In Northern Ireland many well-informed people will tell you that it is an illusion to believe that the struggle is a religious one. Unionists, who are almost all Protestants, will assure you that their opponents, who are almost all Catholics, are the objects of distrust not because of their faith, but because of their political allegiance, which has generally gone, not to the British Crown and to what Unionists like to call the Constitution of Northern Ireland, but to the idea of an Irish nation. Surprisingly, some high Catholic ecclesiastics are in general agreement with this view: the real trouble, they think, is not between Protestant and Catholic as such, but between Unionist and Nationalist; it just so happens that the Catholics tend or have tended to be Nationalists; they are oppressed not for their faith but for their politics.

These are the positions of Conservatives, both Protestant and Catholic. But on the Left there prevails an equal conviction of the essential irrelevance of the sectarian factor. The issue is “only apparently” a religious one: it is basically a distorted form of class war. Landlords and industrialists have deliberately promoted religious strife in their own economic interest. Sections of the working class have become dupes of this propaganda. Protestant workers have been encouraged to look to their economic exploiters as their political and religious leaders. And, in a smaller way, Catholic workers have been encouraged to look to other exploiters—the weak but not quite insignificant Catholic bourgeoisie—as their protectors against an oppression that they mistakenly see as principally sectarian in character.

In fact—the argument runs—the bourgeoisie and land-owning classes are the sole beneficiaries of the religious antagonism, and the working classes are the dupes of the contrasting emblems behind which they march in July and August. The whole religious issue, I was informed by a student activist in Queen’s University, Belfast, last November, “is just a red herring.”

Certainly what is going on is not a simple case of religious war: there has probably never been a simple case of religious war. Ulster Protestants do not dislike Catholics simply because of their submission to the Pope and their devotion to the Virgin Mary. They also dislike them for political reasons. But the politics and the theology are inseparably intertwined. The Nationalists, after all, believe in an Irish nation which should be expressed in an all-Ireland state, which would have a Catholic majority. And the Nationalists are almost all Catholics. Protestants/ Unionists believe that the effect of the fulfillment of Catholic/Nationalist aspirations would place them under Catholic domination. This view was crisply expressed in the nineteenth-century Unionist slogan: Home Rule means Rome Rule. It was a slogan of immense power because it asserted in memorable words what to most Ulster Protestants seemed an unanswerable reason for opposing the nationalist demand.

Thus the dichotomy which some respectable conservative thinkers, both Protestant and Catholic, seek to establish between the “political” and “religious” issues is artificial, and cannot account for the treatment of Catholics/ Nationalists by Protestants/Unionists in Northern Ireland. Such an invention obviously must answer a need. For some laymen I think the need is for an image (of the Province, of oneself) which will be, if not altogether respectable, at least modern: “We are not really living in the Middle Ages, So this is not a religious war; it is political. Twentieth century!”

For some Churchmen, I think the dichotomy may be more important. For all of them it helps to exculpate “religion” generally, in a situation for which “religion” seems on the face of it to bear some share of the blame. It enables some among the Protestant clergy to forget the generations during which the Ulster Protestant mind was formed by the sacred oratory of men like Roaring Hanna and many other spiritual ancestors of Ian Paisley: the same men who both systematically inflamed hatred of Papists, and supplied theological backing for the political resistance to nationalist demands. And it helps some Catholic clergy to leave out of consideration how much credibility the use of the influence of the Catholic hierarchy in the Republic of Ireland may have added to the old slogan about “Rome Rule.” For bishops as well as for generals, “politics” and “the politicians” often supply useful scapegoats.

