February 5, 2001

Minorities Ė The Irish Case Study


It is some time since I have written on the subject of Northern Ireland. This is partly because although a lot is happening there, little is changing – the peace process stumbles along with a permanent solution as elusive as ever. (Although the resignation of the British Northern Ireland secretary for petty corruption has added a touch of spice.) This is also because of the changing nature of my audience. When I started it was predominantly American and so I was reporting on the British scene, and so some reporting on the American meddling in Northern Ireland was proper. Now my audience is far more British and so my columns have been on British foreign policy rather than American British policy. Issues like Africa and son of star wars assume more importance than Tony Blair or Ulster. But I will get back to the issue of Northern Ireland, after all the guys at noraid@onelist.com havenít accused me of being a mass murdering, imperialist, swastika wearing football hooligan for too long.


Peter Brooke, the former Northern Ireland secretary once uttered the very telling phrase that Britain had no "selfish or strategic interest" in Northern Ireland. This was seen by many of the Unionists to be akin to betrayal, especially as he was a Conservative minister, what they didnít say was that this statement was almost true. Economically Northern Ireland is a drain, as much as Scotland or Wales. Strategically the old British need for a presence on Ireland – to forestall a European build up of forces to invade the West Coast of England – has been superseded by the advent of long range bombing. Ireland does not share a land border with England and so the issue of small-scale infiltration (as in Scotland or Wales) is moot.


One would assume, having read my piece on the colonial holdings that I would therefore say that Northern Ireland should therefore be submerged into the Republic of Ireland, without regard to what the majority population think. One would be wrong. The fact is that a group, the IRA wants to throw the British out of Ireland and they want to do it through force. When you are publicly threatened with force there is only one time when you should give in – when you have to. Britain does not have to give in, and therefore it will be worse for Britain to get a reputation as a country that finds it easier to be persuaded by force than by the democratic process. British interests must guide British actions – and not the interests of Ireland or Ulster. If we are to disengage from Ulster, we must do so in a way that protects the interests of the majority population.


There are two minorities in Ireland, Catholics in the North and Protestants and Jews in the South. The Catholic minority in the North has grown slowly since the withdrawal of the British from the south, where they were less than a third they are now over 40%. In the south of the island, the Protestants have gone from being roughly 10% of the population at independence to roughly 3% now. No one should deny, or excuse, the discrimination towards the Catholics in the north of Ireland. On the other hand, plenty of people are prepared to explain away the dwindling Protestant population in the Republic. The idea that their homes were burned, their children bullied, their businesses boycotted and their culture denigrated should point to the reason why one minority dwindled to the point of extinction. If for no other reason than the raw numbers it should indicate which side of the border was better for a minority to live, and it was not the South.

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The problem is in effect that of a minority that will always feel itself to be out of the democratic loop. The Northern Catholics feel that they are out of the loop and the Southern Protestants feel they will be. The solution is to recognise that there will always be minorities, and to minimise them. I do not propose Balkan (or Irish Republican) ethnic cleansing techniques, the state should not be in the business of social engineering – and not to that appalling extent. Simply put Ireland needs to be repartitioned. There are many majority Catholic areas in Northern Ireland on the borders with the Republic, and there is no reason why they should not be given over to Ireland – if the inhabitants want this. This should even apply to Unionist icons like Londonderry. Catholic majority areas away from the border, such as West Belfast are problematic, as they will never properly be under Dublinís control – and control will go either to the IRA or criminal gangs, if there is a meaningful difference. The general rule should hold that the more Catholics households that are peaceably transferred to Ireland the better for the peace of Ireland. Conversely, the more Protestant homes that stay in the Protestant area the better.


Northern Ireland will then be a smaller, and more homogenous, province. It should not remain a province, but become a country. Unionism will not work, as it assumes that there is some fellow feeling from the English, and some mutual "selfish or strategic interest" in remaining together. Neither of these statements holds. Most of the British ruling class want rid of Ulster, and the people of England donít care one way or another. The English cannot be relied on to keep Ulster from the Republic, and to be honest they have no interest in doing so beyond being seen to resist violence. Although a security guarantee may have to be extended, it should only be against the Republic of Ireland – and not terrorist groups – and should be on condition that Catholics are treated better than they were under the old Stormont regime.


What to do with the Catholics that remain in the newly independent Ulster? The minority may be smaller but they should not be disdained. Indeed the middle classes should be actively courted. I am not normally a believer in quotas, I see them as needlessly injuring free enterprise. Now there is a need, to win over the Catholic middle classes and those aspiring to join them. Quotas should be introduced, meaning that any Catholic of more than moderate intelligence can get a well-paid job. In addition these quotas should be for Ulster born Catholics and those who came in the state at its partition. If the Republic were to ever come in then all their perks would be at risk. As any bright Catholic can get a decent job, where will the IRA find its leadership from? You canít fight a war with just cannon fodder.


And the IRA? They will still be around and they will want to strike at the weaker state. The British army should keep out of any internal policing in the Northern Ireland – and this will probably be the worst thing that can happen to the IRA. The people of Ulster will want to defend themselves and the RUC (undoubtedly the name will return) and the Ulster Defence Regiment probably have a few ideas on dealing with the IRA, just give them free reign. Then they will really know what "Brits Out" means.

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