A massive, immediate and sustained effort at reconciliation is needed in Northern Ireland, writes Dr G. B. NEWE. "This is, perhaps, a challenge which lies firmly and squarely at the doors of the Christian Churches. It is, in effect, a challenge to us all."
What is called the "Irish Dimension" of the Northern Ireland problem has received much attention from
politicians and political commentators over the past few years.
It was. of course, something which was always there — a
ghostly figure in the wings of the
Irish political stage. It was a useful ghost, too, serving as the raison d'être for much phoney nationalism, and a very great deal of immature political thinking North and South.
It was an excuse for all sorts of action and inaction on the part of political parties. as well as of offensive and defensive excesses on the part of legal and il legal groupings — excesses which have disgraced the total Irish land.
It was a ghost which could be, and was, summoned up on occa sion to support Irish political parties, North and South, which were otherwise devoid of plat forms with solid foundations. Being a "ghost" the solidity of the platforms didn't matter all that much!
From about 1970 onwards Irish and British politicians began to realise that, after all, it might not be a ghost. Still, they consoled themselves with the feeling that if it wasn't a ghost it was, at worst, an anaemic figure which was unlikely to have the strength to play any major role on either the Irish or British political stage.
Of course, for 50 years successive Northern Ireland Governments were very con scious that there was a ghostly presence in the wings. At times it was rather frightening, but it might behave as all good ghosts should and go away if ignored — even if, at times, it was useful to have it flit across Unionist political platforms. After all, voters are human, and most humans are scared of ghosts.
It wasn't to be until 1972, before it was suspended, that the Northern Ireland Govern ment recognised "the presence" as being rather more than a ghost. However, it was seen as an anaemic figure which deserved recognition but no serious medical treatment.
The Government in Dublin. while all the time claiming that the figure was fur from being a ghost, was also careful not to prescribe effective treatment for its anaemic condition.
Successive Irish governments did, from time to time, pay the lady impeccable respect, but little else. Certainly, she was never invited to take the stage in any meaningful way.
The anaemic lady — no longer regarded as a "ghost" — really began to come alive when the British Government gave her a heart transplant in its dis cussion paper on "The Future of Northern Ireland," published in October 1973. This transplant was reinforced by blood transfusions in the shape of the White Paper on "Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals," and, ultimately, in the Constitutional Act of that year and, again, in what has come to be called the Sunningdale Agreement.
To have a British Government recognise and accept very firmly that the Northern Ireland problem had an "Irish Dimension" (it always had, of course, a "British Dimension"), but one which need not be any threat to the integrity of the region as part of the United Kingdom, marked a remarkably historic, if sensibly pragmatic, development in Anglo-Irish relations.
Thus was an interesting modern Irish-British scenario heik written. Unfortunately. the
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so of the once anaemic lady and her dramatic appearance on the stage, with the spotlight upon her, that they overlooked the fact that the spotlight was being taken off a stolid man who represented the "Ulster Dimension."
In short, while the "political medicos" were busy rehabilitating the anaemic lady and congratulating themselves upon the success of their nostrums and skills, the stolid man came more and more to feel that he was being pushed out into the cold.
He had always feared that the ghost, or the anaemic Irish lady, might one day come out of the shadows and now. to his dismay, she had come to the centre of the stage to be the focus of admiring eyes.
The fact is that while most of us were busy with the British and Irish dimensions of the total Irish problem we tended to overlook what must be called the "Ulster Dimension."
The result has been the dreadful, the tragically sad, situation which has developed in Northern Ireland and which, as I write. has assumed frightening proportions.
Fear, motivated by the great lie, has stalked the Ulster land over recent months and with such arrogance that human passions have been so aroused and so played upon that reason and good sense have given way to unreason, with the consequence that evil grows and perpetuates itself in a way which makes good men come near to despair.
It is particularly sad — and these are sad and anxious days in Ireland — when good, decent people become enmeshed in webs woven by men who lack both vision and good sense; men who seem, themselves. so carried away by the fears and myths they have created so they have come to believe that the ends they seek justify any means taken to achieve them.
The fact is that the "Ulster. Dimension" has not been ignored. Indeed, in all that has been done its existence has been such as to inspire a great deal of the thought and action which has been taken. Its existence has, in fact, very much influenced the shaping of our new political structures.
The great tragedy is that there are those who believe, or choose to believe, that the British and Irish Governments, together with the Northern Ireland Executive, have been scheming with Machiavellian subtlety to detach Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and incorporate the region in a Republic of All Ireland.
Those who will not see the truth have sought to give flesh and blood to fears which, at this moment in history, are not even ghosts!
It is difficult to say to what extent the Protestant section of the Northern Ireland community really, truly and honestly believe that these fears have any rationale.
The official trade union movement, the Confederation of British Indlistry.. the Northern Ireland Executive, and hundreds of thousands of "ordinary" decent people believe that, if power and fuel are made normally available. and if workers are really free of intimidation, the answer would be a massive rebuff for the fearmongers.
Well, so it may be. The difficulty is that, once the stolid Ulster man "gets his dander up" he is difficult to cool.
Ulster industrialists and workers alike have an immense, well-founded and justifiable pride in the industrial progress and development of the region.
With typical Ulster courage and stolidity they have stood firm against the guns and the bombs of such arrogantly antiIrish organisations as the IRA. Indeed, industrial and commercial output has expanded over the past five years, and this despite the quite fantastic efforts of these anti-Irish groupings.
