Friday, February 6, 2009

Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter

( I am NOT Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey NOR am I connected to her in any way. I discuss naming it after her in the "notes" post) 

The title was a phrase created by Wolf Tone, a Protestant who is considered the founder of Irish Republicanism. He was the main leader of the 1798 Rebellion against British rule.

Initially this was going to just be about anti-Protestantism and republicans, but it's now turned into more of a general discussion of the argument for a United Ireland.

One aspect of the argument in favor of a United Ireland is that Catholics are unlikely to experience justice or equality under British rule in Ireland. There seems to be a similar problem in Britain, but not nearly as bad, probably because, for some reasons I'm not aware of, there's a lot more anti-Catholic bigotry among the Protestants of N. Ireland than there is in Britain. I won't go into many details, but here are some things that have been done to the Irish before 1900:

1. There was the general practice of kicking people off their land;
2. The enslavement of 10s of thousands who were sent to the Caribbean by Cromwell and treated the way African slaves were treated.
3. During the Famine, while 10-15% of the population starved to death and another 10-15% emigrated to avoid starving to death, food was being shipped out of Ireland to England.
4. For more than 100 years, Catholics were stripped of more or less all the rights enjoyed by most or all Protestants, under the Penal Laws.

After the War of Independence, during which the British were very brutal with the Irish, Ireland was divided. This was accompanied by great violence in the North against the Catholic community. In general I recommend the book "Northern Ireland: The Orange State" by Michael Farrell, and you can also read a good summary of what happened to Catholics the first fifty years of N. Ireland here.

One thing that I left out of that for some reason, is how N. Ireland was formed. It was designed so that the UK could retain as much of Ireland as they could with the requirement that the area would have a semi-permanent Protestant/pro-british majority- it was gerrymandered. The ancient province of Ulster, which the Unionist party was organized throughout, has 9 counties, three of which had large Catholic majorities and were left behind because they were ungovernable. Two counties with Catholic majorities were included, partly because they had very good farmland. Also, the second largest city, with a Catholic majority, which was right on the border, was included, as was another such city. The fact that a majority there don't want a United Ireland doesn't matter. There's a large majority throughout the island, and about 90% of the Northern Catholic community, and about 5% of the Northern Protestant population. Whatever right to national self-determination the Northern Protestants have is trumped by that of the Irish as a whole- the latter are relatively or completely indigenous, the former are the descendants of settlers.

I go into some detail about the response of the republican movement to this in a letter-to-the-editor that I include about 2/3 through the post "Fuck Fascism Before It Fucks You." One extra thing I'd toss out is that, based on a fairly scientific approach, about .25% of the time the IRA's operations intentionally resulted in civilian death, about .25% of the time it was unintentional. I imagine, based on what I've read, that something like .01% of the time they tried to kill civilians and it didn't work. Also, although it still wasn't justified, a large majority, maybe all, of the civilians they intentionally killed were not completely innocent.

On a related subject, I once again urge people to watch the documentary "OFF OUR KNEES, 1968-1988: From Civil Rights To National Liberation." It's available from Celtic Video, and is also on YouTube, starting here.

Although most of the demands of the Civil Rights Movements were more or less conceded during 1968-1970, discrimination got worse, repressive legislation wasn't repealed, and repression and sectarian violence directed at the nationalist community skyrocketed. During the last 40 years, and this was mostly in the 1970s, about 800 Catholic civilians were killed in N. Ireland by either the security forces or by loyalist paramilitaries. In America the equivilent figure would be 133,000 people. Also, on average unemployment for Catholics was something like twice what it was for Protestants, an average of at least 3 anti-Catholic parades were forced through Catholic areas each year (for an explanation of this, see this) UPDATE 2/10/09: Although there's no way I can nail down an exact average, I just looked at this a little closer, and there's a good chance that the average is closer to 10, although 3 is probably a good average for parades that were met with significant resistance.

On a related subject, I think I'll take this opportunity to explain that the British Government was overwhelmingly responsible for the nightmare the Catholic community went through.

Looking at the 800 murders of Catholic civilians (by either the security forces or loyalist paramilitaries), the vast majority were the work of loyalist paramilitaries, but there's evidence of collusion between the security forces and the loyalists, and even if that didn't happen, there's solid evidence that the security forces and the government took one attitude towards loyalists and another towards republicans.

