The Other Ireland

Appearing on our desk the other day was part of page 3 of the Winter 1992 issue of an unknown newspaper, presumably Irish. It contained in a single column a remarkable and detailed letter presenting the clear-sighted views of at least one of our neighbours across the Irish Sea.

It is a picture not generally known to readers of the British press because of it's continuing biased outlook concerning the affairs of these Britannic Isles, and this alone is sufficient reason for including it here, for the benefit of our readers. In doing so we offer our appreciation to the sender, to the newspaper concerned, and to the letter writer.

Conspirators in a Crazy Dream

The Dubliner writes:

Three thousand have been murdered. Tens of thousands have been maimed or bereaved. Atrocities unimaginable to the citizens of this society are common place, a two-hour car journey from Dublin. Yet only 37 per cent of the electorate believe that the Northern Question was an important issue in the Republic's general election.

Of those who do express a real interest in the fate of the people with whom we share this island, a significant number can be assumed to be fanatical nationalists who want to pursue, at the current price of terrorist-inflicted death, their crazy dream of a united Ireland. Also, it is clear from opinion polls, and, more convincingly, from everyday experience, that most people down here have no interest in this united Ireland. As Northern Nationalists are well aware, the people of the Republic do not care about their Troubles.

Why We Lack Concern

There are good reasons for our lack of concern: the atrocities committed in the cause of uniting Ireland, bombs in shops, the evil murder of Protestant worshippers at the Cenotaph in Enniskillen, and the campaign of genocide conducted by the IRA against rural Protestant families, are repugnant to a society which has chosen to settle its political differences in a civilised manner. If we cannot identify with the means employed to unite Ireland, or are indeed repelled by them, we are hardly likely to identify with the cause; one reason why Northern Nationalists enjoy little support in this part of the world.

There are other reasons. Nationalists claim they have been victims of discrimination. We used to sympathise until we began to reflect upon the notion of discrimination in the areas of jobs and housing and to realise that the kind of things Catholics in the North endured were facts of life in all societies.

Prejudice and injustice were not invented by Northern Protestants. Discrimination exists everywhere, most relevantly in this context, in the Republic of Ireland where to be born poor in say, Sheriff Street or Ballyfermot, was to suffer an existence worse than life in Derry or West Belfast.

The poor Dubliner, the poor of Limerick, Cork and Waterford were, and continue to be, the victims of outrageous discrimination. Their housing is squalid, their access to decent education severely limited, they have, increasingly, no jobs to go to; and, unlike their northern Catholic counterparts, the poor in this society are, like everyone else down here, denied their religious and moral preferences - by law - unless they conform with Roman Catholic teaching.

There is Harassment in the Republic

When Northern Nationalists complain about harassment by the security forces we know what they are talking about. Harassment is much more insidiously a fact of daily life for anybody in this republic. Those of us bound by the authoritarian tenets of the Roman Catholic Church, which are underwritten by our Constitution, are well versed in the matter of discrimination. So are the citizens of this republic who do not have access to a National Health Service. Dental care is a luxury for most people in the South.

If your daughter becomes pregnant as a consequence of sexual abuse and you seek for the merciful release of termination, our Attorney General may slap on you an injunction which forbids you to travel in your already distressed state. We know about discrimination and the denial of human rights.

Knowing about what might be called life we understand the difference between a proper and improper response to the vicissitudes of this world. Killing innocent people - or even the guilty ones - is wrong. For this reason we do not murder our bishops or blow our politicians to kingdom come. We are angry. We argue. Or, if we are young and free spirited, we leave for more tolerable places, exercising in the process such freedom as we possess.

The reason why the Northern Troubles have a low priority here should now be clear. What is not so easily understood is why our public people - politicians, journalists, and so called intellectuals - persist in ignoring the wishes of the majority of citizens of this state. As long ago as 1967 a Parliamentary review of our Constitutional attitude to the North came to the conclusion that we should moderate Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution to replace the absurd claim that the territory UP THERE belonged to us and was subject to our law, with an aspiration that the two traditions on this island would be reconciled one day. Sean Lemass, the leader of Fianna Fail, was the inspiration behind this wise and generous acknowledgement of our reality.

Does the Republic Respond to Human Rights?

Sean Lemass knew the people he led and had the courage to admit what they understood: that this republic was no haven of human rights. Lemass knew and was willing to concede that the Protestant Loyalists with whom we share this island could not reasonably be expected to give their consent to rule from Dublin. Three thousand killings later nothing has changed, nothing that is real. The people are not interested in the malicious pursuit of Irish unity. Like Sean Lemass we understand that there is nothing we can do about other people's problems, we must deal with our own which are today worse than they ever were. The Northern Question should be on our political agenda in this election but not for the reasons advanced by those who now lead the party of Sean Lemass and others like Garret Fitzgerald and the disgustingly ambivalent Southern intelligentsia who argue that something must be done.

Something is being done, has been going on for the past decade; something wicked, sly and cowardly. The Unionist/Loyalist people, the real minority on this Catholic island, have been driven into a corner from which, with the passing of time, escape seems increasingly unlikely. The world is conspiring against our Protestant minority. They remain in the dock accused of crimes which are, disingenuously, deemed to be both dreadful and unique. Their crime is discrimination.

Can we down here, with our wretched Catholic Constitution, seriously prosecute such a charge? Can we make common cause in this with the IRA, the most brutal terrorist organisation in the western world? Where do the IRA stand on the question of discrimination; these killers of babies, women, and shoppers - in our name?

The Minority Are Right

The IRA say they will not stop murdering until the British are out of Ireland. The fact of the matter is that the British are on this island to stay in the form of one million mostly decent people who are Protestant and convinced that their human rights are more likely to be guaranteed if they are governed by Westminster rather than Dublin. In this connection the minority on this island are profoundly correct. They live in a pluralist society. We can only aspire to that ideal.

The reason the North should have been a priority in this election is that one day soon this community may pay a dreadful price for the ambivalence of our public people in relation to this matter. Those of us who know the score, who respect the feelings of the Protestants, who understand they have not been guilty of any dastardly crime, have rather been guilty of nothing worse than being human and prone to the fears and prejudices of that condition, we are passive conspirators in a crazy dream that may soon become a nightmare.

Suppose the British people on the mainland grow weary of administering their troubled province as many hope they will. Suppose that, on sober reflection, a future British Government decides that there is a better way to spend £2 billion pounds every year than wasting it on a serious public relations problem called Northern Ireland. What happens next? Some say the Unionists will lie down, others believe they will fight for the liberty to live as they choose instead of being governed by a coalition of "Albert" and the "Pope". Many down here would want to fight alongside our Protestant neighbours. The struggle would be for a just cause. The enemies would be sly Nationalism and ambivalence.

When the Northern talks collapsed our Foreign Minister, David Andrews, claimed that "progress" had been made. An analysis of the discussion document renders this claim offensively misleading. Progress towards what? A United Ireland we cannot afford? A United Ireland financed by the British? Or progress towards that fearful day when the decent and perennially maligned minority of Protestant Britons on this island rise up afraid and angry to call our bluff and fight to the bitter end to avoid being ruled by men who have made such a mess of the South?


Source: 'Wake Up!' magazine, May/June 1993