The Pope first gave the Kings of England the Lordship of Ireland. A Papal Blessing was sent to William III when he set out for Ireland. The Lateran Palace was illuminated for a fortnight when news of the Battle of the Boyne reached Rome. The Bourbons were Gallicans, holding to the quasi-Anglican theory of an independent French Church under the control of the King. And the Stuarts were by then not only married into, but salaried employees of, the Bourbons.
During the 1798 Rebellion, the staff and students of Maynooth sent a Declaration of Loyalty to the King. The tiny number of priests who adhered to that Rebellion were excommunicated, the bishops calling them “the very faeces of the Church”. Into the nineteenth century, Catholic priests participated in the annual prayer service at the Walls of Derry, an ecumenical gesture with few or no parallels at the time. Jacobite and Hanoverian were always united in supporting the closest possible ties among the historic Kingdom of England (including the Principality of Wales), the historic Kingdom of Scotland and the historic Kingdom of Ireland.
Prominent Belfast Catholic laymen chaired rallies against Home Rule, with prominent Catholic priests on the platforms. There were numerous Catholic pulpit denunciations of Fenianism, which is unlike any of the three principal British political traditions in being a product of the French Revolution. Hence its tricolour flag. And hence its very strong anti-clerical streak, always identifying Catholicism as one of Ireland’s two biggest problems.
Jean Bodin’s theory of princely absolutism, held by the Stuarts and their anti-Papal Bourbon cousins, was incompatible with the building up of the Social Reign of Christ, subsequently the inspiration for all three great British political movements. Likewise, ethnically exclusive nation-states deriving uncritically from the Revolution do not provide adequate means to that end.
By contrast, the absence of any significant Marxist influence in this country has been due to the universal and comprehensive Welfare State, and the strong statutory protection of workers and consumers, the former paid for by progressive taxation, and all underwritten by full employment. These are very largely the fruits of Catholic Social Teaching.
Such fruits have been of disproportionate benefit to ethnically Gaelic-Irish Catholics throughout the United Kingdom. Even in the 1940s, Sinn Féin worried that they were eroding its support. She who led the assault on these things remains a Unionist hate figure, since the Anglo-Irish Agreement is an integral part of any Thatcherism honestly defined.
Only an industrial or post-industrial economy, not one built on the sands of EU farm subsidies and film-making, can make provision such as existed before Thatcher. A United Ireland would exclude therefrom people who would otherwise participate in it.
Northern Ireland has both a large bourgeoisie and a large proletariat, like the rest of the United Kingdom, but unlike the Irish Republic. Gaelic-Irish Catholics are to be found in large numbers in Northern Ireland’s middle and working classes alike. Many bourgeois and proletarians in Great Britain are ethnically Gaelic-Irish, devoutly Catholic, or both.
Middle-class expansion since the Second World War, like the civilised intellectual and cultural life of the pre-Thatcher working class, was in no small measure due to the Catholic schools. The only way to maintain the Catholic school system in Northern Ireland is to keep Northern Ireland within the Union.
For each of this Kingdom’s parts contains a Catholic intelligentsia, whereas the Irish Republic’s is the most tribally anti-Catholic in the world. There are precious few Mass-going, and no ideologically Catholic, politicians, journalists, radio or television producers, or other public intellectuals. Rather, the memories of Samuel Beckett and James Joyce are venerated. Anyone who objects to even the most extreme decadence is accused of wishing to “return” to “the bad, old, repressive Ireland.” The Republic’s Catholic schools, among much else, are doomed.
As would be Northern Ireland’s, if Sinn Féin had its way. Under the pretext that they teach through the medium of Irish, wholly and militantly secular Sinn Féin schools are being set up at public expense, in direct opposition to the Catholic system, by the Sinn Féin Education Minister. Her exclusion of Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist clergy from their historic role in the government of schools is the dry run for her party’s openly desired exclusion of the Catholic Church from schools throughout Ireland.
Furthermore, there is no desire in the Republic, either for the much higher taxes necessary to maintain British levels of public spending in “the Six Counties”, or for the incorporation of a large minority into a country which has developed on the presupposition of a near-monoculture.
The Civil Rights Movement was explicitly for equal British citizenship, not for a United Ireland. Even the old Nationalist Party, never mind Sinn Féin, was permitted no part in its early organisation. And it was classically British Labour in identifying education, health care, decent homes and proper wages as the rights of citizens, who are demeaned precisely as citizens when they are denied those rights. The fruits of Catholic Social Teaching, indeed.
Irish Catholics hate Great Britain so much that they live here in enormous numbers. Those from Northern Ireland very, very rarely move to the Republic, and characteristically say that, if they have ever been there at all, then they have never felt so foreign in all their lives. The English actually feel more at home in Dublin than they do.
This tradition is in stark contrast, it must be said, to the Scots-Irish ambivalence (no doubt underlying Ian Paisley’s cosying up to the SNP last year) that saw them with the English (and thus with the Anglo-Irish) during the Plantation, against them during the Civil War, with them during the Glorious Revolution (as I do not hesitate to call it, given the Papal Blessing set out above), against them during the American Revolution, and half in and half out of the 1798 Rebellion (the Jacobin, and thus anti-Catholic, foundation of Irish Republicanism). Many of them agitated for decades for Dominion status, or at least muttered about it, and the idea has never entirely gone away among them.
The Good Friday Agreement establishes that there are two peoples in Ireland in theory and in Northern Ireland in practice, each of which must approve any change to the constitutional settlement, and one of which is defined by saying No to any such change, which is thus rendered impossible for ever. But if such a proposal were ever put to the vote anyway, then it is by no means clear from which background would come those saying Yes, and from which would come those saying No and thus voting to keep things as they are. After all, probably the most likely such proposal, relatively speaking, would be for greater power for Stormont. Think on.