Class analysis of the origins and structure of religious antagonisms in Northern Ireland is another matter. It is certain that the ruling classes, and especially the landlord class, did in the past exploit and inflame religious bigotry—most directly, Protestant bigotry. The critical period was in the Twenties and Thirties of the last century. The struggle for Catholic Emancipation in what was the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Tory resistance to that measure, revived the apprehension about Popery. The Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1829, but it was not until after the Reform Act of 1832, with its erosion of landlord power and threat of further erosion, that the landed aristocracy threw its collective weight behind an anti-Papist movement—the Orange Order—which had originally drawn its strength from small Protestant farmers.1


At a great meeting at Hillsborough in County Down in 1834 the leaders of the Ulster aristocracy, led by the Marquess of Donegal and Londonderry, heard the great Presbyterian orator, Henry Cooke, proclaim the unity of Protestants in a common cause. The cause included the repeal of both Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Act. Cooke was successful in driving out the “Arian” radicals from the Presbyterian church, and in securing that the conservative interests which had always dominated the Church of Ireland (Anglican) should henceforth dominate also the Presbyterians and Ulster Protestantism in general. Cooke was not himself an Orangeman, but he is rightly regarded as a principal architect of the victory of Orangeism.2

Henceforward, and up to our own time, the Orange Order and its associated institutions have formed a popular politico-religious movement, under aristocratic and business leadership. This movement, or condition, has dominated the life of Eastern Ulster—what is now Northern Ireland—for more than a hundred years. From 1912 on, it prevented the Home Rule Bill from being extended to what is now Northern Ireland; and it has provided, through the Unionist Party, the parliamentary majority and the government of Northern Ireland for an unbroken period of almost fifty years, since 1920—the year in which King George V solemnly opened the Parliament of Northern Ireland at Stormont near Belfast. The United Kingdom Parliament retained control of finance, foreign affairs, defense, and other matters—and also, ultimately, the power to abolish the subordinate Parliament which it had created. But in local government, including police, Stormont had the power over the six counties of Northern Ireland. The first Prime Minister, Lord Craigavon, spoke of Stormont as “a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people.” Catholics—a permanent minority—regarded themselves as kidnapped into a condition of second-class citizens. The Irish Free State (later the Republic) denied the democratic legitimacy of the partition of the island.

Politically, economically, and socially the most obvious beneficiary of this history has been the landowning aristocracy. In the rest of Ireland that class has disappeared from the scene as a result of the successful nineteenth-century agrarian agitation of the Land League. But Protestant Ulster remained so loyal, not only to the Crown and the Reformation, but also to the landlord class, that, at the height of the agrarian agitation in 1880, Orange laborers were imported from Ulster to district Mayo under British armed guard to harvest the crops of Captain Boycott, who had been ostracized by anti-landlord forces. 3 Almost all the Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland so far have been drawn from the landlord class: all have been closely associated with that class and have had its support, including the current Prime Minister, Francis Chichester-Clark, descendant of an English seventeenth-century Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Industrial employers also benefited from aristocratic rule, for the sharp religious divisions among the working class retarded the trade union movement. With a few notable exceptions they have supported the Unionist Party and its aristocratic leaders, and have contributed to the Orange Order. The upper classes in England also played an important part in the development of sectarian hate in Ulster. From the time when the Liberal Party declared for Home Rule, in 1886, up to 1914, the Tories systematically exploited Protestant bigotry in Ulster. Rudyard Kipling, the bard of imperialism, deliberately struck this note in the great Home Rule crisis just before the First World War.

We know the hells declared
For such as serve not Rome
The terror, threats and dread
In market, hearth and field—
We know when all is said
We perish if we yield.

Yet the class-interpretation of the religious antagonism can be, and often is, over-simplified. In modern times the ruling classes have exploited and exacerbated this antagonism, but they did not create it: it exists independently of them. Indeed when, alarmed by its excesses, important sections of the ruling class have tried to cool down these feelings, they have been defeated by them, as was the case with Captain O’Neill, the previous Prime Minister, who tried to give Northern Ireland a more liberal image, favored a relatively conciliatory approach to Catholics, and fell because of this. No analysis of the Northern Ireland situation which is content to dismiss the religious issues as “a red herring” is of any value as analysis, although it may have its uses in political controversy.

Basically, religious affiliation was—and is—socially, economically, and politically significant, for it distinguishes, with very few exceptions, the natives and their children from the seventeenth-century settlers and their children. The British Crown, in the post-Reformation period, naturally favored the settlement of loyal Protestants,4 and the dispossession of natives, whose support of the Counter-Reformation was necessarily a form of rebellion: politics and religion were inseparable from the start.


