How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when it was fashionable to speak of international problems in terms of "Questions" to be solved, the "Irish Question" proved particularly intractable for successive British governments. For Gladstone in 1886 it was "the long vexed and troubled relations between Great Britain and Ireland which exhibit to us the one and only conspicuous failure of the political genius of our race." He devoted much of his later political life to the question but his attempts to solve it were unsuccessful.
Lloyd George, a generation later, believed that he had found the answer. But his belief was tempered with caution. "I am not going to say that we have found the specific at last. This has been said too often. But we must try; at any rate I can see nothing better." Lloyd George's first attempt at a solution-the Government of Ireland Act, 1920-divided Ireland into two locally autonomous regions within the United Kingdom. "Northern Ireland" came into existence; but "Southern Ireland" was stillborn. So he negotiated with Irish nationalists (whose acceptance led to a civil war in their ranks) the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. The Treaty provided that Ireland should have a status within the Commonwealth like that of Canada and other dominions but allowed Northern Ireland to opt out within a month and retain its existing status within the United Kingdom. Since Northern Ireland did opt out, the effect of his solution was the partition of Ireland.
After 50 years it is evident that Lloyd George's solution was not the right one. Partition shelved, but did not solve, the "Irish Question." Northern Ireland, one of the two entities which it brought into being, was never stable and it eventually became unworkable within its existing framework. In March of this year the British government prorogued its regional Parliament for a year and resumed responsibility for the region by appointing a Secretary of State with legislative and executive functions for which he is responsible to the Westminster Parliament
The failure of Northern Ireland cannot be treated in isolation. Since it was one of the twin foundations of Lloyd George's answer to the "Irish Question," its breakdown reopens that question as a whole; and Britain and Ireland today must face again many of those issues which made it such a complex and difficult one for generations of British statesmen. But a wrong answer, which is seen to be wrong, may help to clarify the question.
It is necessary first to look back-to identify the problem and see why past solutions have gone wrong, but not to dwell on history for its own sake or to use it, in Edmund Burke's words, as "a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons." Then it is necessary to look clearly at the present situation to see what has changed over 50 years. And finally to look forward-to see the outline and general direction of a solution, but not to insist on precise and rigid proposals which might make it more difficult to achieve. This stage of transition, when the institutions of Northern Ireland have been suspended but not yet replaced and both Britain and Ireland are about to join the EEC, is a particularly suitable time for such an overall view.
To speak of the "Irish Question," as I have done so far, is to see the issue from the British viewpoint, as a major problem in British politics for generations. For Ireland, on the other hand, the problem could probably be called the "English Question"-though the issue was too basic, too fundamental to the very notion of a separate Irish identity, ever to be described in such a way. In the main, the issue is the relationship between Britain and Ireland; and to understand the present problem of Northern Ireland it is necessary to examine that relationship.
Britain and Ireland are two neighboring islands which have been deeply involved with one another for much of their history. The relationship began before either country had come to full conscious nationhood. For centuries it was one of half-successful conquest and its aftermath-as the larger island tried to establish its hegemony in the smaller. As Sir John Davies, an Englishman who was Attorney-General of Ireland under King James I, wrote in 1612, "the conquest of Ireland was made piece by piece, by slow steppes and degrees, and by several attempts, in several ages. There were sundry revolutions, as well of the English fortunes, as of Irish; some-whiles one prevailing, some-whiles the other. . . ." He explained that "ever since Our Nation had any footing in this Land, the State of England did earnestly desire, and did accordingly endeavor from time to time, to perfect the Conquest of this kingdom, but that in every age there were found such impediments and defects in both Realmes, as caused almost an impossibility, that thinges should have bin otherwise then they were." But Davies thought that the conquest had been completed in his own day. Three hundred years later, however, it was still not "perfected" and the "impediments" of which he spoke were still evident.
In the early period the conquest was a colonial one in the sense that its effect was to establish in Ireland an English colony, a "Pale," which varied in extent with the degree of assimilation by the native population of each successive influx of colonists and the attention which successive Kings of England could afford to devote to it. In Davies' own day colonization took a more determined form. Loyal English and Scottish settlers were settled on land confiscated after a series of unsuccessful Irish rebellions. Davies himself was deeply involved in the most successful and lasting of these settlements-the plantation of Ulster. By his time, too, a religious aspect had complicated matters and this was accentuated by the Cromwellian and Jacobite wars of the seventeenth century. The new settlers were largely Protestant, and the native population which they partly supplanted were generally unwilling to accept the reformed faith of those who had displaced them.
