Understandably, a lot of excitement has been generated by recently released population figures showing that Catholics now outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland by two per cent (45.7% Cath, 43.5% Prot, 9.3% none, with ‘other religions’ at 1.5%). The implication of all this is that a united Ireland is now within reach.
There are a number of problems with such a simplistic conclusion. The most glaring difficulty is the assumption that all Catholics are in favour of a united Ireland and that the Troubles reflected a powerful desire to both destroy the Northern state and to create a 32-county united Ireland.
My own experience, from a student at Queens when the civil rights movement began, followed by the resurgence of the IRA, up to the present day, and my near four decades covering the story as a journalist, is that that a yearning for Irish unity was not what all this signified.
Rather it was the belief that Unionism was so irretrievably committed to excluding Catholics from the exercise of power that the state they controlled was not just illegitimate but so inimical to the Nationalist community that the state they owned and controlled deserved to be destroyed. That is where the Provisional IRA’s roots lie.
The Troubles were not about creating a 32 county Irish republic as much as tearing down, or at least harming a state which Catholics felt they had good reason to detest. Aside from a minority of Nationalists it was not a yearning for Irish re-unification which drove hundreds into the ranks of the Provisional IRA but a hatred of the place which fate had chosen as their birthplace.
In this context the desire for a 32 county re-united Ireland was more an expression of the thought that since Unionism was so irreformable it deserved to be consigned to history’s dustbin. What it was not, was a yearning to rejoin separated brethren on the other side of the Border. Any Nationalist familiar with the circumstances that accompanied the creation of partition cannot but be aware of the deep resentment at the speed and lack of grace that accompanied their abandonment by the Southern state.
Just look at the history of the Irish boundary commission, circa 1924-25, and reflect upon the haste with which the infant Southern state waved farewell to the Northern minority and then, with only occasional exceptions, left them to their fate.
What this meant when the Troubles exploded was that what we went through was less a war of national liberation than an expression of anger and frustration at the refusal of the rest of Ireland, North and South, to recognise the right of Northern Nationalists to political and economic equity.
Assuming this trend begun by the peace process represents permanent change then what we can look forward to is not so much a united Ireland as a more united Northern Ireland.
I agree totally with your analysis.
Wasn’t it Brookeborough who said that he wouldn’t have a Catholic about the place?
He probably wouldn’t have had a capital C!
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And the southern Irish free state would now be very willing to subsidise northern Ireland at the same rate as now and disspassionately?
Read what I wrote and not what you think I wrote!
I would say that the expression made in my taxi by a Northerner on his holidays in Galway, many years ago. That we (Catholics) will outbreed them and then “take over” is probably still a long way off?
Good Morning Ed.
An interesting perspective. Northern Irish [sic] political demography is indeed no longer a binary. The Neithers are now well established. At least 20%.
And the Neithers are de facto unionists with a very small u. Indeed, many Catholic Neithers still vote SDLP or indeed SF. Not for the political aspiration of these parties, but because they champion Catholic rights and that ‘political and economic equity’ you referred to.
The Northern Catholic Neithers often find expression for their nationalism via GAA or Irish language. It is possible to argue that this emotive and vibrant cultural expression of collective identity has supplanted the primary political nationalist objective.
Bluntly, until the RoI “levels up’ in terms of heath care, free education, and public sector employment and disposable income, they would vote to say with the UK in any border poll.
Dr James Wilson
I think it’s an interesting insight that the concept of reunification and nationalism was a bit of a false goal. Do you think that people knowingly pushed that narrative, so that it would be more acceptable/palatable to those outside the fight? Or was it more a subconscious rumbling?
Additionally, I am a writer, and I am working on a piece surrounding the Troubles. I was wondering if there is a way to contact you more directly, so that I may ask a few questions regarding the moral implications of my work?
Regardless of if you are willing to, I greatly enjoy your work, and your two books have been incredibly helpful and insightful to me!
Hi kat – thanks for the compliments and I would be happy to talk. Friday would be better. I can be found at US code 9172505629 and don’t forget the five hours difference,
Actually Friday is hard now so make it sat/sun
Fantastic! I will call sat. Thank you so much.
And sorry to clarify, are you on US/Eastern time or IST time?
Please don’t call until after the spurs vs arsenal soccer game, starting 12.30 pm your time
Best regards, Ed Moloney
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