The Protestant settlers—Scottish and English—were the gainers, the Catholic natives the losers: antagonistic collective interests and loyalties were established immediately. The natives were dispossessed, but not exterminated nor assimilated nor converted to Protestantism. Their Catholicism became the badge of their identity and of their defiance. After the destruction of the Gaelic social order by the end of the seventeenth century and the substitution of English for the Gaelic language—a process completed by the mid-nineteenth century in most of the country—the Catholic Church became almost the sole form of the social cohesion of the native people.

The area of Protestant settlement—as distinct from ascendancy or domination—never spread out effectively beyond that Northeastern corner of Ireland which is closest to Scotland, where most of the settlers came from. The Ulster Protestants held a bridgehead, were aware of a menace, cherished the military virtues: they came, in many ways, to resemble the Afrikaaners in their laager. Twice during the seventeenth-century wars native revolt seemed near to success. The victory of William of Orange in 1690 ended that period of turmoil and danger, gave the settlers security of possession, and led to the codification of Protestant/settler domination in a carefully institutionalized caste-system: the Penal Laws, applicable throughout Ireland. These resembled various “white supremacy” codes quite closely, except that the victims of the codes could “pass” by abjuring their religion. Some did, and merged into the population of settler origin: the bulk of the natives remained Catholic.

When the Orange Order (in Belfast and elsewhere) and the Apprentice Boys (in Derry) commemorate the victories of 1690, as they do each year in elaborate ceremonies, the message they are conveying is that of their determination to hold for Protestants in Northern Ireland as much as possible of the privileged status which their ancestors won under William of Orange. These are not, as outside observers so easily suppose, comically archaic occasions. The symbols are historical, the iconography old-fashioned, but the message is for the here and now. The ritual is one of annual renewal of a stylized act of dominance: “We are your superiors: we know you hate this demonstration of that fact: we dare you to do something about it: if you don’t, you ratify your own inferior status.” That is what the drums say.

When these rituals can be performed without danger of disruption, Northern Ireland is quiet: the natives are deemed to accept their status. They have no means of changing it by ordinary democratic process. They are a minority—one third of the population—within Northern Ireland. By definition: since in 1920 the borders of that entity were drawn as a result of decisions taken by the Ulster Unionist leadership with the support of the English Tories, in such a way as to include the maximum territory containing an absolutely safe Protestant majority. The Catholics combine the disadvantage of minority status with the frightening qualities with which a suppressed majority is usually invested; for Catholics are in a large majority in the island of Ireland as a whole. They are also in a majority in certain parts of Northern Ireland itself, and notably in the second city of the area: Derry.5

Derry is of special importance. It was the principal center of Protestant resistance at the end of the seventeenth-century struggle. Its siege by King James’s Catholic army is symbolic of the Catholic siege which Ulster Protestant militants feel they are still withstanding. And it never fell. Derry’s “No Surrender” has become the slogan of Ulster Unionism. Derry is near the border: a majority of its population, being Catholic, are believed to be only too willing to surrender it to the Republic.6 So the Unionist government based in Stormont, using powers conferred on it by London, gerrymandered Derry in such a way that a city with a two-to-one Catholic majority has a City Council with a two-to-one Protestant majority. This council has consistently used its power to uphold the privileged position of Protestants in jobs, in housing, in relations with the police, and in other ways. Catholics in Northern Ireland generally are a depressed minority. The Apprentice Boys,7 on their annual triumphal circuit on the walls of the city, toss pennies down from the walls into the poverty of Derry’s great Bogside ghetto.

In August, the Bogsiders, by disrupting that ceremony, and by successfully resisting police efforts to restore the order which the ceremony represents, shook the bases of the whole system throughout Northern Ireland. The Protestant militants of Belfast, for whom a Protestant force known as the “B Specials” provides armed leadership, sought to restore the balance in their own way, intimidating the local Catholic minority by threats, arson, and shooting. The B Specials are nominally police reservists, exclusively Protestant in composition, and traditionally drawn from the most vigilant anti-Catholic section. Their activities were mainly responsible for the British government’s decision to depart from their long-established policy of leaving Stormont to run the internal affairs of the territory in its own way, without intervention or even question from British Parliament, to which the Stormont government owes its existence.