By the eighteenth century, however, what began as an English colony based in Dublin and the Pale was willing to identify itself as Irish; and Dean Swift and others of its writers asserted the Irish interest vigorously in some of their writings. Toward the end of that century it asserted the independence of its existing parliament in Dublin against the Westminster Parliament which had earlier assumed powers to legislate for Ireland. Unlike the American colonies, however, this "colony" had no thought of repudiating the Crown and it continued to accept the King as King of Ireland.
But there was a certain ambivalence in its sense of identity. Its parliament in its last years tried to follow the call which Henry Grattan, one of its leading members, made in a speech in 1780, "be a Parliament, become a nation." But it was still something less than a nation-an Ascendancy perhaps, but not a people. Its parliament had no place for the depressed mass of the native population, who were still largely Roman Catholic, and no place for those among the scarcely less depressed descendants of the seventeenth-century settlers in Ulster, who were Protestant dissenters from the Established Church and who had tenaciously held their position through the wars of the previous century.
Where the Ascendancy had looked to the American example, the two excluded groups-between them the great majority of the population-looked to the much more radical French Revolution. Under its influence, and with its help, they combined in temporary alliance in 1798 in a rebellion which tried to break the English connection and assert, for the first time in Irish history, a separate Irish Republic. The rebellion of 1798 in Ulster and elsewhere in Ireland was unsuccessful. But it led Pitt, the British Prime Minister of the day, to end the inconvenience and the dangers of a separate Irish parliament and bring both countries under a single government and parliament.
The Union took effect in 1801 and through the nineteenth century both countries formed the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." But almost from the outset there were demands on the Irish side for "Repeal." By the 1880s, under the leadership of Parnell, the well-organized and vociferous Irish Parliamentary Party, overwhelmingly victorious at each election, was pressing the case for "Home Rule" for Ireland in the House of Commons at Westminster. Pitt, in bringing about the Union, had found in Virgil a text to explain his policy:
Paribus se legibus ambae
Invictae gentes aeterna in foedera mittant
(Let both peoples, unconquered, join in an eternal union under common laws.)
But he was too optimistic-the majority of the Irish people whose wishes had not been consulted in 1800 were now asserting their opposition to the Union.
By the latter part of the nineteenth century, the "Irish Question" was a complex one. A union of the two islands in a single kingdom had been tried for most of a century. But Irish separatist feeling had increased, not diminished. Government of Ireland direct from Westminster was clearly unacceptable to a majority of the Irish population, and it seemed to require a constant cycle of coercion and concession. The British Liberal Party, under Gladstone, saw that this could not continue. Gladstone, as Prime Minister in 1886, introduced a Bill to grant Home Rule, having come to accept that the interests of both countries required a separate, if subordinate, legislature for Ireland. But any change in the Union-even the limited separation which Gladstone's Home Rule would involve-evoked vehement opposition from a temporary coalition of two other forces. The British Conservative Party saw any weakening of the Union as a threat to the basis of the Empire. When out of office it also saw political advantage in the issue, so it encouraged, and allied itself with, minority opposition to Home Rule within Ireland.
In Ireland the issue divided the population largely on religious lines. Protestants of various denominations tended to favor the Union while Catholics were generally opposed to it. Two elements in the Irish population-the Ascendancy and the descendants of the Ulster "dissenters"- whose ancestors had been antagonistic to one another in 1798 were now against Home Rule and for the Union. But the population was not altogether divided on religious lines: some Roman Catholics were "Unionists;" and many of the prominent "Home Rulers," including Parnell, the leader of the Irish Party, and its founder, Isaac Butt, were Protestants.
Unionists claimed that Home Rule would prove to be "Rome Rule" since the majority of the population was Roman Catholic; and an economic interest in free trade, as well as imperialist sentiment, strengthened their opposition. The Industrial Revolution had come to Ireland since the Union but its effects had been largely confined to the North East which now feared that Home Rule for Ireland might eventually lead to tariffs between Britain and Ireland. The Home Rule issue aroused strong feelings for a generation, but no party to the controversy wished to partition Ireland. The issue was whether Ireland as a whole should have limited autonomy or whether it should remain an integral part of the United Kingdom.
