22 June 2010
The Troubles had nothing to do with civil rights

I see in the light of the Saville Report some people have been claiming that the Northern Ireland Troubles were caused by the denial of civil rights to Catholics in the 1960s.  It is a very common claim and has become part of the “official” history.  Unfortunately, it is wrong.

Let us begin with the standard story.  This claims that Ulster’s Catholics suffered from discrimination in jobs, housing and elections.  Occasionally, the issue of the B Specials gets added to the list.  The Catholics protested, their protests were attacked, they responded by rioting and the Troubles started.  Later on the IRA joined the fray.

Unfortunately, there seem to be some inconsistencies even with this story.  First of all, why would anyone want to discriminate on the grounds of religion in the 1960s?  The 1690s maybe.  But 300 years later?  Secondly, even if you did want to discriminate, how would you know what religion job applicants or housing applicants were?

The next problem is that the claim was falsified.  An equal employment commission was set up.  Government housing was taken out of the hands of councils and put in the hands of the British Government.  The voting laws were changed to bring them into line with those on the other side of the Irish Sea.  The B Specials were abolished.  And yet the IRA campaign continued.

The next problem is that large parts of the original claim were untrue.  Or at least, they missed bits out.  Were Londonderry Corporation’s boundaries gerrymandered in August 1969 (when the Troubles started)?  No.  I can say that with absolute confidence because Londonderry Corporation had been abolished earlier that year.  Was there discrimination in housing?  Difficult to say, the only reasonably comprehensive survey I am aware of forms part of Richard Rose’s Governing Without Consensus.  He found some differences but only minor ones.  If you want a fuller account of this have a look at Paul Kingsley’s Londonderry Revisited if you can find it.

So, what’s the real explanation for 30 years and 3000 dead?

Nationality, ethnicity and borders.  There are two nations in Ulster: the Irish and the British.  They don’t get on.  They don’t trust one another.  Sure, on a personal level there are plenty of examples of individual Irishmen getting on with individual Britons but on a collective level?  Hell no.  Each nation wants to live under a state it feels it can trust.  The Ulster British want that state to be Britain.  The Ulster Irish want that state to be the Republic of Ireland.  That’s been true for at least 150 years.

Father Dennis Faul was once asked why all the reforms since 1969 hadn’t made a great deal of difference.  I can’t remember his exact words but it was something like: “The facts don’t matter, the perceptions do.”  In other words the Ulster Irish will think ill of the British no matter what.  Enoch Powell once said: “Nationality is what you feel.”  The point of both these statements is that you can’t change someone’s nationality.  It’s not amenable to reason.

So, don’t try.

But I digress.  The point is that nations and states were always the issue.  Civil rights were simply tactically convenient.

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  1. I’ve recently been very struck my EU Referendum’s criticisms of the Paras.

    Undoing in a few violent minutes what took years to contrive.  Armed thugs.  That kind of thing.

    Do you agree with him?  Or is that kind of thing irrelevant also?  (I don’t ask in a snearing way.  I genuinely ask.)

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 24 June 2010 at 03:28pm

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