The events of August abolished non-intervention. The British Army, always present in the area, but hitherto completely uninvolved in its internal affairs, was hurriedly given the main responsibility for the maintenance of order in the most troubled districts. Stormont’s police were placed under army control and kept out of the principal Catholic districts. The B Specials were required to check their weapons into military armories: it was strongly hinted that the force would gradually be “phased out.”

The nature of a sectarian rule which had existed for fifty years suddenly surfaced before a shocked British and international public. The demand for reform in Northern Ireland has acquired a force which it never possessed before. The Cameron Commission—established before the August troubles—published a report which showed that Catholics had been the victims of systematic discrimination in local government franchise, in housing, in jobs, and in relations with the police. All this had long been notorious but the official status of the Commission Report meant that it could no longer be ignored or denied. The Northern Ireland government promised reforms; the British government promised that the reforms would have to be real.

The most pressing of these reforms—and the most alarming to Protestant-supremacy extremists—is the establishment of a police force not imbued with the Protestant-supremacy ideal. This would mean reforming the Royal Ulster Constabulary and completely disbanding the B Specials. It is against implementation of police reform especially, and in defense of Protestant supremacy generally, that Protestant extremists are now fighting in Belfast. The fact that these “pro-British” people are now skirmishing against the British Army, which is at present defending the “anti-British,” is only superficially paradoxical. (Though perhaps sufficiently so for most outsiders.)

Ulster Protestant loyalty since the seventeenth century has been that conditional Whig loyalty of attachment to the Protestant succession. A man is loyal to the Crown so long as it is a Protestant Crown and so long as its servants behave accordingly. If these servants behave in ways which are not clearly Protestant—by the strict standards of the Protestant militants in Belfast’s Shankill Road—then they are traitors. Asquith was regarded by most Ulster Protestants in that light in 1912 and Wilson is so regarded by some Protestants today. This lesson of conditional loyalty also is inculcated by the annual rituals I have already mentioned. Each year on Derry’s wall they burn the effigy of one Lundy, the governor who was so loyal to the Crown that he tried to deliver the city to the legitimate but Catholic King James. A “Lundy” is a synonym for a traitor and also for one who fraternizes with Papists or favors concessions to them.

The present situation is transitional, complex, and messy. Where once an apparently monolithic and eternal Unionist regime completely controlled the region, today there are numerous separate focuses of power. There is the British Government, which could, if it so decided, use its parliamentary majority to revoke Stormont’s powers altogether. There is Stormont, by-passed in vital functions of law-enforcement, badly damaged and yet a force to be reckoned with, because it is fairly representative of the Protestant majority in the area. There are controlling groups in the semi-insurgent Catholic ghettos, areas which are necessarily self-policing, since they are protected by the army from the Stormont police.

These groups have varying degrees of cohesion: fairly high in Derry, fairly low in Belfast. There are Protestant groups, Paisleyites and others, some of them with considerable territorial authority in certain areas (such as the Shankill Road in Belfast). And finally there is the army, responsible to the Queen’s government in London, but obliged to take part in tricky day-to-day negotiations with Stormont officials, and with local associations of Catholics and Protestants. The army is also, as the official phrase goes, “in support of the civil power.” But where exactly is the civil power? Is it in London or in Stormont? No definite answer can be given to that question, and until it can be given there will be no end to even the present phase of the troubles of Northern Ireland.


The disruption of the ritual in Bogside ghetto in Derry last August was the culmination of a series of actions which began, or at least acquired perceptible momentum, in October 1968, the month of the first major civil rights demonstrations. The Civil Rights Movement, which greatly accelerated this process, if it did not set it in motion, never of course conceived itself as a movement of “Catholics against Protestants.” There were Protestants among its members, and among its leaders. Its main focus initially was in Queen’s University, Belfast—a mainly Protestant institution—where it drew on the support of the students affected by the student protest movement in other countries.

The movement had, and has, liberal and radical wings. The liberals wished to get rid of sectarian injustices and anomalies, and thereby make the region as like as possible to other parts of the United Kingdom. The radicals agreed with enough of this program to enter a common movement, but they wanted to use the struggle as an instrument of social education and social transformation. Eamonn McCann and Bernadette Devlin, militant radical leaders, sought to bring it home to both Catholic and Protestants workers that they had a common class enemy, against whom it was in their interest to join forces.

