 1700’s i.e the so called Patriot Parliament and the death toll in the 1798 Rebellion some 40,000 was proof that the idea of an Irish State was not dead but merely asleep .

    The Act of Union in 1800 merely delayed the development. It might have succeeded had Catholic Emancipation quickly followed the Union but that had to wait another 30 years !

    The ‘famine ‘ proved another nail in the ‘Union ‘ coffin in that it led to a resurgence of agitation which led to the Land League the Fenian uprising and eventually the Home Rule movement .

    ‘That is as true today as it was then.’

    It was’nt true then and it isn’t true now . I cannot say that Ireland as a whole will never again rejoin a Federal British Union inside the EU and Eurozone .

    Might take another world war or another great depression though and I would’nt think that either would be in Britain or Ireland’s interest !

    ‘It can, of course, exercise the same act of self-determination in regard to Northern Ireland by simply repealing the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and abrogating the British Irish Agreement.’

    Of course but given a choice between continuing to pump 8 billion sterling indefinitely into the NI financial abyss with no possibility of an end to to negative transfers I can’t imagine even a Tory PM refusing to accept the democratic voice of all the people of Northern Ireland if they should ever choose to leave the Union .

    The general consensus is that the vast majority of British politicians would be only too glad to cut the know and an even greater majority of British people . But for now and until such a day dawns if ever it’s steady and unsteady as she goes .

  • Some guys should cut the knot tying them to predictive typing 😉

  • weidm7

    Andrew, Lionel, Alias, thank you for bringing to my attention some interesting points I might not have otherwise considered. I only hope you’re still following the thread. Alow me to respond

    The war was unwinnable: I think there are several flaws with this argument. 1, who would ever have thought that the old IRA would have forced the British Army to the negotiating table? 2. At the height of the troubles, there were no thoughts, on any side, that the war was unwinnable, indeed, there were numerous talks between the IRA and British, in a sense, they achieved the same as the old IRA, but whether the British were ever sincere in those talks is another matter. 3. I think saying now that it was unwinnable is hindsight history, no one knew at the time how things would go. 4. It’s arguable that once the IRA and SF leadership began to think the war was unwinnable, i.e. the late 80s, they began to seek ways to end the war (the ceasefires, the various attempts at all-party talks, hampered by John Major’s reliance on unionist votes in parliament)

    Not representing the people they claimed to: That’s a more difficult one, republicans didn’t organise politically until the Hunger Strikes and at the 1919 general election, SF ran unopposed in most constituencies. I would wager that in places like the Falls road and the Bogside, they very much represented those they claimed to.

    My main point however was that in the 20s and before there was a situation of discrimination and neglect, just as there was in the 60s and both these instances led to the emergence of an armed resistance, one which was praised as heroic in the 20s, then condemned as terrorist in the 60s, there is blatant hypocrisy there. If you condemn one, you must condemn the other.. The biggest difference is probably that in the 20s, they won.

  • weidm,

    How many bombs were set off in the 20s indiscriminately murdering and maiming both Catholics and Protestants and Dissenters?

  • republicans didn’t organise politically until the Hunger Strikes

    You’re making my argument for me. Armed revolution first, political mobilisation second. Whereas the war of independence was a democratic vote first (unopposed matters little – nobody argues that the result was unrepresentative) and then an armed defence of that vote second. The double standards arose when the leaders of the independence struggle attempted to retrospectively justify their personal involvement in the Easter Rising, which had no such democratic mandate. This was vanguardism at work – commit a wrong in order to provoke a disproportionate response, then use the resulting public sympathy to retrospectively justify the initial wrong. It is an abuse of logic.

    A modern analogy would be if Sinn Fein won a majority of seats in the Assembly in the next election, used this to successfully call for a border poll and won that, then the British government responded with armed force (leave aside for a moment the strained premise, I’m chasing the principle). Would retired members of PIRA then be justified in taking up arms? Prima facie, I’d say yes. If they won, would this provide retrospective justification for their actions in the 1970s? Absolutely not – what was wrong at the time remains wrong after the fact.

    I would wager that in places like the Falls road and the Bogside, they very much represented those they claimed to.

    If it was just about improving the lot of the people of the Bogside, then maybe so. But the people of the Bogside cannot take it upon themselves to justify the overthrow of the state, which was PIRA’s self-declared aim. The majority of nationalists in NI (let alone “the people of Ireland”) wanted no part in it, and voted consistently for peaceful methods.

  • New Yorker

    Weidm7

    It was never winnable and no knowledgable and serious person ever thought it was. The British less than a quarter century before we’re on the victorious side of WWII. They had experience dealing with terrorists. They had overwhelming manpower and resources. They had the full support of the US. How were a few hundred untrained and poorly equipped guys going to win? There was never a chance.

    The original argument stands and your objections are an exercise in daydreaming. The war was not just and thus immoral.