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Ireland: If Joyce Could See It Now

By Shan VAN Vocht

Barring any unseen provocations by some of Ulster's highly opinionated-which, in that province, is like barring life itself-Northern Ireland should be free for the next month or so of the kind of fighting and battling that took place this summer. The major Orange and Irish holidays for 1969 are over and the summer's troubles were provoked by celebration of these partisan holidays.

To be sure, there will be squabbles between the British "peace-keeping" forces and Orange extremists or between the military and People's Democracy extremists; but the lack of partisan, tradition-bound anniversary dates and the presence of the Queen's Army should keep the general populace quiet.

Ulster then will probably disappear from the front pages of the New York Times and from the Huntley-Brinkley show for the rest of the year. It will be back, however, next year regardless of what solutions are proposed for the province's difficulties. Ulster has been undergoing periodic civil war since 1640 and there's no reason to suppose that the province's factions will lay down their arms and their tradition-encrusted minds this year.

The past colors so much of what happens in Ulster today that it's probably wise to begin with the past. Ulster, although it is a political part of the United Kingdom and a geographical part of Ireland, is a nation unto itself too. It has its own prejudices, traditions, and insights but these did not receive expression until 1922 when Ulster received its first government.

To put the whole thing simply, the British government had proposed a home rule government for all of Ireland as a means of ending the centuries-old strife between Britain and Ireland. Under this plan, Ireland would have had a parliamentary government autonomous in domestic affairs, but impotent in foreign affairs, and it would have its capital at Dublin. Only two factions in Ireland were really opposed to this idea; the extremists who wanted an independent Irish Republic, and the protestant politicians in six northeastern counties-Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Derry, and Tyrone.

These counties had received a large influx of protestant settlers in the 17th century. These settlers were not unlike the American colonists of the same period and the attitude of the Ulster settlers towards the native Irish was much like the attitude of Americans towards Indians. The natives were a nuisance and were subhuman, furthermore they were Catholic.

In these six counties particularly, the native Catholic population was subjected to all sorts of economic and political liabilities. The early 20th century politicians of the six counties feared that an Irish government would mean an end to the elaborate and delicate system through which the ascendency of the Ulster settler's descendents was maintained. These folk, known as Unionists, organized a small but efficient army to force Britain to reject the idea of Irish Home Rule.

The British Compromise

The British came up with a compromise. Instead of creating just one government at Dublin, they decided to make two. One at Dublin for twenty-six of the Irish counties, and one at Belfast for six of them.

It seems clear that the British intended or at least hoped that this would be a temporary solution and that Ireland would eventually have one home rule government. But as it turned out, the Southern Province became a Free State, which left the Northern Province in an interesting position.

In an effort, perhaps, to reinforce the power and legitimacy of the Northern Ireland government, the British began to construct an elaborate Parliament Building for the Northern Irish parliament. This parliament building looks something like the Cambridge Post Office and sits in a triumphal landscaped formal estate at the Belfast suburb of Stormont. Adjacent to the parliament building is a castle with a tin roof which became the official residence of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Stormont Castle, which looks like the workshop of your average prosperous Mass Ave, undertaker, has had only four residents. All four-Craigavon, Brookeborough, O'Neill, and Chichester-Clark-have been members of the Unionist Party. The Unionists have ruled Ulster since 1922. The Unionists have been unable to prevent all non-Unionists from voting in elections, but they have managed to do the next best thing to make the opposition impotent.

The small, official opposition in the parliament is the Nationalist Party. The Nationalists reject or rejected the notion of Ulster and at the base of their party was the notion that Ulster should be part of the whole Irish nation. Basing the politics of the province on such a fundamental question had the effect of stalling, until this last year, effective opposition to the Unionist regime.

Those Unionists who might be tempted to join another party have been reluctant to do so because of the "republican character" of the Nationalist party (and the much smaller labor parties). And the Nationalists, who certainly sensed back in the '20s and '30s that the security of the Ulster regime was solid, had been bribed into maintaining a false opposition to the Unionist governments. The Ulster system serves those who serve it well and most Nationalist politicians were willing to serve the regime in turn for some small patronage and prestige. By the 1950's the rhetoric of Ulster politics had little to do with the reality.

The rhetoric was important, however, to the safety of the Unionist government. So the government did little to discourage the extremist protestant fringe (i. e., Ian Paisley's own special church) which further fanned the rhetorical fires. Nor did it do anything to ban or de-emphasize the Ulster laws providing for the imprisonment without charge of probable traitors, or to de-emphasize the Ulster Auxiliary Police. These auxiliary policemen, known as "B-Specials," are, like the regular Royal Ulster Constabulary, armed. Furthermore, the B-Specials exclude Catholics and their official purpose is to help the regular police beat back those who would subvert the state.

Just to keep everybody fully aware, the anniversaries of famous battles in the 17th century have been annually celebrated with parades, the firing of miniature cannons, the singing of partisan songs ("No Surrender," "Remember King Billy," "Ireland: Long A Province, Be A Nation Once Again," "A Soldier's Song") and the smashing of heads.