At one stage, despite the forces ranged against it, a Home Rule settlement of the Anglo-Irish relationship did seem possible-though historians may speculate whether it would have fully satisfied Irish nationalist aspirations in the long term. Parnell at least was willing to settle for such an answer. He told the House of Commons on June 8, 1886, just before the crucial vote on the first Home Rule Bill: "I accept this Bill as a final settlement of our national question and I believe the Irish people will accept it." But the opportunity passed. Home Rule bills were defeated in 1886 and 1893. Although a Home Rule bill was enacted in 1914, just after the outbreak of the First World War, it was agreed, in deference to Unionist and Orange threats of rebellion, that it would not take effect until the war was over-and then only if it were amended.
At the end of the First World War, therefore, the "Irish Question" was still a conundrum for British politicians. But events no longer waited on a solution. Nationalist Ireland had despaired of Home Rule. It was now encouraged to seek change by force because it saw that the threat of force by the Unionist side had power to prevent change. So it took steps to solve the "English Question" for itself-by seeking complete separation. Two years after the Easter Week Rising of 1916 in Dublin, the separatist Sinn Fein party overwhelmed the old Irish Parliamentary Party of the Home Rule tradition at the 1918 general election. Sinn Fein captured 73 out of 105 parliamentary seats in all of Ireland while the Irish Parliamentary Party retained six. But the Sinn Fein members elected were pledged not to take their seats at Westminster. Instead, in January 1919, they established in Dublin an independent Irish parliament. This parliament-Dáil Éireann-set itself to make good its claim to be the parliament of an independent Ireland. A guerrilla war ensued against the British administration in Ireland over the next two years.
The British government of the day found itself facing a critical situation, and in the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, it had a Solomon who was prepared, in the event, to carry out a judgment which would mean dividing Ireland at least temporarily. The settlement which Lloyd George negotiated was, he believed, a pragmatic one. As he explained to the Irish delegation to the treaty negotiations in London on October 14, 1921: "It is no use ignoring facts however unpleasant they may be. The politician who thinks he can deal out abstract justice without reference to forces around him cannot govern."
He looked at the relative strength of the forces around him. The Conservatives and the Irish Unionists were no longer allied against Home Rule. The Conservative Party was now a partner in the government with Lloyd George's own party, the Liberals; their imperial sentiment had also weakened; and in the postwar period at the Versailles Peace Conference there was a more general acceptance of the principle of national self- determination. For these reasons the Conservatives had ceased to oppose some kind of Irish devolution and, handled with care, they might have been brought along in a settlement if Britain's strategic interests, as then understood, were maintained. But the other element of the old alliance against Home Rule-the Unionist minority in Ireland, which had been encouraged to believe that its armed opposition to self-government for Ireland could succeed-maintained its position. Conservative opinion would accept that such a minority could not forever obstruct a settlement. But it would not wholly abandon its former ally.
So Lloyd George treated with each of the two elements which he discerned in the Irish population. Since the Irish Unionists were concentrated in, though not confined to, the North East, he decided to meet their position by dividing Ireland and creating a separate region covering six counties, in which, taken as a whole (though not in each county), they would have an assured local majority. The Government of Ireland Act, 1920, divided Ireland into two parts-"Northern Ireland" and "Southern Ireland." Each part was to have local autonomy within the United Kingdom. A Council of Ireland would act as a link between them and provision was made so that it could ultimately lead to a single Irish parliament. The Unionists had not sought this settlement, but they accepted it. So "Northern Ireland" came into being. But "Southern Ireland" did not. Irish nationalism had long since gone beyond a limited devolution which also involved internal division. So guerrilla fighting against the British administration in Ireland continued.
By the end of 1921, when Northern Ireland was already functioning as a partly autonomous region within the United Kingdom, Lloyd George and his cabinet negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty with a declaration of Irish nationalist representatives from Dáil Éireann. The delegation pressed strongly against partition and for recognition of full Irish independence. But the treaty, signed on December 6, 1921, while granting Ireland the status of a dominion within the Commonwealth, allowed Northern Ireland, as already established, to opt out and remain as an area of limited local autonomy within the United Kingdom. There was henceforth a Unionist majority in Northern Ireland. The Unionists in that part of Ireland which became independent were left to adjust to life in the new "Irish Free State" (which later became a republic outside the Commonwealth). The treaty provided for a boundary commission to determine the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland. Before the commission reported, its conclusions became known and were deemed unacceptable. The commission was wound up and so Northern Ireland has since remained a region covering six counties-Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone.
