WHY NOBODY CALLS FOR A ‘UNITED HISPANIOLA’
Partition is not unique to this island (Ireland, a term I use only geographically), throughout history many regions/islands & landmasses have been ‘partitioned’. Borneo, Cyprus, St Martins, Hispaniola, the Indian subcontinent etc. Yet if, as Irish republicans claim, partition is a natural injustice, an artificial imposition on the ‘sacred soil’ of a historic nation, why do the peoples of these other partitioned lands not campaign for the ‘reunification’? Why, for example, do the people of Haiti & the Dominican Republic not call for a united Hispaniola? Quite simply, it is because the people of those other partitioned lands recognise political realities & realise that it is simply not feasible (or morally defensible) for them to lay claim to the entirety of the landmass on which they live.
That Irish nationalists (or expansionists?) do make such territorial claims, says much about their mindset. Irish nationalists/republicans aspired (originally) to devolution within the UK, then to quasi-independence within the British Empire, once that was achieved they moved the goalposts yet again, reneging on previous agreements, to lay claim to the entire landmass of this island. Yes, Irish nationalists have always considered (rather childishly) that an island equals a nation & yes, they have historically laid claim to Ulster, however, in 1921, the leadership of the nascent Irish Free State were content to abandon those claims & gave de facto recognition to Northern Ireland, concerning themselves only with the demarcation of the border between the two new polities. That recognition was eventually withdrawn & the old national chauvinism re-emerged. Some republicans will no doubt claim that the Irish Civil War was fought over the very issue of partition, in reality though, the Irish Civil War was more about the issues of Republic vs Dominion status, the oath of allegiance & the fact that King George V would remain head of state in the new Irish Free State.
NOT PARTITION, JUST SECESSION
The arrangement now retrospectively referred to as ‘partition’, was not so much a partition as a secession. The predominantly Unionist people of Ulster had wanted to remain within the same constitutional framework in which they had lived & worked for over a century. Within that constitution they had lived with the Irish as they had lived with the English, Scots & Welsh. They were prepared to go on doing so. Ulster had never been, in any meaningful modern sense, politically unified with Southern Ireland, except under British rule. The symbols & definitions of the new Southern Irish republican nationalism were quite alien to it & positively excluded it. The Articles of Agreement, which enabled the Free State’s establishment, had left it up to the Parliament of Northern Ireland to accept the same relationship to Eire has it had under the 1920 Act to the UK government, or alternatively to vote itself out of any such arrangement & continue as part of the United Kingdom. The latter option was promptly chosen. The new Irish Free State had seceded from the UK, Ulster chose not to. A parallel can be drawn with the Confederate States of America, which during the American Civil War laid claim to the border states of West Virginia, Kentucky & Maryland. The CSA claimed these states were part of their ‘natural territory’, the fact however, is that those border states had not gone down the road of secession & had exercised their right to self determination, choosing to remain within the Union. Had the CSA somehow survived, would people now refer to an American ‘partition’? Somehow I doubt it. The simple truth of the matter is, Southern Ireland chose to (partially) secede from the United Kingdom. Ulster did not.
TWO NATIONS, NOT ONE
To assert that Northern Ireland is an artificial construct, without precedent or historical antecedence, is to ignore historical fact, cultural reality & ethnic difference. Northern Ireland is the successor to the ancient nation of Ulster. Indeed one could say that NI is the contemporary expression of something far more subtle. That Ulster is a separate nation has been noted throughout history by many observers. Nassau Senior had perceived two nations on this island, remarking on the difference felt when passing from one into the other. Lord Macaulay had opined in the 1860s that Ulster ought to be recognised & treated differently from the rest of the island. Even the dishonourable Ted Heath is quoted as saying that: “There is no historical or logical justification for saying that it [Ireland] must be one country. You might as well say that Spain should absorb Portugal”. Another former PM, Lloyd George, said on the 31st of March, 1920, that “Ulster is a not a minority to be safeguarded. Ulster is an entity to be dealt with. It is a separate & different country”. In the same year, Chief Secretary of Ireland, Ian MacPherson, referred to: “A feeling that if what was described as ‘a fairly solid homogenous & loyal population in Ulster, alien in sympathy, alien in tradition, alien in religion’ desired to govern themselves in complete loyalty to the Crown in their own way, it would be an outrage, in the name of self-government, to use the Prime Minister’s word, to place them under the remainder of the population”.
Irish nationalists argue that Ulster is a mere province of Ireland, no different to the rest of the island. This is, at best, wishful thinking. At worst it is the deliberate obfuscation of the facts. If there is no difference between the Irish of Dublin or Cork & the Ulstermen of Belfast or Armagh, then the word ‘different’ must mean something to Irish nationalists & republicans that it does not mean to the rest of the world. Of course, nationalists & republicans will never recognise Ulster’s separateness, for to do so would be to concede that there are two nations on this island, not one. Irish nationalism is incapable of embracing difference. It is a narrow & restrictive doctrine. One which discourages acceptance, or even tolerance, of anything which is not Irish, Gaelic & anti-British. The Irish/Gaelic nation achieved self government in 1921, Ulster chose not to become a part of that nation. That choice needs to be respected. Political & historical realities need to be recognised. If Irish nationalism/republicanism is incapable of facing up to reality, then Ulster Loyalists should perhaps re-examine the policy of recognising the aspiration of Northern Ireland’s destruction (as a political entity) as being a legitimate one. Put simply, if Sinn Fein, the SDLP et al cannot bring themselves to recognise NI as a separate state, perhaps Loyalism & Unionism should refuse to recognise Irish nationalism as anything other than a form of delusional megalomania. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander!