IRISH LETTER

There’ll Always Be an Ulster

BEVERLEY BAXTER July 15 1949
IRISH LETTER

There’ll Always Be an Ulster

BEVERLEY BAXTER July 15 1949

There’ll Always Be an Ulster

IRISH LETTER

BEVERLEY BAXTER

DUBLIN I am writing this in the Royal Hibernian Hotel at the end of a swift four days’ visit first to the relentless citadel of Ulster and then to Dublin, the capital of the new Republic of Eire. In an hour’s time a car will call to take us to Dunleary where we shall embark for England. It used to be calleri Kingston buf now it’s Dunleary.

So contagious are the dialects of the North and South that 1 feel as if these words are being written with a brogue. What is more l find myself so steeper! in the Oirish question (I beg your pardon) that nothing else seems to matter. The foolish newspajiers are wasting space on Shanghai and Berlin and even London, whereas, of course, the burning issue is the partition of this mad, fascinating Irish isle.

As you probably know. North of Ireland (Ulster) with its six counties regards itself as part of the United Kingdom. It sends members to the Imperial Parliament, it pays income tax at the English rate, it accepts all the nationalization schemes of the British Government, and it has nothing to say about foreign policy. It is true that Ulster has a Parliament of its own with a perpetual Conservative majority, but the Parliament does not deal with finance, foreign affairs, customs or social services.

Every year the Ulster Unionist (Conservative) Party holds a week-end school at Portrush, which is a golfing seaside resort almost at the very tip of the North. This year they were good enough to invite me to address the school and intimated that Dr. Samuel Rodgers, an Ulster M.P., would pick Madam and myself up on Saturday morning at a Belfast Hotel at the precise hour of 11.30 a.m. This would enable us to reach Port rush by 1.30, have lunch and then speak as advertised at 2.30.

Having acquired English habits we were ready at the appointed time but there was no Dr. Rodgers. It was after 12 when he turned up, explaining that he had had to do an unexpected operation.

“Do you want to go direct,” he asked, “or by the coast? The Continued on page 40

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Continued from page 14

coast will take an hour longer.”

We said we would prefer the coast but it would mean no lunch and we would arrive late.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll send word. Your speech will sound just as good at 5 o’clock.” In other words we were in Ireland, even if it was the North.

That drive by the coast must be one of the most rugged yet beautiful in the world.

“That’s where King William landed,” said the doctor, pointing to a grim castle. “A great day that was.”

I asked him if things were peaceful in Ulster and he admitted that they were, so I pointed out that the Belfast police carried revolvers. “That’s right,” he said. “They carry revolvers. You’ll meet our Home Secretary at Portrush and you’ll notice that he is always guarded by a couple of plainclothes chaps. Don’t take any notice.”

At 6 o’clock that evening, havingduly delivered my address to the political school, a few of us retired to a private room for appropriate refreshment. The party consisted of the Home Secretary (a pensive, handsome, grey-haired figure), five or six local Ulster M.P.’s and a couple of Imperial Ulster M.P.’s. And, of course, the conversation was about the newly created Republic of Eire and the possible repercussions upon the partition.

“Is the cleavage between Catholics and Protestants as deep as ever?” I asked.

“It is,” they replied.

“I’ll tell you a true story,” said Colonel Sam Houghton, who sits at Westminster. “In 1944 a fellow in Belfast rushed into a pub and shouted to the bartender: ‘The Royal Ulsters

have entered Rome!’ The bartender leaned forward. ‘And did they get him?’ he asked.”

Then he told another story dating back to the abdication of Edward VIII. A Belfast man saw one of his friends looking gloomy and asked the reason. “The King’s off the Throne,” said the gloomy one, “my horse was beaten yesterday by a short head, and the Pope’s recovering. It’s a bad day for Ulster.”

Only the Cops Co-operate

There was much laughter as the colonel told these stories, but my mind went back to boyhood days in Toronto when my grandfather rode a white horse as King William on the 12th of July, and when my saintly grandmother told us that it was the Pope that had caused the San Francisco earthquake. As far as Ulster is concerned the situation has not advanced from those standards.

I make no comment. England has become a country of such infinite compromise that perhaps we who live there have lost the capacity for relentlessness. It is startling, it is disturbing, but it is also invigorating to find men who believe so deeply that logic is as ineffective as spray slapping a rock.

“But you wi 11 agree,” I said, “that the partition of Ireland is a most unhappy thing, and that both the North and South would benefit if it were abolished?”

They said that it was even so.

“Then what is the solution?” I asked.

They answered that there is no solution.

You will be interested to learn that from the time in 1921 when Ireland was partitioned into Ulster and the

Free State there has never been a written communication from a Minister on one side of the border to his opposite number. Nor has any Ulster Minister ever met or talked with a Minister in the South. Eire has no representative in Belfast nor has Ulster a representative in Dublin. The only liaison is in the police of the two sections.

Later that evening the Home Secretary told me that he knew the North was not putting its case well to the world.