On collusion, there have been allegations by credible human rights groups and there have been credible whistle-blowers. Part of the argument that there was collusion is that the security forces had agents in the loyalist paramilitaries and were not too worried about stopping them from killing Catholics, as proven by the following (all but the last item is from the Conflict Archive on the InterNet, a very neutral, academic site; the last is from the Pat Finucane Centre, who are so well respected, that they organize the main Bloody Sunday Commemoration events, in Derry, an SDLP strong-hold; with the exception of Catholic civilians and the internment figures, which might be off a tiny bit, it's accurate (when I say "3-4" that's from me, as I explain in the next paragraph)):
1) The entire conflict, the security forces killed about 145 republican paramilitaries, and 16 loyalists. They killed 27 Protestant civilians, and 158 Catholic civilians.
2) In the early and mid 1970s, during internment without trial, 107 loyalists were interned, 1,874 republicans (and two leftists who were not republicans) were interned, and on average the republicans were interned longer because the first 1.5 years not a single loyalist was interned.
3) From it's formation in 1971 until 1992, the main loyalist paramilitary, the Ulster Defence Association, was considered a legal organization by the British government. In 1974, when the gov't finally got around to declaring Sinn Fein a legal organization, they balanced that out by declaring that the Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary, was legal. That lasted for a year, during which the UVF was blamed for about 50 murders.
4) I can't find figures on sentenced prisoners, but considering that membership of republican paramilitaries was always illegal, odds are very high that there was something like 10 times more sentenced republican prisoners than loyalists sentenced prisoners.
5) In July 1996 during 5 days of loyalist rioting, 662 plastic bullets were fired; immediately after that, during 3 days of nationalist rioting, 5,340 plastic bullets were fired.

(UPDATE 12/14/12 Some new information about collusion is in a new post here)

In general, there was probably something like eight times more activity from republican paramilitaries than from loyalist parmilitaries, and probably about a few times more rioting from Catholics than there was from Protestants. But the loyalist paramilitaries focused over-whelmingly on killing Catholic civilians and the IRA was focusing overhwhelmingly on the security forces and (with very few civilian casualties) other government buildings and commercial targets. Clearly, the greater threat to innocent life came from the loyalists. There’s also the fact that sectarian murder has more of a terroristic effect on the community being targeted than the occassional accidental death of civilians, and should be a higher priority for the State.

Although I don't know exactly what it is, if you count all the British monarchs and Prime Ministers the last 300-400 years, I'd be surprised if more than 1% were Catholic, and I know that starting somewhere about 300 years ago, the British monarch cannot be a Catholic, or married to a Catholic. It's also not insignificant that Tony Blaair waited until he left office to convert.

What I have hopefully established is that there is little reason to believe that Catholics will experience justice or equality under British rule

A lot of people seem to think that the republican struggle is anti-Protestant, and more generally, believe that Protestants in a United Ireland would probably be treated the way Catholics have been treated in N. Ireland. Here's why that's very unlikely:

On the Republican Movement:

1) There's a solid history of Protestants being involved (in the decades before The Troubles (which started in the late 1960s)), although with the Provisional IRA (formed in 1969, now known simply as the IRA), I don't know of a single confirmed Protestant member, but the rest of this, plus the past confirmed membership of a bunch, indicates that probably something like 5% of the PIRA was Protestant. (UPDATE 5/11/13 David Russell was a Protestant member and died while planting a bomb at a supermarket) (UPDATE 3/23/14 One source says there were a total of 3 Protestant IRA martyrs during the recent conflict; also I was reminded that Ivor Bell, a Protestant, was a senior leader of the IRA in the 1970s)

2) The first chief of staff (leader) of the PIRA was basically 1/3-2/3 Protestant (he was raised Catholic, but one or both of his parents were Protestant). The one parent who I know was Protestant, her family was from Belfast (he was born and raised in England and his father was English) and she was the one who inspired him to identify as Irish.

4) Rita O'Hare has been for many years a senior member of SF, and may have been in the IRA. Her father was a Protestant.

5) In the late 1970s, the PIRA collaborated with the Irish National Liberation Army, which from 1978-1980 was led by a Protestant.

6) Based on a fairly scientific look, only something like .005% of the PIRA's operations were sectarian murder. I'm pretty sure you could say roughly the same thing about other republican paramilitaries. With the PIRA, it's also signficant that a minority of their operations against the British involved great effort as they traveled to Britain and mainland Europe to attack British targets.

7) In recent years, Billy Leonard, a Protestant, has been a semi-senior member of SF. UPDATE 3/30/14 He joined SF in 2004 and left in 2011 because of the financial aspect of being a SF politician; he felt there was some hostility towards him in SF but felt it had as much to do with his former membership in the security forces as it had to do with his religion.

8) In 2002, SF's Martin McGuiness, when he was N. Ireland Minister of Education, was praised by a political rival, the then leader of the Irish Labour Party, for the work he did promoting integrated education.

9) Every year republicans commemorate Wolf Tone.