Pragmatism such as that of Lloyd George has its attractions-if it works. Since Lloyd George's settlement has obviously failed to work, one must ask how it went wrong and why it was the wrong approach to solving a difficult problem. A principal reason for its failure was the nature of the new entity of Northern Ireland which it created. I believe we can see three aspects of Northern Ireland which made it unsuitable from the outset.
Firstly, the area was not homogeneous. The border drawn by the 1920 Act had no basis in geography or history; it did not include the nine counties of the old province of Ulster. The six counties chosen constituted the maximum area in which the Unionist community would be assured of maintaining a majority. The aim, in the words of its first Prime Minister, Sir James Craig, was "to save as much of Ulster as we could hold." But to draw the border in this way was to include in the new area a substantial minority who were opposed to the settlement which made them permanently a minority under an unsympathetic government and who, though a minority in the six- county population as a whole, were a local majority in more than half of its area.
Secondly, in the creation of Northern Ireland, religious differences were publicly accepted as a basis for political division. This gave such differences a fundamental political importance from the outset because they became the symbol of loyalty or disloyalty.
Thirdly, the new local Parliament at Stormont was poorly designed to meet the difficult situation of a divided community. It was modeled on the British Parliament at Westminster where the government of the day has a virtual monopoly of power. At Westminster such a system works well because power changes hands at intervals as one party or the other gains a majority at the polls. But Northern Ireland had been so constituted as to ensure that there was a permanent Unionist majority in the area. The belief that the minority were a threat to the whole settlement and the politicization of religious differences gave that majority cohesiveness, so that the Unionist Party was always the majority party at Stormont and therefore always the "government of the day." The natural balance of the Westminster system did not exist-and no other restraint replaced it.
There were regular elections. But Unionist government, unlike most parliamentary governments, never faced an effective challenge at the polls over its 51-year history. Its leaders, however, were under constant pressure from their own right wing, which had real power to topple a leader if he seemed to be weak in dealing with minority "subversion." Such a system-which became in practice permanent one-party government, never free of hard-line pressures, and not subject to effective restraint on behalf of the minority community-could increase but not ease the division and bitterness between the communities. The British government at Westminster for its part, having created the subsidiary parliament in 1920, left Northern Ireland to a great extent to its own devices. This was to abdicate in practice the residual responsibility which it retained in principle. I do not believe it is unfair to describe such a settlement as a recipe for slow disaster. It created in Northern Ireland an inherently unstable region, politicized religious differences within it, gave it a parliamentary system which institutionalized community animosities, and left it to run its own local affairs for half a century.
If such an area were to work at all the minority had to be brought to acquiesce in what had happened. But instead of being brought fully into public affairs in order to win their consent, they were discriminated against as disloyal and systematically excluded from influence and office. Even if Roman Catholics accepted Northern Ireland as a fait accompli they were barred from effective membership in the governing Unionist Party. They should, it appeared, know their place as part of a passive minority, but not try to leave its ranks to seek a share in power within the party which controlled the state. A Roman Catholic, in effect, could be a "unionist" but not a "Unionist."
Despite its instability, Northern Ireland withstood sporadic and futile violence in almost every decade from those who refused to accept the Lloyd George settlement. But it did not withstand equally well demands for civil rights which followed in the 1960s. Its immediate response to the civil rights movement was repressive and sometimes violent. When the Northern Ireland Prime Minister of the day, Terence O'Neill, tried to respond in a moderate fashion, he was forced to resign by right-wing pressures within his own party. It seemed as if demands for full equality of treatment by the minority challenged the assumption underlying the state-that it was to be a Unionist state with permanent Unionist control.
