Martin Mansergh’s letter and the editorial that preceded it (October 25th, November 5th), on Northern Ireland’s looming centenary, typify the sort of navel gazing Irish nationalists are expected to engage in.
The northern territory began as it meant to continue, by violently expelling over 10,000 Roman Catholic workers from their jobs in 1920. Cast out also were ‘rotten prods’ who opposed this measure and the attempted pogrom that accompanied it.
A split and violent disagreement over the terms of a Treaty dictated by the British government prevented Irish republicans from effectively opposing the creation of a sectarian territory (Dr Mansergh is right not to call it a state) .
The post-civil war southern state was also reactionary, as Mary Lou McDonald observed on October 27th, but not in the same way. While its social control, mainly through the Roman Catholic Church, preserved an unequal status quo, attitudes were not locked in, creating space for tolerance and
openness. It is one of the ironies of partition that, whereas unionism opposed ‘Rome Rule’, today unionists want the Roman Catholic Church to help preserve an abortion-free Six Counties.
Unionists do not do naval gazing and so are oblivious of a need to confront unsavory elements of their past or to reach out to identities that are not male, pale, politically Protestant and resolutely heterosexual.
‘Rotten prods’ today have learned from experience it is best to either move or keeps one’s head down, for fear of physical attack. Unionists who support internal discipline of this sort, fear that if they grasp the hand of nationalist friendship it will weaken their separate unionist identity. Bigotry makes political sense in this context (as, of course, does Brexit). Unionism never fully bought into the 1998 peace agreement, as the conduct and collapse of the Northern Executive demonstrates. If Brexit could roll back the years unionists might, they hope, return to pre-1972 days.
Martin Mansergh wishes instead to accentuate the positive: the North’s ‘industrial prowess’, its contribution to victory over the Nazis, the NHS and free secondary education. The prowess was built on discrimination; the war effort had as much effect on anti-Catholicism as did participation by southern US whites on racism back home. The British welfare state was imposed on a reluctant NI. It helped create a self-confident and implacable nationalist
resistance to unionism that erupted in the late 1960s. It should be said, though, that if Martin Mansergh’s Fíanna Fáil had created an NHS down here it would be attractive for patients, present and prospective.
The centenary of the formation of the Northern Ireland territory poses interesting questions for both nationalists and unionists. I see nothing wrong with making the points advanced here. I have faith in the ‘rotten prods’ whose time will come again. It may not bring about a United Ireland, but straight talking is preferable to sweeping unrelenting discrimination under the carpet.