One hopes good sense may yet prevail and, given electric power, fuel and freedom of movement, and freedom from fear, Ulster workers and industrialists will demonstrate that they can just as effectively stand up to the newly-come anti-Ulster groupings who seem bent upon going further than the IRA have dared to do to make of Northern Ireland a cabbage patch which will be incapable of growing cabbages!
I know — and few Catholics in Northern Ireland know better — the latent fears and suspicions of Ulster Protestants. I must also say that, with many of my co-religionists, I have admired their courage and resolution over the past five brutal years.
I am saddened and greatly distressed that they appear to have succumbed. to fears from new "ghosts" conjured up by political leaders whose reputation for irresponsibility is not in keeping with the best in the Ulster character.
Whatever they may claim, however they pose, the "Ulster Workers Council" in what it has done and is doing as I write has not been in the best interests of Northern Ireland, the land we all love. The group is every bit as anti-Ulster today as the IRA is anti-Ireland. Neither grouping have any mandate from the people, for all that they prate about democracy and democratic rights.
They threaten to bring down, or make abortive, the democratically-elected and now suspended Assembly from which a community-representative Executive has been chosen. If they succeed, then all Ireland will really be plunged into darkness — the darkness of an Irish form of Fascism. Surely. in the best interests of the "Ulster Dimension." we must resolve that this will not happen.
The great lie has so taken over that the "Ulster Dimension" is, today, more threatened than ever it has been in this century. Is the stolid man of Ulster to go down in history as being madly suicidal in character? Heaven forbid!
I am an Ulster Irishman who is proud of this part of Ireland and of my Ulster heritage. It's a pride I happily share with my Ulster Protestant fellow-citizens — men and women whose nobility of character is beyond question. For this reason, it pains me deeply that some of them -maybe very many of them — have had their fears and suspicions so worked upon that they are prepared to inflict dreadful injury upon themselves and on the land they love so passionately.
I believe that the great majority of Ulster men and women do not want to be sacrificed to satisfy the ego of men who peddle in lies and half-truths and who appear to want power for power's sake.
For the record, it must be said, and repeated over and over again, that there exists no overt or covert threat aimed at incorporating Northern Ireland in an all-Ireland Republic.
There exists no threat to the integrity of Northern Ireland as a largely self-governing part of the United Kingdom. The status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom cannot be changed without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
Thus a fear. which may be genuinely felt by few or many. has no substance in reality. The only major threat to the integrity of Northern Ireland comes from those who have encouraged decent. hard-working, honest men and women to use the general strike weapon for political ends.
All my life I have worked with and worked for my Protestant fellow-citizens as I have for my fellow-Catholics. I am proud to number very many protestants as my much-treasured friends. I believe they respect me every bit as much as I respect them. have never been uncomfortable in their company: on the contrary.
I hope, then, they will listen to my appeal to them to give the "Ulster Dimension" a new meaning by calling off the form of protest which is now being made in their name.
The•Protestant Ulsterman has a deserved reputation for stolid good sense. for obeying the law. for acting with honour and decency. That is a reputation which must not he tarnished by behaviour which is not in keeping with his character.
Let's be honest and face the fact that, whatever we may feel about the members of the political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Executive and about individual members of that Executive, they have a mandate from the people of Northern Ireland and from the people of the United Kingdom to serve as they are serving.
I know personally all the members of the Executive and I can testify that, without question, they are decent.
honest, and able Ulstermen whose one desire is to serve our community with the very best they can give. They are more than conscious of the "Ulster Dimension" and will do nothing to tarnish it if for no other reason than that they are part of it.
If my Protestant fellowcitizens are honestly frank they must admit to a traditional belief that Catholics could not safely be trusted with power in government.
Not only was it felt that they could not be expected to exercise power in a "normal" and practical way, but they could never be trusted to owe an allegiance of service to the whole community of Northern Ireland.
It was felt (and the feeling is being fostered today by men who. themselves seek power by means which would not discredit Hitler) that they would work with quite Machiavellian brilliance to subjugate "Protestant Ulster" to a Catholicdominated Ireland, republican in its attitudes and values. They would, it was (and is) felt, work hand-in-glove with Dublin to this end.
These traditional beliefs and fears have been shown to be just as ill-founded as have most of the other myths and fears which have sat for too long and too heavily upon the shoulders of both sections of Our community.
All that said, I feel it must also he said that the average Ulster Unionist has a deep mistrust of the Labour Party in Great Britain. In the old days, Stormont was never very "comfortable" when the Labour Party was in power at Westminster. There exists an even deeper mistrust of the present Prime Minister, and his "doomsday" broadcast was far from helpful.
It does no good to make a blanket condemnation of a section of our community as "thugs and bullies." Northern Ireland Catholics have suffered from the blanket assumption that, if we are not active members of the IRA, we are at heart, fellowtravellers.
Soft words butter no bread; harsh words make communication and reconciliation even more difficult.
When all is said and done, there is need for a massive, immediate and sustained effort at reconciliation, for continued and unceasing work at laying foundations for the creation and sustaining of mutual trust and toleration.
This is. perhaps, a challenge which lies firmly and squarely at the doors of the Christian Churches. It is, in effect, a challenge to us all. We can only hope that, in this season of Pentecost, we may be given special courage and inspiration from the Holy Spirit.