What happened was that Catholics, in considerable number, rallied to the support of a movement which looked as if it was making headway in the direction of securing equal citizenship for them. Protestants, whatever their class, did not rally to it in any significant number. Some of them attacked it violently, as at the village of Burntollet, where non-violent civil rights marchers were stoned by organized Protestant extremists last January.8 The majority of Protestants simply held aloof, expressing a general distaste for trouble-makers, and bracketing the civil-rights marchers with those who stoned them.

The Civil Rights movement grew, in numbers and in confidence. But it grew as a large but loosely coordinated movement of Catholics. Civil Rights leaders were dismayed. I heard Bernadette Devlin this summer, speaking at Strabane, upbraid her almost entirely Catholic audience for their sectarianism. They applauded her fervently. She was, and is, despite herself, the most inspiring leader the cause of the Catholics in the North has had. Instead of leading a class struggle, as she hoped, she has become the inspiration of an oppressed and partly insurgent caste, the descendants of the dispossessed native inhabitants (to which caste she of course belongs).

Is this because the Protestant workers, who would not heed the call to make common cause with Catholic workers, are dupes of their bosses? As I indicated at the beginning I doubt the adequacy of this explanation. A system of caste-privilege creates beneficiaries of its own, who are much more numerous than the category of employers and landlords. There are solid satisfactions: a Protestant in Ulster has a better chance of a job, of promotion, of a house, of success generally, by being a Protestant. When he is told that if he will combine with Catholic members of his own class he can bring into being a society in which there are jobs and houses for all, under better conditions, he is not impressed. He will now work with Catholic fellow-workers for limited objectives, in the Trade Union movement—which has so far been remarkably successful in keeping sectarian violence out of the shipyards and factories—but he will not cooperate with them politically.

This may show him lacking in political faith, or in generosity, but it does not, I think, necessarily show him to be deceived as to where his present interests lie. The society, for which he is asked to starve and run certain risks, the society in which there will be jobs and houses for all, is a hypothetical future society. The society in which he is living, and in which his children are growing up, not only confers tangible relative advantages on him, but also confers a benefit which is nonetheless real for being intangible: the sense of superior status, annually confirmed by the right to participate in triumphal ritual. To know that this status is challenged only adds zest to its enjoyment, so long as the challenge is unsuccessful.

Some years ago a bright fourteen-year-old at a good Protestant school in Belfast—in both parts of Ireland most schools are “Catholic” or “Protestant”—was set an apparently simple, but in the context enigmatic, subject: “Ireland.” The problem here is that, since there is a Northern Ireland, there must be an Ireland, to which one in some sense belongs, yet from the rest of which one is divided. One may well not be quite sure, at fourteen, how this is supposed to work. The school-boy said he enjoyed living in Ireland because of the beautiful scenery and “mebbe because I get satisfaction out of having an enemy in the South.”

He was not alone in this, and the enemy is not only in the South.

Appeals to class solidarity, addressed to members of the dominant caste, meet with little response, not because Northern Protestant workers are exceptionally obtuse or gullible, or the Ulster ruling class exceptionally cunning, but because most members of a privileged caste enjoy and value their caste privileges more than they enjoy or value association with the subordinate caste, or than anything which they consider themselves likely to attain through such associations.

If this assessment is correct, it follows that the destruction of caste privileges in Northern Ireland must precede any serious progress toward class solidarity, and toward nonsectarian politics. And in fact, though not in explicit form, it is at the destruction of caste privileges—in the franchise, in housing and jobs, and otherwise—that the most effective manifestations of the Civil Rights Movement have been directed. The courage, determination, and ingenuity of the movement, and the degree of mass support it received from the subordinate caste, have disrupted the established system, to the extent that it seems safe to prophesy that caste subordination in anything like its old thoroughness can never be restored throughout the territory.

This degree of success is primarily and directly due to the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland itself. But it could not have been achieved had Northern Ireland been an isolated unit. If the Northern government, resting securely on the support of the majority in the area, had been free to act with the ruthlessness the Orange Right desires, the civil rights movement, supported by a minority which is economically weak and—should it come to serious fighting—heavily outgunned, could hardly have achieved any significant success in this generation.

