The legacy of partition


A chara, – Pat Leahy (“The State is neither failed nor perfect: it is a work in progress,” Opinion & Analysis, January 15th) says, “The new State did nothing for them [northern nationalists] and while it may be argued that it was powerless to help them – what could it do? Invade?”

While conditions were to ultimately change for the people of the 26 Counties, conditions worsened for their co-patriots: 50 years of humiliation; the physical persecution of any outward expression of their identity; discrimination in housing, employment and investment; its minority position entrenched; a people denied access to government or power to change government; deaths at the hands of the RUC, B-Specials, unionist mobs and the British army, long before the IRA began its campaign.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could have organised in the North and that would have integrated the national question into the national discourse. In the 1960s it was, with other campaigners in the North, British Labour MPs (who took part in the Duke Street march in 1968, attacked by the RUC) who compiled statistics on five decades of discrimination against the Catholic community and made the case against the Ulster Unionist Party: whereas Dublin relegated the North to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Foreign affairs!

Dublin could have used international forums to highlight British repression – for example, the gassing of the people of the Lower Falls in the 1970 curfew; the torture (which continued despite British assurances that it would end, following the case of “the hooded men”); the killing of children by plastic bullet; British state collusion in the bombings of Dublin and border towns and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the assassinations of more than one thousand nationalists.

Successive governments could have provided a platform for voices from the North. Garret FitzGerald established the New Ireland Forum in 1984 not to create unanimity on a national focus but to bolster the SDLP and prevent its support being eroded by Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin was excluded on the grounds that it “supported violence”. Unionists, on the other hand, who also supported violence, were invited to the forum, although they refused to participate. Unionist politicians have never resiled from their position as cheerleaders for state violence and repression, curfews, internment, shoot-to-kill, but were always treated exceptionally. Many also flirted with loyalist paramilitaries.

Governments – while pursuing the IRA – could have spoken to all the elected representatives of the nationalist community instead of demonising and censoring republicans and actively discouraging the British from engaging with Sinn Féin.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael deliberately attempt to conflate the Republic of Ireland with Ireland, to create the perception that the Republic of Ireland is the nation and that the North is “other”. If politicians in the South are truly opposed to partition, why engage in terminological partitioning and psychological conditioning? Why deliberately offend the very people who were historically abandoned and sacrificed so that you could enjoy your freedom? Is it because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael lack the courage to participate in an honest debate about the relationship between the failed partition of our country and the causes of violence? Is it because such an admission would trigger another imperative – confronting the British government?

Instead, on the anniversary of the British withdrawing from the Free State we have RTÉ echoing establishment rhetoric and spouting such smug nonsense as, “One hundred years ago this Sunday British rule in Ireland officially came to an end.”

The Belfast Agreement provided us with a peaceful path to a new Ireland - however it is configured and negotiated with unionists and nationalists and the people of the Republic of Ireland – yet we have a Taoiseach who will do everything in his power to thwart a referendum or make any preparations for actual change which would actually see British rule in Ireland officially coming to an end. – Yours, etc,