By WESLEY Boy') ALMOST a year ago Lord Brookeborough retired as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. His departure from the political scene was not mourned by those Protestants and Roman 'Catholics who were anxious to see better relations developing between their two communities. Lord Brookeborough may have been a shrewd politician; he was certainly not a liberal.
Early in his political career he put on the mask of bigotry. He allowed it to slip a little with the mellowing years but he never discarded it completely.
At an Orange demonstration in Newtown. butler on 12th July. 1933, he made this declaration of faith (as quoted in the "Fermanagh Times" of the day):
"There was a great number of Protestants and Orangemen who employed Roman Catholics. He felt he could speak freely on this subject as he had not a Roman Catholic ahout his own place. He appreciated the great difficulty experienced by some of them in procuring suitable Protestant labour but he would point out that the Roman Catholics were endeavouring to get in everywhere. He would appeal to loyalists, therefore, wherever possible to employ good Protestant lads and lasses."
Lord Brookeborough was Minister of Agriculture in the Stormont Government when he made that statement. His attitude changed hilt slightly when he became Prime Minister ten years later.
For the 20 years of his Premiership. discrimination against Roman Catholics was practised blatantly, especially at local council level, and gerrymandering went unchecked.
Roman Catholics accepted that they had little chance of getting a council house or a council job if Unionists controlled the local council. And in Northern Ireland, Unionists controlled most of the councils. either by legitimate majorities or by skilful manipulation of the electoral boundaries.
Then early last year Lord Brookehorough, at the age of 75, eventually decided to retire. He was succeeded by Captain Terence O'Neill (49) who had been Minister of Finance and had managed, more or less, to keep clear of the more distasteful aspects of Unionism.
The wind of change was awaited. At first there were a few promising breezes as Capt. O'Neill called for more harmony between the two communities.
Trail of Misery •
But there have been no mighty gales denouncing discrimination or gerrymandering. The new Prime Minister has taken no positive steps to demonstrate to Roman Catholics that they can expect to be treated more justly under his administration. Neither, to be fair, has he made any speeches which might inflame bigoted minds, though he recently joined one of the more extreme Orange organisations— the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
Gerrymandering continues on its merry way, discrimination leaves its sorry trail of misery in many Roman Catholic homes. The Mater Hospital, the large Roman Catholic hospital in North Belfast which cares for Protestant and Catholic alike, is no closer to receiving State financial aid from Capt. O'Neill than it was from Lord Brookeborough. The Mater, which decided to remain outside the Health Scheme, has still to depend entirely on voluntary contributions.
Bigoted speeches from Unionist platforms still go unchecked. Here is an extract from a speech by Senator J. E. N. Barnhill at a Unionist meeting in Londonderry (made, not like Lord Brookeborough's in 1933, but on 8th January, 1964): "Charity begins at home and if we are going to employ people we should employ Unionists. I am not saying that we should sack good Nationalist employees but if we are going to employ new men they should be Unionists."
The "Belfast Telegraph", a Unionist newspaper, corn. mented that progressive Unionism would not get a chance in Northern Ireland until Senator Barnhill's views were disowned as "unworthy and certainly untimely". So far Capt. O'Neill has failed to comment on the speech.
For some weeks there has been a running controversy about the allocation of houses to Roman Catholic .families in Enniskillen and Dungannon, where the councils are Unionist controlled. The council in Enniskillen were bold and honest enough to admit that houses were allocated on religious grounds and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher, Dr. Eugene O'Callaghan, who does not normally meddle in political affairs, felt moved to make a public protest against this "blatant injustice".
Dr. O'Callaghan said he felt it was his bounden duty to %peak on behalf of "those Catholics of Enniskillen who are being condemned to live in some of the worst slums of Northern Ireland through the council's policy of discrimination."
Recently too the Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland asked Sir Alec Douglas Home, Mr. Harold Wilson and Mr. Joseph Grimond to receive delegations to discuss discrimination against the Roman Catholic minority.
"We are deeply concerned," the Nationalists said in their letter to Sir Alec, "to secure a substantial measure of immediate relief from the planned discrimination practised without remission against our people since first the Government of Northern Ireland was set up.
"This discrimination spills over into every aspect of life here and we are confident that the Prime Minister will be in enthusiastic agreement that religious discrimination and apartheid should he banished from the world and in particular from these example-giving islands." In their replies. Sir Alec and Mr. Wilson have refused to eceive delegations, but Mr. Grimmond has agreed to meet one in London,
The blame for the unhappy situation which has prevailed in Northern Ireland for so long must he placed partly on Roman Catholic shoulders, For many years they stood on the sidelines of the political field, offering mostly destructive criticism of the moves — many of them worthy ones—being made by the Unionists.
The parties they supported contributed little to the development of the State. Indeed a party which at one time got consider. able Roman Catholic support, Sinn Fein, conducted for some years through its militant wing, the I.R.A., a campaign of senseless terrorism in Northern Ireland.
Now Roman Catholics are being urged, and seem willing, to play a more constructive role in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately their choice of party is still limited in an area where, traditionally, Protestants are expected
to vote Unionist and Catholics Nationalist.
Sinn Fein has been discredited; the Nationalist Party, while striving to give itself a more modern image, is still largely concerned with the wrongs of long. long ago.
Apart from a few tiny, and often eccentric, groups there are only two other parties where Roman Catholics are welcomed as members—the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Liberal Party, both of whom are closely tied to their parent parties in Britain.
The Unionist Party, which is affiliated to the Conservative Party in Britain. does not admit Roman Catholics to membership. Ulster Catholics, whose inclination would he to support the Conservative cause if they were resident in Britain. find this ban particularly irritating.
The twelve Unionist M.P.s who are returned to Westminster take the Conservative Whip. They sit alongside Conservative M.P.s who, if they are Roman Catholics, would not be allowed to join what is in effect the Northern Ireland branch of the Conservative Party.
This is a real dilemma for the Catholic Conservative in Northern Ireland. I spoke to one the other day who had joined the Liberal Party because "it's the nearest I can get to Conservative outlooks here." He had been an active member of a Conservative party in London for many years before returning home.
"What I would dearly love to see," he told me, "is the setting up of a truly non sectarian Conservative Party in Northern Ireland, even if it means breaking the old ties with the Ulster Unionists.
;If the Unionists want to keep their membership confined to Protestants le t them do so but it is wrong for the Conservative Party to aid and abet this discrimination. T h e Unionist M.P.s should sit at Westminster as Protestant M.P.s and not as Conservatives.I would like to see my fellow Conservatives in Britain doing something about this intolerable situation."
Despite the eternal, and usually justified, protests, all is not utterly black in Northern Ireland. There is a civil service at Stormont which is more intelligent and less biased than The elected representatives and as a result of its influence. Roman Catholic schools get fair treatment and there is not so much discrimination in those public appointments over which it has direct control. '
Among the public there has been an encouraging growth of goodwill and tolerance which is continuing to grow. Roman Catholics are beginning to realise that their voice must he a constructive one if it is to be respected.
There are still extremists on both sides but there are signs that the common people will eventually overcome the politicians.