Considerations on the centenary of the Partition of Ireland
Author: George Callaghan
It is apposite to muse on 100 years of Ireland’s division. Such meditations are particularly timely inasmuch as the Northern Ireland Protocol is to the fore as the British Prime Minister is thinking aloud about unilaterally shredding this part of the Brexit Agreement.
Those who would like to see Northern Ireland split from the United Kingdom and be absorbed into the Irish Republic are around 40% of the population. About 45% of the people of Northern Ireland would like to see those six counties stay within the borders of His Britannic Majesty’s realm. That leaves roughly 10% undecided. Which way that 10% jumps could be determinative. Of course some people will not vote.
How much is the Irish Republic worth to nationalists? As the SDLP leader revealed it is worth less than 50 Euros. He said the stumbling block for his mother and many others is they shan’t vote to pay to go to the GP. The United Kingdom provides tangible and generous benefits to Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom has always been most generous to Northern Ireland even during the worst years of the Troubles. Northern Ireland had the NHS, higher wages, higher benefits, free university, better roads and lower unemployment than the Republic of Ireland.
Identity in Northern Ireland used to be too strong. Because national identity was contested it was asserted with all the more vociferation. That was why the place was bedecked in Union Flags and Irish Tricolours. As the Good Friday Agreement says people in Northern Ireland are entitled to be British or Irish or both. For some ne’er the twain shall meet. But cast your mind back to the 1960s and many unionists regarded themselves as Sir Arthur Hezlett said, ‘’British first and Irish afterwards.’’ As the word Irish seemed to have been co-opted by Irish nationalism so unionists began to redefine themselves as NORTHERN Irish or Ulster as well as British.
As national identity is less pronounced so too is religiosity. Time was when 90% of people were to be found in a place of worship a’Sunday. But not so any more. Further, denominational identity is much feebler. 35% of people will say they are Catholics and 40% will say they are Protestants. Many will say that they are neither. Even of those who call themselves Catholics or Protestant do not feel that their denomination is so vital anymore. This is a healthy development.
The link between denomination and one’s desire to be in the UK or Republic of Ireland is feebler than it was. Prior to Brexit most Catholics in Northern Ireland wanted to stay within the United Kingdom. Even 15% of Sinn Fein voters wanted to remain in the UK. This was astonishing. The staggering thing is how many people voted nationalist despite being pro-Union. The Union was safe as houses. Then along came Brexit.
56% of people in Northern Ireland voted for Remain. Nationalists of all stripes favoured the European Union. The SDLP was ardently eurofanatic. The late John Hume was a passionate euromaniac. A few unionists voted Remain.
There are Irish republicans who assert that the United Kingdom was not allowed to withdraw from the European Union inasmuch as it would be a hostile act. Gerard Adams is one who had advanced such an argumentation. The Wednesbury irrationality of his position is blatant. Adams is a child sex abuse facilitator, a serial liar and an unrepentant terrorist. In most countries he would have been executed decades ago. He should get down on his knees and thank God that he is British. It is by the unexampled grace and clemency of the United Kingdom that he is alive today.
The UK had the absolute right to withdraw from the European Union. This was disputed prior to the Treaty of Lisbon. But then Lisbon but it in black and white. The Republic of Ireland ratified the said treaty by referendum. Thereby the Republic gave the United Kingdom the right to pull out of the UK.
The Irish Republic also passed the Brexit Agreement. Yet again, Dublin was expressly agreeing to the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland) pulling out of the EU.
The Northern Ireland Protocol allows smooth trade between NI and the ROI. There are no checks on items or people crossing the border. NI is in the UK but for trade purposes is treated as if it is in the EU.
Most people in NI want to be in the EU. The Protocol is a good way of squaring this circle. Even the DUP want an open border. The Protocol achieves this. It ought to be abided by despite its drawbacks. It is the only show in time.
Unionists find the Protocol dissatisfactory. That is because goods arriving from Great Britain have to be inspected in NI to verify that they conform to EU standards and regulations. Likewise goods from NI going to GB are checked for the same reason: to see that they meet British standards.
Unionists say that the Protocol pushes NI out of the UK. That is false. In two and a half years it has done nothing of the sort. It makes the UK more palatable to nationalists.
If Truss were to rip up the Protocol then the EU could play hardball on trade and illegal immigrants. The UK economy is in a brittle state. The United Kingdom cannot afford to irk the EU and the USA.
There are problems with the Protocol. But it is much better than the alternatives. This was agreed and should be kept too. It has kept things frictionless.
