Saturday 8 April 2006

Northern Ireland: The Catholic, Labour and All-Ireland Case for The Union

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. 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 and its strong anti-clerical streak, always identifying Catholicism as one of Ireland's two biggest problems.
Jean Buridan'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 (and other, including trade union) protection of workers and consumers, the former paid for by progressive taxation, and all underwritten by full employment: very largely the fruits of Catholic Social Teaching, especially via Diaspora Irish participation in the Labour Movement here as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
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, like the Single European Act, the ERM, and the decadent social libertinism inseparable from decadent economic libertinism.
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" (such as has never existed outside the United Kingdom) would exclude therefrom people who would otherwise participate in it. The Labour Whip ought not to extend to advocates of such exclusion, i.e., to the SDLP.
Labour's disgraceful refusal to organise in part of the United Kingdom sacrifices several naturally safe Labour seats. 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. Within the Labour Party or its electorate, these, like their Protestant neighbours, would be welcome participants.
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 there. 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.
Furthermore, there is no desire, 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.
So the Catholic case is for the Union. Look at the UUP and DUP votes in largely or entirely Catholic wards. Even Ian Paisley's huge personal vote at successive elections could not happen without considerable Catholic support. With no corresponding Nationalist vote in Protestant wards, the Union, simply as such, is manifestly the majority will of both communities. As for Paisley's theological opinions, the definitive Catholic answers to them have been available for centuries.
The Labour case is also for the Union, which enables more people than would otherwise be able to do so to benefit from the building up of social democracy. The dismantlement of this by an enemy of the Union was mostly opposed by the old High Tory oligarchs of the UUP, now extricating itself from its links to the Orange Order, of which Ian Paisley is not a member; that dismantlement was consistently resisted by the DUP, with its "Old Labour" electoral base.
And the all-Ireland case is for the Union. As is appreciated in the Irish Republic, what is now Northern Ireland has been profoundly different from the rest of the island, but very like Great Britain, since long before any prospect of partition; that was precisely what necessitated partition. The Irish Republic does not want, and could not sustain, the incorporation of Northern Ireland.
In any case, there is no reason to assume that those who believe the IRA Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout the thirty-two county Republic proclaimed at Easter 1916 (a proclamation howled down by passers by on the streets of Catholic Dublin, "the most British city in the Empire"; and which referred to "gallant allies" in the form of the Kaiser's Germany, which had actually armed the Ulster Volunteer Force!) would rest until they had given effect to that view by to creating an all-Ireland fascist state. Indeed, there have long been rumours (ever since the time, in fact) of Irish refuelling of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, while the then strongly Republican Dublin Government certainly sent a message of condolence to Germany on the death of Hitler.
It is also worth noting that, at the height of the Provisional IRA's bombing campaign in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, it was actually being funded by the CIA, beacuse it also carried out attacks against the Marxist wing that, by turning to constitutional politics, had led to the creation of the Provisional movement. So much for any "special relationship" between Britain and America generally, and between Thatcher and Reagan in particular!
Bloody Sunday could not have happened in (at that time) totally integrated Plymouth, Aberdeen or Swansea, because anything like it in an English, Scottish or Welsh city would have brought down the government of the day. Furthermore, the grievances giving rise to the Civil Rights Movement in the first place, and on which the IRA revival from the 1970s onwards subsequently depended, would never have arisen under total integration.
Th Civil Rights Movement was explicitly for equal British citizenship, not for a "United Ireland". 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. Indeed, it was a Labour Government that suspended Stormont and sent in the British Army precisely in order to protect the Civil Rights campaigners and their supporters.
The people of England are now being denied equal citizenship by being excluded from the social democracies being created, at the whole Kingdom's expense, in Scotland and Wales. One to watch, I fear; and a sign that devolution, the appeasement of "blood and soil" retrospection and nostalgia, is always the Labour Movement's enemy. For example, the National Health Service must be precisely that.
It is total integration that would ultimately be in the interests of all. And that includes the Catholic, naturally Labour-supporting Unionists of Northern Ireland.

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