Fortunately for the sake of peace and quiet, but unfortunately for the standard of living, economic life in Ulster has been so difficult that no one has really had the energy or the time to devote any more than a few half holidays each year to the cause of either side. And the emigration of many of Ulster's bright, young, and vibrant people has robbed the province of some of its best people.

Student Radicalism Leads New Protest

As recently as 1965, it seemed as if Ulster was locked into this set of deadly arrangements. But in the late '60s, a number of Queen's University students-many of whom began to think that Ulster, with its British sponsored social services, might not be such a bad place if normal British subjects' rights were guaranteed to all of Ulster's people.

In the last two years, civil rights organizations sought to force the government to provide equal voting rights, to end officially-condoned discrimination in housing, jobs, and education. The organizations got no-where with the usual meetings and pamphlets. So in August, 1968, they began civil rights marches.

When the first marches were held last summer, the government, through its minister in charge of police, Captain Craig, poo-pooed them as "green parades." The government implied that it considered the civil rights organizations to be a new variety of the old fashioned Ulster Republican. Naturally, the police in Ulster began to feel the same way.

On October 5, 1968, a march was being held in Derry and a terrible confrontation took place between the marchers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Escalation was the order of the day. More marches took place, each one accompanied by the same sickening confrontation, and the same sickening government denunciation of the marchers as front men for the Republican movement. Even Nationalist politicians denounced some of the marchers as socialists and communists.

Although the Civil Rights Organization began to apply more and more pressure and grew stronger and stronger, a split was developing within it. Some of the CRO people insisted that equal civil rights was all that they wanted, others began to think in terms of toppling the whole Ulster regime. An interesting problem faced the latter element-which called itself "the People's Democracy." Even assuming that the Ulster Constitution was toppled, what would happen to Ulster? Union to the Republic of Eire was anathema to the purists in the group, since to a true socialist, few governments could be more reactionary than that fabulous concoction sitting at Dublin. As a result no one thought about this very much and most people contented themselves with trying to force the Ulster government to reform.

Despite the ever-increasing violence in the province, the government of Prime Minister O'Neill refused to even consider any of the reforms proposed by the Civil Rights Movement. Eventually, O'Neill had to resign as Prime Minister since the pressures of extreme Unionists, who wanted ever more punitive measures applied to the marchers, was almost irresistible.

O'Neill was replaced by a man much like himself-i. e., all things to all Unionists-Major James Chichester-Clark. Clark agreed that there should be reform. He said however, that reforms, since they were liable to upset Ulster, would have to be carried out slowly and carefully and he proposed a slow timetable of reform. Furthermore, he insisted that the practical details of reform would have to be worked out by a Unionist Commission. In essence, Chichester-Clark promised voting rights for all but said that new district lines would have to be drawn and that the Unionists would be the ones to draw them. Even the Times of London wasn't fooled by this one.

Nonetheless, Chichester-Clark's statements, made last July, produced some calm in the province. There was a chance and that was perhaps enough. No one really expected both sides to start dealing fairly with each other right away, but there was a chance. Two important Orange holidays, however, occur in the summer and no one expected them to pass without trouble.

The first holiday, in July, commemorates the victory of King Billy at the Boyne River in 1690. There was some fighting and rioting but it was not remarkable given the importance of the day, and most of it seemed to have been done by street hoods and hooligans.

The second holiday, in August, marks the defeat of the Catholic King James II at Londonderry. This day began with only the usual August 12 trouble. Orange marchers taunted the Catholics down in Bogside with pennies, miniature cannons, and cobblestones. A few Bogsiders went to the parade route and taunted the marchers with cobblestones, bottles, and jeers. The police stood by and it seemed that they would wisely let the boys have their fun and all would go home at dusk. Most of Londonderry and Bogside went about a normal day's business.

British Boggle at Bogside

Then at dusk, a remarkable thing happened. The Royal Ulster Constabulary charged the Bogside. They actually invaded the neighborhood, followed by a small number of Orange marchers who continued throwing the stones. This remarkable event fused the entire neighborhood. In an era of hopeful, if not actually good, faith, this was quite a shock. Barricades went up and the police were repulsed.

The police followed this up a few hours later by dousing the neighborhood with tear gas. Three hundred years of prejudice, ignited by a year of tense feeling, put large parts of Ulster's cities at war with the province's police department.

It took the British army to separate the two, and it took the active intercession of the London government in the province's internal affairs to restore calm.

No one knows what will happen now. The release of secret conversations between Belfast and London has made it evident that the Ulster government has for some time, been unable to control the police department. (Newspaper reporters monitoring the police radio on the Derry Battle Day say that the police charged the Bogside in direct defiance of an order not to do so made by the police superintendent.) Yet the intervention of the London government may just activate the Ulster Unionist extremists. (The Rev. lan Paisley has recently brought back and dedicated to Ulster a ship used in the teens to run guns to the old Ulster Unionist army.)

Things are quiet now as the British government examines the situation. But just wait until they do something or fail to do anything. The stories of the fighting will be in the Times. Watch the TV for pictures.

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