When the need for basic reforms became evident to British and world opinion in 1968 and 1969, reform was promised and slowly begun. But the real need was not simply to end the obvious abuses but to heal the deeper community divisions. Generous, speedy and effective reform might have done this; not slow and reluctant change after 50 years. The expectations of the minority were aroused but not met; and there was violence between groups on either side of the community divide. The British Army was introduced in 1969 in an active peacekeeping role, mainly to protect the minority. But because there was no thorough reform of structures at the same time, it tended, as time went on, to defend existing political structures because they represented legality" in the area. The effort to repress minority violence by detention or internment without trial from August 1971 increased the violence and the alienation of the minority as a whole. It was because they accepted that a fresh beginning must be made that the British government prorogued the Stormont Parliament for a year as from March 1972.
The 1920-21 settlement also had an important effect on the nature of that part of Ireland which later became independent. Precisely because a separate area was created to accommodate most of the Irish Protestant community, the rest of Ireland came to independence with a largely Roman Catholic population-so that it is sometimes described in the press today as the "Catholic" Irish Republic. It was ironic that it should be so, since the Irish Republican tradition from which it derived had been explicitly nonsectarian in its origins and its founder and many of its most prominent leaders for over a century had been Protestant. But that it was so was an inevitable consequence of Lloyd George's whole approach.
Historians may argue as to how far the twin foundations of his settlement- the 1920 Act and the 1921 Treaty-were part of a single deliberate policy and how far the second stage-the Anglo-Irish Treaty-was an improvisation. What matters today is their effect-a division of Ireland on largely confessional lines. The independent Irish State, while most of its population is Roman Catholic, is also heir to the nonsectarian principles of Irish republicanism. But, to some people today, it may be that Irish nationalism, as expressed in laws and in the present Irish Constitution, seems narrower and less generous than these principles promised.
These, then, were the unhappy results for Ireland of the 1920-21 settlement. But 50 years' experience has also shown some issues in a new light. First, it is now clear that, once they are freed of constraint, relations between Britain and Ireland are friendly. Historical passions quickly cool or dissipate when not inflamed by political institutions; and Britain and Ireland are not hostile to one another or embittered by history as might have been feared before Irish independence. The two countries have similar political institutions; they operate a passport-free common travel area and an Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area; 56 percent of the total trade of the Irish Republic is with Britain; the Republic is Britain's third largest customer; and as from January 1, 1973, the relationship will be closer as both countries join the enlarged European Communities. Only the "untied ends of England's Treaty settlement," as a recent English writer calls Northern Ireland, come between the two islands as a major divisive political issue.
Secondly, it is clear by now that this issue will not simply "go away" or "solve itself." Time will not settle the problem unless it is properly dealt with. Benign neglect by either side will not help to ease tensions in Northern Ireland or lessen the dangers of a serious explosion; nor will simple military repression or extremist "gunmen."
Thirdly, it is now evident that the minority is too large a proportion of the population in Northern Ireland to be governed without its consent. Even if repression of any violence coming from the minority could work for a time, the problem would recur again within a few years when the children of violence grow a little older. So we must face the problem now and try to settle it on a lasting basis.
What precisely is the problem? And how should we try to solve it? Before answering these questions we must clarify some misapprehensions so that we will at least see what it is not.
A first mistake is to assume that the issue is primarily a religious one. The divisions in Northern Ireland are not about religion; they cannot be accounted for as an anachronistic remnant of the religious wars of seventeenth-century Europe. Indeed the fundamental mistake underlying the partition of Ireland was that it tended to treat the majority and minority religious communities in Ireland as if each were monolithic and then politicized religion by trying to divide the island between them. What has mattered most in Ireland's political history and what matters still today in Northern Ireland is not religion as such but the sense of the majority or minority community identity. There is no doubt that this is often determined by religious affiliation. But it can come about in other ways; and where it does, it is simplistic to think that the mere appointment of a Catholic as such to government could have lessened the alienation of the "Catholic" minority; or that Protestantism or agnosticism as such is a bar to leadership within that minority.
A second misapprehension is to treat the issue purely in colonial terms and to see the Unionist minority in Ireland as a community of "colons" to be provided for in a separate enclave linked with the motherland while the majority enjoy independence. It is questionable, to say the least, whether such a solution of a problem of decolonization is ever politically wise. But whatever the origins of the "Irish Question," such a view of it is no longer valid. No group or part of the population in Ireland-whether or not identifiable as to ancestry or antecedents-can be regarded as the "authentic" Irish; and, conversely, no group, whatever its present loyalties and attitudes, can be regarded as "colons." In any case, to treat in colonial or quasi-colonial terms the complex relationship between these two islands of Western Europe, which lie so close to one another physically, whose history is so intertwined and which still have so many lasting and growing interests in common, is to fail completely to understand it.
