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Trouble in Ireland

In response to:

Violence in Ireland: Another Algeria? from the September 23, 1971 issue

To the Editors:

Conor Cruise O’Brien’s analysis of the troubles in Northern Ireland in your September 23 issue underlines the transformation of a nonviolent non-sectarian civil rights struggle into sectarian near-civil war.

The sad political facts are that Britain holds the key to the problem but that the present Tory government’s policy is that violence must be stopped before bargaining can begin. In a situation in which, as Dr. O’Brien has explained, a 36 percent minority are governed without their consent, thus regarding the IRA as their defenders against British Army or Protestant aggression, such a program is manifestly impossible. In order to isolate the extremists from moderate Nationalist support it is essential to set up a form of government in Northern Ireland in which both sections of the community have confidence. Drastic changes such as proportional representation in all key governmental committees from cabinet down to local authority level are needed. Such moves must have the support of the government of the Republic, and when they have been made, and the confidence of the Nationalists has been secured, a general amnesty should be declared and all licensed guns should be called in north and south of the border. After this, joint action by both governments would be possible against the remaining extremists who resort to force.

Some measures of this nature must be quickly implemented if a civil war is to be avoided. In the long term the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, which is on the statute books in Westminster (and therefore in Stormont), should be activated to set up a Council of Ireland with representation from all communities in both parts of the country to plan the new Ireland which must emerge to ensure lasting peace and harmony.

Dr. O’Brien has emphasized the two sides of Northern Ireland’s problem. Aspirations of Unionists and Nationalists must both be taken into account if a solution is to be obtained. The retention of links with Britain and the unification of Ireland are not incompatible aims when considered within the framework of the EEC. Concessions from all parties will be necessary, not least of which will be Roman Catholic agreement on a denominationally integrated school system. However the immediate need is for prompt political action by the Tory government. American pressure on Britain was a crucial factor in the struggle for independence after the Easter Rising of 1916. It could well be crucial again.

Trevor West

Member of the Irish Senate

Dublin, Ireland

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