“Yet what do we ask?” he said. “We ask for and claim the right to remain within the United Kingdom, to be loyal to the King and at his service in peace or war. In the war our ports were open to the British while Eire’s ports were closed. Churchill said publicly that if our ports had been denied to the British the Germans might have won the war with their submarines.

“Yet our enemies and even our friends say that our loyalty is just obstinacy. They say that there is something wrong with us because we remain true to the Protestant faith and to the British Throne. We didn’t force the partition on Ireland. It was the South that did that by demanding to be made a Free State.

Again and again I asked if there was not some solution. Each time I got the same answer: “There is no solution.”

An All-Ireland Parliament?

But reason joins with passion in crying out against this ridiculous severance of a tiny island into two political and economic units. Take for example the superb train, “Enterprise,” which does the nonstop journey from Belfast to Dublin in exactly two hours. Because Britain has nationalized its railways this beautiful train is nationalized in Ulster. But as soon as it crosses the border it becomes denationalized.

Before you get on the train your luggage is examined by Ulster customs officers to see that you are taking nothing out. When you reach Dublin it is examined again to see that you are bringing nothing in.

In the North the income tax is the same as the English, the full amount being paid to the British Treasury with certain refunds for essential services. The famous National Health Act is in being in Ulster as it is in Britain.

Across the border the income tax is less and the social services are not much more than gestures. In the Republic of Eire there are tariffs which are intended to sustain and nourish Irish industries but in the end the people have to buy from the industrial North, with the result that they are forced to pay a price which includes the duties.

What is the effect of all this? The population of the Protestant North is growing because there is opportunity there for the workers. In the Catholic South, despite the large families, the population is dwindling because the farm workers have been drawn to industries which are not yet efficient, ended by crossing to England where wages are now on a high level.

Yet the position of Ulster is equally full of paradox. From the date of the partition the Unionist Party has been in power, preaching a relentless individualism and a loathing of all forms of Socialism. That same Government now finds itself as a mere agency of the British Labor Government, forced by the British connection to enforce Socialism and nationalization upon a people which has steadfastly voted against such measures. All the eight Ulster Unionists who sit in the British House of Commons speak and vote against Mr. Attlee’s Government, while at home their party dutifully carries out what Mr. Attlee decrees.

Would it not then be better for Ulster to declare an act of faith in Ireland as a united country, to keep its present Belfast Parliament but transfer to an All Ireland Parliament in Dublin those powers at present held by the Imperial Parliament in London? There would be no obstruction of any kind from Westminster.

We take the view that just as Eire is free to declare itself a Republic and secede from the Commonwealth, so is Ulster free to remain a component part of the United Kingdom or join with Eire in the new republic.

But on no account will we coerce Ulster. That is out of the question. Not only will we leave Ulster as the master of its soul, but in recognizing Eire as a free republic we have decreed that no one shall have voting powers in Ulster who has not lived there for a minimum of three months. That is to prevent the Southern Irish from deciding to emigrate to the North in large numbers at a convenient period before an election.

On one occasion Great Britain did try to coerce Ulster, and the memories have not yet died. It was in the spring of the fateful year of 1914 when Mr. Asquith’s Liberal Government decided to enforce Home Rule which had been demanded through years of strife and bloodshed by the South.

The Ulster volunteers sprang to arms and there was heavy gunrunning into the northern ports. The British Army stationed in the South at the Curragh was ordered to stand by to deal with the rebellious Ulstermen. As soon as the order was received there was widespread mutiny, not merely among the soldiers but even the generals.

Still Some Revolutionaries

The famous F. PL Smith, afterward Lord Birkenhead, went from Westminster to join the Ulstermen as a galloper. Not only Ireland but Britain would have been split into warring factions.

And then came the declaration of war against Germany. Mr. Redmond, the leader of the Irish Party at Westminster, became the chief recruiting officer in the South. Men of Belfast and men of Dublin marched side by side into the flames of war in Europe. Yet even as they marched and fought and died in a great unity of patriotism the underground leaders in the South were beginning to plan the stab in the back which is known as the Plaster Rebellion of 1916.

Many of those men were executed as traitors, a fact which cannot take from them their bravery or their fanatical devotion to an ideal. Revolutionaries are not, like the mule, denied progeny. There are desperate men still in Eire who say that the partition was enforced by Britain, maintained by Britain and that Ulster is no more than a mercenary paid with British money.

So the police of Belfast carry revolvers and the Home Secretary is guarded day and night by armed men. Therefore I decided to go to Dublin, to sense the atmosphere and have a full, frank talk with the new Prime Minister, Mr. Costello, who ended the long rule of Mr. de Valera and led Pare into republicanism and out of the Commonwealth.

But just a minute. Dr. Rodgers wants to tell me another story. “An Ulsterman I knew,” he says, “declared to me the other day that he would die for Protestantism. ‘But would ye die for Christianity?’ I asked. ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘that’s another matter.’ ”

And thus we took the “Enterprise” to Dublin and here we are in the Royal Hibernian Hotel of that city. Of all that happened I shall give you true account in the next issue of Maclean’s. ★