It has sometimes been suggested, however, that there be a partition of the present six-county area so as to cede the areas where the anti-Unionist population is strongest to the Irish Republic and to integrate the remainder fully into the United Kingdom. Such a settlement would still be unstable since there is no area of Northern Ireland which is homogeneously Unionist. But, beyond this, an attempt now to assert that any part of Ireland is irretrievably British would, as a former British Home Secretary said in the British House of Commons as recently as March 1972, be "an historical blunder of the first magnitude;" it would thoroughly alienate the majority in Ireland and would bring Ireland directly into conflict with Britain.
I wonder if those Unionist politicians who seek the full integration of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom, following the shock of the loss of their Parliament and government, realize the folly of their demand. In asserting that being British is more important to them than being Irish, they risk recreating a colonial frame of reference and identifying themselves as "colons" in Ireland. Nor can Northern Ireland be regarded as in any sense a "disputed territory." Its future is not one to be settled by arbitration by an international court, by re-partition, by population shifts or otherwise between two contending parties.
When the issue is seen in these terms it is evident that it is no solution to deal with Northern Ireland in isolation on the grounds that its 50 years of existence have given it permanence. It is true that as Sir Lewis Namier said, "it serves no purpose to expostulate with history." But to face this problem as it must be faced is not to expostulate with history but to try to change present realities which dam up historical passions in a way which menaces both Britain and Ireland.
The real issue to be settled is not that of Northern Ireland. That was never the question-it was an answer, or part of an answer, to a larger question. Now that it has been proved inadequate that larger question remains. That larger and still outstanding question is how to achieve a settlement between the two islands which will ensure good relations between them-granted that Union did not work; that the division of Ireland has not worked; and that the incorporation of Northern Ireland, or any part of it, fully within the United Kingdom cannot work.
I consider that the only solution is an Ireland united by agreement, in independence; an Ireland in a friendly relationship with Britain; an Ireland which will be a member with Britain of the enlarged European Communities. I hold this view because I believe that there is no other way to dispose of the contentious and difficult legacy which history has left to our two islands-certainly no way which will not compound the problem for our children. I shall try to be more specific. The points I set out below are an attempt to outline some of the views which I believe any realistic observer who studies the problem in any depth would come to.
Firstly, I consider that the decision by the British government to exercise its full responsibility for Northern Ireland directly for one year from March 1972 was a positive step because it meant a recognition that it was not possible to work through the existing structures. But that step was presented only as a necessary preliminary to a solution and not as itself a solution.
Secondly, I consider that any attempt to follow it up by integrating Northern Ireland fully into the United Kingdom would be disastrous. A substantial minority in the North would permanently resist it with the support of the great majority of the people of Ireland. Such an attempt would drive a wedge between the majority populations of the two islands; and, as I have explained, Northern Ireland cannot be dealt with without reference to the Anglo-Irish relationship as a whole.
Thirdly, Britain should recognize that the more intransigent among the Unionist minority in Ireland are not entitled to a permanent veto on harmony in Anglo-Irish relations; and recognizing this, should begin to work toward a real settlement. Such a settlement should not impose unity by force. But where the earlier settlement tended to encourage continuing division, this new settlement should offer positive and direct encouragement to unity, accepting that the fears of a community of less than one million should not stand permanently in the way of reconciliation between all the peoples of both islands. Many of the Unionist community realize that Irish unity is inevitable and are increasingly willing to consider the idea. They should be offered positive and direct encouragement in that direction.
Fourthly, while I consider that the division of Ireland was misguided from the outset, I recognize that obtaining unity is a difficult process. There has to be a growth of trust and reconciliation on all sides. But I believe that Irish unity should be the aim, and a commitment should be made by the British government to its achievement.
Fifthly, it should be clear that a united Ireland will not be an Ireland in which the present state in the "South" takes over the "North" and assimilates it into its existing structures. There should be negotiation, but it should be about a new Ireland.