10) SF has almost always been willing to dialogue with anyone in the unionist/loyalist community.

11) When Gerry Adams attended the funeral of David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, he gave Ervine's widow a hug.

UPDATE 4/4/09 12) Recently there was a debate in Sinn Fein about the slogan "Brits out." I'm not sure how it ended, it's one of those things I've missed the last four years and probably will have trouble getting an answer for. The idea was that it was being widely mis-interpreted as referring not just to the British Army and government but also the Unionist population (which overlaps heavily with the Protestant population) and should be dropped. The thing is, SF does a fairly good job of making it clear they're not anti-Protestant and want the Unionists to stay, so I'm not sure if they should abandon it as some have argued (the idea is that the popular slogan isn't worth the damage it is doing).

The second part of this is the situation in the Republic. The state there is nowhere near as anti-Protestant as people think it is.

1) As far as I can tell, there's been almost zero anti-Protestant discrimination or violence.

2) Although most schools are heavily connected to the Church, and I have heard one situation where there was a problem, in general, as far as I can tell, Protestants are happy with the education system.

3) At one point Protestants were over-represented in the Parliament. UPDATE 11/12/11 According to Michael Farrell's "Northern Ireland: The Orange State" (page 186) in the late 1940s, while Protestants were 6% of the South's population, they were 35% of public appointments."

4) There's been at least several Orange Order marches that have taken place there in recent years.

5) Out of eight Presidents of Ireland, two have been Protestants.

6) Some people point to the situation with abortion and say that Protestant women will be disadvantaged. The thing is, while abortion is something like 99% illegal in the Republic, it is about 95% illegal in the North. Unless I missed an article very recently, the Abortion Act has not been extended to N. Ireland. And if it has, that's not because of a pro-choice majority there. And in fact, the Protestant population is a little bit more pro-life than the Catholic population (as evidenced by statements made by SF members during an Assembly debate on the subject) (I'm going to do a post at some point on women in Ireland).


So, Protestants have very little to fear in a United Ireland, Catholics have much to fear in N. Ireland. And depending on when you start counting, most/all of the progress that has been made in the last 10-20 years has been under a Labour government in London (yes, I'm saying something nice about Tony Blair, someone please shoot me). The British Tories have a past and present tight organizational relationship with the Ulster Unionist Party, and with their record, it's very likely that when they're in power, they will side with the Unionists on various issues and there will be movement backwards. At the very most, there has been a small amount of decline in sectarianism among Unionists, and when they, for example, want to march through Catholic areas, the Tories will back them up (if it's up to the Parades Commission, you'll see more Unionists on that Commission).

One last part of this is that ending partition will almost definitely strengthen various left, progressive, liberal, and working-class movements. To some degree the border (which creates organizational divisions, with some exceptions), and the fact that 2-3 governments have to be lobbied, makes it more difficult to advance those agendas. In the North, there are certainly sectarian divisions (although often that's more accurately described as political instead of religious). Also, tons of people in both parts of Ireland who work on issues connected to the border would otherwise be spending more time on stuff like building unions, gay rights, etc. (they DO work on that stuff, and the border-related issues aren't necessarily much of a detour, but they kind of are). There's also a good chance that in the North, a lot of Protestant workers and progressives will stop voting for the Orange Tories and start voting Labour or something like that. Something similar will happen in the South, where the Center/Center-Right Fianna Fail gets a ton of working-class votes, partly because they're seen as good on the border. Unlike their sister parties elsewhere in Europe, the Irish Labour Party has only been in government as a jr. partner.

The above won't happen over-night, but within 1-2 generations as more and more Protestants realize that they will almost definitely not be victimized by sectarianism (aside from the liklihood of a tiny number of incidents that are nothing compared to what Catholics went through), this will happen. UPDATE 5/29/09 Anti-Catholic sectarianism will go down as they realize that they won't be mis-treated, and this will be helped by the more or less elimination of anti-Protestant bigotry as Catholics experience equality and justice.

UPDATE 2/11/09 Also, it's not guarenteed that demographic changes will result in a Nationalist majority soon, even if there's a reasonably substantial shift among the Protestants. It seems like such a majority is about 10 years off. And, thanks to a senior member of the SDLP, the British might get away with saying no at that point. About 8 years a senior member of the SDLP, I think it was one of their MPs, either Mallon or McGrady, said that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement now requires that there be a majority of Protestants in favor of a United Ireland (he actually said Unionists, but must have meant Protestants). London might seize on that to prolong their occupation. Also, it's not impossible that Britain will become fascist at some point in the next 5-10 years. Obviously that would suck for the British people, but it would probably be worse for the nationalist population.

Ending partition is still very important.

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