Northern Ireland – a failure to adapt

Expectations dashed

Sir, – Prof Brian Walker is right to point out the achievements of Northern Ireland in the period 1920 to 1971 (Letters, September 29th), but his letter prompts the question: so why did it all fail, with the prorogation of the Northern Ireland parliament by Westminster in March 1972?

For an answer to this, perhaps we need to go back to the French intellectual, Alexis de Tocqueville, who in the 1850s developed the concept of a “revolution of rising expectations”. Writing about the French revolution, he explained: “It is not always by going from bad to worse that a society falls into revolution. It happens most often that a people which has supported without complaint, as if they were not felt, the most oppressive laws, violently throws them off as soon as their weight is lifted.”

In other words, the experience of things getting better and the demand for more improvement are important factors in provoking revolution.

On this basis, the very achievements of Northern Ireland that Prof Walker notes carried the seeds of its destruction.


These achievements had created the expectation of further advances among the Catholic population, but that expectation was dashed. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 18.