Sixthly, the new Ireland to which I have referred should not involve any levelling down, on either side, of existing social or economic standards. There are discrepancies at present but they are not insurmountable and they are lessening. The real dividing line in Ireland so far as economic prosperity is concerned has always been an East-West and not a North-South one. At present the link with Britain provides substantial direct and indirect subsidies to Northern Ireland. In any settlement arrangements these subsidies would no doubt eventually have to be phased out; but this should be done over a period. Growing integration of the economies of all EEC member countries should help. Regional development policies of the EEC will also be helpful to each part of what is largely a single region-as will the general increase in prosperity of all within the EEC. Beyond this, however, the aspect of a united Ireland which would be most conducive to long-term economic prosperity would be its ability to concentrate its energies on building a better life for its people-instead of dissipating them, as at present, in division and recrimination.
What should be the constitution of this new Ireland? Obviously it must reflect the values and meet the legitimate interests of all sections of its population.
A constitution can take a number of forms. The British Constitution, for example, is not a single written document but a whole structure of conventions, laws, political institutions and established practices. What has often been referred to as the "Constitution of Northern Ireland" was simply an Act of the Westminster Parliament-the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, as amended by subsequent enactments. The Irish Constitution on the other hand, like that of the United States, is a written one. It was adopted by referendum in 1937 and its provisions require any amendments to be adopted first by Parliament and then submitted to the people in referendum.
The 1937 Constitution as it stands is not suitable for a new Ireland. My own view is that it would be better to regard the new Ireland as an entirely new political entity which should work out and enact for itself its own constitution. I do not say this because of reluctance to consider the changes necessary for a new Ireland but on the contrary because I believe that a fresh start could be a better approach. This would not, however, exclude preparatory work being undertaken now.
Parnell said in 1886 that, "the best system of Government for a country [is] . . . one which requires that that Government should be the resultant of all the forces within that country." I think something similar is true of the final working out of a constitution and system of government for a new Ireland. These are matters best worked out by the representatives of all those who are to live under the new structures. A philosopher or a constitutional lawyer may advise or draft a constitution; but he should not, I think, attempt to write the final version, at least not in a situation such as ours in Ireland, where the building up of trust and the overcoming of fears are so important.
The constitution of the new Ireland would have to be a written one with firm and explicit guarantees for the rights and liberties of all who live under it. I would tend to favor the view that these guarantees should relate to the individual citizen rather than to institutions as such. The constitution makers should perhaps take a "minimal" approach, i.e. not start from broad philosophical assumptions but, instead, try to piece together an agreement on what is necessary for government to function while ensuring rights and liberties to the individual.
Though I have frequently referred in this article to the "Irish Question" it is no longer fashionable, as it once was, to speak of international problems in terms of "Questions." Perhaps to do so implies that "answers" exist, and there is a pessimistic tendency today to accept that some questions are unanswerable. But I do not believe that either Britain or Ireland can accept this kind of thinking. In the Anglo-Irish relationship Northern Ireland is a problem to which there is a solution; it is not an unanswerable question.
The solution which I have outlined is that Ireland as a whole should assert a new and more comprehensive identity.
What is it exactly that gives a people a sense of national identity? What is it that determines how the first person plural-the "we"-shall be used when a nation speaks of its history? In Ireland, the majority-probably quite unhistorically-refer their sense of a common origin to a particular wave of early Celtic settlers in the island in pre-Christian times, while the Protestant-Unionist community in the North generally refer theirs to the settlements and religious-political wars of the seventeenth century.
No section of the Irish population today can afford to assert its identity in such terms as these, if to do so means excluding another section or regarding it as alien. Ireland's greatest need today is that all who live in the island should live and work in harmony. I quote once more from Parnell: "No Sir; we cannot give up a single Irishman. We want the energy, the patriotism, the talents, and the work of every Irishman."
An English observer in Ireland more than 300 years ago remarked that: "In kingdoms conquered, nothing but time, and that also must be the flux of hundreds of years, has power to unite the conqueror's issue and the ancient inhabitants in perfect amity." In Ireland time has passed. But we see now that Lloyd George's solution did not ease, but rather blocked, the effect of its flux. It was a solution which seemed to him to respond best to the exigencies of British politics at the time-which had earlier encouraged intransigence on the part of a minority in Ireland. But, based as it was on such considerations, it was unlikely to meet the best long-term interests of both islands. It is obvious now that it has not done so. In face of its evident failure, the British government today must respond to the real and pressing imperative-which is to encourage and assist a settlement among Irishmen about Ireland, and not to obstruct it nor to be merely neutral about it.