The fate of the civil disobedience movement in the South African townships is relevant. No wonder that William Craig (former Minister for Home Affairs) and some others dream of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (U.D.I.) by Ulster. But Northern Ireland is not a remote dominion like Rhodesia: it is a part of the United Kingdom, not only juridically, but economically, and, to some extent, administratively and socially. And also militarily: Ian Smith received before U.D.I. a British assurance that British troops would not be used in Rhodesia: Chichester-Clark received the troops. U.D.I. is not in the cards—except as the dream of a small but active and at present violent Protestant minority.

The Protestant majority’s relation to Britain is matched in several ways by the Catholic minority’s relation to the Republic. In both cases there is a strong basic feeling of solidarity: “our kith and kin,” “our own.” In both cases also there is an element of distrust in the relationship. Ulster Protestants remember that England nearly let them down in 1912. The fear is lively that England may be really letting them down now. Catholics in Northern Ireland feel that their coreligionists and compatriots in the Twenty-Six Counties let them down in 1921 by accepting the Treaty which left them in bondage, while the rest of the country moved to freedom. They also feel—with justice—that the Dublin Government took very little interest in their subsequent fate, up to the point when the events of August 1969 touched the sluggish conscience of the—relatively—rich and free relations.

The governments in London and Dublin have, of course, both long known of the undemocratic and sectarian character of the Northern Ireland internal regime. As far as the Dublin government was concerned, there was rather little it could do about the situation. Even its occasional utterances on the subject emerged in muffled form, since it adhered to the principle that abolishing the partition of Ireland—not the treatment of the minority—was the real issue. When those to whom the propaganda on these lines was directed learned that partition was supported by a majority in the North, they tended to lose interest in the question as a whole. The quite real and serious grievances of the minority were buried in the wreckage of anti-partition propaganda.

London, unlike Dublin, had the power actually to do something about the situation. Until very recently, however, it had not the will to do so. For the Tories, the Ulster Unionists were their allies, and the providers of a small, but marginally significant, group of the safest of safe Tory seats at Westminster. The Labour Party remembered the part which Irish issues had played in the destruction of the Liberals in the period between 1912 and 1922, and seemed determined not to be caught in the same way. The Attlee Government, in 1949, through the Ireland Act, not merely confirmed the partition, but provided the parliament at Stormont with a veto on any revision of the boundary.

The progress of the Civil Rights Movement, the violence with which it was met, and the violence also of some of its supporters, made it impossible to continue to turn a blind eye to the situation. People who saw the pictures wanted to know the story. Ordinary Englishmen were surprised and troubled to learn, among other things, that the institutions of the United Kingdom included an armed force of sectarian fanatics. English comments on the institutions of Northern Ireland came—for the first time on any considerable scale—to resemble those of the American Northern press on the institutions of the South. And the British Government’s response, in using British troops to protect Catholics in Derry and Belfast, resembled, in its nature and in its implications, President Eisenhower’s decision to send Federal troops to Little Rock.

As in the case of Little Rock, there were international factors to be considered. Intervention from the Republic was never probable, but was a possibility in certain circumstances. Derry is only twelve miles from the border. If the Royal Ulster Constabulary had been given a free hand in the Bogside—British troops remaining aloof—and if there had then been serious bloodshed, the pressure on the Irish government to send in forces to protect the Bogside would have been heavy.

Technically this would have been an invasion of the United Kingdom. Militarily, London would hardly regard this as a serious threat. But the effect on international politics would bave been—and the existing situation was already—serious enough. Relations with the United States would be adversely affected if an Irish-American vote were to be resuscitated as a significant anti-British factor, comparable to the Jewish vote during Ernest Bevin’s conduct of affairs in Palestine. In the circumstances, it was not surprising that Mr. Wilson decided that Northern Ireland’s affairs were too serious to be left to the government of Northern Ireland. It is also significant that the Tory party, Stormont’s friends and godparents, have so far refrained from fundamental or vehement criticism of Mr. Wilson’s action.

