Partition: inherently unjust – by Joe McVeigh

Partition was inherently unjust and could never last.

It is interesting that a founder member of the DUP, Wallace Thompson, has recently stated that a united Ireland is inevitable. I believe he is saying out loud what many unionists are thinking.

From my earliest days, many in my community regarded Partition not just as a nuisance but as a grave injustice and a denial of our birth-right. Many accepted the nuisance of border checkpoints, believing that Partition would not last for very long. It was clearly contrived and imposed by the British to placate the Unionist/Orange section of the population and to hold on to the wealthy part of Ireland. As far as I was concerned this artificial statelet had no democratic basis and could not last.

From our earliest days, we showed our objection to this settlement by expressing our Irish identity as best we could, by playing Gaelic games, by learning to speak the Irish language, by singing Irish songs, by promoting Irish music and Irish dancing. In this way we felt we were expressing our true identity and showing our resistance to unjust British /Unionist rule in this part of Ireland. By promoting our own Irish culture in spite of the Unionist/Orange domination we believed we were showing opposition to an undemocratic settlement imposed by force on the people of Ireland by the British government in 1920-22. The Orange state wanted to obliterate the expression of our native culture. It also denied us of our basic rights-our right to a job and a house. Many ere forced to emigrate or spend years on the dole.

As well as its impact on nationalists Partition also had a negative impact on Unionist culture and thinking. The attempt to make the North into a little England meant that unionists became more and more detached from their own identity. It is worth remembering that prior to Partition, unionists were to the forefront of the Irish language movement and the promotion of Irish traditional music. Some unionist neighbours I knew growing up in north Fermanagh were accomplished traditional musicians and singers.

After the partition settlement there was a deliberate policy to make people think differently about who and what they are: all kinds of Britishness was promoted in unionist circles and institutions. It was clearly expressed in the education system and especially in the history curriculum designed by the Lynn Commission. Irish history was not taught except when it impacted on the history of the UK. It was clearly promoted by the Orange Order and other pro-Union organisations. The Protestant churches for the most part went along with it.

The violent reaction of the Orange state to the Civil Rights campaign which included Catholics and Protestants, was seen on TV screens around the world. For the first time, the world could see the plight of a large section of Catholics and nationalists in the Orange state. They were being treated as second class citizens in their own country and it was approved by successive British governments. This had a profound effect on some of the more radicalised Irish Americans.

With the advance of Sinn Fein since the Good Friday Agreement the demand for Irish unity has grown. Some unionists now see that it is inevitable. The demographics alone point in that direction.

The onus is on the Dublin government to prepare for this eventuality. The onus is on the British government to honour their commitments in the 1998 Belfast Agreement. The outcome has to be a democratic settlement that reverses the undemocratic settlement of Partition. A democratic result in any future Border poll will be 50 plus one.

It is refreshing to know that some in Unionist circles are reading the signs of the times. These unionists have a most important role to play in creating the New Ireland envisaged in the Belfast Agreement. Some are already promoting an all-Ireland economy. Some are already making a huge contribution to the creation of a broader way of thinking and a new way of promoting our own native culture. We must be hopeful.

2 Responses to Partition: inherently unjust – by Joe McVeigh

  1. Carl Duffy September 28, 2023 at 2:10 pm #

    This is a superb piece, loaded with first-hand historical insight.

  2. Mick Early September 28, 2023 at 2:22 pm #

    Indeed refreshing to see Reality Based thinking in the Unionist community is really taking hold and that figures such as Bryson are being more and more marginalized