MONTGOMERY HYDE Fire Over Ulster by Patrick by Patrick Riddell (Hamish Hamilton 35s.) Ulster 1969 The Fight for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland by Max Hastings (Gollancz 42s.) WHEN the Government of Northern Ireland was established just half a century ago, the retiring Irish Unionist leader Lord Carson gave the new rulers some statesmanlike advice. "From the outset let us see that the Catholic minority have nothing to fear from the Protestant majority," he told them. "Let us take care to win all that is best among those who have been opposed to us in the past. While maintaining intact our own religion, let us give the same rights to the religion of our neighbours."
It is one of the major tragedies of our times that this advice was not followed at Stormont. Perhaps it might have been, if the Westminster Parliament in its wisdom had enacted that "Northern Ireland" should comprise all nine counties of the province of Ulster instead of the six northeastern counties as at present. This would have given the Unionists a small majority in the Stormont Parliament, and in the course of time a loyal and cohesive Catholic Nationalist opposition might have been in a position to form an administration.
But the Unionists wished to insure that they should have "a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people," as one Prime Minister of Northern Ireland put it candidly. The Unionists got what they desired from the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, a large monolithic bloc in the local, legislature designed to keep them permanently in power and to reduce their Catholic neighbours to the status of second class citizens.
In transferring the various services for which Stormont was to assume responsibility, such as employment, education, judiciary and police, the British Government hopefully launched a novel experiment in political devolution. A Catholic was appointed first Lord Chief Justice, and one third of the posts in the Ulster civil service and police was reserved for Catholics in proportion to the respective population figures.
It was not the fault of the British authorities that many of these posts were not filled and that the Catholic Nationalists should from time to time have boycotted the Stormont Parliament. Certainly the Catholics did not act without provocation, as Patrick Riddell points out in his penetrating survey.
For example, the city of Londonderry has a large preponderance of Catholics. Yet the local ward boundaries were so manipulated by the Unionist clique in the corporation that the Catholics could never have more than eight seats compared with the Unionists' twelve. This was blatant gerrymandering and resulted in an altogether unfair discrimination against the Catholic minority in the matter of housing allocation and other local government benefits. Also, since most of the ratepayers were Protestants, their property qualification in the matter of plural votes gave them an additional advantage.
For approximately the first half of Unionism's rule in the north, under the Premiership first of Lord Craigavon and later of Mr. John Andrews, things were not so bad for the religious minority. But in 1943, the decent, fairminded Andrews was displaced by Sir Basil Brooke (now Lord Brookeborough), thus beginning twenty years of unrelieved reaction.
Brooke had already set the example to local employers by refusing to hire any Catholics on his estate. "I wouldn't have one about the place," was his unChristian remark in regard to one third of Northern Ireland's population. Brookeborough afterwards went out of his way, though nominally in retirement, to urge on the Unionst hardliners to unseat his progressive successor Captain Terence O'Neill. This they succeeded in doing.
A curious feature of the Ulster Unionist scene is the pathetic manner in which its leading lights cling to military titles which they have once held and have assumed that they are still entitled to use. There is Major ChichesterClarke, almost a caricature of a Prime Minister and known colloquially as 't'he mad Major." There is, or rather was until he became a life peer, Captain O'Neill, ChichesterClarke's predecessor. The leader of the Ulster Unionist group at Westminster, and incidentally head of the Orange order, is Captain Orr.
The militant Protestant Ian Paisley's chief lieutenant is Major Bunting. No doubt this
is a pathological manifestation, since the various majors and captains are still subconsciously fighting the enemy Papist King James 11. "We see this as the hand of God," a leading Paisleyite joyfully declared when'he heard the news of "the traitor" O'Neill's defeat and resignation last year.
My own representation of the North Belfast division at Westminster from 1950 to 1959 coincided with the worst period of Lord Brookeborough's reign at Stormont. Unhappily for me his bitter anti-Catholic bias rubbed off on my local divisional executive. Although my Unionist faith was never in question — I always believed that it was in Northern Ireland's best interests to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom so long as the Stormont Parliament desired it and although I was by common consent a good constituency M.P., I was much too liberal for the party caucus, and in the end 1 was thrown out.
My seconding the late Sydney Silverman's bill to abolish the death penalty for murder was greatly resented. and even more so my support of the Wolfenden Committee's proposals to make homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private no longer a crime, two measures which are now on the Westminster statute book. though they have not been enacted at Stormont. My entertaining a Catholic cabinet minister from the Irish Republic to dinner in the House of Commons was also chalked up against me, not to mention my advocacy of the handing over of the Lane pictures to Dublin.
Then I had had the effrontery to write a sympathetic study of the traitor Roger Casement. My equally sympathetic study of Lord Carson was conveniently forgotten, although Carson was every bit as Irish in his way as Casement and loved his country just as much. Finally, some Orange zealot dug out from one of my early books a passage which suggested that King William III "of glorious, pious and immortal memory" was a homosexual. I think that really sealed my fate.
The most remarkable feature of Ulster politics, particularly during the last quarter of a century, is that the lid stayed on as long as it did. It was the growth of the civil rights movement that touched off the first explosion, in Londonderry, on October 5, 1968. Since then the province has been rent by civil warfare, which has proved of incalculable damage to Northern Ireland's "image", her industrial economy and the lives and properties of her citizens both Orange and Green.
If Mr. Riddell sometimes overseas the case for the present Unionist Establishment in his emotionally charged book, it is because he wishes to correct the loaded picture of events presented in what has been generally regarded as a bad press for the Northern Ireland authorities.
This is understandable, since the latter have had to invite upwards of 8,000 troops of the British army into the province to keep order and to prevent further bloodshed and destruction. Nevertheless I regard his book as essential reading for anyone seeking to appreciate what lies behind Ulster's troubles.
Max Hastings's contribution is a journalist's account of these troubles. Mr. Hastings, a newcomer to the local scene, was sent over by a London evening paper to report what he saw, and he has done it vividly and readably if not always impartially. His sympathies naturally are with the underprivileged and the victims of police manhandling. Surrounded by a group of Protestant toughs taunting him about "the Popeloving English press," he confessed that he was "more frightened than 1 have ever been in the worst of the riots and shooting battles."
He probably owes the fact that he is alive today to the prompt intervention of two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, an exceptionally fine force in spite of the shortcomings of a few of its black sheep.
Mr. Riddell forecasts that "it will be a long struggle," but he is convinced that "the moderates will eventually win." Long the struggle will most certainly be. I should like to think that the moderates will one day emerge victorious.
Knowing Ulster and its history as I do, I have my doubts. It is extremists of the stamp of the Rev. Ian Paisley M.P., with his strong grass roots following who are likely to come out on top rather than well meaning but largely ineffective progressives like Terence O'Neill, who was shunted off the political stage and consoled with a seat in the House of Lords.
At the moment, unfortunately, it looks like being Paisley, who ironically now sits for O'Neill's old constituency at Stormont.