It is, one may hope, the beginning of the end of the institutionalized caste system. But it is, at best, only the beginning. The institutions are threatened but they remain in being. The most obnoxious of them—the B Specials—has not yet been disbanded or disarmed. Stiffening resistance to change is to be feared: the Unionists who wish to preserve the essentials of the existing system will do their best to stall until the next British election, hoping for a Tory victory and the easing of the pressure on them. There are certainly other Unionists who probably hope that the Labour government will force their hands and finish the job of reform. In Northern Ireland, as in the American South, businessmen, concerned for the image of the region and of their products, diverge from the die-hard segregationists when trouble has become serious. These Northern businessmen are now afraid of passions which in the past they helped to excite but whose present manifestations go beyond their control.

Not only Northern Ireland but the peoples of both islands are involved in these events. The nature of their involvement is blurred by the legalisms of nationality. London says it is no business of Dublin’s but a purely internal affair of the United Kingdom (whose full title includes the words “of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”).

In mid-August, I was a member of a delegation of the Irish Labour Party (an opposition party in the Dublin Parliament) which went to London to urge on members of the British Labour government the incompatibility of the character of the Northern regime with basic principles accepted by the Labour movement generally, and to call for the abolition of its Special Constabulary. (We were operating—and continue to operate—on the principle that the Labour movement in both parts of Ireland, in close touch with the Labour movement in Britain, offers the best hope both of shortening the present period of violence, arising from the crumbling of the institutionalized class system, and of building decent relations between the communities, especially between Catholic and Protestant workers.)

We were received—most courteously and in many ways helpfully—at the Foreign Office, by Lord Chalfont. Mr. Patrick Devlin, M.P. for the Falls Road area of Belfast—storm center of the recent troubles—wished to accompany us, but this could not be allowed. We were a Foreign Affair, Mr. Devlin a Home Affair. Correct procedure legally, yet a subtle confusion of the human realities. To Mr. Devlin—and to the Catholics of Belfast whom he represented—Lord Chalfont and his colleagues were much more “foreign” than we were. The British Government knew this to be true, but it was not an aspect of reality that it felt able to entertain.

Similarly, the Dublin Government, although it knows that the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland prefers to look to London rather than to Dublin, habitually flinches from this aspect of reality. Mr. Jack Lynch, the head of the Irish government, has recognized the existence of that majority, and has renounced any intention of coercing it. In that he is supported by all parties in the Dublin parliament. Yet his government engages in propaganda intended (at least nominally) to convince world opinion that the partition of Ireland is wrong. What good it will do to convince world opinion of this, if the Northern majority is not convinced, is not clear—since coercion is ruled out, as it is, not only by declarations of policy, but by the realities of the situation.

It would be well for Dublin and London to recognize mutually one another’s involvement in the situation, not as constituting mere meddlesomeness, but as a function of the historically formed traditions and allegiances of the two communities which have to live together in Northern Ireland—and in Ireland, and in the archipelago. In Northern Ireland, the smaller of these communities has been oppressed by the larger, and has now served notice of its determination to refuse to continue to be oppressed. It deserves support, and it needs it—from London, from Dublin, and from, among others, the American public.

This is not the same as asking (for example) American support for the reunification of Ireland. That kind of support can only increase tensions, by confirming Protestant suspicions of an international conspiracy to place them under Catholic domination. (Or Communist domination, which militant Ulster Protestants take to be much the same thing. The romantic illusions of some sections of the international extreme left about the nature of the Northern “revolution” and the “new society behind the barricades” have encouraged this local confusion. The internationalists eliminate the religious factor, but the local situation puts it back in and even injects it into the supposed activities of the internationalists.)

Support for equality of rights and the abolition of Stormont’s institutionalized caste system is another matter. Its destruction would be a human achievement of more than merely local significance. What we call “racism” is a habit of mind and will which can exploit religion as it exploits pigmentation. In Northern Ireland now there is a chance of breaking, or at least loosening, the grip of this habit. It is of course the existence of the chance, and of the attempt, which stirs up the more violent outward manifestations of religious racism. In a long-term perspective these are signs not of a strengthening of this force, but of the weakening of the institutions. How strong the force itself still is anyone can find who will take a slow walk through Bogside, or within the walls of Derry, or in Belfast down the Falls Road or along the Shankill.

This Issue

November 6, 1969