Marking centenary of Northern Ireland


Sir, – While obviously it is not the Republic’s responsibility to mark the centenary of the establishment of Northern Ireland, often loosely and inaccurately referred to as a state, the right attitude to it here does require careful discussion and reflection (Editorial and letter of Mary Lou McDonald, October 25th & 27th).

The traditional approach was clear. Partition was wrong in origin and principle, as also was the way it worked out in practice during 50 years of Stormont majority rule. Efforts to freeze or blast it out of existence failed.

The Lemass-O’Neill meetings, the civil rights movement and Sunningdale contained the seeds of a more constructive approach that with other developments crystallised into the Belfast Agreement, providing an accommodation which people in both parts of Ireland could endorse, while leaving the door open to eventual constitutional change, if and when they so wished.

The problem is that respective and deep-seated attitudes leave us all ill-equipped to handle such change, should it come closer. It is easy in the abstract to repeat the mantra about our respect for the unionist tradition, but what does that actually amount to, if we continue to reject out of hand the core of it, which is Northern Ireland itself, part of the UK and now nearly 100 years old, many still refusing 20 years on from the agreement even to refer to it by name?

It is difficult to see any prospect of the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland reuniting peacefully and by agreement, if those of us who are nationalists and republicans persist in wanting to write Northern Ireland out of history, at any rate for most of its existence, when it is still there, now by agreement, and may be there for a long time into the future.

A better understanding of history would help. Alongside the well-known and undeniable negatives, we might acknowledge some positive aspects of Northern Ireland’s past. These could include the remarkable industrial prowess even before it was formed; the material contribution of Northern Ireland to allied victory over Nazi Germany in the second World War; participation in the British welfare state, especially secondary education and the NHS; and a major cultural contribution transcending boundaries to art, music, literature and sport.

More recently, notwithstanding recent difficulties, the Northern Ireland peace process has been an inspiration to those seeking conflict resolution in other countries.

It should not be forgotten that in more threatening circumstances the authorities in the two parts of Ireland had to co-operate pragmatically with each other to prevent civil war, nor the positive economic co-operation going back discreetly at least to the 1940s but much enhanced and partly formalised since 1998. Articles 2 and 3 were mainly for domestic consumption, as the Free State government ratified the boundary in 1925, thereby recognising Northern Ireland as part of the UK in international law.

When King George V opened the parliament of Northern Ireland in June 1921, his speech reached out to all Irish people, and was a catalyst for the Truce a couple of weeks later, which was the prelude to the negotiation, establishment and later consolidation of a separate and independent Irish State, surely a commemorative event that the State and every Irish party should be represented at, if invited.

It would be good. if we could abandon the old and futile habit of beating the drum for a united Ireland in search of votes, and devoted our time to all the intermediary steps required to improve relationships, before expecting such a big step to be agreed and taken. – Yours, etc,


Co Tipperary.