by JOHN O'KEEFFE LORD LONGFORD, for mer leader of the House of Lords and himself an Irish peer, last Thursday called for the formation of a coalition government in Northern Ireland. Speaking in the House of Lords, he urged that the Catholic minority be represented in such a government.
"There will never be peace or moral health," he said. "until we get rid of this ghastly business of the two communities — the one ruling the other."
The Catholic minority would never feel themselves a true part of Northern Ireland, and would never make their proper contribution, until they were given a share. or the prospect of a share, in the government.
A coalition, no doubt under Major Chichester-Clark and with the minority adequately represented, was the one chance of achieving a united community.
Such a notion is not novel, it has already been proposed by the Northern Ireland Labour Party and Lord Longford himself aired the idea last year. That it should be proposed during a House of Lords debate by a former leader.. of the House has ensured the coalition idea a more prominent place in the political arena than it has hitherto occupied, even if its chief proponent is a Catholic and an old friend of President De Valera.
Although some political com mentators doubt the effectiveness of this university don turned politician there are none who can gainsay his record on putting something forward because he believes it to be right rather than popular. Born a Protestant and a Conservative, he is a convert to Catholicism and the Labour Party.
After the Second World War he played a leading role in fostering reconciliation between Britain and her defeated opponent — Germany. Devoted to penal reform and prison visiting he has in the past fought for the lives of prisoners whom the great majority of the public would have been only too glad to see hanged. Currently he is attempting to reform the Moors murderer Ian Brady through correspondence and sympathy.
When the Labour Government decided to delay the im plementation of full-time education for all children up until the age of 16 he resigned in protest.
In his Holborn publishing office on Friday, Lord Longford expanded on his remarks. He stressed that as a politician he was floating the idea of coalition as a practical possibilty.
A self-proclaimed Irishman (his brother, the Sixth Earl, was a senator of the Trish Republic) he has long taken a more than
superficial interest in the Irish scene. His book, "Peace by Ordeal", dealing with the 1921 Anglo-Irish peace negotiations, is still a classic in its field after 35 years.
Lord Longford quoted Roger Casement, who said: "Loyalty is a sentiment and not a law; it rests on love and not on restriction; it also rests on equality of rights." Accordingly. Lord Longford felt that Northern Irish Catholics were in a difficult position.
They could not really feel any loyalty to the Northern Irish State, they could not feel any loyalty to Britain and they did not really feel that they belonged in the South. They had not really got a State.
He suggested that once Catholics and Protestants in the North had had experience of working in a coalition side by side they might be ready to go further. On the question of full unity of the 32 counties Lord Longford conceded that he would go along with the sentiments expressed in the 1949 Government of Ireland Act which provides for no change in the sovereignty of the North without the consent of Stormont.
"1 must say I feel the manner in which Ireland left the Commonwealth was unfortunate, he commented. "It occurred when Mr. Dc Valera was in opposition and was no great act of statesmanship. In turn 1 think the people in power in Britain over-reacted at the time."
"The troubles in Ulster can only be overcome by good will and persuasion," he said. Something traumatic would have to happen before the situation was resolved, but something traumatic was happening.
The hold of the Orange order on the Unionist Party had to he broken and in world opinion at least there was a cold wind blowing on the Orange order. "1 think you must take Paisley seriously, although at least it has opened people's eyes to the dangers of Orangeism."
On the other hand, Lord Longford spoke warmly of Bernadette Devlin. "I have a great admiration far Miss Devlin," he said, "I heard her maiden speech in the House of Commons. I've never seen the House of Commons so enthralled, she has a remarkable gift for speaking." He conceded that as Miss Devlin got older time might mellow her militant approach.
On the question of damage done by British troops searching Catholic homes in Belfast for arms Lord Longford said in the same debate: "I do not know what members would have thought if they had visited some of the ransacked houses. Some would have thought it was inevitable that this kind of thing should occur in warlike conditions, and some would have felt ashamed. Some would have felt both."
He explained to me that he had been touring the area on Wednesday last week in connection with obtaining funds for a committee set up to relieve distress, although the reeruption of violence led him to visit Belfast earlier than he had planned.
He said he had visited a "few" of the damaged houses. He laughed to scorn the notion that damage had been done by politically motivated Catholics themselves. "Working class people just don't smash their own television sets or pull crucifixes from the wall."
He exonerated troops from a calculated campaign of vandalism but said: "It was obvious that the troops had been in a pretty vehement mood. I would not like to generalise, but can only go on what I saw," he said.
He felt unable to comment on what some observers consider to be a divisive policy on education in the denominational schools but considered that the churches were doing far more than they had done in the past.
Conceding that many of his friends in Ireland were Catholic rather than Protestant, Lord Longford stressed his family connection with the Protestant Ascendancy in the South and said that when he was chairman of the National Bank it had branches in the North where 50 per cent of the customers were Protestant. He had lately come to know Lord O'Neill, the former Northern Irish Premier. "I have a deep regard for him."
His feelings over the future of the North were optimistic rather than pessimistic. He hoped that reforms already implemented could be carried forward without any violence. There could be great possibilities ahead.