In North Britain some ask why they cannot have a Protocol like arrangement. After all Caledonia voted for Remain even more than NI. 62% of North Britons voted to stay in the EU. But NI is different since it is the UK’s only land border with the EU. Moreover, NI is the subject of an international treaty. The EU and even the United States were keen to ensure that the Irish Border remained open.
On 6 December 1922 Ireland was officially divided into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland remained part and parcel of the United Kingdom. The Free State soon renamed itself Eire (Ireland) and eventually the Republic of Ireland.
Ireland was divided because that is what the people of Ireland wanted. Most people in Southern Ireland seemed to want to break away from the United Kingdom. Their wish was granted. Most people in Northern Ireland wished to remain within the frontiers of the UK. Their wish was granted.
Had republicans not started a conflict in 1916 then there would have been no partition. In Ireland we could have remained united with each other and with our kith and kin in Great Britain. Partition is the republican movement’s fault. Sinn Fein even has two leaders: one for each part of Ireland. Therefore, Sinn Fein is schizoid, hypocritical and illogical on this issue. It demanded no austerity in the South whilst imposing it in the North.
The Treaty signed at 10 Downing Street on 6 December 1921 expressly provided Northern Ireland the option to remain within the UK. The Parliament of Northern Ireland had been operating since June 1921. The Parliament of Northern Ireland sent an address to King George V within a month of the treaty being signed in 1921 expressing Northern Ireland desire to stay in the UK.
Michael Collins and other Sinn Feiners signed the treaty that divided Ireland. Collins was Chairman of the Irish Republic Brotherhood. If the treaty was acceptable to the ‘head centre’ of the Fenians then surely it was acceptable to mainstream nationalist opinion.
Some say that the treaty is invalid and claim it was signed under duress. Such an argument is meritless. There was an armed conflict. It was patent that should negotiations breakdown then the conflict would resume. As the IRA threatened the Crown Forces does that invalidate the treaty? If that treaty does not stand then Southern Ireland is still an integral portion of the United Kingdom.
Dail Eireann hotly debated the Treaty in the early months of 1922. However, partition was a fringe issue. It was only cited by deputies from border counties. Sinn Feiners fixated on eight letters: republic. There were other contentious issues such as the Crown Forces retaining bases in the twenty-six counties, land annuities and the Irish Free State paying a portion of the national debt. Northern Ireland was already extant as a distinct entity and the Government of Northern Ireland was already functioning before the Treaty was signed.
The Government of Ireland Act 1920 had provided for two parliaments for Ireland: one in the north and one for the 26 counties. Ireland had the right to be represented in the UK Parliament that passed the Government of Ireland Act.
The Treaty was ratified by Dail Eireann in Dublin. Dail Eireann was exclusively composed of Sinn Feiners. Even they approved the Treaty which provided for Partition. Sinn Fein partitioned Ireland. It is something these liars pretend did not happen.
The Boundary Commission was established pursuant to the 1921 Treaty. The commission recommended some secessions of land by both Irish jurisdictions. This would be a net 2% loss of Northern Ireland’s territory. However, the Irish Free State turned down this offer of some nationalist majority areas in return for being forgiven its share of the UK national debt. Therefore, the Irish Free State in effect sold some of the land it was offered.
Northern Ireland might one day vote to leave the UK and unite with the Republic. David Lloyd George was the architect of partition. He wanted the two portions of Ireland reunite voluntarily. He wanted there to be a Council of Ireland. In the 1920s this never got off the ground. The Irish Free State was the restless dominion. It was the Free State that moved away and made reunification harder by breaking the 1921 Treaty on annuities, failing to support the Commonwealth in the Second World War and dumping the monarchy.
It was the height of perfidy for the Irish Government to lay claim to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland place within the United Kingdom had been agreed by the Irish nationalist movement by the Treaty, be the ratification of the same, by the election that upheld that ratification and by the Irish Free State rejecting the offer of some of the North In the 1920s. When Northern Ireland was publicly offered to Eire in 1941 Eamonn de Valera turned it down flat. Winston Churchill had sent him a message, ‘’A nation once again. Now or never.’’ De Valera chose never. There was the rider that Northern Ireland would be forced into union with the Irish State with the proviso that Dublin proclaim war on the Third Reich.
Ireland was not fully united until we our head of state was the King of England. Prior to English soldiers landing in Ireland the fact is that Ireland was not fully united, nor was it Catholic nor were we all Irish speaking. Moreover, realms that spanned the Irish Sea were not a novelty in the 1160s.
Partition may yet come to an end. The majority of Belfast schoolchildren have been Catholics for a decade. But Catholicism and nationalism are by no means the same. The United Kingdom is fairly acceptable to even those who regard themselves as nationalists.